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In which they felt so free

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They used to jump off the cliffs. The trick was to run fast enough and throw yourself far enough that you missed the ghostly green rocks at the bottom. The water was so deep that you could dive down like a seal, down where the light bounced and shattered in a thousand glittering pieces. Only Grandpa was brave enough to dive. The other jumped legs first because broken legs were safer than broken heads and anyways they didn't like to watch the water rush up to greet them. It was easier to watch the sky slip away.

You always knew when someone was jumping because you heard the screams blistering in their throats, and the smack of their body hitting the water would echo through the cliffs. The water was cold, so cold that their muscles would tighten and their heartbeats stagger and for a few moments they would forget how to swim. And then they would surface, laughter bubbling up like oxygen and the sunlight glinting off their young, white teeth. You could see those smiles from the top of Tubutte Mountain.

I, too, stand at the edge of those red cliffs and imagine myself jumping. My toes curl over the edge and the wind teases my ears. But by now most of the lake has dried up, and the lake that is left is toxic green. Not an hour ago, John dipped his feet in the water and lost most of the skin on his heels. It just fell off. So I know it's foolish to jump, and I know that my hair and skin will fall out in clumps if I do, and maybe I'll go blind.

But still, I imagine that one day the lake will be full again, with water as clean and clear as the sky. I will stand on the cliff with sunlight in my hair and on my shoulders, and I will hold someone's hand and say "let me show you something" and then we will jump together, watching the fear and freedom spark in each other's eyes. We will break the surface and slam into a dark world not limited by gravity, where our pale, watery hands glow like moonbeams in the dark. We will stay there as long as we can while our lungs cramp and stretch and then we will claw our way into the sunlight and we will laugh, and the laugh of every cliffjumper that has every jumped before will echo with us, and for a split second or maybe two I will feel like someone understands who I am and where I came from.



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