A Woman on the Edge
When I said that I had always dreamed of going hang gliding, I never thought that I would actually have the opportunity to go hang gliding, which is why I said it in the first place. So, when I was presented with a beautifully handcrafted gift card designed by my artistic husband on my birthday that read, This certificate grants you one free hang gliding experience today, I seriously considered throwing up. “Oh my god! I can’t believe you did this!” was what I said through gritted teeth and a forced smile. What I felt like saying was, What’re you, crazy? I soon realized that there was no way out. “We’re leaving in an hour. Wanna stop at Starbucks first for a Chai Latte?” Quite honestly, the thought of consuming anything at the moment was utterly repulsive. “No, I’m OK.”
But I wasn’t OK. As I sat on the toilet, having my first bout of diarrhea, and trying to comprehend what I was about to do, I was flooded with panicked thoughts. OK, one panicked thought: What if I couldn’t go through with it? What if, in front of everyone, I backed out? After peeling myself off the hard porcelain bowl, I stared at my horrified face in the medicine cabinet mirror, long and hard. You have to do this. You’re going to do this. Just get your shit together, literally!
With that, I approached my closet, praying I had something to wear that was both comfortable and wouldn’t make me look too fat. Since I was now committed to flying over an entire city, I at least wanted to look as attractive as possible. Unfortunately, since I hadn’t done laundry in about three weeks, my choices were limited. All that remained were my gray sweatpants that I had cut too short at the bottoms so that whenever I wore them, my husband always made some kind of joke about how I was ready for a flood. Maybe I could match it with a cute top. I chose a lavender V-neck T-shirt that made my boobs look a size larger than they were. As I got dressed, I couldn’t believe how consumed I was with my appearance. I felt embarrassed and vulnerable and wound up on the toilet again for another six minutes. “You almost ready?” I heard my husband yell from the hallway. All I could think was, please, god, please don’t let me have to go to the bathroom up there.
Straight out of the womb, I was afraid of making a mistake, afraid of looking stupid, so aware of the fact that I cared so much what people thought of me, that I rarely allowed myself to take a risk. I would have mental lists of thoughts, ideas, opportunities that I longed to execute but couldn’t due to a constant state of paralysis. The concept of trying anything where I could be even the slightest bit judged was absolutely terrifying. So, I stayed inside a lot and hoped that these great opportunities would magically appear on my doorstep. My dad would often say things like, “You’re expecting the world to come to you…but how will they know you’re even in here?”
As my husband took the reins of his silver Chevy Astro van, I tried to convince myself that this was something I wanted to do. I mean, it was. I had been wanting to try this since I was a little kid when I used to watch the hang gliders soaring over the ocean from the deck of my house. They looked like giant butterflies with their little bodies in the center and large rainbow-striped wings stretched out wide. I imagined what it must’ve felt like to fly through the sky like that. Like a bird, and the freedom that came with that. Yeah, I wanted this…I did. I could do this.
“So, you excited?” My husband glanced over at me as we drove up a dry, dirt hill.
“Yeah, I am.” And I was.
As we pulled up and parked, we were greeted by an odd-looking man. He was in his late fifties and looked like a homeless person. His brown straight hair was oily and stringy, and his potbelly was overly pronounced in the stained white T-shirt he had on. “So, you ready for this?” He said in a mumble. His delivery of words was quick and sort of in spurts…kind of like Hunter S. Thompson. Before I could answer, we were being herded into a large, broken down-looking van-bus thing. It was painted a mint green along the sides and white on top. There were about ten of us all together and, as we tore up the dusty mountain that would lead us to our launching point, I was able to lose myself in the scenery. After about twenty minutes of what, at times, felt like a magic mushroom-induced roller coaster, we parked at the top and unloaded ourselves from the vehicle. So far, I had been given no instruction whatsoever, only a waiver that I needed to sign saying, if I die, it’s not their fault. I signed the form and dated it realizing that, if indeed I did die, it would ironically occur on the same day that I was born. My husband had brought his video camera to document this historic event. As he filmed, I paced. My mouth searched for any sign of saliva, and my heart pumped at a speed that seemed wrong and possibly dangerous. “OK, let’s go!” What? What did he mean, let’s go? The instructor motioned for me to come on over and step into the harness. This was when my brain decided to go on hiatus. “OK, take your right foot and step in this loop.” I stepped with my left. “No, your right! Your right!” OK, yelling at me at this moment was not going to help. “OK, give me your left arm and swing it back to the right.” Wait, what? Once again, I gave him my right arm. “No, your left! Your left!” Oh my god! I had officially become mentally challenged.
It was at this point that I noticed my husband filming a close-up when I snapped, “Please don’t film this!” He pulled back instantly, recognizing that I meant business. Within a minute and a half, we were perched on the edge of the mountain. “Now, on the count of three, you’re gonna run as fast as you can. Keep in mind, if you don’t run fast enough, we’re gonna wind up crashing down the mountain. You got that?” Did I get that? Did I have a choice? “I can’t tell you how many times someone didn’t run fast enough and we got whipped up in a gust and crashed back down. You don’t want that to happen, do you?”
“No!” I yelled back.
“Okay, now one more thing. If you’re gonna get sick, turn to your left. I’ve gotten covered in puke about thirty times and it’s no fun.” Oh my god! Was there a possibility of actually getting sick? I hadn’t even thought of that. Throwing up is one of my worst fears…and he’s telling me this now? And there’s my husband with the camera, and all I can think is, please, god, don’t let me puke all over this guy and have it be on a DVD. Before I could even fully process the words, “If you’re gonna get sick…,” he was counting. “One, two, three, run!!!”
Holy shit! And I ran. I ran so fast and so hard that my legs were still spinning through midair for about seven seconds. And then I realized, as we swooped up and down and around, and the lukewarm air filled my clenched face, this was fun! This was great! I was going to be OK. I wasn’t going to get sick, I wasn’t going to pass out, I was going to have fun. We circled above and around a large dam for about twenty-five minutes, taking turns steering the big blue kite.
And then, we came in for a landing. “All you need to do once we get close to the ground is tuck your legs back so they don’t drag. Got it?” I got it. And we landed. I had done it. I had taken one of the biggest risks of my life and, not only had I survived, I had enjoyed it.
Now I suppose you’re expecting me to say that this was the magical moment when I released all of my fears and inhibitions and ever since that day I’ve have been leaping off metaphorical mountains. I wish I could say that…but I can say that it does help to remember the rush of joy and laughter that consumed me as I ran into the sky and smiled the whole way down. Sometimes scary turns out to be the opposite. Not all the time, just sometimes.
Copyright © 2017 Hali Morell
Hali Morell is an actress, writer, and teacher. With a bachelor’s degree in acting and a minor in creative writing, she has written and performed two semiautobiographical plays as well as a one-woman show. Her work has appeared in Forge Journal and will soon be featured in The Penman Review and The Tower Journal. Hali has attended the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and studied with Karin Gutman, Monona Wali, Mark Travis, Terri Silverman, and Frank Megna. Alongside her writing partner, she helps run memoir writing/talking council workshops called The Missing Peace. When not writing about navigating the world’s anxieties with humor, she teaches and facilitates two to three twelfth-grade Rites of Passage trips per year.