on the catwalk


I am afraid of heights. I close my eyes on roller coasters. I spend most of my time on a ski lift trying to decide If I fell off if I would survive. I choose an aisle seat on an airplane over a window one - even if it means that my big toe will get run over by the beverage cart or I will get woken up every time my seatmate needs to potty. The London Eye made me want to hypervenelate...and didn't feel the need to linger too long on the observation decks of the Sears tower, the Space Needle or the Empire States Building. The Capilon Suspension bridge in Vancuver almost made me throw up. It didn't help that my husband and brother tried to make it sway and bounce as I attempted to make it across while not soiling myself. In the rain.

When I was 11 my parents sent me to camp. Sleep away classic summer camp for most of July. I loved it so much that I went back almost every summer until I was 21 and still keep up with some of the people I met there. I vividly remember pulling in that first Sunday with my footlocker in the back of my dad's suburban. We parked at the guest center and someone pointed us to the dormatories. They said that they were just  across the catwalk.

This catwalk was no fashion runway. But a very long faded red bridge that spanned at least the length of two football fields with the main road running underneath it. It was wide enough for girls to walk 3-4 across linking arms and high enough that at least a few times each summer to see people repelling right off the middle. The part you walked on however was not solid, but more of series of grates with lots of tiny holes so that you could see everything beneath you. My stomach dropped. And my dad, who I must have inherited this fear from, hopped right back in the car and suggested that we drive across.

After all those summers I am not sure, he ever walked across it.

I on the other hand learned to conquer many high places in that zipcode. There was the ropes course that ended with you climbing up a telphone pole and jumping off in hopes of catching a trapeeze dangling several feet in front of you.  A giant slide that you hauled a heavy wooden sled up and went flying down into the Guadalupe on. And later on nights off, after a little liquid encouragement, a real bridge on FM 1340 that people would dare you to jump off into the frigid river that was high enough that your bathing suit, upon force of impact, would literally cut you in places that you. did. not. want. the. camp. nurse. to apply ointment. And church service on a ledge so high that you could see the birds all flying beneath you and wonder if you couldn't breath because the air was so much thinner up that high or that you were just out of breath from the long ass hike up the hill.
I may have been afraid. but. I jumped and missed, I dropped that damn sled on my toe, I made it up the hill in my sunday whites week after week and I learned that nothing sobers you up faster than having your bathing suit slice your crack as you hit the river in the middle of the night.

The catwalk was taller than all those things. And my first trip across was made quick and fast, not looking or trying to look afraid. But anxious to get some hard solid concrete beneath my feet. It had to be conquered at least a dozen times a day because the dining hall, the tennis courts, the swimming pool,  any building with ariconditioning or a TV and the boys camp were all on the other side.
The paint was always chipping and to this day I can still tell you exactly which panels were loose. Because if you jumped on them, the whole bridge felt like it was ratlling. At some point in time we all carved our names into the middle, as well as spelled out messages in the rocks below and in the middle of the night you could usually find someone there sucking quickly on a cigarette hoping not to get caught. And at the end of our term we'd all lay across it, getting grid marks pressed into our arms, legs and even our faces as we waited to see our family cars make the climb up the big hill.

This was not a place that fear lived. We had to leave it at home. With our make up and boyfriends or lack of boyfriends and the latest YM magazine. So every morning after flag we skipped or ran or banged loudly across that red bridge. Often with our arms linked. Everyone's favorite trick, was to walk very quickly (you weren't allowed to run, and most people who did ended up looking like someone attacked their legs with a cheese grater) while looking down. If you walked  fast enough the little criss cross panels holding you up blurred and disappeared and it looked and almost felt like you were walking on air. It was scary and thrilling until you eventually ran into the person in front of you. Scared or not, when else do you get the chance to walk on air. So daily --- you would see guests or girls, faces down, speed walking across that bridge. Because really, for just a few moments, they were flying.

I haven't set foot on that bridge in well over a decade, but I imagine that the 3rd panel from the middle still rattles. That the paint is still chipped and that there are all new sets of initials carved in the bench and on the rails. And that it would still scare me a little to walk across it.

And I often walk through hard things in my life just like I walked across the bridge that first time.that walking across it quickly and with my eyes closed is no way to live for very long. And sometimes life calls for just getting through it. (like the line at the DMV). But it is not a good way to live for very long. With your eyes closed.
I'm sure I'd try the walking on air trick and linger in the middle to read what people wrote in the rocks.
But, these days, I see the value in walking a little slower. In looking down. Not so much at the cars beneath me, but so I could notice of all the things holding me up.