Leaps of Faith
By Jane Champ-O'Connell
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 the board itself: impossibly long, pale blue after being bleached by the sun for an indeterminate amount of time, and rough against the bottoms of my feet. I also remember looking down and being above the trees. It didn’t make me afraid like it would now; instead, I was just awed that I got to see the world from such an angle. When I managed to tear my gaze from the trees all the way down to the shore, I saw that 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 terrible idea in the deadliest degree), I managed to catapult right past them, crashing into the water much farther out than was remotely possible.
Under the water, there was a current (which shouldn’t have been possible either, because this was supposed to be 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 in the future, though, a friend will invite me to her pool. She will ask if I want to go on the diving board and at first I will say no, instead watching her as I had watched my cousins in my dream. But she will climb out of the pool, smiling and out of breath, and I will let her convince me. My knees will shake and my stomach will feel like it might turn itself inside out, but when it is my turn, I will climb the ladder with white knuckles. I will walk straight off the end of the plank and splash into the water. When I drag myself out of the pool with all the strength left in my shaking limbs, I will 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 local pool’s diving board was as much progress as I’ll ever make. Maybe rivers, lakes, and heights on the whole 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.