The warm tropical wind tickled my skin as my friend and I ran down the boardwalk bridge, squeezing past the many tourists, clutching at the towels draped over our shoulders to keep them from slipping. Our parents ambled behind us, already out of view. The continuous chatter amongst the other visitors added to the overall cheerful, welcoming mood of the aquatic theme park, and we quickened our pace, eager to see what Xel-Ha had to offer.
We were in Cancún for winter vacation, a trip that we’d both anticipated for months, a distant dream that was now finally reality. It looked every bit like the beautiful pictures I’d Googled, and excitement coursed through me as I trotted after my friend.
Xel-Ha was one of the popular destinations that Cancún had to offer. The attractions were countless, from snorkeling to hiking to an obstacle course. It had five real lagoons in its domain and we could see people frolicking about in the clear blue water below us. Occasionally, colorful fish darted around their feet. I was looking forward to day of relaxing and swimming myself, completely devoid of any stress or worry about school after the new year.
“Okay, we’ve already went down the river tour,” my friend was saying, peering at the map in her hand. I skidded to a stop, nearly bumping into her. “Where to next?”
I glanced at the spots. “Let’s go look at the caves,” I suggested, pointing to the landmark. My friend gave me a mocking look of disapproval.
“That’s lame,” she commented. “I want to do something more fun. Like… cliff jumping.”
“Cliff jumping? Are you kidding me?” my stomach twisted at the thought of having to leap off a two hundred foot-high rocky ledge into dark, obscure waters. Who knew what was down there? What if I hit a rock and was permanently brain damaged for the rest of my life? What if there were sharks? Undiscovered deep-sea monsters?
My friend grinned at my uneasiness, and nudged me with her elbow. “C’mon, it’ll be fun. You don’t get to go to places like these every day in Michigan. Live a little.”
I hesitated, unconvinced. “Yeah, and I’m having a good time. Can’t we just go to the caves? I’ll think about it while we’re there.” I already knew that I wasn’t going to concede either way.
She pursed her lips. “Look, the cliff jumping spot is right over there.” She jerked her thumb left, and I could see a small ledge jutting out from the edge of the forest trail a distance away. The water below was clear, and it was obvious that the spot was deep and free of rocks, sharks, and mysterious creatures. We watched as a eight-year-old boy let out a courageous yell and gave a running start, then leapt straight off the crag and splashed into the water. He surfaced, laughing and cheering in triumph, while his parents applauded from above. “See? Even a little boy can do it.”
“I didn’t say I couldn’t do it,” I mumbled, crossing my arms defensively. “I just don’t want to.”
“So you can’t,” my friend shot back playfully. “Because you’ve never proven that you can.”
I threw up my arms in exasperation, holding back a quip about her logical fallacy. Part of myself desperately wanted to experience the thrill, but the other half of me suppressed the thoughts and firmly asserted that it wouldn’t be worth it. It was too scary, too risky. Still, I grudgingly followed my friend to the area, dragging my feet while she skipped over.
“There’s literally no one here,” I said, trying to persuade her to not go. “There’s no lifeguard nearby, and it’s just water down there. Our parents probably don’t even know we’re here. You could get hurt.”
Unfazed, friend shrugged, slinging off her towel and chucking it towards me. I caught it and frowned at her. She grinned back, stepping confidently out of her sandals and kicking both to the side. “Well, then it must be really safe,” she said, using my own argument against me. “It’s so safe that you don’t even need a lifeguard.”
I sighed, throwing her towel over one shoulder, watching with growing concern as she flexed her shoulders and backed up slightly. “Just be careful,” I responded, finally giving up.
“See you down there,” she said cheerfully, and I pursed my lips. Was she really expecting me to go? Was I expecting myself to not go? Live a little. My friend’s words echoed around in my head. I felt queasy again just thinking about jumping. Heights weren’t something that I wasn’t afraid of; in fact, I was deathly scared of heights. Nothing could make me go to Cedar Point, or ride any of the Disneyland thrill rides that weren’t spinning teacups. I had plenty of friends that had been afraid of heights, but many of them had, in one way or another, conquered that fear. In fifth grade summer camp, I was one of the only ones who’d opted to stay put on the ground with the counselors while everyone else screamed and rode roller coasters. Afterwards, they’d chatted about how fun each ride was, and which one was their favorite. Part of me had felt a bit left out, but I wouldn’t have gone if given a second chance.
Well, now I did have a second chance.
“Here I go!” my friend crowed cheerfully, interrupting my inner turmoil. Before I could say anything, she sprinted towards the end of the overhang and, with one leap, jumped off the cliff. Open mouthed, I immediately dashed towards the edge and peered down, right when my friend landed screaming into the blue waters below with a loud splash. I could see her swimming towards the surface, and she popped her head out, whipping her hair back dramatically. “That was so fun,” she said, swimming back as if to make room for another jumper. I backed away hesitantly, trying to blend in with the trees.
“Are you okay?” I called down.
“I’m fine,” she laughed, rolling her eyes. “Just jump already! It’s not that bad.”
“What about the towels?”
“Leave them on the bench, we can go back and get them afterwards. I’m not getting out of the water until you jump.”
“Fine,” I grumped, and my friend smiled in triumph. “Let me just… get ready.” I turned back, feeling my friend’s eyes watching me. Nervously, I set the towels down on a bench beside the ledge. I wanted so badly to sit on it and wait my friend out, until she got tired of sitting in the lake and finally just left to find me here, hiding. But I could see the disappointment on her face, and the shame I would feel afterwards; I knew the feeling all too well. And so I stood up and walked a small distance away, breathing out, trying to reassure myself that it would be all right. After all, my friend had survived.
And if I break my neck or something, I’ll get to say ‘I told you so’, I mused to myself, trying to come up with snarky thoughts to subdue my rising anxiety. Closing my eyes, I opened them again, staring at the empty space in front of the ledge. It was as if another spirit was controlling my body, compelling me to move my legs and charge towards the edge. With one final push of my legs, I sprang off into the air. For a moment I felt as if I almost hovered, as if in one of those dramatic cartoons, an unknown omnipresence dangling me in the air for amusement… and then I promptly dropped, feeling the exhilaration and adrenaline coursing through me as I fell into the water. The fall lasted for about ten seconds, and I sucked in a breath as the coldness of the lake hit me with full force. I’d gotten some water in my nose, and I surfaced, gasping for breath and spluttering slightly.
I could hear my friend laughing as I paddled over to her. “You did it!” she exclaimed in delight. Above us, on the boardwalk we were on earlier, I saw my parents, sister, and other friends clapping.
“Yeah,” I replied, trying to act nonchalant about it.
“So how was it?”
“Good,” I said simply, but I smiled triumphantly. I’d conquered one of my worst fears, and had had fun in the end. It wasn’t so bad, I thought, once it was over. It was just a matter of jumping. Obstacles were merely a conceived conception. Once I was over the ledge, the rest, as they say, was all downhill from there. It was so blatantly simple that it baffled me for a moment.
“Go again?” my friend’s suggestion cut through my thoughts.
“Race you!” I yelled, swimming towards the shore, ignoring the shouts of my friend behind me, and sprinting past my parents back to the cliff. This time, I didn’t hesitate to hurl over the edge, spreading my arms and letting out an excited scream, freed from the constraints of my own fear.