Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Suicide May Be Painless But Bungee Jumping Sure Isn’t

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, October 21, 2007)

Fear is a feeling that doesn't mean much to me. At least it didn't until a recent event that showed me that just how paralyzing fear can be. But first, let me explain myself.

Just like everyone, I know what fear is. I feel fear when I'm walking down a dark alleyway and see mysterious movement out of the corner of my eye. Or when I stand on the edge of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas and look down. Or when an over aggressive dog suddenly runs across the street, snarling viciously at me. Or even when I just think about the future and what it may hold in store for me. Everyone feels fear and they would be foolish not to.

But the one thing I've always been proud of is that I refuse to let fear control my life. When I got senselessly beaten up outside the Whiskey A-Go-Go years ago, I had pangs of fearful anxiety every time I thought about leaving the house for months, but I never let it keep me from seeing the bands I wanted to see. When I visit a new city and people warn me that I should stay away from a certain area, if there's something I want to see or do there, I ignore them. I always feel the pang of fear whenever it comes time to try out a new ultimate roller coaster or extreme ride of some kind, but I'm always on it as soon as I can.

So I've always been pretty sure of myself when I've decided I wanted to do something, even if it seemed dangerous at the time. When Skip and I decided to repel down the side of the 3,000-foot tall Table Mountain in South Africa, I was over the side in a flash. I didn't even have to think about it. It looked like a fun thing to do and I wanted to do it. I felt the same way when I rode my first sky coaster (http://www.skycoaster.com/home.html). It was scary as hell, but I wanted to do it and I didn't stop to think about it. I've now ridden several different ones and look forward to eventually trying the world's tallest in Florida some day (http://www.skycoaster.cc/).

I think part of my attitude comes from my belief in fate. I think when your time is up, it's up and there's not much you can do about it. If I go up a sky coaster and the line breaks, then I it was meant to happen. The same attitude follows me onto L.A.'s freeways, which are some of the scariest rides I've ever taken, and keeps me going when I need to get around town. Because of this, I've never been that afraid of death. To me, death is a fact of life and it will happen when it's supposed to happen. It could happen on top of a sky coaster or when I cross the street to go to the post office. It can happen at any time or any place and I just can't complicate my life by worrying about it.

That doesn't mean that I haven't thought about it. No one really knows what death is except those who have died. Is it a big, black nothing? Or is it the next step of existence? Is it heaven or hell? Or is it just a white, clouded void? I tend to think that death is death and that there's nothing after it, which is why I try to live my life to it's fullest while I've here now. Once I'm dead and gone I won't get a chance to ride that sky coaster. Or eat escargots. Or go to Africa. And I probably won't care. But I care now and I plan to continue to live my life to the fullest I can under the circumstances I'm in because once life stops being enjoyable, I don't want to live any more. I never, ever want to be one of those forgotten old people sitting in a nursing home being spoon-fed strained peas. That's not life and I refuse to live an existence like that. (And yes, that is an endorsement of suicide, but we can discuss that more fully at a later date.)

One thing I've always wanted to do was bungee jump. It just looked like the ultimate thrill, next to jumping out of an airplane, which is also something I've always wanted to do…with a parachute, of course. So when the chance came to finally do a bungee jump, I leapt at it enthusiastically. It just looked like so much fun, jumping into nothing and falling freely until you're snapped back up by a giant rubber band.

Skip and I and our friends Lisa and Alison were at the Los Angeles County Fair and we had already ridden a few of the extremely crazy rides on the Midway. We were walking around and I saw the bungee jumping platform and mentioned to Skip that one day I would love to do that when we could afford it. He surprised me by telling me that the time was now if I wanted to. We could spare the 35 bucks it cost to do it now. A year from now, we may not be able to. I was filled with happiness. And apprehension. But it felt like the same apprehension I feel whenever I do something new and extreme, so I didn't even think about it. I walked up to the counter, filled out all the forms telling me that it was all my responsibility if anything went wrong, paid my dough, and they were ready to outfit me and take me up.

The harness they fitted me with went around my waist and crotch and down my legs. They then snapped a brace around my ankles and attached a giant elastic cord to that. I could barely move the lower half of my body. It was like some strange, kinky, public bondage act. They told me that Skip could come up in the basket with us as moral support, but I was so sure of myself that I told him to stay on the ground as I didn't need any support. I planned to get up there and dive off without any hesitation. It was my normal attitude towards anything I did, so what happened next caught me totally be surprise.

I hobbled to the basket and it started to rise. Even as it went up, I was still feeling very confident about the jump. This jump was only 130 feet in the air. It wasn't really that far down compared to bungee jumping I'd seen on TV. In fact, the world's tallest bungee jump is in South Africa (http://www.faceadrenalin.com/bloukrans_river_bridge.htm) and Skip and I thought about doing it while we were there. The problem was that it was a couple hours out of Cape Town and we couldn't find the time in our schedules to make that drive and waste most of the day just to jump off a bridge. Since I had never jumped before, I figured that this County Fair jump was the perfect introduction and I could jump higher next time I wanted to do it.

As the basket rose up into the sky, I was still feeling excited and confident. It wasn't until it reached its apex and I stepped out onto the edge of the basket to jump that the panic set in. I'm still not exactly sure what happened, as I've never felt that type of fear before. I felt absolutely powerless and just wanted to run and hide, except there was no place to run and hide to. I just stood there, gripping the doorway to the basket, looking down and feeling like my life was about to end.

The countdown started…five, four, three, two, one…I was supposed to jump when they said one, but I just stood there with a death grip on the basket. The countdown started again. And again. And I still just stood there. The ride operator in the basket with me tapped me on the shoulder and told me that we had to go down if I didn't jump. I couldn't move. I wouldn't jump, and I couldn't even back into the basket again. I told him, "I don't know if I can do this, but I have to." The countdown started again and again I just stood there staring at the ground.

Actually, I was staring at a giant inflatable pillow that was between the ground and me. At that point, I knew how absurd I was being. My rational mind was telling me that no one had been injured on this thing. It was telling me that a big elastic cord was attached to me that would keep me from hitting the ground. It was telling me that there was a giant pillow that would also stop me from hitting the ground. But my irrational mind was screaming at me louder. All I could hear was it yelling, "ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE?" Between the rational and the irrational, I just couldn't move.

That's when the operator told me that I had to step back and we had to go down. I looked down at Skip, Lisa and Alison, sitting on some bleachers, snapping pictures of me. Next to them was what looked like some inbred, hillbilly family, pointing and laughing at me. I loudly told the operator, "I have to do this", and I jumped.

I think the problem was that I was too tense. Lisa later told me that I was lucky it wasn't 500 feet. But I think that if it was 500 feet, I would have been okay. After I jumped, all I remember is seeing the giant pillow rushing towards me. I quickly thought, "This is amazing" and I felt myself begin to relax. But it was too late. I hit the end of the fall and the elastic cord snapped me back up into the air. I was stiffly holding my arms across my stomach and when the cord snapped me up, my arms snapped up as well. I felt my right shoulder pop and I knew immediately that I was screwed.

As the bungee lowered, the guy on the ground was yelling at me to grab the rope between my legs and pull my head up to waist level. I was surprised I was able to do this with very little pain. As they got me back on the ground and started taking all the harnesses and stuff off of me, I tested the shoulder and although it was a bit stiff, there wasn't much pain and I thought maybe I had escape any serious injury.

I thanked the operator for being patient with me and he smiled. I'm sure he gets reactions like mine all the time. Then I went to meet up with Skip and the girls and buy the must-have DVD of the jump as well as a picture of me as I took the leap. (That picture is now in my Myspace photo album, along with a photo of me hanging after the jump that Alison took.) Then it was time to go to the beer hall and calm myself with a few microbrews.

It wasn't until the next day when I woke up that the full extent of my arm injury made itself known. The arm was stiff and there was a lot of pain. An extremely ugly purple and green bruise covered my whole upper arm. I could barely lift my arm to head level. It's now been almost five weeks since the jump and my arm still hurts, although it seems to slowly be getting better. The bruise is gone, but the pain feels different every day. Sometimes it feels like someone gave me an Indian Burn. Other times it feels like I've been punched really hard. And still other times it feels like a really bad case of arthritis. I suspect that I sprained the shoulder really bad. Maybe I even pulled or tore a ligament. Whatever it is, I don't have medical insurance and I can't afford a doctor, so I'll just have to wait it out until it finally decides to heal. People have told me that an injury like this can take months to heal, so I'll just have to deal with it until then. I've dealt with a lot worse in my life and survived.

Looking back at the DVD and photo of my jump, I was really surprised by the look of horror on my face as I was jumping. I'm just not used to feeling that way and it's caused me to focus on a whole lot of soul searching over the last month. Why was I so disturbed by doing this? Do I really believe what I thought I believed about life and death? Is it time I started acting my age and quit doing all this extreme crap designed for kids?

I think maybe I was so disturbed by this because it took more of a leap of faith than anything else I've ever done. On the sky coaster or on the repel down Table Mountain, I was fitted into harnesses and lines that I could see, or on the case of Table Mountain, I still had my feet on the ground, even if the ground was perpendicular to what I normally stood on. In the case of this bungee jump, I was on a ledge with everything below me. I couldn't see the line or anything attached to the harness. While I knew it was there, it still took a large dose of faith to accept that and jump.

The second question has me stumped. I'm still trying to sort it all out. If I'm not afraid of death, then why was I so disturbed by an act that may cause death, although the chances were slim? Every time I think about the jump, I still start to feel queasy. I really can't say it was a fun thing to do, although I'm glad that I did it if only for the experience. But I really don't understand my reaction and it has me confused and has been quite a blow to my confidence. In a way, I consider my reaction a more serious trauma than the arm injury. It's going to take me some time, but like the arm, I know I will eventually work it out and heal the wound.

As for acting my age, that's never going to happen. As I said before, when I stop enjoying all that life has to offer then I'll just stop living. And as scary as some of life's offerings may be, I thrive on experiencing them. This bungee jump has shaken me up and I came out with an injury that may take months to fully heal. But I also know that as soon as it does heal, I'll try it again. I'm not foolish enough to think I won't still be scared next time, but by the time I get around to doing it, I hope to have figured out what is going on in my head and I think I will be relaxed and have much more fun doing it than this first time.

Or maybe I'm just fooling myself? But only time and getting back up on the platform will tell. I'll let you know when that happens.

And that's it for this week. Next week I'll be back with a tale of Italians. I was recently visited by a group of Italian guys who used to work for Thin White Rope. It was fun and brought back memories and some of those will be in the blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment