Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Day I Became Afraid of Heights

When I was 16, Suellen and I visited cousins in Idaho. One of them was going cliff-jumping with his friends, and though our plans had been lazy-river tubing with the other cousin - something fun and safe and appropriate - we decided that cliff-jumping sounding especially fun, and that we should definitely do that. We drove a long way out to what I think was a quarry, where there were two cliffs: 15 ft, and 40 ft. We tried the 15-footer first, and it was fun. It's also for novices, apparently, as the Idahoans were bored and wanted to move immediately up to the big boys' cliff.

One of my cousins - the girl who had wanted to go tubing - goes first. "Raised in Idaho" kicks in, and she jumps off the cliff, no problemo.

Suellen and I are nervous, and ask our cousin - the boy, who was responsible for the cliff-jumping adventure - for advice.

"Just try to run fast, and push off when you get to the edge."

Sounds simple.

Suellen goes first. She concentrates on running faster. Concentrates so hard on running that she forgets about pushing off, or about paying attention to her footing at all, and slips as she reaches the end. She trips off the cliff.

She emerges from the water, climbs back up the cliff. She's fine.

Watching this leaves me very shaken.

I am determined not to slip. I pay very close attention to my footing - such close attention, it seems, that I forget about the running. They tell me I was moving so slowly that they thought I was just walking up to take another look. When they realize I'm not stopping, someone yells "She's not going to make it!" which I luckily do not hear. I don't know I've done anything wrong until I open my eyes in mid-air. I've done a 180 on the way down, so that I'm facing toward, instead of away from, the cliff - which is all of 12 inches away from my face. They tell me I screamed an expletive. I don't remember that.

I land just about where the water meets the land, in water that's about thigh-deep. My knees bend under me as I go in, luckily, so I don't, you know, break both legs. When I look up, everyone is staring down over the edge of the cliff, making sure I'm alright.

I'm fine.

Suellen and I do not jump off the cliff any more times that day, or, in fact, ever again.

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