The ladder I’m climbing is orange, 50 feet tall and mostly sturdy. If I look straight ahead, I can hold my balance. If I look up, the room starts to sway. I can’t tell you what it’s like to look down. I haven’t tried that yet, and I don’t think I want to.
Before I started this climb, three-year-old O assured me that the teal, corset-like harness around my waist looks awesome—something a storm trooper would wear. Cool or not, I’m just glad it’s functional. Joe, my trapeze instructor from the Cincinnati Circus Company and the Flying Trapeze School, has attached me to two long and sturdy chords. If I slip, the chords will activate like a seatbelt, and I’ll hang flopping and suspended—a strange turn of events for my 27th 36×37 assignment.
At the top of the ladder I step on a scaffold that hangs from the ceiling. That’s where I meet Shane and Carl. It’s clear from the start they don’t want me to joke around; if I don’t know how dangerous this is, at least they do. Shane exchanges the dual chords for the rope he attaches to the back of my belt. Meanwhile, Carl clings to the scaffold with this left hand and left foot, and lets his right half hang dubiously above the safety net. He grabs the bar and holds it steady for my reach.
“Ok, hang your toes off the edge.” Shane says. “I have you by the belt. Raise your arms, straighten your back, stick out your hips and lean forward as far as you can.” And so I do. I grab the bar. From that grip to the time of my launch, I have 10 seconds to get my head right.
Sometimes I joke that I’m not afraid of anything—that I was born without the gene that keeps most people out of situations like this. At 2 AM some mornings, in an honest moment, I can acknowledge that maybe I do have a few fears, and they’re significant. It occurs to me now that perhaps falling should be one of them.
“Maura, are you ready?”
Go? I forget what that means. But then I take a step. And then I’m flying.
It’s one of those rare instances in life where you process nothing beyond what you see. I think: Net. Wall. Floor. Carpet. Net. When the instructors tell me to drop, I’m not paying attention. I just fly brainlessly until it feels like I should stop. Then I open my fingers and fall in a way that feels slow, labored, ungraceful and unspeakably fantastic.
What you can’t see—what you probably can’t observe from the floor—is my fire-flood of coursing adrenaline. The carelessness of letting go. The assurance of being caught. And in between, a pendulum swing of flight. Unbelievable.
When I stand up, I am hell bent and ravenous. I scan the others in class with me: a couple on a quest to beat back boredom, four pretty grad students giving adventure a try. I like them—I’m glad this is my group. But I’d fight them for a chance to fly again.
Joe teaches us how to hang from our knees. “When you get to the top of that swing, you’ll be weightless,” he says. “Get your timing right, and in that moment, you can do anything.”
Well, sign me up, I think.
On my second flight, I lose my nerve. On my third flight, I resolve to (wo)man up just to see what will happen. At the top of my swing, I quickly discover that weightlessness doesn’t feel weightless at all. When I draw up my knees to tuck, my toes brush the bar then fall back to the familiar comfort of gravity. The moment was there and I missed it. I bite my cheek in disappointment, but it’s nearly 10—two hours past my sons’ bedtimes. I thank my instructors and head home.
During the drive back to Columbus, I list people I can recruit to join me on my next flight: my book club? Some moms I know? The elderly? Total strangers? All that night, I dream of clutching the bar and stepping from the edge.
In the morning, I wake feeling out of sorts. I am grounded, and physics is laughing and pointing. Three days later I still can’t shake it. Three days later, I still curl my toes on the edge of the scaffold, poised to jump.
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