Oh god. Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god.
Why the hell did I think this was a good idea? I’m terrified of heights. I’m middle-aged. I question whether or not I can even hang from a bar. This is seriously the stupidest idea I’ve ever had.
I arrived at the trapeze school, located on the Santa Monica Pier, with plenty of time to spare. I wanted to make sure that dealing with traffic and arriving on time didn’t add to the current and enormous list of worries in my brain… but it also meant that I had plenty of time to contemplate the towering heights of the trapeze above.
The rest of the class began to filter in while I was warming up on a small floor mat. I spoke with a couple of the instructors, and for some reason everyone initially assumed I had been there before. I could only assume it was because my look of anxious panic closely resembled the face of many other people who had come through here before.
Once assembled, it was a small, but mixed class of varying skill levels. Three of us were complete newcomers, and I’m pretty sure there was at least a 25-year age difference between myself and the next oldest participant. Although part of me felt ridiculous, another part felt that if a 12-year old could do this, maybe I wouldn’t be such a disaster area after all.
A young man came around and attached our very-tightly-cinched safety belts. I did my very best impression of someone who wasn’t scared out of her mind. I don’t think it was very convincing.
I had assumed that us first-timers would be first practicing our moves closer to the ground, but apparently not. Although we were given explicit safety instructions, and then practiced a pantomimed jump beforehand; for the most part, our learning took place high up in the air, in real-time. I can’t say I was too pleased by this, but our instructor said there wasn’t much you could practice on the ground. As someone who’s last brush with any sort of gymnastics was more than 30 years ago (and not a particularly good one at that), I silently begged to differ. Though, I’m pretty sure my thoughts were loud enough that he could hear me thinking them anyway.
Several of the more advanced students had already gone up a few times while us newbies had been on the ground. Since we were the first class of the day, I was slightly relieved to see that the net was definitely working. But now it was time for the rest of us to jump for the first time, and the blood pounding in-between my ears was getting ever louder by the minute.
I heard the clang of the metal safety latch being sent down from the top of the platform. The latch that was meant just for me. I thoroughly chalked my hands, hooked myself in, and stared at the sizable ascent ahead of me. I dislike going more than a couple steps high on most ladders; and yet, somehow, an entire story or two didn’t seem like an overwhelmingly irrational idea.
Just keep climbing. Focus on the climbing. For the love of god, don’t think about how high you are off the ground.
I reached the top, ungracefully got myself from the ladder to the platform, and waited for the girl before me to complete her jump. She was the smallest of the group, and watching the look on her face made me even more nervous. But then, seconds later, she jumped and survived. And then I was next.
Hooked into a new safety line, I stood with my toes just barely dangling off of the platform’s edge, my left hand fiercely gripping the only place left to hang on to. I was instructed to lean forward and grab the much-heavier-than-expected trapeze bar with my right hand.
The adrenaline started to kick into overdrive. Time felt measurably slower. I was certain I had made a grave mistake in coming here today. But I managed to let go anyway; grabbing that bar; purposely leaning into the unknown.
It may be a terribly overused cliche, regularly used for such everyday activities as changing jobs or trying a new hair color, but never before had I experienced a more literal representation of the phrase “leap of faith”. You have to believe that the safety gear was properly fitted, that the person hanging on to you won’t let go before you’re ready, that the person below will be able to handle your safety line, that the net won’t malfunction when you fall from the sky. And after all that, you have to believe that you, yourself, are capable of temporarily overriding decades full of doubt; simply trusting your natural abilities. And at the very least, to trust that you’re capable of hanging on for dear life.
I bent my knees in preparation for the inevitable, next sound.
The sound of action. Time to jump.
And so I did.
The force of the downward swing was much greater than I anticipated. Pulling my legs toward me and over the bar for the first time was close to comical. And I was certain when I removed my arms and let myself swing completely upside down, that I was going to fall off and tumble head-first into the ground. Thankfully, I didn’t. On the final “hup” I awkwardly dropped down into the net, happy to still be alive.
I went up quite a few more times before the end of the lesson. My neverending fear gradually lessened somewhat, but definitely never disappeared. I was not a natural. Most of the time I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. But I did manage to make some small improvements. And at the very end, also managed to complete a fairly mediocre catch. Or, more truthfully, the man on the other trapeze somehow managed to catch me as I flung myself indiscriminately into the air.
I certainly don’t see myself joining the circus anytime soon, but it’s hard not to be amazed that I went through with something like this. A day later, I’m terribly sore and a bit of a walking bruise. I also lost a little bit of skin on my hand, but that’s pretty much par for the course.
Thinking back on the experience, I still can feel the terror of looking down from the platform; the force of the jump; the anxiety of whether or not I could do this. And I also remember that I did it anyway; that nothing bad happened; and that the few moments that I got something really right, were pretty amazing.
Dear lord, you’re not thinking about going back again, are you? ARE YOU? Don’t be crazy, woman. Don’t be crazy!