How many things would you never have done, if it weren’t for your best friend?
The best thing about having a best friend is having a best friend.
Whether imaginary, canine, spousal, or to thine own self be true, I highly recommend at least one. I treasure mine—a live, in-the-flesh man who I met when we were boys on a school bus forty years ago.
We can call, text or yell and the other is there. We don’t really have to yell, I keep him in my heart and on my mind, where I need him most. If he says, jump off a bridge, I say, how high … are you?
He’s a doctor, and once upon a time worked in a hospital with two young, incredibly handsome surgical nurses. They spent half the year working their bubble butts off, then for the rest they sought thrills by climbing high mountains. In between they bungee jumped off bridges.
One day my best friend, who I trust with my life, told me that we were going bungee jumping with these two lunatics, late that night, off the Santa Maria Bridge in California.
We? Have fun. No, we need to do it together.
Precedence had been set long ago, as teens when we had shared the ultimate dare, the adventure-trumping experience of a lifetime—we joined the Marine Corps, so any idea from risky get-rich-quick schemes to jumping off a bridge suspended only by a stretchy cord of indeterminate boundaries, always ends up with, You survived boot camp, you can do this!
The two nurses agreed to let us risk our lives and the confiscation of their equipment; it’s illegal to jump off a bridge. Suicide prevention at a bureaucratic and practical level.
We had to attempt this after midnight to avoid detection. The guides advised us not to eat, in case we threw up as we flew down. Hints like these, upon reflection, make me wonder why I didn’t think, back out now.
We parked the car a few hundred feet away from the bridge, so if a cop did pause to examine the abandoned car he wouldn’t associate it with crazy bridge jumpers, instead hopefully assume that some poor fool had decided not to make any more payments and left it for debt. As we walked toward the bridge, I remarked that I was hungry, and wondering why we were not all very, very drunk.
Our two leaders hoisted huge bundles of bungee cords over their muscled, taut, tanned shoulders and passed out headbands with attached flashlights to each of us. We left the safety of the road and descended underneath the belly of the bridge, me with the hesitation of a shy testicle in freezing weather. We stepped gingerly and crept out among the supportive steel girders and beams. We walked along the bridge’s bones in the dark, quiet night, and it felt wrong, as if we were walking on a dead body. It even smelled like we weren’t supposed to be under there.
I was sure that I was seeing things that I was never supposed to see. I feared that if the cord broke, I would not only crash into the dry river bed, but keep going, straight down into a fiery hell where I would spend eternity reflecting on my foolish and unlawful disrespect, never delivering my well-practiced and moving Oscar speech, nor seeing the world embrace vegan options or at least watch my last haircut grow out.
The guys stopped, and began the arduous process of unwinding hundreds of feet of cable, and attaching them to the steel frame of the bridge’s underbelly. We didn’t interrupt them, or ask them any questions. To be honest, they looked like reckless youths who couldn’t get bread in a toaster. I needed them to get all of this preparation right; we had one shot when we hurled ourselves into space. Take your time.
My friend went first. As he prepared to jump, I promised to take care of his children and delete his hard drive. I watched him fly off, wanting to yell I love you man, but I decided against it, sending him a more appropriately discreet, telepathic hug. He flew through the air, bounced back up a bit, then settled. He looked so tiny as he dangled at the bottom and yelled up at us, amazing, fantastic, blah blah blah. At least he was alive. The guides and I reached down and grabbed the cable to hoist him up by hand. It took all of us about ten minutes to pull him up, foot-by-foot of stretchy cord, reaching and pulling, reaching and pulling. It creates the same frustration one would have if trying to fold a basketball.
Eventually perched back on solid girder, he beamed. As they unhooked him, he looked at me with wild, happy eyes. This might have been the day OMG was first uttered. You are going to love this! Incredible feeling! This is crazy!
I wasn’t backing out. My mind said no but my body said yes. The hunks hooked me up, attaching the bungees to my chest and weaving the thick, colorful cords through my legs and around my waist in kinky foreplay that would have turned me on if my knees weren’t shaking so badly.
I gazed into the dark night, down at the completely dry river and then out over the hills. For a second I loved how the silver light of the moon illuminated the landscape, and realized that if there were water in the lake, and not rock solid ground down there that would break every bone in my body upon impact—that the moonlight would actually be shimmering across the river water like gentle sparkly shards. Did one die before impact, upon impact, or during impact? If I peed myself, would it hit me in the face as a final, acrid insult, or perhaps land on these idiot bungee boys and give me the last, although ironically unheard laugh?
I needed to scream and beg and plead with my captors that they had the wrong guy. I wasn’t the man they wanted. But I bit my silver tongue, and approached the edge of the bridge. They slapped me on the butt, the universal guy speak for, Good to go.
I faced the sky, my back now to my executioners. Condemned by pride and unable to back out because my balls were cuddled up near my throat, as far away from the ground as they could get, rendering me unable to speak.
One of the cruel fools was feeling me up, checking my cords, tugging on stuff to make sure it was all attached. Tug really hard, mother fucker, I silently wished. The other asshole pointed to a girder about four feet in front of me. Jump out far, you have to clear that beam. I looked at him wondering if he was speaking Spanish or Chinese. What?! He pointed at the girder like it was on fire. You have to crouch down and jump out so you don’t hit that girder. You hit that girder and it’s all over.
Every groom has thought, as he walks down the aisle, I am not ready for this. I was facing the most horrible aisle walk ever. I had to forcibly jump, into the air, thousands (ok, 180) feet up from the ground, without the possible backup cushion of water. I had to consciously jump not just off, but up, out and away from a god damned bridge in the middle of the night, possibly ending my unfinished life. Would anyone turn me into a musical? What would my funeral be like? Perhaps my family and friends would skip it, disgusted by my stupidity. An old lover would be forced to max out his credit card to bury the Ziploc bag of bones some prison detail would have to sweep up from the dried up, dusty riverbed.
And I had been denied a last meal.
I looked back at my best friend. Anyone could see that he was smiling and enjoying all of this. He probably was taking an uninvited tour of my mind and aware of all of my fears. But I looked in his eyes. They held a private message for me, You can do this, don’t worry, I’m right here. He winked. I love that wink—it’s so fast and easy, sometimes just implied.
His reassurance was the flint to spark my feet. It takes a lot to jump off a bridge, even more to jump away from a bridge. I’ve had to do difficult things, and I can pump myself up for them. As I jumped off of that bridge, and flew into the night, I outstretched my arms to make sure my body cleared the girder, and to grab the air. I tried to hang on to air. But jump off a bridge and you want to hold on to something. I’d like to end this like a country song and tell you that I held on to the memory of my best friend standing on a bridge, but I just jumped—in the truest leap of faith ever.
I went upside down, then sideways, falling and spinning. I caught flashes of the bridge and the sky and the ground. I had expected to only see the ground rushing towards me. I want to think I didn’t scream, but I couldn’t hear anything over my deafening loud inside voice. I waited to hit the ground.
But I didn’t. Before I knew it, I was flying back up, towards the bridge. I could hear the guys whoop-whooping and hollering, one louder than the other—probably the winner of the bet. I had figured the stretchy cord would stop at the end of its stretch and I’d simply stop at the bottom. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I gently reached the end of the bungee’s ability, then went surprisingly back up, gently ascending until I almost hit the underside of the bridge. I allowed my arms and legs to attractively flail about to deflect impact or signal for help. Soon I was floating back down, then back up, then back down, and back up a bit, then back down, bouncing and bouncing until finally I just dangled mid-air. This is what a spider feels like,I thought as I looked around, feeling a little foolish and vulnerable. I did a mental body scan: nothing was broken or missing, and I wasn’t wet.
Everything was silent, and lovely from this new, midair vantage point. The others on the bridge knew to let me enjoy the moment. I dangled there in the afterglow, now loving the moonlight and life and the fact that Denny’s was open 24 hours.
They hauled me up, but I was aware that the cord could still snap and I was not yet safe. Once on the bridge, they asked me if I wanted to jump again since I was all hooked up. I responded by tearing off my bungee apparatus as if I were waking from a coma and pulling my own cord from the wall before my greedy relatives could slip me Propofol.
The guides asked if we wanted to jump naked. We declined, me on the grounds that Objects in the mirror of fear appear much smaller than they actually are, and I really needed to know my balls were going to drop again at some point or else my jeans wouldn’t fit.
But they did—they were a thrill a minute and would have detached their arms and sent them down individually if they could, just to watch.The first guy to go was a very hairy youth, and I took a little extra time and care in helping to place the springy, hair-pulling cords under and around his impressive, um, frame.
As he jumped, the cord got caught in his arm. He flew off course and we all heard a horrible, muffled but clearly pained scream. Pull me up … echoed through the canyon.
We used our headlamps to examine his svelte, hirsute body to assess the damage. The official diagnosis came from my best friend, and the victim winced as he heard what no man should ever hear, Scrotal abrasions. That boy had been zip-waxed in the fastest, most unnecessarily cruel way.
It’s amazing how scrotal abrasions end a party. We limped back to the car, and drove down the two-lane highway in silence. I felt happy that we had accomplished this feat, which wasn’t on my bucket list but I’d forever boast that it was.
Pulling into the diner, I remembered that sometimes when I go too long without eating I get a little queasy. Or when I jump off a bridge. Combine that with exhausting nerves, anticipation and fear, and the usual magical land of Denny’s looks harsh and abrasive from the florescent lights, reflected in the thick eyeglasses of the bitter waitresses who metaphorically fill your endless cup of coffee.
My best friend and I ate in relative silence. Not much needed to be said. Pass the salt speaks volumes that fill the pages of the assumed narrative, We have done some crazy things but that was seriously crazy.
I suppose what I was most happy about was that we had both survived and I have the chance to have more adventures with him. I welcome any challenges, but I don’t need to jump off a bridge, test taser guns on our necks, wrestle a Yeti or dive in a cage and let hungry sharks ram into my flimsy cage.
Unless he gives me that wink, then I am so there.
This was previously published on Eat.Greg.Eat!
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Image credit: Greg White