Watery Embrace

Short Stories Mar 03, 2019

It’s not like I’m peering into an abyss or anything. It’s choppy down there, but it seems so far down when you’re standing at the top. How long will it take? Will it hurt? The white underbelly of a Virgin jet roars ridiculously close overhead on its descent path into Coffs Harbour Airport. There’s a hundred or so passengers up there who are totally oblivious to what I’m about to do.

And what a stunning day as a flock of feathery witnesses wheels down to perch along the steel safety rails near me. About twenty silver gulls I’d guess, but I’m unsure: my mind is elsewhere. I lean over the rails again and survey the chop below me. A piece of clear plastic bobs up and down on the broken water; possibly a bait bag discarded thoughtlessly by a fisherman, but I don’t care at this moment of time despite my abhorrence of ocean pollution.

How did I get to this point in my life? What was the actual trigger that made me so resolute about today?  There were other choices. Other options for this day. Under a scorching February sun, I momentarily reflect on my absolute fear of edges. It’s a morbid fear, it’s not even about heights. It’s just that I’ve always believed there’s a law of physics which holds that the closer you get to an edge, the pull over that edge increases proportionally, until it becomes irresistible and gravity takes over. I’m sure it’s a universal truth. Aren’t others aware of it?

It’s the law of physics that I discovered as a skinny ten year old when peer pressure had coerced me up the steps of the high diving board at the Kempsey Municipal Swimming Pool. Standing alone at the edge of the platform, looking downwards at a gaggle of boys treading water below, faces upturned and shrieking as they egged me on. And that feeling of utter loneliness as the law of physics took over and sucked me roughly from the safety of that concrete diving platform. I’d changed my mind mid spring and the action of trying to undo the dive at the last minute had thrown my action out of synch. With all the grace of a plummeting brick, I had smacked the water. My first high dive had been a massive belly flop. Water rushed up my nose and my guts felt like they’d been ripped open. Spluttering to the surface, tears in my eyes and strings of snot dangling from my nose, my mates roared their approval of the entertainment value of my massive fail. Yes, it was precisely that moment in 1963 when my lifelong fear of edges had taken root.

But, c’mon. Ageing ain’t for sissies. Face your fears. My head is flooding with reasons why I shouldn’t be here now. At this place, leaning over the rail, 50 years later. Staring into the abyss. Yep, this will all be over quickly.

I tentatively climb the rail. The ocean below me is calling my name. Or perhaps it’s the haunting lure of sirens. I’m only jumping, so there won’t be a belly flop again. And I’m resolute. No attempt to turn back. I will conquer this irrational fear. As I step off the top rail, my thin whimpers are rendered inaudible by the enthusiastic whoops and shouts of support offered up by my family. My wife, adult kids and my grandkids have lined the edge of the Coffs Harbour Jetty to support Pardy as he faces his fears and makes his first jetty jump. It’s a rite of passage for many Coffs Harbour teenagers, but I’d avoided jetty jumping until the morning of my 60th birthday.

It feels like an eternity in the air before the ocean rushes to meet and envelop me in its unexpectedly cold, watery embrace. There’s a slight stinging under my arms. Made the novice’s mistake of putting my arms outwards as though I was flying. Then the ocean spits me upwards and I explode to the surface, whooping and fist pumping at the ten grinning faces peering downwards. The row of seagulls on the rail also seemingly offers up its raucous support. I’m feeling a tingle of exhilaration, and a sense of liberation. I’ve done it.

I’m unsure if I’ll do it again for my 70th.

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