An Achilles Heel This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   My left heel throbbed uncontrollably for weeks.Physical ailments, however, seemed to be the least of my worries. It wasn't untilI returned home from visiting friends in Philadelphia that the gravity of thesituation struck me.

I had actually done it. Never in my life had Irationalized a situation so quickly without fully weighing the consequences.Where had my reasonable self been? As if I were outside my body, beyond controlof my actions, in one split second I did it - I jumped.

Last July, beforemy senior year, I returned to Pennsylvania after moving away the year before. Inparticular, I went to visit my best friend, Will. Will and I were not theterribly exciting types even when I had lived in the quaint town of Unionville;we were both more preoccupied with how we had done on our last trig test than theevents of last weekend. From any high school student's perspective, we wereintensely boring.

When I arrived my thoughts were filled with seeing oldfriends, girlfriends and anyone else I'd lost touch with. When I stepped off theplane, an enthusiastic friend bounded up to greet me with a dopey grin. It wasWill. We chatted about old times, memories and experiences.

I noticed afew changes in him. Will now enjoyed participating in riotous and even dangerouspractices. By this I don't mean to imply he was senseless, but Will was in adifferent mindset than when I left. Bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, skydiving and cliff jumping were his new favorite activities. He'd often takenweekend trips to visit his new love, the side of a treacherous cliff. It was notjust any cliff, but one that jutted over a rushing river in southern Maryland.Inevitably, the words I dreaded tumbled out of his mouth.

"Let's gocliff jumping!" he proclaimed.

Although I really wasn't enthusiasticabout the idea, I tagged along. We left the sleepy, patriotic town of Unionville,with its brick post office and silent, rusted cannons scattered across the plowedfield as remnants of the Civil War, and traveled south. Every mile was agonizingas the car rhythmically pounded over each crease in the highway's pavement. Wewere headed for a well-known peak called Amish Rock. I cowered in the front seatof the SUV like a baby and imagined the worst as Will lightheartedly whistled atune.

When we arrived, sure enough, there were several groups of Amishcasually walking the trails that skirted the edge of the mighty SusquehannaRiver. We donned our bathing suits and running shoes, and Will scurried up theside of the cliff. I dragged my feet, trying not to look at the water far below,and sulked over the day's chosen activity. Heights frighten me, and walking on ahair-thin trail above a rocky pit didn't help.

The trail twisted anddarted about the sun-baked limestone crevices like a rabbit in the brush avoidinga hunter. From the looks of the cliff face, I contemplated turning back, butWill's steely determination left me no choice but to follow him. He hadconveniently kept the car keys, so escape was futile.

We finally reachedthe top, and I paused to catch my breath as I peered over the magnificent ledge.I gazed for miles up and down the raging river. I could even see Baltimore in thedistance. At the top of this ledge was a small wooden sign with red numbersfaintly painted on it. I could barely make out that I was standing 61 feet abovethe river.

My knees buckled. Will looked at me excitedly and then, withouthesitation, turned to face the river and leaped spectacularly from the rockyledge. He dove headfirst, then quickly flipped to meet the rushing river with hisfeet. A loud pop followed as he penetrated the murky water. My heart stopped. Icautiously gazed over the ledge, clutching tightly to a tree to see Will wavinghappily from the river.

I gulped and prepared to launch myself fromAmish Rock. I couldn't even stand up straight. Every fiber in my body told me toturn around, walk back down the cliff and sit by the car. My knees bent awkwardlyand my hands shook with such ferocity that it was all I could do to keep fromlosing my balance. I felt like a deer in headlights. I knew something was coming,and I just couldn't seem to get out of the way.

A sense of total fearconsumed me as I peered down. My mind raced and "What ifs?" encircledmy senses with paranoia. Will stared from the river and yelled indistinguishablewords of encouragement. I looked down one last time, spread my arms and inched tothe edge of the dusty, well-trodden rock. The sun loomed low on the horizon. Eachpassing second seemed to remain saved forever in my head. A bead of sweat droppedonto my hand as my pulse rapidly increased, and blood gushed to my every cell.

I started to talk myself out of leaping, but something kept my feet gluedto the sandy ledge. The dusty mountainside filled my nostrils, and I took in thebreathtaking scenery and savored the moment. But only momentarily did I lookaround with such optimism. I knew exactly what lay ahead and I feared theconsequences. The water waited below, waiting to swallow me up. I waspetrified.

I looked down once more to size up the height. My senses werepricked, awareness sharp and panic steadily increasing. I just couldn't do it. Ibegan to back away and return to solid ground far from that awful, dreadfulledge. Will looked on with dull anticipation. He cupped his hands to hissun-baked mouth and shouted, "Come on, man, don't be a wuss!"

Isnapped. Something deep down caught my attention and sent me reeling. His wordspoured over me and left stinging notes in my ears. I once again walked past the"61 feet" sign, past the dusty trail and stopped at the ledge. I lookeddown to the glittering rocks once more. And then I jumped.

Thegravitational force made me so lightheaded that I thought for a moment I mightlose consciousness. I accelerated rapidly. The jump lasted a virtual eternity asI tried unsuccessfully to keep my feet from spreading apart before impact. Afterwhat seemed like decades, the water rushed up to meet me.

As soon as Ientered the water, my left heel slammed into something and sharp pain ran up mycalf, thigh, back and even to my neck. I gasped for air and lifted my foot out ofwater to survey the damage. It was not good. My running shoe was split across thebottom so that my bloody heel was hanging through and blood was trickling down myankle. The pain was nearly unbearable. I thrashed in the water to alert Will ofthe circumstances. He quickly swam to my side and helped me out of the water.Will carried me the rest of the way to his car.

My heel eventually gotbetter, but my psychological impairment left scars far deeper than any Band-Aidand antiseptic could heal. The fall that slashed my heel ironically was aconsequence of my "Achilles heel" for peer pressure. I didn't want tojump off that rock. I was terrified, but still did it. I falsely felt I needed toprove myself to belong. Sometimes the expectations of others can weigh heavily onwhat is not really important. In retrospect, it's easy to see that such smalldecisions can have long-term consequences.

A small mistake was painfuland costly. Making intelligent choices often runs parallel to making hasty ones.But knowing how to distinguish between them is knowing how to succeed.



This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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