The Best Diving Board is No Diving Board
A truth: When I was five, I had a dream that solidified my lifelong fear of heights. The dream was this: I was at the lake with my mother’s family, and for some inscrutable reason, there was a diving board, the metal frame of which stuck out like a sore thumb against the scenic backdrop. My unconscious mind knew two things with absolute certainty: the lake was Lake Michigan and the diving board was 100 feet tall (though at age five, I had no real concept of what either of those things looked like). I watched from my beach towel as my cousins jumped off of this diving board, screeching, splashing, and swimming to the shore just to do it all again. I waited passively for my turn until they had tired themselves out and I approached the ladder on my own.
I don’t remember the climbing part. What I do remember is that when I finally stepped off of the ladder and onto that long plastic plank, I looked down to the shore and my mother’s family was gone. Instead, my father and grandmother were waiting for me in the water. From an impossible distance, I managed to see their smiling faces and waving hands as they beckoned me to jump in and join them.
“Will you catch me?” I called out over the space between us.
They said nothing but extended their arms towards me, and that was all the assurance I needed. I jumped. But, even though they were much too far back to catch me to begin with (not to mention the fact that catching someone who jumped from that height is a lethally terrible idea), I managed to catapult right past them, crashing into the water much farther than was remotely possible.
Under the water, there was a current (which shouldn’t have been possible either, because this was Lake Michigan) that carried me away from my dad and grandmother until everything was black.
When I woke up, I was shaken in a way I had never been before. The things that scared me in my dream were fundamentally real, even if they weren’t realistic. It was then that I swore off lakes, rivers, diving boards, and above all, heights.
Years later, a friend would invite me to her pool. She would ask if I wanted to go on the diving board and at first I would say no, instead watching her as I had watched my cousins in my dream. But when she climbed out of the pool, smiling and out of breath, I would let her convince me. My knees shook and my stomach felt like it might turn itself inside out, but when it was my turn, I would climb the ladder with white knuckles. I would walk straight off the end of the plank and splash into the water. When I dragged myself out of the pool with all the strength left in my shaking limbs, I would smile just as wide as she had.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified of heights. It was only recently that I got over my fear of escalators (only the ones that go down because I didn’t like to be facing the ground). Maybe the step off of the 7 Hills diving board was as much progress as I’ll ever make. Maybe rivers, lakes, and heights in general will stay sworn off forever, but at least now I know I can face the diving board.
A dare: Pick apart the scariest dream you’ve ever had. Find holes in the dream logic until it doesn’t scare you anymore.