The Fifteen Minute Scare

October 27, 2012
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The Fifteen Minute Scare

I take a tentative step forward, but one glance down and I was paralyzed with cold fear. I couldn’t do this! I am standing at least sixty-something feet above the ground and all I can see around me are mountains. People are standing way, way below, yelling admiration at me, beckoning me to take the jump already. But I stand paralyzed and unable to move, eyes locked in fascinating horror at the huge jump in front of me.
“Come on!” Somebody yells. “You can do it! Great going!”
To reach this stage, I had to do a lot of mountain climbing – and don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. For a girl who is not thrilled about heights, and a crushing case of acrophobia, it was a brave feat, climbing up the steep mountain ways and always managing not to glance down.
I want to yell back something to my friends below, but my voice is trapped in my throat. All that comes out is a small, terrified yelp. I cannot do this!
The man who is our instructor is gazing at me with slight amusement. He has tied a number of ropes to my waist, but I still don’t seem confident. What if it breaks? What if I fall? I don’t want to die! I’m too young!
“Madam,” He says with forced patience. “Nothing will happen to you. I assure you, it will just be fun!”
“It will be fun?” I squeak out. “This is what you do for fun? What happened to plain old television?”
Only, nothing came out like it was supposed to. I am sure he couldn’t comprehend anything.
I gaze down again, and the height at which I am standing – alone – terrified me. All my friends are waiting for me to take the leap so that they can come up and do the same. Oh why did I have to be the first one to do this?
My mind wanders briefly to my parents. If my mom knew what this weekend trip meant, the dangerous sports it promised, the ‘adventurous thrill’ it contained, no way would I have been here.
Obviously, I had kept the dangerous sports and adventurous thrill part to myself. In school, this trip was all that people were talking about – and it seemed important for all the ‘cool’ people to turn up there. When a friend of mine asked me to come, I just had to. Maybe watching all those people come forward and sign up for it encouraged me. Maybe knowing how cowardly I would look if I declined surged me forward.
Now, I regret taking that decision. All those people who signed up obviously knew what they were getting into. I did not. I had never predicted this kind of fate for myself. I was always afraid of heights – whether it was jumping the last three stairs or climbing to the top of the water slide at those popular water parks.
And now, here I am, standing sixty feet above the earth and waiting for my exasperated instructor to push me down.
Push me down! Startled, I steady myself quickly. I will not let my instructor push me down. My roommate had once said that these people did not waste much time on every camper – if one was reluctant to jump, they just pushed.
“It’s safe,” She’d said reassuringly. “All you have to do is jump without looking down. The rope secures you. It’s just a fifteen second scare.”
Fifteen seconds scare? I shiver, feeling embarrassed and agonizingly frightened at the same time. It’s less than twenty degrees here – considerably cool – and I’m sweating. My legs have turned to jelly, and breathing doesn’t seem that easy anymore.
My classmates have gone mute, gazing up at me with mixed emotions – irritation, frustration and apprehension. Oh, how I wish I had just declined and not cowered under peer pressure. But most of the school was going, and I didn’t want to be one of the few left out of the discussions centring around this trip afterwards.
“Hey!” I hear someone call out. “It’s okay! Just close your eyes and jump!”
Close my eyes and jump? So that I can’t even see where I am going? No way! I take hesitant steps backwards. My instructor shifts, irritated.
“Madam, if you didn’t plan to take the leap, you should have just stayed back,” He scolds. Of course he is right. We were given the choice to stay at the cottages and drink tea with the teachers or come over here and continue with the adventure sports.
I am shivering and cowardly and insecure with my acrophobia and paranoia.
“Are you sure I won’t fall – and break something?” I ask my bored instructor.
“Yes, madam,” He says, and offers no more words of advice. I gulp, taking in my beautiful green surroundings – brown mountains, the gentle sunshine, everything I had never experienced before. And when I gaze down those sixty feet, I realised something that is bound to stay with me forever.
This was a whole different world – way out of my comfort zone. But it is also an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – who knows if my parents would allow me to go to adventure camp again – or if I would allow myself. Here, standing at the peak with so many people watching me, waiting for me to set an example – be the first one of them to get up and take the challenge – it might never come again.
Sure, I could really decline, take off the helmet and ask my instructor to untie my waist. But what will happen afterwards? I will feel the loss and reluctance of not taking that leap. I will repent afterwards – wondering how it felt like – would it have felt like falling, or flying?
Sometimes it is important to take risks, even if the risk is only closing one’s eyes and jumping. Sometimes we get to experience stuff that we might not experience ever again. It’s once in a lifetime, a good reason why it should feel so thrilling, exhausting and agonizing.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, I centre myself, revelling my moment of clarity. Everything feels so clear. I know what I have to do – and why I have to do it. I don’t have to do it for my peers, or my reputation at school, no. I have to do it because it means overcoming my acrophobia. It means doing what I never thought I would do. It means experiencing the thrill of one of the most enjoyed mountain sports.
So I have to do this one for myself.

Easier said than done…fifteen minutes later, I still am clinging to myself, tears of frustration running down my face. My instructor is sitting on a stone next to me, completely given up on encouraging me to jump down. The next girl in line is already climbing up to my peak point, in order to take my place. They say some guy is going to help me climb down instead of rappelling down like I was supposed to.
I get up once again, brushing my tears from my oversized gloves, clinging on to the rope tied to the rock and steadying myself. I can do this. I have to do this. Another steadying breath later, I take one last look at the beautiful surroundings around me, and then jumped.
I don’t know who screamed louder, me or my instructor, or my fellow peers. Apparently, convinced I couldn’t take the leap, my instructor had loosened the ropes – a dangerous setback, and I am told later. I could have died. I should have warned him and everyone else that I was going to jump after all. The girl behind me was shocked just like me – and she screamed too. Maybe it was the way I jumped – eyes closed, arms coiled around the ropes, sagging to the ground before rolling off the peak, as if unconscious. Maybe it was my ear-splitting shriek.
Or maybe it was my own last minute bravery that shocked everyone, including myself. I watched myself fall, as if in slow motion, how all the surroundings changed in the few seconds. My legs found the rocks like they were supposed to, and a few feet above the ground, the rope ran out, steadying me mid-air. Just for good measure, I screamed again, but this time in glee. I did it. I did it for myself. Tired, exhausted with the adrenaline rush, I lay down the minute I touched the ground, thankful for these excruciating moments to be over.
I could have been injured – but it doesn’t worry me now. I am satisfied with my jump – amateur and wild, I admit, but yet a jump against my fear – and overwhelmed with gratitude for my last minute courage. At least I was right about one thing – these moments has stayed with me till now and will probably stay with me forever.

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