This is part of a project at Two Writing Teachers
(note from Kevin: I am not sure what had me thinking back to this experience. I was just a kid but the memory pops back up from time to time)
Once I got to the top, I could not drop, and instead, I froze.
I remember the rocky ledge steps and how they curved around and then up, straight up, and I stood at the bottom, thinking: here goes. I made my way carefully, slipping a bit here and there, but mostly remaining steady on my toes. I didn’t look down. That’s what they tell you: don’t look down and so I didn’t.
So it was quite a shock when I finally got the top and did look down.
The waterfall was gushing past me with such a roar that I could barely hear my breath. Somehow, though, the thumping of my heart was pounding with a steady, yet frantic, beat, like the rhythm of some tribal drums before a human sacrifice.
Water moved above me, to the side of me and down past me. We were deep in the woods of Maine and nature was everywhere and everything. There are those moments when you realize just how small we are in comparison to the world around you. For me, this was one of those moments.
I felt my breath go in as my friend waved goodbye to me in a offhand way and jumped. Vertigo hit me as I tried to follow his leap down, down, down into the cold water pool below. The drop seemed endless. Then I heard his “whoop.” Another friend went off, too, and then it was just me.
And I could not move.
There I stood, for the longest time, as my friends first encouraged, and then tried to shame me, and then felt pity on me as I stood like a statue at the top of the waterfall. My mind went blank. Despite the suggestions that I come back down the rocky stairs if I was too scared to jump, I could not even do that. I was caught in some internal force that would not allow me to move forward or backwards. I was static.
Friends came up, talked to me, put a hand on my shoulder, joked that they might push me, and then they jumped again and again. I remained still and scared.
I am not sure if I was afraid of the fall, of possible death, or the fact that the water was frigid cold. Something about this place unnerved me to no end.
Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, I willed my young body to the edge, placed my toes over the abyss, and launched myself into a free fall off the waterfall cliff that was about 60 feet above the pool below. It was an endless drop. I was both in the moment and outside of the experience.
My feet hit first with a crash that was followed fast by such a blast of bone-chilling cold that it took whatever breath I had left away from me and then I was scrambling to come up for air. I willed myself to keep my mouth shut — to survive — and to look up for the sky as my guidepost to life. My head burst up through the surface and I gasped with everything I had.
There was a rousing cheer from my friends but I could barely hear it. My ears were ringing with the experience and I declined the invitations to try it again. Once was enough.
Peace (in safe havens),
PS — Not long after this event, the writer of the comic strip, Funky Winkerbean, did a stretch of days in which the main character climbs to the top of a high diving board and freezes. I could laugh then, and live vicariously through the comic, and even laugh at both him and me.