“High, Wide, and Terrified”
“My Gutsy Story®”- Maralys Wills
IT WAS THE LAST thing in the world I ever expected to do–fly a hang glider off an eleven-hundred-foot cliff, even with my son Bobby as pilot. A hundred times since then I’ve asked myself what came over me that morning in our rented living-room in Hawaii when I broke down and said, “Okay, Bobby–I guess I’ll do it.”
The idea had seemed ludicrous at first . . . Bobby hovering my husband and me and asking us to fly tandem with him, and Rob pointing out that even he and his brother Chris had only tried the cliff once. “Don’t be ridiculous,” Rob said, and I said, “I can’t possibly do this, Bobby. I was born scared. I’m a devout coward.”
“Well, think about it.”
I did think about it . . . and for reasons I’ll never understand I finally said I’d fly with him.
Bobby grinned and said, “You’ll be glad, Mom.”
Next morning we stood on the cliff side-by-side in the awful wind, Bobby and I, waiting . . . our senses assaulted by the insistent flapping of the sail.
We delayed until the right moment to walk toward the cliff, I quietly trembling inside. What in God’s name was I doing there?
Bobby gave me a sideways glance. “Ready, Mom?”
I did not break down and laugh hysterically and ask if he was kidding.
Slowly we started forward. The tandem seat was one long metal piece, meaning when Bobby walked, I walked. Together we gripped the aluminum control bar, together we moved our legs–in my case, wooden–together we faced Chris, who waited for us at cliff’s edge like a minister waits for a bridal couple. Chris reached out and grabbed our cables.
I looked over Chris’s head at the sky and my mind went blank. It was as though I were going into surgery and this was the final moment of consciousness before I surrendered to the anesthetic. A vast calm settled over me. Fear vanished. From now on my fate was in another’s hands. If I died, I died.
I heard Bobby’s voice say, “Now!” and my eyes focused momentarily just as Chris’s fingers released the wires.
Then everything was gone.
It happened so fast I didn’t react to our takeoff, didn’t feel anything except an acute awareness of Chris disappearing from the cliff.
Then my perceptions changed, and I realized we were rising, though nothing told me so, only that the world was dropping away and silence had taken over.
We’d been up only a minute or two when precariousness struck home. Besides my legs dangling in space, there was nothing to lean back against, nothing to rest my feet on, nowhere to put my hands. In fact there was nothing, anywhere, for security, just that narrow seat the width of a Kleenex box and the seat belt sitting across my lap. I tried not to dwell on how easy it would be to topple backwards into eternity.
My hands . . . what did one do with the hands? I dared not grip the control bar, because Bobby had to steer. There were only the yellow nylon ropes supporting the seat, very thin and not too handy. Tentatively I rested my hands on the control bar and sat as motionless as a picture.
The moments passed. Instead of growing calmer I grew steadily more tense. The kite was now so high I could hardly find the cliff where we’d launched, much less see anybody. I felt cut off. Alone. Precarious. Barely supported. It was the ultimate insecurity.
A wave of terror swept over me, and I could feel myself going white. In a voice I could barely control I asked, “Bobby, can we go down now?”
He turned to me in surprise. “Why, Mom? We just got here.”
I shrugged: one does not go into the subject of panic while dangling at two thousand feet.
But Bobby was sensitive to my mood. “You’ll be okay, Mom, relax. It’s smooth up here. Can’t you tell how smooth it is?”
Well, actually I couldn’t, as I’d never done this before. I hated to dash him by saying smooth meant nothing, that down was what I wanted. Instead I said, “There’s a plane, Bobby, and it’s below us!”
“Sure.” He grinned. “Lots of ’em are below us.”
“But that’s not safe!”
“It is if you’re not in their way.” He smiled. “I can see, you know.”
Funny, I couldn’t. I was blind to everything except my immediate, perilous environment. From the first I’d felt it necessary to sit absolutely still. If I took shallow breaths I might not weigh so much.
My face betrayed me; Bobby kept looking at me sideways. “Look at those big waves! There, Mom, over there, that’s the beach we’re looking for. Makapuu. Do you see Makapuu?”
I looked and said I thought so, though from two thousand feet all the waves and all the beaches looked alike. Anyway, I couldn’t forget where I was long enough to care. In an airplane, with seat, seat belt, backrest, floor, walls, and windows I can study the coastline. Dangling by a thread above the clouds, I am not concerned with landmarks, I’m concerned with reaching the ground.
I hated to bring up a tired subject. “Can we come down, now?” and I heard my own voice and thought, Good heavens, I sound like a child! I glanced at him and thought, This is his world, and I am the child and it’s affected everything. How conversation changes when the roles are reversed!
“We’re already headed down,” Bobby said. “Look back, Mom. You’ll see we’re below the cliffs.”
I looked and it was true. The cliffs now loomed above us. Daring to glance below, I saw that houses, trees, cars, the beach had taken on near life-size proportions, and I felt better, as if I were once more part of the world.
Then even this changed and I felt more than better, in fact, strangely euphoric. The feeling was joy, a wild, carefree kind of joy, and it burst forth like a living dream. I realized I was here, living those moments of breathless flying we’ve all known in dreams.
It was me! And I was flying!
I couldn’t get enough of it . . . floating over tree and chimney, feeling all-powerful, all magical. I wanted to shout, Hey, everybody! Look up! Look up, it’s me, I’m flying!
But it ended so quickly . . .
Suddenly we were over the beach and coming in fast.
In urgent tones Bobby said, “Listen, Mom, push the bar out when I tell you.” A pause. “Okay! Now!”
We moved into a large, graceful turn. Abruptly the kite stopped flying about four feet up and we hung momentarily, suspended as if by a giant hand. Then we dropped on our bottoms in the sand.
“Sorry about that,” Bobby murmured, embarrassed. “I stalled kinda high.”
From my sprawled position on the beach I looked at him and smiled. We were too high? Really? I hadn’t noticed.
We unbuckled our seat belts, and I picked myself off the sand and brushed at my clothes. Then, without knowing I was going to do it, I threw my arms around Bobby and hugged him, and words poured out, a whole flood of them. “You were wonderful, Bobby, incredible, the best.”
He drew back and gave me a strange look.
“Thanks for taking me. You were right to talk me into it. I’m glad I went, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.” I was babbling out of control.
He stared at me, incredulous. All this coming from someone who moments before had been speechless with fear, begging to come down. Absently he patted my shoulder. “Yeah, Mom,” he mumbled, “you’re welcome.” Then he began folding up the kite, but he kept stealing little puzzled looks.
The odd thing was, I meant every word. He’d been terrific. The definitive pilot. A master. The experience had been a highlight of my life. Because of him I’d lived through unbearable panic and survived with most of my dignity intact. It was an experience few people like me would ever have, and I was insanely grateful to be one of the few.
One last thought lingered in my head, though, an idea I dared not express, which Bobby would never know as long as we both should live: I’d done it and I was glad. But now I never had to do it again!
MARALYS WILLS, named as Teacher of the Year, Maralys Wills has been teaching novel-writing for 25 years. Publications include 14 books in a variety of genres. Among her fictions: four romance novels (Harlequin and Silhouette), and SCATTERPATH, a techno-thriller about airplane sabotage. Eight nonfictions include, Manbirds (Prentice-Hall), four memoirs, a treatise on addiction, and two books on writing: Damn The Rejections, Full Speed Ahead, and Buy a Trumpet and Blow Your Own Horn: Turning Books Into Buck. Memoir, Higher Than Eagles gathered 5 movie options, (including from Disney), while two memoirs earned national awards. “Damn” won its category in two national competitions.
SONIA MARSH SAYS: I know Maralys Wills from a writers’ group I attend, and can attest that she fits the “Gutsy” woman award in every way.
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