ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

The Time I Jumped off a Bridge

And my dad talked me into it

Photo Credit: Whitefish Falls History LaCloche.CA

I felt the hot steel on my feet. My 12-year-old toothpick-thin body slid through an opening in the bridge. Standing on the bottom rail, I peered down into the dark river. I was about 20 feet above the water, and my hands were slippery with sweat. Dad was in the water motioning me to jump with a big grin on his face, I wanted him to be proud, but I was frozen with fear.

I managed to resist most of my dad’s prior persuasions. My sister, Mary was fearless and willing to participate in the thrill-seeking activities Dad initiated. Sometimes that meant riding “The Hammer” at the carnival (going upside down was involved) or taking a dip on Jan 1st in the Illinois River. Some of my refusals were even for tame events like riding a seaplane to view the Bay of Islands in Canada. My whole family went. Terrified of heights, I stayed back and watched the plane from the ground.

Every year we made a trip to our cabin in Canada. Sometimes, our friend Paulie would go with us on our vacation. He was my sister’s age and joined in with Mary picking on me as an older brother would. He and my sister were often in competition, upping the ante in waterskiing and seeing who could do the most tricks. Both were skilled skiers, they did stunts like skiing one-legged with the free limb jutting out perpendicular to the water. Then they hooked the handle on the extended foot and let go, skiing with no hands. Sometimes they clenched the handgrip between their teeth or put it behind their head. It’s amazing no one ever got seriously hurt.

One day, Dad decided we should all jump off the bridge in Whitefish Falls. This was the closest town to our cabin and it had two small stores where we could purchase some groceries. Mom usually gave us money so we could buy Canadian candy bars and souvenirs. We would shop and walk around, crossing the bridge that connected the two sides of town.

Dad emerged from the tavern, partially intoxicated, he announced that we should jump off the bridge into the Whitefish River. Mom stayed back at camp that day, or I am sure she would have objected to the impending mischief. My stomach churned at the thought of the challenge. Paulie and Mary couldn’t get to the bridge fast enough. It had two spots where you could stand to jump. One at the lower level, just below the road, or you could leap from the top of the bridge.

Dad said to be careful to jump into the middle of the river, I found out later that kids died every year by jumping too close to the side and landing on boats. I watch the three of them effortlessly plunge into the water. They entered the dark river and swam to the side, laughing from the adrenaline rush. It didn’t take long for Dad to start goading me into doing it. Mary chimed in, “Don’t be a baby,” and Paulie just laughed.

Usually, I was steadfast in my refusal to participate in such antics. My anxiety would paralyze me and I found a way to avoid these stunts. This time I had a competing emotion. Blood rushed to my cheeks, and I was embarrassed by my lack of participation. It wasn’t just Dad and Mary witnessing my fear, it was Paulie too.

I walked up the hill to the road, my heart beating a familiar rhythm, but I was determined to overcome my fear. I stood on the lower rail of the bridge, checking to make sure I was in the middle. I gripped the metal beside me, shutting my eyes. I was frozen until I heard Mary yelling, “Jump! You can do it!” “C’mon Christy,” Paulie said. I open my eyes a little and peered down, my stomach turned and I quickly averted my gaze upward. I could hear Dad encouraging me from the water. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes again and jumped.

Suddenly there was silence in the watery world. I waited until gravity stopped and buoyancy took over. Changing directions, I fused my fingers together transforming them into fins. Frantically, I pushed the water down, propelling myself toward the surface, When my face hit the air, I gasped for oxygen, coughing up the water that invaded my nose. There was an eruption of cheers as I swam to the side and heaved myself onto the dock. Sitting on the edge, I looked at the bridge and then gazed across the water where I saw my dad’s smiling face. Taking another deep breath, I smiled too.

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Christy Dunphy Rommel

Christy Dunphy Rommel

Christy has mild cerebral palsy. She lives in Washington State with her husband and has two grown children.