The Jellystone campground had a high dive. It wasn’t just any high dive, mind you. This high dive was about fifteen feet high. I was a fish in the water, but ten feet was one thing when swimming down in the water and a completely different story when flying through the air. That’s what I would be doing if I jumped off. Flying.
I curled my toes over the edge of the board and bounced a little, my heart threatening to burst out of my chest. The kids behind me screamed at me to go, to jump already. There was no turning around, the ladder was too crowded to get back down. It was too late to change my mind. The only way down was off the edge. Into the water. Plummeting. Fifteen feet.
I couldn’t go back. So I leapt.
Some decisions can not be undone. They keep telling me this, disregarding the fact that I am well aware. In reality, there are no choices that can be undone. Every choice, every move, that we make results in an event or an action. Some of these things are small, but some are huge.
This was huge.
My entire life, I have taken pride in my ability to fly solo. I carry the weight of the world; I’m not good at sharing. I don’t want to share. No one should have to carry my weight. I only share when I’m desperate.
I know I should be paying attention to what I’m being told. Words like irreversible. Choice. Options. Force. But I’m not. The words float in and out of my consciousness and seed themselves in the back of my mind. I’m supposed to let a friend in, let a friend help. I need to give this careful consideration; it’s required of me that I bring someone. I should do this, I should do that. I should, I should, I should, I can’t. I’m tired of this; I am tired of should-ing and I’m tired of caring. I want to not care. Can I do that? Just for a little while? No. Hiding was an option I did not have. This would not go away.
Four semesters into undergrad. Six classes, eighteen credits: three upper division Psychology courses and three upper division English courses. Keeping a balance between my two majors was a fine line; I was attempting to finish them both in the time it would take an ordinary student to complete one. I was pulling a 3.89 GPA, had straight A’s, and teaching a successful TA section of Psych 101 alongside the chair of the psychology department.
There was no time. There was no time for this; there was no time to figure it out. There was no time for this to happen. Too much was happening, too fast. Too many things. Too much. No. It isn’t fair. But it is less fair, if that’s even possible, that I have no one to tell. No one to let in.
I am breaking.
It’s impossible to survive alone. I realize this now. But it’s too late. Secrets kill. They shatter everything. Which is more important, an intact reputation or a life? Is it better to be completely destroyed emotionally but still seen as good? Is that living?
What makes a life?
So this is your choice? I nod.
I have always been shy, since back when I was a kid. But school was a new beginning for me. I could be myself at school; I wasn’t as shy. There were people at school who believed in me, supported me, and encouraged me to form my own ideas about how the world worked. Academic, strong, intelligent, awesome me had become the norm. The people around me, and even I myself, had begun to expect her. I had to do this. I had to do this, or I would lose her forever.
I stare at forms and figure out what info goes where. As I stare at the question that asks “Do you have any children?” A single tear slips down my cheek. I swipe it away furiously as I check the no box. There are no exceptions. No allowances. And I don’t understand why they need to know. If that makes it better. It doesn’t make it better. Nothing makes it better.
I am struck by a memory, an echo of the words my ex spoke that night, his profession of love for me. We went to McDonald’s the week after we returned from our honeymoon, and he informed me that he would be giving me an allowance—I would have three dollars a day to eat on. He quit his job soon after that, leaving me the breadwinner of our family, in order to advance his private recording business and travel with bands. I earned all of the money, but I couldn’t spend it. He never lifted a finger to do any housework; he believed it to be the wife’s job. My job. But he loved me. And every time he took something away, every time, he would tell me he loved me. He loved me.
He loved me.
I thought I’d be happy once we divorced, but it didn’t feel as good as I’d thought it might. I wasn’t sure how to be my own person. I started school right around this time, and I found it to be a fantastic outlet. I had always known I wanted to be a writer, but I discovered that I loved the psychology field as well. Rather than pick one, I signed up for both majors, put my nose to the grindstone, and got to work earning my degrees.
The third semester of my undergrad career, I met D. She taught the gateway course for the English major, and in the process of tackling her challenging course, I started getting better. She didn’t know how much she did for me back then; there was no reason for her to know. But I started talking again. I raised my hand, I participated in class. I volunteered information. I started making friends. I learned that it was okay to have my own thoughts, and that people liked me for me. And I gained respect as a writer and as a student. More importantly, I started to respect myself again.
The pinnacle moment of my growth was when, more terrified than I could ever remember being, I had to present a paper I had written in front of a crowd of both professors and peers. I insisted in the days leading up to it that I would rather take an F than have to speak in front of people, even though I had never received an F in my life. But with her encouragement, I pushed through. There was no going back, only forward. I had no choice; I couldn’t turn around because I couldn’t go back to where I had come from. I spoke in front of people. I articulated and shared ideas that had come from me, without fear that they would be put down or criticized. My presentation, and my paper, were a hit. So was I. I dove into the depths of life, and I didn’t sink.
What I know.
Not doing this will end badly for everyone. Removing me completely from the equation, I imagine the pain that will come. I imagine the let down, the loss of NOT making a decision.
What I fear.
The people who care, how different their opinions of me will be when they found out. If they find out. I think of the pedestal I have put myself on; I imagine the way they see me. In my head, I make their respect, their caring, conditional. How wrong they would find me to be when this was over. How much I would lose.
I weigh the scales, the pros and cons. I remove myself; it’s the only way I can push through. I sign the dotted line. I close my eyes. I leap.
It’s over in a blink. It’s painful sometimes, the aftermath, the consequences of making a choice. But some choices are worth that pain. This is one of those.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know how much of a hole would be left behind. I didn’t know how much hate would remain. I didn’t know how much removing myself from the equation would wreck me. I hated that I was the only one who knew. I hated that I was the only one who had done this. I hated so much that I wanted to disappear. I was nothing.
Until suddenly, I wasn’t alone. Until there was someone else too, someone braver than me, someone willing to stand up and say, I’ve done this. Someone braver than I. Someone who had done this, but it didn’t define her. While I hated what had happened, perhaps it didn’t define me either. Knowing this saved me during a time when I was drowning. I couldn’t go back; the path behind me had been decimated. But I could go forward. Could, and did.
I couldn’t go back. So I leapt.