Back in 5th grade we had an end of the year field trip to Moriello Pool. Moriello Pool, like any other community pool, had concession stand, a slide, a kiddie pool, two diving boards and a playground. The highlight of the end of year celebrations, we always looked forward to the trip.
Clear blue skies, soaring temperatures made the day seem perfect and endless. A group of us gathered along the edge of the pool near the deep end and set up our towels and our boom box (yes, it was that long ago). The lifeguards made us swim a lap across the deep end in order to test our swimming ability. Anyone who couldn’t make a lap had to stay in the shallow end.
My friends and I easily pass the exam and spent the next hour splashing and jumping, playing Marco Polo, giggling. There was a lot of giggling. After a while we all got out to lie on our towels and watch the other kids still in the pool. Many kids more adventurous than I were taking turns on the high dive. We laugh as they plough into the water more often than not flat on their stomachs.
Not to be outdone by our classmates we make the choice to each take a turn diving. One by one, we file over to the high dive. Soaring twenty feet above the surface of the water I stare up at it as the line slowly moves forward. I’ve always been nervous about heights. Not so much the being off the ground part, but the falling to my death part.
I count the kids in front of me. Ten more until my turn, five, four, three, Oh my God two, Jeez what the hell was I thinking one… Crap, my turn.
I place my hands on the ladder.
One foot on a rung.
Two feet on the rung.
Hands moving up.
Five feet off the ground.
Up and up.
Oh My God, the top.
I’m on the top. My hands clench the railing and turn white. I look down again. Big mistake. I back up a little my heel skims the edge of the board. I know the rungs are right there. I can just climb back down. Back to the ground and I’ll be fine. I look down. Three of my friends still wait below. Two of my friends cling to the side of the pool watching.
I feel like I’m in a movie when everything slows down. Seconds feel like minutes and each thud of my heart rattles my ribcage. Chlorine stings my nose and shrieks, giggles and squeals of laughter are drawn out and echo across the pool.
I look down again and my best friend smiles up at me and nods. She knows how scared I am. She knows that I want to climb back down. And I know that if I do climb back down she won’t think anything less of me.
I move to put my foot back on the top ladder rung, but stop a mere inch before my toes touch. My best friend might not think any less of me. The other kids might tease me about being scared. And that isn’t a big deal.
My mom raised me to not worry about what others think. It’s what I think that matters to me. And I know that if I climb back down the ladder, I would disappoint myself.
I put my foot back on the board. I took a shuffling step forward. One foot after the other, my hands edging along the railing until there was no more railing. I slide my feet along, letting go of the railing. As I make my way to the end of the board each step the board flexes and bows beneath my feet. I reach the end of the board. Bouncing gently, both feet on the board, arms outstretched for balance.
I push down a bit with my feet and come up on my toes. Push down. Come up. Push down. Jump out. The board disappears. Wind whistles across my face. My eyes screw shut. My stomach drops — No. I drop. Feet first. Arms out and up. I gulp in air. I scream. I suck in a lungful of air. My feet hit the water and then I’m under. I slow down, pause, my feet start scissor kicking, propelling me up, my arms pulling through the water.
I break the surface, gasp and shake the hair and water from my face. I look up at the board. My best friend stands on the end and with only the slightest of hesitation plunges in.
She surfaces near me and we swim to the edge of the pool.
“I didn’t think you were going to do it,” she says. “You looked like you were going to throw up.”
“I felt like I was going to throw up.” I tell her.
“But you did it.” She smiles at me and hoists herself out of the water onto the concrete. “Want to go again?”
“Nope,” I tell her. “One risk a day is plenty for me.”
Back then jumping off the high dive at the community pool seemed daring and life altering. I was a risk-taker, Damn it! And I could do anything!
Now, risk taking seems more weighted, more intense and important. Taking a risk must be weighed against what is best for my family. And despite all assurances, taking a risk is more than just jumping off a diving board.
I want to take the risk. I want to jump in fully committed with my eyes open and no hesitations this time.
But if I screw up…
If I can’t make it work…
Two tiny letters. One HUGE concept.