Memorial Day Weekend at the end of the week which makes this weekend the official start of summer. I always see summer as my chance for new adventures, and I’m really curious–considering the major life change that just occurred–what my adventures will be this summer. In the meantime, here is a summer-inspired story.
by Rachel Kelly Davis
The rope had colour coordinated carabiners. You were supposed to hook yourself to it before climbing the thirty foot ladder. Knowing the safety purposes of the instruction, I obediently hooked the blue carabiner to the left of my harness and the orange to the right. Then I started to climb the ladder. About a minute later I was facing the Freedom Tower from an angle I’d never seen before, the I’m-now-70-feet-up-in-the-air angle.
“Put chalk on your hands,” the instructor said. I obeyed.
“Okay, come around here.” Again, I obeyed.
“Now did you lose something in the net?”
“No ma’am,” I said.
“Then is there any reason why you’re looking at the net?”
Immediately I looked straight ahead. Again, there was the Freedom Tower. To my right, the Hudson glittered in the sun. To my left, the rest of Manhattan was bustling through the mid-morning. There was no hammering in my chest. The ones who’d gone before me all described the intense pounding. My pulse was even. My breathing was even. And I smiled.
The first time I stood atop a cliff and knew the next step for me was to jump into the crystal blue ocean, I was six years old. It was a summer afternoon, about an hour or two before sunset. Climbing up the thirty-foot cliff had been easy. The sand-coloured stone had developed natural footholds and pathways, likely to have been carved out over time by the wild goats in the area.
“It’s okay,” my sister had said. “You don’t have to do it.”
“Just don’t think about it,” my brother said when he caught me looking down. “Don’t look at the water.”
“And keep your body straight!”
I nodded and looked up.
Straight ahead there were two islands about a half hour boat ride away. To my right was the endless horizon. To my left, the rest of the cliff face, the parts unpassable, went on for a few metres before a large rock blocked the view of the cove beyond.
All my older siblings had jumped, and I was the only one left. Not wanting to be beaten, not wanting to walk home being called “baby” by some and being told “it’s okay” by the others, I told myself there was no other way down.
Take a deep breath.
I love the feeling of falling down. In that first nano-second of being airborn, it always seems like the world pauses along with your heart. Then that feeling of air rushing up all around you. You feel the way your whole body is tense but relaxed, ready for that split second reaction you’ll need to survive. Then surviving. Feeling the cool water envelope you, triggering your body’s next reaction to kick off from the bottom and swim.
Break the surface of the water.
But there was no swimming involved today, which made me curious about the steady heartbeat. At six I had the water to catch me. I knew the water. I knew it well. I always trusted it to catch me. Today I had Adam. And if all else failed, a net. I didn’t know Adam. I was wary of the net.
“Ready to catch the bar?” my instructor asked. I held my hand out.
“Grip it tight. Now look straight ahead. Listen to the instructions when you hear them. Ready?”
I took a deep breath.
I bent my knees and leaped forward. In the first second of being in the air, I wondered at my arm strength. I didn’t realise I could hang so well. As I swung forward then upward, I heard the first instruction and curled my legs up, bringing them over the bar.
I swung back the way I came and let go of the bar, now hanging from my knees as momentum brought me forward once more. I was looking straight at Adam’s outstretched arms and I gripped his forearms as his hands latched onto mine. My knees let go of the first bar.
And then we became one pendulum. Swinging forward and backward before I kicked with both legs to give myself the momentum for a backward somersault dismount. They were moves that felt as familiar as the water.
Hit the net.
“All that after just two hours. You’re a natural,” my instructor called up from above, shaking her head with a smile.
“It was much easier than I thought it would be,” I said honestly, and hopefully not boastfully. The other beginners weren’t quite as successful as I’d been. One girl couldn’t even get up the ladder.
As I dusted the chalk of my hands, I looked at Adam and grinned. “It’s always great when we get someone who isn’t afraid of heights,” he said. He had dismounted from his bar and had just gotten off the net.
I smiled back. “Yeah. I had to get over that fear a long time ago.”
“Are you going to come back?” he asked. “I hope you come back. This summer we are conducting a ten-week workshop that ends with our students putting on a performance with some of the professional trapeze artists. You’d get a good spot in that for sure!”
“Maybe,” I said as I looked up at the platform, itching to be that high up again. “I do like falling down with style.” After a pause. “I did this on a dare, you know.”
Adam raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“Yeah. A friend of mine found it on some website that featured summer activities in the city, and she thought it was something I’d do.”
“And you didn’t think: no girl that is craaaazy.”
I laughed. “No. I like challenges, doing what you’ve never done before, you know, taking the plunge. “
“Best way to learn things,” Adam said. “Helps you find your limits. You never really know until you jump.”
At that I smiled my widest smile. “Exactly.”