We ran barefoot on the grass alongside the gravel path. I’ll never run as fast as you, but I always try to keep up. The coast line looks like a fresh oil painting this time of day, and I wonder if you notice its colors the way that I do. My focus switches between you and the sun as it sinks closer to the water’s surface, beams breaking and refracting, glittering in every possible direction. There’s no need to decorate this day, I thought.
When we reach the stone cliff, I catch my breath, but the fear sinks in, and I lose it again. Beneath us is a fifty foot drop into deep, dark saltwater. While the surf chops and smacks against the sides of the rock’s base below, I know I would much rather stay up here in the soft sand dunes—safe, quiet and light. The ground I stand here, in this moment, would never hold a candle to your persuasive nature, and I found myself following your lead, stripping down to my bra and underwear. I hated feeling this naked, and the goose bumps on my freckled arms told me the harder we tried to hold on to summer, the sooner September would come.
No part of me wants to look down, but I don’t want to disappoint you either. Let me be clear when I say, I don’t expect you to grab my hand the way you do. I never asked for it, and I didn’t invite it. Yet, the second you do, we’re connected, and I know the jump is inevitable. You’re warm to the touch, and although you never say it, I know you can feel how scared I am; how unacquainted I am with this kind of risk. You fully understand that a person can’t miss something they’ve never had, and I’ve never had this. You know exactly what kind of door it is that you’re prying open; you recognize that the consequences of your introductions and explorations will be dire and deafening.
You know all of this, but you grab my hand anyway.
Despite everything, alongside you, I’m happy to run out of cliff beneath my feet, I’m happy to be terrified, suspended in mid-air. I’m happy… until you let go of my hand. A broken connection, plummeting down, down deep into chilled, murky water—I feel things brush against my legs and arms—I’m alone, and I don’t want to be here. The saltwater stings my eyes as I scour every possible inch of space in front me for some sign of you—hand, a leg—a fleck of movement. My blood pulses against the sides of my head. I need air. As I rush for the surface, I feel something pull me back down. Panic quickly coats my chest and my throat, and I wrestle my tangled ankle free from the thick patches of vegetation below.
You’re nowhere when I finally break the surface—******* up every inch of oxygen my lungs can manage—thankful, but estranged.
You grabbed my hand to jump, only to let go, and now, you’re nowhere.
I look in the distance, and I see your footprints on the beach, leading back up to the path. You’re okay. I’m relieved, but confused—so I follow them with my questions in tow. I follow them the whole way back to where we started—clothed and barefoot, talking about what we should do with the rest of our afternoon.
When I finally find you, I’m flushed and damp, and I notice that you’re not any of these things at all…including alone. She’s beside you, pretty…put together, and dry. You’re sitting still with her. No need to seek a thrill, no need to conquer heights. Although you never say it, I know you can see me silently disintegrating in front of you. Placing your hand on my shoulder, you’re cold to the touch. I pull away. I’m anchored here, but I don’t want to be—I want to run, but I’m stiff with fear as you open your mouth to speak. I try not to hear your words, but you over articulate them, on purpose. They drip with insincere guilt as you slowly slide each of their jagged edges into my head.
“She gets me.”
*He knew, but he grabbed my hand anyway.
© Bitsy Sanders, August 2015