Falling With Style.

The swimming pool had two diving boards over the deep end. There was the low diving board that hung about three feet above the water. The only difference between jumping from the low diving board and jumping from the edge of the pool was that the low diving board put you a little farther out over the water. And it was kind of springy so you could bounce at the end of the board and it would propel you upward slightly. I liked to jump from the low board into the deep end and swim all the way to the bottom, twelve feet down, and look up. The watery surface overhead was like a shimmering screen, and the sun was like a sapphire. Then I’d have to come up. Or, on slow days when the pool wasn’t crowded, I could jump off the low board and swim all the way across the pool without surfacing. The first time I did that it was exhilarating. I felt like I’d really accomplished something, and what I accomplished was nearly hyperventilating at the edge of the pool because I was breathing so hard, which reminds me of the time I was at my grandparents’ house and my grandmother picked up the phone. She listened for a moment then said to my grandfather, “All I hear is heavy breathing.” My grandfather grabbed the phone and began sternly lecturing the person at the other end about decorum. Then he got quiet and listened and said to my grandmother, “Jim’s car broke down and he just pushed it two miles uphill to the service station.”

Anyway the high diving board, twelve feet high if I remember correctly although it seemed like it loomed a hundred feet overhead. It might as well have been that high. I wasn’t going up there. Well, I did. After all it was there, a mountain to be climbed, or rather a ladder to be climbed and jumped off of. I told myself that I was interested in swimming, not airing, and that if I really wanted to drop twelve feet I could by going from the surface of the pool to the bottom. It drew me, though. I had mastered everything else at the pool—not that there was much to master. After swimming from one end of the pool to the other without taking a breath about the only other thing that was left was talking the guy who ran the concession stand into letting me have a full cup of orange soda without ice so I got more orange soda and spent about half an hour sitting in a beach chair feeling bloated and miserable, but that’s another story.

The same summer I made the first swim from one end of the pool to the other I made up my mind I was going to jump from the high dive. The worst that could happen, I figured, was that I’d fall in the water.

It was about that time, on a slow, hot afternoon when there was hardly anyone around, when even the lifeguard was barely paying attention, that another kid walked out to the end of the high dive, bounced a couple of times, lost his balance, and fell sideways. He landed flat on his back on the concrete below. I didn’t see it happen. I just saw him stretched out as though sleeping, and the emergency team with the stretcher that took him away. He survived, and word got around that he recovered, but he never came back to the pool.

Later that summer, on a busy day when the pool was crowded, I got in line with all the other swimmers who were going off the high dive. I climbed the ladder, walked onto the board, and gripped the handrails. The handrails ended about halfway. Beyond them was just the board and open air. I stood up there holding the handrails for what seemed like an hour, then climbed back down. No one laughed or made fun of me. The next person in line, an older guy, just nodded at me, climbed the ladder, and did a spectacular dive off the board.

The next summer I watched a couple of my friends go off the high dive. Sometimes we’d do synchronized jumps, me going off the low dive and, of course, hitting the water much sooner, or I’d wait and try to time it so we’d hit the water at the same time. And finally one day I decided I was going to do it. I climbed the ladder. I gripped the handrails as I walked out toward the end of the board, then let go. I didn’t bounce and I walked slowly, and when I got to the end of the board I jumped, feet first. It wasn’t an impressive dive, or even a dive really, but I plunged into the water. That was all I wanted—to make that leap.

Twenty-six years ago, on June 27th, 1993 I married my wife. It wasn’t as frightening, probably because the justice of the peace who performed the ceremony looked so much like John Cleese that my only regret is that when he read the vows I didn’t say, “What was the thing in the middle?” It was really her by my side that assured me, though, and every day I look forward to a new leap.

15 Comments

  1. Bookstooge

    Hey, hey, hey, congrats! That is a huge accomplishment in this day and age.
    Being married 26 years I mean, not jumping off the high board 😉

    Of course, I’ve never jumped off a high board…

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It really is a big accomplishment, maybe in any day and age. Life expectancies used to so much shorter, which might be why the traditional wedding gift for a 25th anniversary is silver. Back in the day most people never made it that far. Although oddly enough I can’t find what a traditional 26th anniversary wedding gift is.
      If you ever do jump off a high board the one thing I’d recommend is know how to swim.

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Wow, 26 years! You are a rare breed my friend. I don’t know anyone who’s been married that long, congratulations!!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you so much. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right person. I hope you find yours–it’s never too late.

      Reply
  3. Arionis

    Happy Anniversary! Wow, 26 years. If you add up my three marriages, it equals 28 years, but I don’t think that counts.

    Your diving board story reminds me of a cliff jumping story I had included in a post about hiking a few years ago. I’ll put a little excerpt here if you don’t mind…

    “Now I have jumped off all kinds of things; cliffs, bridges, even rooftops in to water, so this should have been no problem. However, it had been awhile since I had done things like that and when I got up to the cliff it looked a lot farther down than I thought it was. I just couldn’t make myself jump for some reason. I made my way to the jumping off spot at least three times and chickened out, only to retreat to let someone else take a turn. At this point I noticed a group of 20 something girls down in the pool staring at me with what could only be called pity for a washed up old man. Well I was having none of that! For the fourth time I made my way back to the jump spot and this time off the side I went. It was awesome! I don’t know why I had hesitated before. I even got a bit of applause from onlookers when I broke the surface of the pool. You know, that kind of applause you hear when someone gets a participation trophy.”
    Arionis recently posted…642 Things To Write About – 5/642My Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s a great story. Now I need to go and find the original post so I can read it in full. It’s especially funny to me that it’s some young women who finally prompted you to go over. Yeah, we’re so predictable.

      Reply
      1. Arionis

        Here’s the URL but I think you’ve read it already.

        https://www.justasmallcog.com/2017/04/15/a-walk-trip-stumble-in-the-woods/

        Reply
  4. BarbaraM

    I did exactly the same thing. Feet first. And watched as my stomach flew up as my body went down. Never did it again.

    I sent you a Happy Anniversary greeting on Adulting In Progress – hope you could find the translation. (My husband and I will be celebrating our
    50th anniversary next March. How on earth did that happen?!?)

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Wow, congratulations on 50 years! That really is impressive.

      Reply
  5. Kristine Laco

    Congratulations! My diving experience was almost identical except nobody, to my knowledge, fell off the diving board onto the deck. I dove into marriage 24 years ago and it sometimes feels like a cannonball, sometimes feels as hard as the deck, sometimes it is as graceful as a pro, but I climb those stairs every day and I’m glad I took the plunge.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Congratulations on making it to 24–and on diving off the diving board. The kid who fell really kind of freaked me out for a while.

      Reply
  6. SkyeEnt

    Congratulations on your 26th anniversary. As my husband (of 29 years) would say – you get less of a sentence for murder!
    SkyeEnt recently posted…In praise of small flowersMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That reminds me of the old joke that most men die before their wives before they want to. Fortunately it’s not true for all of us. And congratulations on 29 years!

      Reply
  7. Ann Koplow

    Thanks for going there, Chris. And happy anniversary to both of you!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Sometimes we have to face up to our fears, something you’ve also reminded me of on a regular basis. Thank you for being here.

      Reply

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