Looking over the edge, I realized it, but way too late:
I was way in over my head here.
I startled a little bit, which was answer enough for her.
She laughed, good-naturedly. “It is pretty scary, isn’t it?” she said, peering over the edge of the cliff with me at the water below.
I’d heard that people had jumped from this cliff before. The girl standing next to me claimed she’d done it time and time again. Thousands or hundreds of times, she’s stood on this cliff, looked over the edge, and leapt.
That’s what I thought.
Until she spoke again.
“It’s scary every time.”
“What?” I asked, incredulous.
There’s no way this could be scary for her. She’d done it a hundred times already! How on earth could she possibly still be scared of this?
But she smiled at me kindly, letting me know she wasn’t kidding. “Yeah, every time I get up here, my knees start to shake a little bit. And I get super nervous. My mouth goes bone dry and I get goosebumps all over. Especially when I actually start to think about this. Like ‘am I really doing this’ kind of stuff. It always ends up like that.”
“But you jump anyway?” I asked.
“I jump anyway.”
With a shrug, she dismissed confusion for concrete words. “People have jumped before me. Tons of people. And I’ve jumped before.”
“You’ve never gotten hurt?”
“I never said that.”
At that, she could see my hesitation. It covered my face.
She laughed again, her mouth sticking to a grin when her laughter was over.
“That’s why it’s scary. There’s never a guarantee that you won’t swallow some sea water, or land in a really deep groove of water, or that you won’t land in a rip current. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it. That falling is pointless.”
Honestly, I wasn’t following. “So then, what about it is worth it?”
“Hmm,” she contemplated a moment, taking my question seriously–for which I was thankful for. In the end, she smiled and said, “It’s an experience. Whether you’re falling through the air alone or with someone next to you, you get to understand just a little bit more about jumping every time you do it. And, sometimes, yeah, it’s disappointing to come up empty handed, with no one beside you, but at least you jumped. And that’s thrilling enough for me.”
“So, is it about the thrill? Or about the ocean?”
“It’s about the experience of both.”
“You are so weird.”
“And you’re the boy who’s about to follow me off a cliff. So what’s that make you?”
Grimacing, I had to admit, she had a point. And she knew it too, but she wasn’t a gloater. Instead of holding it over my head, she laughed in that carefree way again.
“You know, I’m glad I came here with someone experienced,” I admitted, still looking down at the foaming waves that begged me to land on them.
“Well, I’ve come with experienced jumpers before, and I wasn’t glad. Trust me, it’s not experience that matters.”
“Hmm. You’re right. It’s probably your gentleness that’s making this easier.”
Again, she laughed, with real amusement. “I wouldn’t say I’m gentle. I’m just not an asshole about it. If you don’t want to jump, I won’t make you, but you should know,” she said, walking closer to the cliff. Turning, she smiled at me, her back against the skyline, turned away from the waves, back to the ocean.
“The more you think, the scarier it gets. And the experience really loses its natural beauty when you do that.” Her foot hovered in the air, above the empty space adjacent to the cliff. “You should jump before you change your mind. This cliff has never killed anybody, you know. So, even if you get banged up, you’ll still make it out alive.”
Before I could even nod, she grinned at me, planted both feet on the cliff, and spun up, into the air.
She did a helicopter type of thing for a moment, pinwheeling through the air. And then I realized where she was pinwheeling to.
Right over the cliff.
Coming closer to the edge, I watched as she dropped gracefully over the side. She stopped spinning halfway down so she could get her bearings and plug her nose as she plunged into the blue waves, foaming with white.
When she came up, she motioned to me and I shook my head.
And she laughed so loudly I could hear it from way up here. Her goodnatured attitude reaching me, even this far away.
And I sighed.
Because there was no way I was going to leave her down there in the water, all alone.
Don’t think too hard about it. You’re just falling. And the ocean is down there. It’ll catch you.
Taking a deep breath, I shut off my mind as best as I could.
And I charged at the cliff.
As I fell, my limbs all flailed instinctively. The air rushed up underneath me, yielding nothing. Allowing me absolutely no control. I had left all that behind, on the cliff behind me. And, although I was okay with that (mostly), my human instincts still fought against this powerlessness. This relentless feeling of being upended. Of being suspended with no stop.
So I flailed.
Not meaning to. But still, I flailed, my limbs doing their best to slow me down, to stop me, to gain some sort of traction. To get some sort of control over this situation.
I didn’t gain any.
Probably, I looked like a moron. Someone being electrocuted midair as I fell. But, in the end, I felt okay with that. After all, this was my first time cliff jumping.
And at least I’d had the courage to make this leap.
There was no way that she would fault me for that.
My jumping partner was a lot kinder than that.