When I was about ten years old I climbed up the stairs to the high dive for the first time. I wasn’t a particularly daring child nor was I particularly athletic. Watching the older kids gracefully diving from the high dive, however, I thought it looked like they were flying and I so wanted to feel like I was flying being an overweight pre-teen trapped on this earth with my embarrassing family.
I climbed the stairs….slowly at first….then slower, and slower and slower
until I finally made it to the top and stood on the narrow board which might as
well have been on top of the Empire State Building. There were no reference
points for me to judge my place in the world and I was terrified that the gusts
of wind which were the only weather on the high dive were going to blow me to my
death. As I walked closer to the edge I understood that I now had no choice.
Climbing back down the stairs was not only prohibited by the pool rules but
seemed a thousand times worse than dying. I walked toward the edge, my toes
gripping the glistening sand that was glued to the board for traction and edged
closer to my fate. I knew I had to jump. I knew it had to be soon or everyone
would be looking at me. I did it. I’m fairly certain I survived.
The morning of Brennis’ surgery felt a bit like that. Brennis and I were both
certainly in a place we had never been before. Though my father had had open
heart surgery fifteen years before and I was at the hospital before, during and
after his surgery I really had no idea what my mother was going through until
that day. Though we did not talk about it we knew the risks of this surgery and
we knew that the recovery afterward would be long and difficult. There were many
frightening things about what was going to happen. We also knew that there
really was no other choice. So we stood there on the diving board together but
in very different places.
We were given a general idea about what time the surgery was going to be (I
assume they don’t like to promise specific times since things can be terribly
unpredictable in a hospital). Brennis’ mother, my parents and my sister wanted
to be there with me while I waited during the long surgery….Brennis’ sister was
going to come after work. We had also asked the minister of Brennis’ family
church to be with us beforehand for a few moments of prayer. Much earlier than
we had expected, however, we were informed that Brennis was going to be going
into surgery soon (I honestly don’t remember what time but it allowed me to stop
worrying about Brennis for a few minutes and worry about getting our family and
the minister there as soon as possible). I called everyone and told them the
news. Brennis’ mother arrived first followed shortly by the minister. My
family was coming an hour away from Cleveland so they probably wouldn’t get to
see Brennis before the surgery.
This was it. We were standing there on the edge of the diving board and we
couldn’t wait any longer.
When I was ten, when I finally jumped from the high dive I jumped feet
first. I realized I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself. I
didn’t need to do a perfect dive. I had done everything I had set out to do. I
jumped one time onto the board and then…..I flew. It didn’t feel much like
flying actually but I imagine it’s the closest I will ever get to it. It really
felt a lot more like falling but in my mind I was newly alive with pride in
myself and trying to feel all of the new, amazing, exhilirating feelings in my
body. It was over before it began and soon the cold water began to envelope my
body and I was plunged deep into the pool. I had done it. I climbed back up the
stairs for another turn.
After the minister said his prayer he and Brennis’ mother left the room
leaving us to say something to each other before the surgery. What should I
say? Should I say “I love you” or would that make him think I thought he might
die? Should I tell him I knew everything was going to be alright even though I
didn’t really know that that was true? Or should I tell him that he was the
solid ground beneath my feet….the one who for the past twenty years had been the
one I clung to when I was afraid of falling…..that he was my frame of reference
when I was lost…..Should I tell him I was only afraid when he wasn’t there?
Should I say good bye?
There wasn’t time. Before I knew it the orderlies came into the room to take
Brennis to the operating room. We gave each other a look that let each
other know that we really didn’t need to say anything. We knew that we loved
each other and we knew that what was happening now was no longer in our hands.
We both smiled and shed a tear and that was it. Before I knew it I was standing
there alone and helpless while the people who could help him took my Brennis
through the doorway feet first.