Seconds before I hit the icy water, I changed my mind. I wasn't ready for the impact, or the awkward way I entered. By the time I opened my mouth to scream, cold mountain stream water rushed in, taking the place of precious, precious air. My eyes swam; I only saw a murky blue-black. My lungs gasped. My arms flung about, fingers desperately trying to find a cling-hold on the slippery rock wall.
The water churned around me, alternately flattening my struggling body against the bare rock before forcing me to the center of the whirling pool. I still couldn't get to the surface; sweet, life-supporting oxygen just inches out of reach.
For the first time in my life, I soberly thought that I might die.
I'm what some would call a daredevil, but only compared to others. It started out innocently enough, as these things always do, competing with my friends and younger brother (he, the truest personification of the word "daredevil"). I never minded taking the chances, being the one to act. In fact, I relished being the one. I would ring the doorbell; make the prank calls; sneak into windows; shit in the bag. I climbed trees, buildings, scaffolding, and boulders. I liked it when someone said my name, and then "badass" in the same sentence. I wore that crown proudly. Too proudly. And oh, after pride -- you sick, twisted mistress -- cometh the fall indeed. Quite literally, as I was to discover.
On a gorgeous summer day, thick with lusty life and restlessness, my brother suggested a little trip. Now, as I mentioned earlier, my brother is the truest sense of what it means to be a daredevil, and though I may be prone to exaggeration, in this I am completely straight. He has survived, navigated, and all-around snorted in the face of more life-threatening dangers throughout his entire life than a compulsive smoker on an oil rig in a firestorm. (Some of his more dangerous stories -- he being an extremely gifted storyteller -- are actually side-splittingly hilarious. I have heard several of these yarns numerous times, and every time I find myself giggling in anticipation, knowing I'm going to completely lose it when he gets to the good, er sometimes bad, parts.) He has incurred the injuries to prove it, too. (Although how an 18-year-old former baseball, soccer, and football player -- then wrestler and boxer, soon to be rugby player and MMA trainee -- can break his collar bone on a see-saw, I'll never know.) So when he suggested I join he and some friends to go jump off a waterfall, proudly I said, "Yes."
It is in a fantastic spot. We drive twenty minutes north and park outside of the fence surrounding the rock quarry. Hop the fence, down a short trail through the woods, follow the stream towards the sound of thunder, and there it is. The Eliminator. (That's the name I just gave it; no one actually calls it that.)
The Eliminator is actually a series of waterfalls. The first jump follows the stream over a 20 foot drop into a deep, narrow, churning pool of whitewater nestled deep within surround rock walls. That pool gushes over the top of a pile of large boulders, downdowndown a 40 foot drop -- the aforementioned thunder -- into a lovely, calm little lake at the bottom. The catch: there is no way to get out once you've made the first jump. You have to squirm through a crack in the sheer rock wall, position yourself on very slippery wet rocks, and jump out over the big drop, hoping with all hope that you are far enough away to not hit a few of the large boulders at the bottom. Once you are in the lake at the very bottom, there is a nice little trail that winds back up through the woods to the top of the falls. So that you can do it. Again.
Have I mentioned that I have an almost paralyzing fear of heights?
It took me thirty minutes before I could get close enough to the edge to see the first narrow, deep pool. At this point, my pride was still intact, but only because one of my brother's friends -- the biggest, burliest of the bunch -- was up there with me, terrified out of his mind. We were alternately making fun of one another, daring each other to jump, and talking each other out of it. But I was the only girl in the group, and I wanted to save face, mainly in front of my brother. So I decided that my motivation was to jump off this ridiculous waterfall to make the big, burly boy look like a pussy. (At least, that's what I said to myself. The real truth was that I didn't want to look like one. Pride -- you bitch!!)
I watched my brother and the others jump repeatedly, making it look easy. Hell, they even made it look fun! Trying higher and higher jumping points, climbing trees over the top of the falls to make it ever more (dangerous) of a thrill. I started to feel truly uneasy.
I told myself to stop being such a wuss.
My feet stayed planted.
I told myself that I could do this. I had to confront my fear of heights once and for all.
I didn't budge.
I looked over at my petrified companion and saw my own scared face looking back at me, and that's when I decided to do it. Pride. Foolish pride.
I walked to the edge of the stream and...stopped...kinda.
See, earlier? When I said I jumped? Well, jumping would be considered graceful compared to what my body did. It was like two completely opposite and in-control parts of me screamed "Yes!" and "No!" at the same moment, and the physical result was an awkward lurch that had me hitting that cold-ass water with my neck and face.
If one of the other jumpers hadn't grabbed me as I swirled underwater, just far enough away from the air to really miss it, then I think I would have drowned. He pulled me into the small gash in the rock facade. Even out of the water, I still couldn't breath. He pounded on my back several times. Hard.
I finally coughed what seemed like a fucking bucket of water out of my lungs, and gasped a series of extremely grateful thank you's to my savior, clutching his arm with every ounce of strength I had left. I felt so relieved! I was alive! Earth. Under my feet. And then I realized what I would have to do to get back to the sweet, safe earth.
Jump off a more treacherous jump, down a further fall, into a larger body of churning water.
I will be completely honest here: if the savior guy had not been right there, in close range, I would have pissed myself. At this point, pride, the small hold she still had on my heart, didn't let me.
Instead, I froze. It took my brother a long time to convince me that I could do this, that I wouldn't die. I kept imagining my mother's face when my brother would come home, by himself, and tell her how I had perished. I thought about how my brother would need all the other people there to carry my empty body away from this hell on earth, me floating safely on a cloud, playing a fucking lute. I thought about what people might say at my funeral, and when I decided that death by waterfall wouldn't look so bad on my headstone, I did it.
Shaking like an epileptic, I slowly crawled out onto the wet rocks, water splashing down on top of me, me trying to keep my balance and my composure. This time, there was no fuckery in my mind. Both selves knew that to get out of this mess, they would have to work together.
In one fluid motion, I stood and launched myself off the rocks, body aligning into a classic spike, stabbing the water below.
I kicked and swam and burst through the surface as quickly as I could get myself there, looked back at the waterfalls, and laughed. I did it! I had faced a paralyzing fear, and had overcome. I had survived The Eliminator.
And I will never, ever, evah-evah-evah, do that dumb shit again.
Pride be DAMNED.