Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Get Back On

When I was twelve I was really into diving. Every summer, for years in a row, my sister and I spent pretty much every day at this natural fed pool/waterpark called Willow Springs. All week, every week. Our mom would drop us off when the pool opened around 9am and we'd be there til she picked us up when the sun was going down.  Entire summers spent in the waters there at Willow Springs (or more accurately, covered in an iodine/baby oil solution getting our tan on, pool-side.) We were the kind of brown the Jersey Shore kids can't even dream of with their wimpy tanning beds. This was Stay in the Sun All Day Every Day Under the Hot Arkansas Ball of Liquid Fire Brown, the kind that makes dermotologists weep.
There was a high dive there-- maybe 15-18 feet up? It seems high in my memory. Maybe it's one of those things where if I went back and looked at it today, it'd be more like ten feet max, but somewhere around the time that diving boards started disappearing from backyard pools all over the country, someone disassembled the one at Willow Springs and it is no longer there. So, as far as you know, that sucker was twenty feet up. Let's just go with that.
My twelve year old self was a summer baby through and through. I wasn't much of a popular kid during the school year due to my uncanny ability to shoot myself in the foot when it came to being cool. I'd be making a go of it and then BLAM--one day there'd be book reports due:  All the other girls would do one on Judy Blume and I'd pick something stupid like The Hobbit. (Fyi, when you're an 11 year old girl in the early 80's, Tolkien was still about 25 years from being remotely popular and Orlando Bloom was still a toddler.). ROUGH, I tell ya.  But summers were my thing. From the end of May til August, I was brown and lean and I blossomed in the sun. The awkwardness of fifth grade faded to nothing under my tan.
The high dive for me was something I could do better than almost anyone that I knew at the time. I could do back somersaults, reverse somersaults (gainers), double front tucks..... I'm not trying to brag, really, but I was good.  I even had plans to join the diving team in high school. Someone would ask me to try something like a front one and half with a twist and I'd give it about five seconds of thought, climb up the ladder and execute it on the first or second try. I had the kind of confidence that only comes from never really having screwed up at something. I could jump off that board, and it felt more like fifty feet than twenty feet. It felt like flying.
That all came to a crashing halt the summer I was twelve.  One day, I was diving over and over, doing back one and a halfs. I remember that I was doing them back to back for some reason (probably boredom, probably showing off a bit). Someone I don't even think I knew who it was, asked me why I didn't just try a double back tuck.  "You just need to jump a little higher off the board and you got it." Hmmm, why not indeed. So, I climbed up the ladder, jumped higher off the board, tucked in,went to make my first rotation and WA-BAM.  Landed right back on the diving board. On my head.

I don't really remember hitting the water. I remember bobbing to the surface and seeing this look on my sister's face as she was diving in to come get me, beating the lifeguard to the punch. She was screaming, but I couldn't hear anything. Actually, as I looked around, everyone around me was kinda screaming and I didn't know why. I was half pulled-half climbed out of the pool. I was kind of wobbly. I felt sick. I looked down and I just remember bright red blood streaming down my arms and  legs. I turned to ask the person next to me "Where is all this blood coming from??"  They yelled, "YOUR HEAD, YOUR HEAD."  I passed out.  Ten stitches later,  that was the end of my diving career.
After my accident, I just didn't have the confidence you need to dive. Every time I tried to climb up the ladder, I'd start getting that taste in the back of my mouth like I was going to throw up and I'd climb back down. Over and Over I tried, but I couldn't do it. I didn't do it. Ever again. I haven't thought about this story in a long long time.
This morning it sprung to mind as my niece Lauren is lying in her hospital bed. Like me, Lauren is a summer baby. She wears skimpier bathingsuits than I ever did and is much less of a dork than I ever was, but in so many ways, we share that same confidence that comes from the things we do that we do well. And Lauren does a LOT of things well, like fastpitch softball and riding horses. Yesterday, Lauren was thrown from her horse.  She is hurt pretty badly and will likely be in the hospital for a while. My ten measley stitches are nothing compared to the hurdles and surgeries she's about to face..

But here's my wish: Lauren, don't quit horses.  Take a breather.  Let your body heal. But then, let your mind heal. Don't be a wimp like your Aunt Lee. Don't give up something you love just because you got hurt. Get back on the damned horse. Ok, maybe not that SAME horse....  But get back on. You'll be happy you did. I'll be happy you did.

Get better, love.

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