Sean stood on the rocky precipice and stared over the ledge. He could see and hear the churning ocean a hundred feet far below him. But that isn't what threw him. He was long familiar with the heights, with the thrill, with the ever-present menace of death that always loomed so near during his various, outrageous stunts. Actually, he'd grown to thrive on all these things. His life, his livelihood really, was one constant, glorious rush of adrenaline.
Something, however, was different about this jump. Call it a hunch, an intuition, but all was not as it should have been. And now, out of the blue, came his mother running across the rugged mountain terrain towards him when she should have been waiting for him on the ground below; waiting to give him a relieved hug and tell him how proud she was of him.
He stared at the scar on his hand and smiled his usual wide smile. Then he looked over to his mother, who was hopping and skipping frantically over the rocks along the ledge. She was shouting something at him, but he couldn't quite make out what it was.
"Damn," he said to himself. "This ain't right. Mom hates heights." And that's when he recognized the look on her face. He hadn't seen it in a long, long while. Not since he was ten years old and his life had forever changed.***
He'd been hunting for golf balls at the time. They were fairly easy to find along the edge of the course, deep within the brambles and thickets that ran along its side. The golfers never retrieved them when they landed there. So long as he had his sturdy jeans and a good thick sweater and gloves on, he could maneuver inside the dense brush. Some days he'd come out with thirty or more of them, which he then promptly sold back to the golfers for whatever they were willing to pay. His earnings easily paid for his comic book obsession, and sometimes an ice cream sundae at the local mall. All in all, it was an easy way to earn a buck.
There were, of course, inherent dangers.
The gators were the most obvious. They tended to stay in the shallow lagoons that dotted the course, but occasionally they'd wander into the woods. Luckily for Sean, they were slow and loud, so that when they were anywhere near his hunting grounds, he'd know about it and keep his distance. Oh sure, he ran across one or two sleeping ones here and there, but they'd just open their gaping, toothy mouths when he approached, and Sean would promptly hightail out of there.
It was on just such an occasion that Sean fell prey to the second danger that the forest held: the rocky cliff to its east. Usually, Sean was keenly aware of the ledge that ran high above the coast. The forest ended rather abruptly at this scenic spot. Sean himself spent countless hours here staring out at the ocean as he cleaned the golf balls before tossing them into his backpack.
The ledge, unfortunately, was the last thing on his mind the day he stumbled across the biggest gator he'd ever laid eyes on. It was easily seven feet long, and deep, charcoal, bumpy black in color. If you weren't looking for it, the beast looked like the rocky ground beneath your feet. That's the way it appeared to Sean, anyway, as he was searching for golf balls and then walked directly on top of its massive back.
The gator reared on its stumpy legs, sending Sean tumbling over on his side. When he looked up, stunned at the suddenness of his fall, he saw the slobbering jaws rapidly approaching. Sean managed to scamper away just in the nick of time, as the gigantic mouth came crashing down a mere few inches from his feet. The gator continued to lumber ahead as Sean hopped up and ran directly forward.
Forward, much to his dismay, was the cliff. Sean was airborne in two seconds flat, hurtling at an alarming rate towards the fierce ocean below. "Nice day for a swim," he said to himself, surprisingly; for something inside his head told him that he wasn't going to die, at least not on that day. Instead, he looked at the scar on his hand and smiled.
He'd had the oddly shaped scar for as long as he could remember. His mother told him that he got it when he was just a baby. The family had been at the zoo that day. Sean's mother had set her son on the ground as she searched in her pocketbook for his pacifier. When she again looked down, Sean had crawled a few feet away and straight through the bars of the lion cage. In shock, she stared as Sean sat on one side of the cage and the lion on the other. The two looked at each other in bewilderment.
Sean's mother screamed, Sean looked over and started to cry, and the lion gave a mighty roar as he rushed over to, presumably, devour the child. In a heartbeat, his mother reached the cage and removed her son just as the mighty animal neared the spot he'd been sitting on. Sean escaped certain death, save for a nasty gash he received as his hand brushed along a jagged spot on the bars.
"That's one lucky baby, ma'am," Sean's mother told her son the lion keeper said to her, when Sean was old enough to understand, adding that the scar was his lucky charm. So long as he had it, it would always be there to protect him from danger.***
And that's what was running through Sean's mind as he hurtled towards the ocean five stories below the golf course. He just rubbed the scar and peacefully smiled. Fifty feet, twenty feet, ten feet - the dark, blue ocean threatened ever closer; and Sean rubbed and rubbed on his lucky scar. With his eyes clamped firmly shut, he hit. That's all he could remember of that fateful day: the leap, the rush of wind as he flew majestically in the air, the sound of the crashing waves below, and then nothing.
When he regained consciousness, he was lying in a strange, white room. His mother's face hovered directly in front of him, covered in worry and fear. He didn't like that look, no sir, no how.
"Someone die?" he asked, groggily.
His mother burst into tears at the comment. "Almost," she replied.
"Yeah," Sean said. "I think I fell off a cliff.""Off a cliff," his mother echoed, "and, splat, into the ocean.
"Hmm," Sean said. "Seems I'd remember something like that."
Sean's mother smiled a relieved smile for the first time all day. "You were lucky, Sean. You hit a kelp bed. It broke your fall. Mostly. Just some bumps and bruises. Like I said, lucky." She stroked his hair as she said this.
Weakly, Sean lifted his hand up for her to see. "It was the scar, Ma. It protected me, just like you said it would."
His mother looked from her son to the scar and grimaced. "Yes, well, in any case, you'll be right as rain in a few days. So you just rest and relax and get better."
"No school?" he asked, now flashing a smile.
"Nope, no school." She kissed him on the forehead and sat back down in her seat. She breathed a sigh of relief as her anxiety abated - however temporary as that was to be.
As Sean lay in his hospital bed, the one thought that ran repeatedly through his young mind was the memory of flight - his flight of the cliff, to be exact. It was like nothing he'd ever experienced in his whole young life, and he yearned to experience it again. Repeatedly, if at all possible.
He started diving as soon as he was released from the hospital. He'd always been able to swim. His father had taught him just after he learned to walk. But he never tried the diving board before. He never had the nerve. Now, since his taste of flight, nerve was something he had plenty of.
He'd watched the other divers, so he knew what to do. He approached the long, white board, walked its length, and stared down at the pool a few inches below. He tested the spring. He liked the way it gave, sort of like his bed back home, only sturdier. He stopped, gave a good long rub on the scar, and then bounced high up in the air. He flew straight out with his hands extended at his sides. His spirit soared for the brief second or two he was airborne. He entered the water with barely a splash. He then happily repeated the process a dozen times.
"Nice diving," a man said to him when he was toweling off. "You on a team?"
"Nope. Never dived before today."
The man looked at Sean in astonishment. "You're joshing me, right?"
"Well, I'm coach Trent. Would you like to be on the junior dive team? You're a natural."
Sean looked up at the coach and smiled. Then he looked over to the diving boards and pointed.
"Will you teach me how to dive off of that one?" He was pointing to the high dive, of course.
The coach looked up and replied. "Sure, no problem. Not scared, huh?"
"Scared?" Sean said as he rubbed his scar. "Of what?"
And that's how it all began.
Months later, Sean was the star of the team, winning trophies and medals and ribbons wherever they competed. The high dive was his new home, and he lived to be atop its blissful heights. Actually, it was the flying he lived for, but that little secret he kept to himself. He feared that if he shared it, it would lessen its magic over him; for no dive was any less fantastic, invigorating, or inspiring than the last. Each one brought him joy and pleasure, just as it did that day he flew off the cliff.
"The cliff," he'd say to himself wistfully with a sigh when he sat alone on his bed. He'd never been back since that day. He feared what he might do if he stood at its lofty heights yet again. "Would I jump?" he asked himself. He was afraid of the answer, knowing full well what it most probably was. So he avoided that place. He no longer sold golf balls, what with being so busy with school and diving, and there was no reason to go there; save one: pure, unadulterated desire. And that scared him more than any dive ever could, because now there was an addiction to contend with. The scar, as it was, was frequently red and blistered from rubbing.
Sean's life moved forward like clockwork from there on out. When he wasn't doing schoolwork or chores around the house, he was diving. He did convince his parents to let him go skydiving, but the thrill was different. The parachute deadened the experience for him. Made it less risky. Less free. In other words, it didn't feel like real, honest to goodness flight. Diving, therefore, was his fix, however fleeting the high was.
And then, on his eighteenth birthday, he discovered a new way to achieve the high: a better way, and one with greater consequences. To be certain, he'd considered the option countless times before, but whenever he'd broach the subject with his parents, the answer was a definitive no. Not while he lived under their roof. It was simply too dangerous. But at eighteen, while he was away at college, and, therefore, not under their roof, he decided to finally go for it.
The cliff was a relatively small one, perhaps forty to fifty feet high: just slightly higher than a standard diving platform. Still, the distance was noticeable, especially to Sean. It would certainly add a couple of seconds to his freefall.
With little trepidation, Sean approached the ledge. Madly, he rubbed the scar with his thumb. "Wow," he said as he looked to the ocean below. "Beautiful," he added. Fortunately, it was calm. There were no rough, crashing waves, only peaceful swirls of water as they lapped up against the rock.
Common sense would have suggested that he bring someone with him in case something went wrong. But then how would they meet back up after the dive? And what could a friend really do besides call for help, which would probably arrive too late anyway. Besides, by then, Sean was an expert diver and swimmer. Unless there were hidden rocks below the surface, he had little to fear.
"Here goes nothing," he said as he took a deep breath and shot one last glance at the scar.
He jumped high up and then out. His arms and hands went wide at his sides, like a bird in flight. His eyes caught the blue sky in the distance, then the horizon, and finally the darkness of the ocean below. Majestically, he sailed in the wind. Down, down, down he went. Faster than ever before. And when he was ten feet from the surface of the water, he put his arms and hands back into a dive position out in front of his face. He entered the water like a knife cutting through butter.
At last, Sean felt free. Reborn even. It was as if the vast Atlantic was his own, private baptismal. He swam to shore and lay contently on the beach, staring up at the azure sky above and reliving the moment in his head.
He was jolted out of his reverie by a voice to his right. "Nice dive," the man said.
Sean sat up and looked at the man. "Thanks. Felt nice, too." He smiled and nodded.
"Guys in Mexico do that and make a pretty penny. Some are national heroes," the man informed.
"No way," Sean replied, his brain already buzzing with ideas.
"Oh yes," the man said. "Guys jump over a hundred feet there. Seen it with my own eyes, once. I'd say that cliff you dove off of was about half of that."
"Well," Sean said, "that was just practice. Look for me on the big ones sometime." He laid back down and shut his eyes. His life, or what was to be his life, flashed joyously before them.
He'd never imagined diving from something so high before. Didn't even know it was possible. But once he'd done his research, he found that it was indeed possible, and what the man had told him was correct. There were, however, no cliff divers in the U.S. that were national heroes, at least not yet, anyway.
He started off small, choosing to build up his reputation and skill. He posted a few posters up around campus: Come See The World Famous Cliff Diver, it said. There was a picture of himself and a date and time. He chose the same cliff he dove off of previously, feeling comfortable with it already.
On that first advertised dive, a couple of dozen people showed up, plus a crowd that formed around them. Sean stared down in amazement. "Holy cow," he said to himself, as he rubbed frantically at the scar. Fortunately, he knew how to perform. He'd learned that on the diving team. Of course, this was different. He was on his own now. No team. No coach. Just him and the ocean below and the waiting crowd.
He stared out at the sky, lifted his arms and hands out to his sides, and jumped straight out into a perfect swan dive. For this jump he forgot to enjoy the flight, but that would change, in time. For this one, it was all about the spectacle. He hit the water a few seconds later and dove down, holding his breath for as long as he could, before finally emerging above the waves. Even from his distance from the shore, he could hear the roar of the small crowd. His mind raced. He was, at last, on his way.
He dove two more times that Saturday, and then every Saturday at that time for the next several months. Each time the crowds grew larger and more appreciative of his talents. By the third month, camera crews started arriving. His name was now in the papers. And his parents found out about his new career choice.
"It doesn't pay anything," his father said.
"But it will," Sean countered.
"It's too dangerous," his mother said, clearly scared for her son.
Sean simply held up his hand and pointed to his good luck charm, as he had the day he fell off the cliff. "No more dangerous than any other sport," he added.
"But.," his mother tried. It was too late. Sean was already smiling and hugging them.
"Don't worry," he said. "This is what I was meant to do. Besides, you both know how good I am at it. Just wait. One day soon, your son will be famous."
"Fine," his mother finally said. "But stick to the small cliffs."
Sean nodded, but said nothing. Small cliffs were not what he had in mind. Not by a long shot. So when he dove, in public anyway, it was always from cliffs no more than sixty feet high. His parents could handle watching those. In private was another matter entirely. The high dives, those close to eighty or ninety feet, he practiced alone in remote areas where no one could watch him. He was honing his craft. Plus, those dives really allowed him to stretch his wings, so to speak. Allowed him to feel flight as it was meant to be.
The months stretched on to years. Sean had dove off of cliffs from coast to coast. His name became synonymous with cliff diving. No one had ever displayed so much grace and style at the sport before. No one had ever achieved such respect at it, either. And, as planned, the money did eventually start rolling in, mostly from sponsors, but from television and event organizers as well. Sean had become an international celebrity, and all he had to do was the one thing he loved more than anything in the world.
There was, of course, one challenge, one feat of daring, that he was destined to achieve, he felt. The media clamored for it, as did his fans. Only his parents begged him to forgo the experience of becoming the world's highest cliff diver. And, for a while, Sean relented. But it wasn't for the fans or the press that he wanted to do it. It was for himself. The idea of soaring through the sky from a hundred and thirty feet was too captivating. Too beguiling.
And that's how he found himself so high above the ocean that morning his mother came running at him, screaming something he couldn't quite make out with that same look he'd seen in the hospital when he was a boy of ten. Eventually, he made out what she was hollering, and it made no sense.
"Sean," she screamed as she hopped over rocks and gravel. "Don't, please. Wait. The scar isn't lucky."
Eventually, she reached him. "Mom, what are you doing up here?" he asked, without a clue as to what she was yelling about.
"You can't jump, Sean. The scar. The scar isn't lucky." She was nearly hysterical.
"What do you mean, Ma? Of course the scar is lucky. I fell off a cliff and survived. I escaped from a gator. Remember what the lion keeper said?" Sean rubbed the scar and tried to remain calm. "There was no lion keeper, Sean," she said, with her eyes downcast. "I dropped you."
"You dropped me? What does that mean?"
"I dropped you. That's how you got the scar. When you were a baby, I dropped you and you cut your hand. At the time, your father and I were a wreck over it. So we came up with the lion story. We thought it sounded better than saying your mommy dropped you." Tears ran down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Sean. That scar isn't lucky at all. It's just a scar from a careless mother.
Sean froze in place. He stopped rubbing on the scar. His whole life was built around that story. It was his foundation. "So I'm not lucky?" he finally asked.
"No, Sean, you're not, not in the sense you thought. But you're better than lucky. You're skilled. You're the best at what you do."
Sean looked over the ledge at the ocean far below. His mother held on to him. "You don't want me to jump then?" he asked.
"No, not from this high up. You thought you couldn't be hurt, but you can, just like anyone else. Just like you got hurt when you were a baby."
Sean thought about that last comment. Thought about it long and hard. "You know something, Ma?" he said with the familiar smile reappearing in his face. "Maybe that scar is lucky after all. If you hadn't dropped me, I never would have found anything else in life that would have brought me as much joy as this. I love diving, Ma. It is my life, not just my livelihood. The scar isn't lucky, but I am. The luckiest guy on the planet."
His mother stopped crying upon hearing this admission. She reached down and rubbed the scar in between her two small hands. Then she looked down at the ocean and back to her son. "And your life would never be complete if you didn't make this dive?"
"No, Ma, it wouldn't. I'd always wonder about it."
She paused before saying, "Then I guess you should dive, Sean. So long as you dive in the belief in your skill, not your luck."
"Sure, Ma. No problem," he said as he hugged and kissed her on her forehead. "Now go back down to the beach. I need you there to hug me when I come out of the water." He smiled and waived at her as she slowly and carefully walked away.
When he was once again alone on the ledge, he said, with a grin, "Nice day for a swim."
And a better day for a good, long flight.
Still, just to be on the safe side, he never stopped rubbing that scar. Not on that magnificent flight, or any of the countess flights thereafter. Why, he thought, mess with a good thing?
Copyright © 2006 Rob RosenSend us your comments on this article