17 June 2014

True Story #2

While on Hawaii's Big Island, I visited the southernmost point of the United States. Across from the parking lot was a cliff with a forty or fifty drop into beautiful blue water. People were jumping off the cliff from concrete platforms, climbing back up on a rickety metal ladder that ended just at the water's surface. There was also a hole in the ground nearby, through which local kids were dropping down into a pool directly beneath the cliff. The pool was undulating with the surf, so presumably there was a path from it to the cliff face and the ladder, but I sure wasn't going to find out.

Dropping off the cliff, on the other hand - plenty of fellow tourists were doing it, working up the courage and taking the plunge, swimming back up alive and hearty. I didn't want to do it, exactly, I just had to do it. I knew that. This was the kind of experience you go on vacation for, and besides, I was sweaty, dusty, and grimy from a five mile hike to a nearby green sand beach. I wanted to live in that stunning blue water.

I was with a friend who felt the same. We changed into our swimsuits in the car and returned to the cliff. An anxious teenager was working on his courage and failing. Encouragements from his parents and teases from his younger brother didn't help. When the teen snapped at the brother, the mother moved them along to the next jumping spot, which was apparently not as high.

A perky young woman then cut in front of my friend and I. She'd jumped off other platforms, but this one was more daunting for her. Her boyfriend was already in the water, so it didn't take much for her to find the strength to leap. SPLOOSH. A column of water shot up, she resurfaced and reunited with her man.

My friend's turn. After the typical hesitation, he leaped and survived. I watched him from above, asking him about the jump, waiting for him to swim back to the ladder so I wouldn't land on his head. When he reached the safe point, I stepped onto the platform, backed up until I couldn't see over the cliff. I took a breath. Everyone else has survived this, I thought. It's my turn. I walked forward and launched myself into the air.

That's when I looked down. A mistake. My body saw the distance it had to go and said: "You are going to die." My brain got the message and believed it. My spontaneous final words to the world: "Oh fuck!"

The best way to make such a jump is to keep your body in a line, legs together and arms tucked at your sides or crossed against your chest (that was the advice of the teasing younger brother). My body's death instinct, however, was to curl into the fetal position. As I dropped, my brain remembered too late that I wasn't going to die, and I should straighten out if I didn't want this to hurt. I hit the water in a neither/nor formation, my legs tucked up, knees downward, right arm and chest leaning toward the water, left away, head raised and held back, like it wouldn't feel the impact if my eyes couldn't see it. I landed with more SMACK than SPLOOSH, the salt water instantly filling my sinuses and ear canals.

I swam to the water to confirm that I was still alive, and began laughing at the absurdity of it all, my usual reaction in this kind of situation. I swam to the ladder, where my friend was just beginning his climb up. His bathing suit dripped water on me, and I realized I probably didn't want to be right beneath of him if he fell for some reason. I waited until he reached the top, then followed. The climb wasn't much fun itself, and when we were both safely back on land, neither of us were inclined to jump again.

The perky young woman was back on the platform, hand in hand with her boyfriend. "Let's shout 'love' when we jump," she suggested. They jumped. "Love!" she said into the air, then their hands came apart and they dropped into the water.

No comments:

Post a Comment