On Life and Looking
by Dave Wagner
Teetering precariously on the edge of control - is there any more exciting way to live life? You know what I’m talking about, I’m sure. That rush you get when you’re not quite sure how things are going to end up. That frantic ride to Who-Knows-Where that could provide either the time or your life, or completely destroy you. It never does either, actually, but the promise is there. The promise or the threat, depending on how you look at it. It hangs over your head like a guillotine blade, oiled, sharp, ready. That rush is more powerful than any so-called “controlled substance” – I should know, I’ve tried just about all of them.
The bummer about it is that once you’re hooked good and hard, it does become like a drug – you need more and more of it each time in order to get off. You need a stronger dose.
For me, it started early. My earliest memory is of being tossed up into the air by my dad – he would catch me, of course…grab me under the armpits, toss me straight up, catch me again. I must’ve been about three when he started doing that. I would make him do it over and over until he complained that his arms were too tired to continue. That segued, of course, into bouncing on the bed, much to my mother’s dismay. I must’ve killed more mattress/box-spring sets before I was 10 than any other kid on the block. Trust me, though…it was worth every spanking.
When I was old enough to ride roller-skates, I was in heaven. There wasn’t a hill I wouldn’t bomb down. Faster, faster, faster. I’m surprised I have any skin left on my elbows and knees at all anymore. The asphalt and I got to be close friends.
Of course, bouncing on the bed, bombing hills on roller-skates and even flying off the high-dive at the park pool isn’t really ‘all that’ – I mean, I’m sure just about every kid did those things. I was never happy with just that, though. I always wanted more. My mother did not approve, of course. The thought of her beautiful little girl having an Evil Knievel streak made her wince openly. She used to say there wasn’t a dress made that I wouldn’t tear, fray or stain in under 30 minutes. Not that I hated dresses or anything, quite the contrary – I loved being a girl, and still do. As a kid, I was the Dress-Up Queen. Ribbons, make-up, high heels, the whole nine yards. That kind of thing never leaves you.
Nevertheless, I put plenty of time in on skateboards, bikes, trampolines - I even tried stilts once. When I was thirteen, my dream was to run away to the circus and become one of those trapeze artists, flipping and flying through the air, grabbing the hands of the catcher at the last possible second. Not too original for a dream, I know, running away to join the circus, but hey, cliché or no, I would have traded anything for the opportunity.
At 14, I had a boyfriend whose parents bought him a dirt bike. I immediately begged him to show me how to run it, which he did. I remember flying up and down the roads around his house, completely out of control, trying to make it go as fast as I could. I never wrecked it, though…miracle of miracles, eh? Of course, I made my boyfriend a nervous wreck. Especially when I decided to try jumping the thing. He said if I loved him, I would stop trying. Well, I did love him, at least as much as a 14 year old could – but I couldn’t just stop. Jumping, leaping, flying through the air – I can’t explain it…it had an amazing pull on me. I had to do it. It was as if I were compelled to try.
I went off to Summer Camp that year - my parents were having a hard time with me, and figured some time away would do me good. More likely they thought it would do them the good. Anyway, camp’s where I learned to ride horses. Those dumb old camp horses wouldn’t jump a thing, though. Believe me, I tried to make ‘em. I had to be content with making them run as fast as possible. Whenever we were riding a trail, I’d see any sort of open field, and “Hyah!” Off I’d go! “Run like the wind, ol’ boy! Run like the wind!” I’d shout, with the camp counselors chasing me on their old horses, shouting at me to stop. What a bunch of fools. I mean, what’s the point of being on a horse if you’re just going to clomp around on it? Forget that! I say, crank that bad boy up and see what he’s got.
So, they took away my riding privileges…big deal. I had my eye on bigger things. More specifically, there was a building next to the lake that was calling my name…calling for me to leap off of it and into the lake. Of course, I didn’t need to ask if that was allowed or not, they had rules against just about everything there. It was only one story tall, I mean, what’s the big deal? And the one side of the building was actually on those little stilts out into the water a ways, so it wasn’t like I would be leaping over dry ground or anything. This is what I told myself as I climbed up onto a windowsill and then up onto that roof one night. I would have much preferred to do it at daytime, but then I would have been caught for sure.
The rest of the girls from my cabin had snuck out to watch me. For some reason, to them it was the craziest thing they’d ever heard, or something. They basically lived to talk about shopping and who’s cute and who’s not cute. Of course, I had strong opinions on those subjects as well; I just also felt a strong desire to jump off the roof. To me, it was just something I had to do. And do it, I did. What a rush! I sprinted to the edge, and leapt out into the darkness. The moon was reflecting off of the surface of the water, so I knew when to draw in a breath. Ker-splash! I swam back to shore, and was going to do it again, but those stupid girls from my cabin had squealed so loud when I leapt off the first time that a pair of camp counselors came a’ runnin’ and put an end to the fun. They made me pack up and leave the next day.
I went back home, to angry parents and a happy boyfriend. The one with the dirt bike, remember? He was older than me. A year and a half or so. When I got back from Camp Lame, he had a surprise for me. He’d gotten his driver’s permit. He also had an older brother who was fixing up some old Ford car to give him for his 16th birthday in December. That meant, if things went well, by the time Christmas break was over, I’d have a ride to school every day instead of having to take that stupid school bus. God, how I hated the twerps that rode that bus. And the busdriver had to be an escapee from some kind of asylum or another.
In any case, turns out his dad got transferred to another city, so they packed up and left by Thanksgiving. I wasn’t too heart-broken, though. I sure did miss that dirt bike.
The following summer, my parents took me on vacation to the west coast. We stopped in Vegas on the way. Amazing place. They’ve got a bungee jumping platform right outside the Circus Circus hotel – it was expensive, so I only did it three times. And they have this super tall hotel called Stratosphere that’s shaped kinda like a big golf tee, or something. It’s the tallest thing in Vegas. Anyways, they’ve got this ride on the very top of this hotel that you sit in and it shoots you straight up along this vertical track – whoosh! Like that. And for a moment, you are higher than anything and everything in the city. It reminded me of when my dad would toss me up into the air as a kid. You just hang there, weightless, for that split second. And part of you wants desperately to return to the earth and part of you wants desperately to keep floating up, up, up. And then the moment is over; gravity takes over and pulls you back down to where we’re told we belong.
Do we really belong down here, though? Why can’t we just fly around like Superman, that lucky jerk? I don’t care about being super strong, or able to see through stuff and all that – he can keep that crap. But for crying out loud, let me be able to fly like him! Just for a day, even! Up, down, around, on the edge of control, right on the very edge.
Like the hang-gliders I saw in San Diego that same summer vacation. God, I wish I could have tried that. Out over the ocean, gliding like a sea gull. They did take me up in a hot air balloon, but that was Dullsville. I mean, you go slowly up, you drift a while, you go slowly back down. Big whoop. Now, if they could get that sucker to do a few flips and somersaults, I would’ve been into that!
Anyway, that next school year, I met a guy that introduced me to those “controlled substances” I mentioned earlier. They were interesting in a way, but the thought of putting weird chemicals into my body was a little too unnerving for me. Besides, the friends this guy had were about the purest form of ‘loser’ you could imagine. Yeah, that’s what I needed, to hang out with a bunch of whacks like that. All they wanted to do was sit around and vegetate. No thanks. I did try everything they had, though.
But I had to keep moving, keep looking. For what, I had no idea. But whatever it was, I had to find it. It was fast, it was high, it was deep and it was out there. Somewhere.
By the end of my Junior year, I had my license, and was seriously chomping at the bit for a car. My parents said they’d cosign for me if I got a steady job and contributed toward the payments and upkeep. Seemed a small price to pay for freedom, so I got a job working the counter at a local coffee shop. It turned out to be a great place to meet people of the opposite sex. In any case, before long, a cute little econo-crap car was mine. That piece of crap could barely get up to eighty without shaking violently, but it was mine, so I didn’t complain much.
I practically lived in that car. I basically went home to sleep, shower, and sometimes eat. I just couldn’t stay there any more, for some reason. Not that my parents didn’t love me anymore or anything – they were pretty cool. I just felt so cooped up there, like the walls kept closing in on me. I had to escape and escape often. I spent most of that summer between my Junior and Senior year exploring. I drove everywhere within a 50 mile radius of my house, just looking, searching. I didn’t have many people, if any, that I could really call friends – most people my age had no idea where I was coming from. I don’t think I did either.
I did have one friend that would let me come over and take her dad’s sports car out for a spin when he wasn’t home. It was an amazing machine, that car. A Porsche of some kind. I would take that bad boy out to the back roads and open her up, and just fly. The faster I went, the calmer I would be. It was funny, the more my speed increased, the closer I felt to finding this “it” that I was looking for. As the trees and bushes flew by, I could feel the car, the dirt bike, the horses, the bicycle, the roller skates…all of it…underneath me, helping me, setting me free, giving me wings. Giving me life.
The last time I took that Porsche out for a little sprint, I was flying down this tree-lined straight-away, and, like something in a dream, a girl on a horse came bursting out of the trees a couple hundred yards up the road, and began flying up the road toward me, but on the shoulder. At first, I thought she was in trouble, but then I recognized the look in her eyes, even from the distance we were apart. I saw that look every time I looked in the mirror. She was on the edge. And she was loving it.
The distance between us closed at an amazing rate – I knew I’d fly by her in a matter of seconds. A kindred spirit. I felt like I should pull over and give her a big hug or something. But, I knew better than to disturb her when she was in the zone – I was in the zone myself at that moment.
At the last possible moment, her horse veered onto the asphalt and intended to cross the road. The girl riding her pulled violently at the reigns to get the horse back on the shoulder. I was going way too fast to stop or even swerve – I braced myself and hoped for the best. I ended up clipping the backside of the horse – I must have been doing at least ninety, maybe more.
I don’t remember much after that. Apparently, after I clipped the horse, I skidded, spun and otherwise spiraled nearly to a stop before wrapping the Porsche around one of the roadside trees. The girl on the horse fared a lot better than either me or her horse. She had a good helmet on, and was, of course, tossed clear from her horse, which had been all but destroyed underneath her – much like the Porsche. She got a little road rash, which I’m sure didn’t phase her at all, but I know she must have been heart broken about her horse.
As for me, they pried me out of the wreckage, brought me to the hospital where I spent a month and a half. As I said before, I had slowed almost completely before impact with the tree, so it could have been much worse. The impact with the back legs of the horse did little more than send me spinning – if I’d hit it square, I know we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
I still haven’t recovered completely, at least physically. I have a slight limp, and I get pretty strong headaches almost every day. But inside, I still hear the call. I still feel the pull. Sometimes I wonder why I’m wired the way that I am. I don’t know if I’d call it abnormal or not. My dad says I’ve got a deathwish or something – that’s completely untrue. That’s the big leap I’m not anxious to take any time soon, although I do wonder at times what might be waiting on the other side. I’m willing to wait to find out on that one, in spite of what my dad says.
My mother, on the other hand, is anxious for me to meet Mr. Right, settle down and raise a family. I do plan on getting married at some point, but settle down? I doubt that’s possible. I still don’t really know what it is that’s pulling me, but I’d like very much to find it, to grab hold of it, to bottle it up and keep it with me at all times. Until then, I’ve no choice but to keep looking.
Wish me luck.
PLEASE ENCOURAGE AUTHOR,
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