It's a funny thing about jumping; no matter how prepared you think you are, the fall always knocks the brevity right out of you.
The summer before my 18th birthday was a hot one -- in more ways than one.
Being from the wet side of Washington state, it wasn't uncommon for most of us to come from nonair-conditioned homes/cars/workplaces. When the temperatures hit the 90s, kids with weak, western Washington blood running through their veins got desperate.
We did the only intelligent thing: bridge jumping. Because obviously throwing yourself off a large structure and falling dozens of feet to the rapid cold water beneath was so much more refreshing than, oh say, swimming.
Perhaps I'm using the term "we" a little too inclusively here. My cousins and friends would go bridge jumping while I sat on the river's edge, dipped my toes in the current and clapped at their bravery. This would be because I'm the world's biggest wimp (according to my cousins). I spent most of the heat wave that summer listening to chicken calls and trying to defend my intelligent terror.
But temperature has a funny effect on people who are bored and overheated. It only took a week or two of peer pressure before I found myself, one hot July afternoon, standing at the railing of a very high, very industrial-looking bridge.
And they said I wouldn't jump.
Honestly, I think the only thing that actually got me out on the ledge was watching my skinny little 14-year-old cousin shimmy over the railing, step 2 feet out onto the large metal beam that ran suspended beneath the bridge by some sort of engineering magic and plunge to his (not quite) death without so much as a whimper.
I remember putting my cold hands on that sun-hot railing and swinging my right leg over to straddle it. Getting the other leg to agree to this move was more of an effort, since it seemed to think that we shouldn't mess with dry land. Once I finally had my entire body on the unsecured side of the bridge, it was just a matter of forcing my rubbery legs to step down to the lower beam. (And yes, I probably should have used the restroom before I got up there.)
Longest. Step. Of. My. Life.
Finally there I stood, 70 (OK, 30) feet from the rushing water below with nothing to stop me from going back but my pride. I had no idea how the fall would feel. Exciting? Elating? Terrifying? Would I hit that one rock everyone warned me about and die? Would I feel like a bird or a stone, and which one was better?
A breath, a whisper, a step and...
No one told me I should jump feet first, straight like the arrow. By the time I landed, I was in a sitting position, and holy moly but that river spanked me like a naughty school girl. That was, inevitably, my one and only plunge. Until now.
We fly to Germany in 72 hours and I feel once again like that girl on the bridge. I can look down and see the water, cool and refreshing and exciting and scary. But standing here I'm still a world away from the fall.
What about the language? The food? My children's happiness? Will there be friends, or decent grocery stores, or English movie theaters? Will we miss "The Office" and college football and Sunday dinners with the family?
Some of the answers will be yes and some will be no, but still I feel compelled that this jump is exactly what my family needs right now.
Here's hoping this time I land on my feet.
Annie Valentine is a Layton wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.