The following arrived on my desk in a plain, brown wrapper, and like many previous, similar arrivals, I am bound to share it with you.
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Working title: “Exagerrated Agony: The Ted Cruz Story.”
At birth, the doctor’s slap to get me to breathe on my own was a hammer blow from Thor, the Norse god of thunder and lightning. And the lesson I learned was that I was special but that my life would be one of almost insurmountable agony. The long, lonely walk to preschool, with a rock in my shoe every day, was just the precursor of the long, lonely walk to first and second grade, all uphill both ways. Hurricanes and tornadoes assaulted me on every block, every day, and I suffered from sniffles the likes of which had not been seen since the Black Plague decimated two-thirds of the population of Europe back in the day.
I didn’t have zits in junior high. I had seismic eruptions, one on the back of my neck, the other came and went on my left cheek particularly as the Sadie Hawkins Dance drew near. I used to remind the kids with polio that I too had suffered and so I really did feel their pain. In those days, we had to pass a Constitution Test to graduate from 8th grade. I passed with a 98 and the humiliation was paralyzing. It was as though the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 had happened right under me and swallowed me whole. But I didn’t let it stop me from excelling in everything in high school. Well, not counting the A minus I got from Mr. Hollenberg in Sophomore English. That was worse than the Hindenburg disaster, worse even than the great Chicago Fire.
Several of my aides advised against me running for Head Cheerleader. They said I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have enough experience. I didn’t listen. When the results were announced during Homeroom, “Ted Cruz — Tied with Bonnie Binks for Third Attendant to Head Cheerleader,” I wept openly and unashamedly. I wept as the survivors of the Titanic must have wept for their vanished loved ones. And my left cheek pulsed as though a train were trying to escape from inside my skin. And the lesson I’d learned from Thor’s hammer came back to me and haunted me yet again. But I vowed then and there. “Next year First Attendant and the year after that – Head Cheerleader.”
Unfortunately, the year after that, I would be in my second year of college, and my Head Cheerleader dream would have turned to dust, the dusty, choking dust of my native West Texas — land of my birth, (except for the part where I was born in Canada), but I knew about dusty, choking dust. My off campus apartment at Princeton was like that only worse, worse than a Sahara sandstorm; the Dustbowl was just a dry afternoon. And I remember one night there was a roach on the kitchen counter, and my roommate was sore afraid. I went after it with a rolled up New York Times (I mean Wall Street Journal), but it attacked, and it kept attacking. It was Jurassic Park in a very small space.
Because I was brilliant (except for that A minus from Mr. Hollenberg) I graduated at the top of the class, almost. It was Third Attendant all over again. It was Pearl Harbor and Dunkirk. Actually, a little better than Third Attendant but it wasn’t Head Cheerleader. It was Tse Tse flies and Yellow Fever, malaria and Yaws. But, being brilliant, I got to Harvard Law School and it was there despite all my misfortune, all my suffering, all my disadvantages that I finally made Vice Head Cheerleader, so to speak. Magna Cum Laude. The only thing better is Summa Cum Laude. That is, the only thing better is Head Cheerleader. Sure I was proud but not prideful. If I’d been the Summa top dog, where would I go from there? I reasoned. There’s work to do, cleaning out the Augean Stables, for example. Bending gravity to my will, before breakfast, I thought.
Texas Solicitor General for five years. Practicing law before the Supreme Court, my specialty. Take that old Summa Cum Laude, take that. Then the run for Senator and the stunning, butt-whoopin’ victory over my opponent.
And today. (Tuesday all night and deep into Wednesday morning) I stood before the People’s representatives in the magnificent and august Senate chambers. I stood for approximately 21 hours and talked. I talked about the country, about the hardships many of us, especially including myself, have endured just to get to this station in life. And no, It’s not Head Cheerleader. It’s almost Vice Head Cheerleader, and that means there’s another step forward in this my “Almost Insurmountably Agonizing” life so far.
“And when people ask me, “Ted how did you do it ? How did you survive the horror of speaking in the Senate chambers for 21 hours or so?” I have an answer.
I’ll remind them of the Bataan Death March. The World War II event that saw Filipino and American GIs slaughtered, maimed, bayoneted and beheaded on that 90 mile Death March to the prisoner of war camp back in ’42. It’s believed several thousands died en route. No food, no water other than the filth they could sip from buffalo wallows along the jungle trails. And those who flagged or faltered were summarily executed.
“It was a lot like that, but also like that, some of the strong survived, and I guess I was the strong and lucky one this time.”
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.