by Raymond Mitchell
Big Martha just did it. And without a lot of fanfare. Listen, if a five foot four inch, 235-pound woman in her late 40’s can do it, then so can I. Right? Besides, if I don’t do it here, I’ll never do it anywhere.
For three days, that’s been my mantra. Along with endlessly perseverating over how the hell to make my jump look good. Maybe I can do it without actually having to look down. Just a little backward push-off and then lean forward into an inward dive. How hard can that be? Problem is, I can’t even make it off your basic two-foot-high diving board. Not headfirst anyway. My turn next? Oh God, what if I pee in my pants on the way down?
My wife, June, didn’t sign up for this gig. Way too scary for her. But she came along anyway. Says she wants to watch me. On the drive up here she kept a steady eye on Moshe, the Israeli guy who looked like he might throw up any minute. Meanwhile, Big Martha politely put up with Jonathan’s endless blabber about how terrific his jump is going to be and how great he’ll look in the video. I mostly chatted with Madison, a nervous slip of a girl who looked to be maybe 16 years old. She’s going to do it this time for sure, or so she told me, even if it kills her. She tried her best, twice actually, but her legs froze up solid. They count out loud to five and then you’re supposed to jump. If you chicken out, you get two more chances. After that, you just walk away in shame. Don’t even get your $75 fee back. Both times, Madison used her father’s credit card, so he made her promise she’d never try this again. Stubborn girl, huh?
This morning, our Land Rover lurched up the pitted, rock-strewn road from Queenstown like a roller coaster inching its way up the steep track to that first god-awful crest. A sure set-up for things to come. Still, this is the place to do it—New Zealand—where all this insanity started. Pipeline is the highest bungy jump in the Southern Hemisphere. Obviously I need to prove something to myself. First thing they do when you get here is weigh you. That’s important. It tells them how much cord they’ll need to give you so you’ll pull up before crushing your skull. Of course it’d be great to just lightly touch a finger to the water. But… well, that’s why I bought one of those Maori pendants that look like fancy fishhooks. The sales tag said they’re good for safe passage over water.
We’re on this narrow footbridge that hovers 335 feet above the raging yet disturbingly shallow waters of Shotover River. Jane’s still hanging out with ashen-faced Moshe, trying to give him permission to throw in the towel, I suppose. God only knows why he wants to do this thing. Madison’s up next. I give her a big thumbs up, but it doesn’t seem to help. Still, on her second countdown, she shakes her long blond hair, takes a huge breath, and disappears over the side.
Really? My turn next? An absurdly smiling, well-tanned Kiwi fellow is fastening a harness tight around my ankles. To this he connects the bungy cord, an inch-and-a-half thick tubing made out of zillions of puny rubber strands. Who knew? Looking up, I can see myself in the overhead mirror next to a video camera. The morning mist has matted down my hair. I look like a drowned rat. Come on, say something brave. After all, this could be the last thing anyone hears from me. Kiwi says I’m not allowed to have anything on my body that could possibly fall off during the jump. If it got loose, it could cleave right through anyone standing on the riverbank below. That means no pendant. Well screw that! I’m tying it to a belt loop and hiding it in my pocket. Sometimes you just have to have something, anything, to hold onto.
Nearby, June is leaning her face into the Israeli guy’s slumping body. It’s rescue time. Wish someone would rescue me. Besides, just how am I supposed to get over to the jump point with my feet all tied up? Oh God, now Kiwi’s telling me not to look down. And he’s already starting the count. One: no time to set up for a fancy dive. Two: this is suicide! Three: nobody does this unless they want to die. Four: I don’t want to die. Five: please, please don’t let me pee in my pants. Can’t I have a six? No? No. No six. Only silence and a split second of sheer terror as my treasonous legs catapult me into what I vaguely imagine a swan dive might look like. But I’m free. Nothing left to do but fly. Like in a dream. Feels like floating. Some inner Tarzan screams non-stop in ecstasy. Down, down, ‘til I’m as stretched out as the damn cord. Then back up and again weightlessly down and so on until, regrettably, it’s all over and they haul my dangling body over to the riverbank and remove my rubber lifeline.
I’m supercharged. As is Madison. Jabbering with mutual elation, we almost miss seeing Moshe’s dive. Amazing, he did it! Together, we rush over to congratulate him, but his cowering eyes tell us that he’s still shackled by fear. He’s hated every single minute of his reckless folly. Awkward. What can we say? But now for ultra-confident Jonathan who’s generously saved the best for last. Craning our necks, we gaze up at his proud posture before, oh dear, before his knees buckle and he simply collapses over the side. Afterward, he refuses to speak to any of us. Doesn’t stick around to pick up his videotape either.
Time now to put the Maori pendant back around my neck. I bloody own it.