An assignment, the prompt was Loss of Innocence.
When I was fifteen, I died.
Ok, maybe not in the way you’re thinking. That’s just what I call it, how I categorized it in my brain.
It was two and a half weeks into summer, 2009. I was hanging out with some out-of-town friends, Mike and Lola. We weren’t really close--Less friends--more acquaintances. It was one of those muggy blistering summer days, when everyone abandoned the scorched streets for beaches and rivers. The humidity was heavy as it muffled the sound of cars on the road; windows sealed shut air conditioners blasting. The three of us in bare feet and bathing suits trudged through the dusty field. Our towels were soon tossed over tree branches at the edge of the river.
The dry spell of the past few days had reduced the usually unswimably fast moving river to a still -swift but-manageable current. Mike was a sailing instructor, Lola did swim team and I lived in Sunapee. So we all had a pretty good handle in the ‘not drowning’ department.
The water cascaded over the steep rocks, churned around in a big pool and then thundered off down river. As long as we stayed away from the outlet where the water rushed out of the pool we would be fine.
We all climbed up the bank next to the waterfall. The three of us stood back from the top peering over the edge. “Who’s first?” asked Mike jokingly knowing it would be him.
“You,” Lola and I chorused grinning. He walked toward the rim, careful of the slippery rocks. With a splash and a whoop of joy he landed in the pool below. Lola soon followed with a shout of “Cannonball!” I walked up to a dry patch of rock at the edge of the cliff. Nervousness twisted in my stomach. I took a few steps back and with a running start hurtled myself over the edge. I fell through empty space and felt the familiar slap of water as I splashed into the pool below. My head broke the surface. Rubbing the water out of my eyes I looked up at the distance I had just fallen.
I absently floated in the water as we chatted. “Careful where you’re floating,” warned Mike.
“Don’t worry, it’s not deep here,” I said as I swam a few strokes and then stood. It was waist deep. The dry tips of rocks jutted out of the water all around me. I climbed up on a partially submerged bolder and stood there with the water rushing around my ankles. “See I can walk on water, so I’ll never drown,” I laughed with them.
I don’t know how it happened. I just don’t remember the actual accident. All I remember was my feet were suddenly not on the rock any more, they were in the air—in front of me? It was the same falling feeling as when I had jumped off the falls but this time laced with shock and fear. And then,
There isn’t a big black blotch in my memory or ghostly noises of people shouting and frantically calling 911. There’s just nothing. It’s like when you can’t remember what you had for breakfast at three in the afternoon. You can see in your head yourself getting up and then you’re walking in the school door. You know there’s passage of time in between the two events, but you have no idea what you did. There isn’t a big hole. It’s like someone cut out a chunk of the timeline that is your life and spliced two events together regardless of what happened in between.
The next event for me is waking up to a white ceiling. I was told that the current knocked me over and I bashed my head on the rocks. Mike and Lola dragged me over to the shore and called 911, then stuck a tee-shirt on the gash on the back of my head and waited for the ambulance. I know that sounds really emotionally detached but I can’t have any emotion about it, I don’t remember it.
This was the first time in my life when I realized, I’m not invincible. No one is. I’m going to die someday. You’re going to die. Everyone I know is going to die eventually. Maybe tomorrow, maybe years from now. What is the one greatest fear we have? Death. Why? It’s unavoidable. It used to just be a threat to me. “Don’t do drugs, or you’ll die. Drive safe, or you could die.” As long as I followed the rules I would be safe and never have to worry about dying. Wrong. It’s inevitable. Regardless of how nice I am or how many nursing homes I visit or how much money I donate, I’ll still die. You’ll still die.
So what’s the point of life if it always ends at the great wall that is mortality? That used to really stress me out. I would lay awake at night in my bed scared to go to sleep because of that miniscule possibility that I might not wake up. So what happens when you cross the great divide? I don’t know. Does your soul waltz on to a better place? Or are you simply worm food? Someday I will find out, and I will be able to do absolutely nothing about it. But that’s the thing, sometimes it’s not having all the answers—it’s having the courage to ask the question.