At the local pool across the street from my cousin’s house, a small part of me changed one fateful summer. My family visited the pool frequently on our trips to Illinois every year. The sickening smell of my aunt’s coconut tanning oil and the hot, rough concrete leading to beckoning waters of the pool are engraved in my memory as staples of summer. The main attractions of the pool were the yellowing diving boards set up across from the usually abandoned lifeguard podium. One stood at standard height, usually used for back flip practicing or tots too afraid to jump off the heightened attraction next door. The Big Kahuna, as the locals of West Quincy know it, is the public high dive. Towering at approximately thirty feet above the surface, the diving board usually sported the longest line of any slide or springboard in the center. Kids waited five minutes, dancing to keep their toes from blistering on the simmering concrete, to experience two seconds of pure delight as they free fell to the water’s surface and crashed into the pool with a sickening splatter, occasionally losing their trunks, always coming back for more. I had watched my cousins, all high-energy males, take the plunge for years, but being a paranoid little child, I had never had the guts to see what all the hype was about. When I was younger, I was scared of just about everything. Natural disasters, serial killers, chickens, plane crashes, and especially heights. After much prodding from my extremely convincing extended family, I decided to conquer my fears, and mostly just prove my brother wrong. I can jump off this highly suspended piece of fiberglass onto a potentially painful plane of liquid. Waiting in the infamous procession of anxious swimmers, I began to get nervous. What if I fell off the board, soaring over the railing before even reaching the pool, and splattered against the stone patio below? What if I did a belly flop and tore all the flesh from my face? What if I slipped and broke my tailbone on the board on the way down? Soon enough, it was too late for any more what-ifs; I was at the ladder. It seemed much higher from the base, almost a hundred feet up. Beginning up the treacherous steps, I felt a churning in my stomach similar to when I lost my mother’s diamond earring, expecting the worst. The steps were a bit slick from chlorine-soaked divers, so I took my time getting to the top. The climb in itself was a challenge. Images of my foot slipping and my teeth knocking each rung to the bottom filled my mind. I did, indeed, reach the top with out a falter and hoisted myself onto the board, clinging to the edges like a scared kitten clawing its way across the rough surface. Standing up I gripped the safety rails tight and took baby steps toward the edge. The stretch seemed miles long, but within seconds I reached the end of the railing, the true test of courage. I took a step forward, but my instincts kept my fingers tight around the metal bars. Feeling the burning glares of spectators waiting their turn, I tricked myself into letting go, faking a step backwards and then jolting forward. In the last steps before the edge, adrenaline kicked in and I couldn’t fly fast enough away from the plank for which I held so much disdain. I felt my tingling toes leave the sandpapery surface and for an instant I was floating, high above even the people on the second floor patio across the pool. Wanting to stay suspended for as long as possible I stretched every bone in my body upwards, but as fast as I had gone up, gravity was pulling me down. I felt no longer like a feather, but a pencil, slim and sharp, rocketing towards the ground below. I looked down until I could see the reflection of my feet in the water and closed my eyes. Like a needle shooting through the fabric of time and space I felt a mix of fear and anticipation right before I hit the water. My entry was not painful or shattering to my innards as I had imagined, it was merely a change in mediums from air to something heavier. I kept in the straight path downwards for quite a while before I lost much of the momentum and slowed down. Deep under water, took in the full shock of what had just taken place. As the buoyancy in my body took over I flipped upside down and began to float towards the surface. Suddenly hungering for oxygen, I kick my way through the bubbles from my entry and broke through the glassy surface above. Still invigorated from my jump, I paddled my way through the water at record speed, just missing the large college boy cannonballing behind me. I pushed myself up out of the water, nearly tripping over the edge as I raced back to the line and took my place among the veterans, ready for another go.
Taking the Plunge
May 17, 2008