Thursday, April 7, 2016

F is for a Paralyzing Case of Acrophobia

I'm doing the A-to-Z Blog Challenge.

Today is for "F," and F is for fear.

I remember distinctly the day one of my biggest fears took hold of me.

December 9, 1988

A freshman in high school, I kicked off the day distraught because my uncle had accidentally backed over my kitten in the driveway the night before. (And you thought I was kidding on "C" day.)

I got yelled at in math class because I couldn't grasp a concept my teacher thought I should've understood.

And I blew up at one of my friends because I knew she was having a party but hadn't invited me. (It was complicated.)

But I thought things had started to look up when I left school that day.

It was Friday, so I wouldn't have to deal with the math teacher for a couple of days, and the blow-up with my friend led to her extending an invitation to the party,
The same balcony was placed back on the
building after it collapsed in 1988. Thankfully
the building owners placed support beams
beneath the balcony to give it more support. It
collapsed because it was merely fastened
into the brick of the aging building.
You can't see it in the picture, but there is
a welded seam near the small descend.
The platform split into two when it
hit the pavement.

Now, you must understand I hung with the goody-two shoes crowd in high school, so when I say party, I'm not talking about kegger. I'm talking about pretzels, soda and, if we wanted to get crazy, a less-than-adventurous round of truth-or-dare.

My friend lived with her brother in an apartment above one of the downtown buildings in my hometown. A steep, metal staircase attached to a long, high balcony provided the only means of entrance to their abode.

Seven of us descended upon the apartment after watching school's boys basketball team play a few blocks away at the city auditorium. We left our belongings inside and then walked two blocks to get sodas and munchies from the main street 7-Eleven.

Returning to the apartment, we decided to take advantage of the mild December weather and head out to the balcony to watch the cars cruising up and down main.

 A few of my friends had taken positions at the end of the balcony. I had my back against the stucco wall. A couple of other friends had just stepped out onto the balcony and were making their way toward the rest of us when a loud crack split the air and the steel platform on which we stood lurched sharply downward.

I clearly remember looking down through the diamond-shaped webbing of steel and seeing the ground approaching.

A piece of Matthew 4:6 flitted through my head: "He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won't even hurt your foot on a stone."

I then felt an overwhelming sense of peace before everything went black. 

My mind scrambled the next several minutes. One moment, my butt rested next to a pine bush while a stucco wall kept me propped upright. The next, I was on the other side of the parking lot, asking some girls I knew from school who had witnessed the incident if I had a scratch on my back. 

Note: Crop-style sweaters and stucco walls don't mix. 

My friends and I split two ambulance rides. 

My best friend, Kristin, ended up having surgery to repair a broken chip in her elbow. I ended up staying overnight in the hospital with what was left of my skin slathered with silver sulfadiazine cream to treat the abrasion that ran across my back from my waistline to the bottom of my rib cage. 

My other friends had some minor bumps and cuts and bruises but were treated and released -- to their parents. Not only did the collapsed balcony ruin whatever party plans we might've had, it prevented my friend, Kami, and her brother from accessing the apartment until another entry point could be established. 

The cool part was we made the news -- newspaper, radio and television. The incident became the talk of the school for awhile. I think the kid that sat behind me in English class the following Monday thought he would impress a few people when he said, "Hey, did you hear about that balcony that fell on Main Street last weekend? My friends and I saw that happen."

I turned around and offered him a dubious glare. "Really, Brad?" I asked. "That's cute. Lori, Susan, Susan, Kami, Angie, Kristin and I were on it." 

He didn't believe me until I lifted the back of my shirt to reveal the giant bandage.

Looking back, I find it miraculous no one died or got crushed. But after all of these years, it seems as though the only lingering casualty from the incident -- at least for me -- is the paralyzing fear of falling that I doubt I'll ever be able to conquer. 

That's okay, though. I like my feet where they belong -- on solid ground. 

* * *

Kathryn Harris is an award-winning journalist and author of the contemporary novel THE LONG ROAD TO HEAVEN. All royalties she receives from April 2016's online sales of The Long Road to Heaven will be donated in memory of the late Caylee Hoehne to the United Way for use with the Court Appointed Special Advocates program for abused and neglected children. Please consider helping this worthwhile cause. 

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