Jackie Summers, on how a few words at the end of a love affair can send one into a free fall.
It is possible to survive a fall from thirty-thousand feet.
Just ask Vesna Vulovic. In 1972, the terrorist group known as “Ustashe” detonated a bomb on the flight the twenty-two year old airline attendant was working. When they pulled her shattered body from the wreckage, she was still conscious.
Strange things happen when you undergo severe physical trauma. Pain, you see, serves a purpose. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs attention: some thing you did or are doing is damaging; please, stop and attend to the situation, post haste.
But what if what you’ve experienced is so systemic, so all encompassing, that sending out pain signals would be superfluous? In an attempt to manage your emotional connection to overwhelming pain, instead of overloading your nervous system, your body actually turns off pain receptors–just to avoid being redundant–and floods your brain with dopamine.
With your body temporarily tricked into a mild state of euphoria and your pelvis up where your rib cage should be, you experience a certain hyper-awarenes. You can’t move, you can’t feel; but you can think. And you don’t think about if you’re going to survive; you already have. You think about what the quality of your life will be like.
“Diminished” is the word that comes to mind.
“I love you, I’m just not IN love with you.”
When I heard you say those words, I had an epiphany about why they call it “falling in love.” I used to believe the etymology expression was based on the fact that falling is an involuntary response to losing your equilibrium. The instant you start to lose your balance, you autonomically take steps to self-correct; you reach out for anything that might stabilize you. Only Moe, Larry and Curly take a face plant if it can be avoided.
But that’s if your feet are on the ground to begin with. I’d been in the clouds with you for months.
Falling in love feels so good because falling is basically floating forever. As any skydiver will tell you, the challenge with jumping from a plane isn’t the fall, it’s sticking the landing. Once you hit terminal velocity–about 120 MPH–there’s no difference between falling and flying; you’re buoyant, weightless. There’s nothing around you except endless sky, and you can’t tell where the heavens stop and the earth begins. It is as free as you will ever be in your entire life.
I remember walking up to the edge of the precipice with you. I clearly recall looking into your deep brown eyes, bodies entwined, your warm fingers clasped with mine, the smell of your hair, the taste of your smile, and wondering: how do mere mortals deal with being bound by gravity?
And then I heard you say those words, and just like that! Floating was transmuted into falling. I saw you get smaller and smaller until you were just a tiny speck in the sky, and thought about the ground rushing up towards me, and I wondered: is this how Wile E. Coyote feels when the road runner’s bested him yet again?
There is a reason they call it terminal velocity.
There was no cute puff of smoke on the canyon floor when my fall was abruptly ended by reality, unyielding as the earth itself. Like Vesna Vulovic, I’d survived; the only thing to do now was contemplate the quality of my life after you.
In a word? Diminished.
I wonder if I’ll ever have conversations reminiscent of a Federer vs. Nadal match, where I can feel neurons firing and new synapses forming with every verbal volley. I wonder if I’ll ever watch Casablanca again without remembering nights I spent on the phone with you, unwittingly replaying scenes from “When Harry Met Sally.” I wonder if I’ll ever sleep like spoons again, curled up so soundly I could feel our heartbeats in sync. I wonder if I will ever wake up alone in bed with a dial tone in my ear, the phone pressed into my face and the memory of your salacious words so visceral in my ear that you might has well have been physically present.
And I wonder if I’ll be afraid of heights.
Read More from Jackie Summers here.
© Jackie Summers 2012
photo of teenager performing freerunning jump / Shutterstock