As this balcony collapsed, six of my
friends and I plummeted to the ground.
Her story ended with a ride to the hospital and some bruised ribs. My story about falling ended in the birth of a phobia.
Twenty years ago this week (Dec. 9 to be exact), an incident that started 15 feet in the air planted the seed of my debilitating fear of heights.
That Friday started out in a depressing fashion. Mourning the death of my kitten, Sagorski, I went to school wishing the weekend had already started. My day became worse at noon when I discovered that one of my "so-called" friends had planned a party at her brother's apartment but had not invited me.
(This was one of those "I'm not friends with her today, but I will be next week" kind of stories you might remember from high school.)
By the time gym class wrapped up, my emotions felt so raw that the slightest remark pushed me over the edge.
And it did.
In the locker room, I exploded at Cami for having the audacity to lie to my face about the party.
"What are you talking about? I'm not having a party." She told me.
I ended up in the guidance counselor's office bawling my eyes out because of my cat, because of my frenemy drama, because I thought my life was going to hell.
When I climbed into my dad's truck after school, Cami and Susan had felt a change of heart and decided to invite me to their party anyway.
But since Cami lived with her brother in a small apartment above one of the old buildings along Main Street in my hometown of 25,000, my mother told me, "Absolutely not! I just don't have a good feeling about that." (Being 1988, cruising Main Street was a huge source of entertainment for a lot of kids who were up to no good -- and almost every other kid, too.)
I begged. She caved and let me go.
Cami's apartment could only be accessed from the outside of a two-story brick building. A metal fire-escape staircase and balcony led to both of the doors, and I remembered Susan and Kristin telling me how scary the stairs were.
"You can see through the floor, and it feels like you're going to fall," one of them said.
I wasn't too worried about it. Not much scared me at the time.
Arriving at Cami's apartment, we dropped our duffel bags in her room and returned to the balcony to watch the cars cruising up and down main.
While Kristin, Lori, Cami and Susan stood at the north edge of the balcony, I leaned against the yellow stucco wall and looked down through the ornamental decking of the metal balcony.
I remember thinking, "Man, it's a long way down."
Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw my friends Susan M. and Angie approaching from the other side. That's when we heard a loud pop! pop! pop! and the one of my friends screamed, "The balcony is collapsing!"
This is it, I thought, there's no way we're going to survive this.
Miraculously, we all did. I awoke several minutes later in a garden of mulch sitting next to a pine bush. Still overwhelmed by shock, my eyes closed again. The next thing I remember was standing in the middle of the parking lot asking Steph, a high school classmates who hadn't attended the party, (by now several people were milling around the scene) if I had a scratch on my back. She flagged a paramedic to help me.
Turns out, I'd slid all the way down the stucco and didn't have a stitch of skin left on my lower back. Another one of my friends, Kristin, had chipped a bone in her elbow and required surgery.
I spent the night in the hospital. Kristin spent several days in the hospital. The rest of my friends were treated and released.
And I think Susan M. got a scratch and tore her coat.
Two days passed before we could get access to the bags we'd left at Cami's apartment. More than a year passed before I could muster the courage to step onto the back deck at my parents' house; it's only about six feet in the air.
To this day, I shudder at the thought of walking over bridges, balconies and on staircases in tall buildings.
Maybe I should have listened to my mother.