Friday, 18 October 2013

The Cliff Dive


There are times in your life when going back or going forward seem equally impossible but staying putt is unthinkable.

Since graduating as a fully fledged grown-up these situations mostly present themselves in the guise of mental dilemmas, choosing between the right thing and the easy thing. Whenever I have one of these decisions to face I remember a time when I was truly stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I was fourteen and the summer holidays were more than half gone. I was making pocket money by doing odd jobs for neighbours and bringing in hay for local farmers. A few houses up the road lived an widow called Mrs Ryan, every Saturday morning I would cut her lawn and earn 50 pence. It was only a small lawn but back then 50 pence would buy four bars of chocolate. This particular Saturday morning when I pushed my dads rusty petrol mower up the road towards Mrs Ryan's I found that the normally empty drive was occupied by a brand new car with a Dublin registration plate.

New cars were a bit of a novelty, but the grass would not cut itself and I had two more lawns to do. I pulled the ripcord and the mower spluttered into life. I was making short work of the lawn, racing up and down like a kid possessed when I noticed her watching me. She was about my age or a year older, she stood taller than me with shoulder length blond hair, she wore a 'Duran Duran' tee shirt, skin tight jeans and white deck shoes. My heart spluttered just like the battered lawn mower and I was sure it was going to cut out. I got to the end of my cut directly in front of her, a cool kid would have said 'Hi' or waved or something. I just turned on my heel and started another cut. The sweat was running down my back and my face was as red as a beetroot. I eventually got to the far end and was forced to turn back, she was gone.

In the space of one strip of lawn I had fallen in love, ended up broken hearted and alone. It took another ten minutes before the job was finished but she had not reappeared, I was giving serous consideration to starting over again when she walked around the corner of the house with a glass of lemonade in her hand and a snarl on her face.

"Gran said to give you this," she said thrusting the glass at me.

"Thanks," I said getting even redder.

"Is your name really Squid," She asked

"Yea," I said not seeming to be able to say more than one word at a time.

"Gan said to give you this as well," holding out the 50 pence piece.

"Thanks," I said taking the coin from her. My finger tips brushed the skin of her palm, it was soft and warm. Electricity jumped across my nerve endings like I had touched a piece of heaven. She must have felt it because she pulled her hand away like she had been stung.

"Is that your car, " I asked finally getting my voice to work a little.

"It's my moms, she made us visit Gran for the week, not that I was given a choice," she said with a bit of snarly sulk. "I didn't want to come , culchies are boring, it smells like cow shit here."

I was a bit offended but it was too late for me, even her most unflattering characteristic only made her more wild and interesting to me, I was quiet literally sunk.

Her name was Denise and she was not alone in her enforced duties to her long suffering grandmother, who seemed to be as grumpy with the invasion of her house as the kids were at being there. Her two brothers, one older than her one younger, were along for the ride. It was great to have people my own age on my door step, it only took us minutes to all make friends. They were world wise, big city slickers and I was the country bumpkin determined not to be left behind. The week seemed to slip by so quickly, we made rope swings from branches the big pine trees at the end of my garden, cooked potatoes in tinfoil in a bonfire and they told me story's of the city while I tried not to stare at their sister too much. Towards the end of the week Denise made a throwaway remark about how a black tee shirt made a man look sexy. That night I begged my mother to get me a black tee shirt because 'MY LIFE DEPENDS ON IT'. I am sure she just wanted a laugh at the dumb cluchie but I was getting a black tee shirt come hell or high water.

The Saturday before they were due to leave Denise, her older brother Daren and myself rounded up three bikes and headed for the ocean. Denise said she wanted to go out along the headland, it was a lovely day and Daren kept racing off into the distance showing off. Truth be told I wished he'd never slowed down or vanished forever. That hour riding along beside this gorgeous girl were some of the most perfect minutes I have ever spent. For a time she even forgot she was above all this kiddie stuff, freewheeling down a hill her hair spread out behind her in the warm summer breeze she smiled and was beautiful.

We ended up out on the tip of the headland where we abandoned the bikes in a field and walked across to the cliffs. They were not very high but fell directly into the ocean, straight down into the deep dark green of the Atlantic ocean. We got to a place where you could climb down the face and stand on a ledge about 25 feet over the water. This huge slap of rock jutted out like a table where we sat in the warm sunshine with our feet dangling over the edge.

"I bet you would not jump in from here," Daren needled me.

"I bet you would not, " I countered.

"Ok, I will if you will," he said.

 My stomach bunched in a knot. I don't like heights but I am a good swimmer. It was a hell of a long way down now that I was looking with a fresh perspective. I glanced to my side and Denise was looking at me leaning back on her hands with her legs dangling over the edge. I desperately wanted her to see me as something more than a geeky kid who lived next door to her Grandmother.

"Right your on," I said. Daren and myself got to our feet and began stripping off. He went all the way to his y fronts but I kept my jeans on. No way I was going down to my underwear in front of Denise.

"You first," Daren said standing back from the edge.

I inched forward hooking my toes over the edge of the rock looking out and down into the water, trying to see if there was any rocks below the surface. My legs began to shake, I was never more sure that I was going to do something that would actually kill me. It was such a long way down, I was truly terrified, I could feel the sting of tears come to my eyes. How did I get myself into this, I was sure I was going to wet my pants. I was trying to think of anyway possible to get out of this stupid dare without looking like a total prat but there was none.

I was frozen, behind me was a girl I was mad about, in front of me, certain death. That was when I felt a tear slip over my eyelid and escape down my cheek. That tiny tear set me free, I was not going to cry in front of her. I launched myself out as far as I could in a huge leap and plunged forever through the air feet first. The world was silent and even seemed to slow down. The water got closer and closer but seemed to take forever to arrive. Boom, it exploded around me- in a cloud of white bubbles I vanished below the surface. At first I did not move, then I realised I was not hurt and adrenalin coursed though my veins. I kicked for the light and exploded into the air. Two shocked faces peered over the edge of the rock far above as I hollered and punched the air.

Then an amazing thing happened, Denise beamed a huge smile at me and the world stood still. Daren never jumped and the climb back up the cliff was nearly as scary as the jump but I had done it and I survived.

Then next day she went back to Dublin, I never saw her again but that's not the point, for one second in my life nothing was impossible. In that one look I got a glimpse of heaven.
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