I screamed as I fell, Jess’s hand clutched in mine, frozen together in a grip of terror and adrenaline. A choked sob, mid-pitch, coming from the back of my throat and halfway down my esophagus. It had barely leaked out when we hit the water, our clinch broken by the impact. Shock was what splintered the fog of panic. The water was COLD, probably no more than 45 or 50 degrees and the current wasn’t moving at any sluggish pace. As soon as my head broke the surface and I spotted her own blonde one, the fright of the fall was behind me and forgotten and I started to swim. My skin began to numb and I quickly realized this wasn’t a leisure lap. I was being pulled back under the bridge–the opposite direction of where DJ had climbed out and where I needed to be. In the nanosecond that this hit me, I’d put authority behind my strokes and started to make headway toward the shore….
It was the first beautiful day of the spring. Everything had thawed by then, but the weather itself remained stubbornly in the 50s. Out of nowhere, the temperature hit 80 and everyone was walking around campus showing nearly illegal expanses of pasty-white, winter skin. On weekends without RA duty, I spent the majority of time with my best friend Jess either in her apartment smoking weed or down at the bar shooting darts. That early afternoon, we’d thrown the windows wide and rolled a joint, trying to decide what to do with the day. Our friend, and one of her newest roommates, DJ, came out of his room in a pair of board shorts and nothing else, flipping his 70s style red hair out of his eyes. “You guys wanna go jump off the Morrisonville bridge?”
The bridge was a favorite spot, secluded and down a dirt road. It had long since been out of use and was now just a hang out, a place to drink a couple of beers and laze by the water. Located over the Saranac River, I’d been a couple of times, and had seen my friends jump, but had never done it myself. Jess hadn’t either, and bolstered by peer pressure, companionship and false bravery we agreed right away. There wasn’t any delay at all and after we’d changed into our bathing suits, we climbed into his Jetta and sped off toward the spot, finishing the joint on the way.
As we got closer, my stomach started to tighten, and, whether out of anxiety or the effects of the pot, I started grinning uncontrollably. We were laughing in excitement and camaraderie and soaking in the youth and beauty of the day when we arrived at the cement divider that kept anything but foot traffic from the bridge itself. DJ had been on this adventure tens of times already and was cool as ice as he stepped over the concrete, but Jess and I leered at each other in hesitation and near-frenzy. We’d both been here before, but the water had never looked so far from the bridge. It was about a thirty-foot drop and I felt a thrill in the center of my chest as I looked over the railing. There were two places to jump from, either the platform of the bridge itself, the level on which cars used to drive, or at the top of the arch which added another 10 or so feet to the drop and could be accessed by a hairy and rusty climb. I wasn’t messing around with my inner daredevil and gave a solid “NO FUCKING WAY” as DJ began to ascend to the upper portion of arch.
He ejected a laugh and then leapt, a straight pencil dive into the fast-moving river. Jess and I watched in unease for his head to break the surface and hooted and clapped as it finally did so. As his body cut through the water, we climbed over the railing and found each other’s hands, breathing deeply as if that action would have an effect on our own trembling ones. DJ made it to shore and climbed out, shouting back to us to go ahead, but to be careful, the current was stronger than he’d expected and the water much colder. He stood on the bank, his intention being to wait for us to get there in case we needed help or hauling out of the water. Now was the time. And neither of us was ready.
Laughing and giggling maniacally, we pranced from one foot to another, very nearly peeing ourselves in hysteria. The water was SO far away and my mini-phobia of heights was doing nothing to bring it closer. We counted down, 3-2-1 and then didn’t jump, laughing harder as DJ egged us on. There were HolyShit!s and OHMYGOD!s and ICan’tBelieveWe’reGoingToDoThis!s. In fact, I think those were the only three statements we made to each other, making up in quantity for the lack of quality in our vocalizations. There was no rethinking, we WERE going to jump, it was just a matter of screwing up the courage and DOING it. Minutes lapsed by, what felt like ten, but was probably closer to 2. We couldn’t keep doing this, I told her. “Let’s stop being stupid girls,” I said, and she hugged me, agreeing. “This is it, DEFINITELY on 3 this time” and we both nodded once, settling the matter, FINAL.
Gripping her hand in mine, I met her eyes for the last time and then squeezed mine shut. It was the final countdown…probably the 3rd of its kind and we weren’t going to go through it again after coming to one. This was IT. Terrified, we clung to each other and took deep breaths as DJ laughed at us from the bank. We were laughing too, but not out of mirth; it was nervous, jangling laughter that came from our throats and not our stomachs. Usually the only one with trepidation, I was glad to have her there, standing (trembling) beside me, staring down the height. I could conquer anything with that girl, and this, so far, was the scariest. We counted together, 1—2—THREE! and headed for the water.
As I climbed out, I realized that for the first time ever, I hadn’t worried about what was IN the water before plunging ahead. Turning back to look at what I’d done, large branches, almost trees, floated by, debris pulled along from the winter melt not yet subsided. We’d jumped during the most dangerous time of year on the river, and like those branches, thoughts of old news clippings of drowned 20somethings floated through my head. Later that day, I’d swear I’d seen ice chunks, inflating the size of my fish for effect. Alive and unbroken, I shook off the unease and gave way to an adrenaline smile, linked by arm with my companions skip walking back toward the trestle. DJ made a couple more jumps that afternoon and Jess might have, I don’t really remember. I was content with my one, okay with never doing it again, and I watched from the bridge platform, smoking cigarettes and feeling the sun on my face.