By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
Cameron says it's the same with nearly every group, whether the students are corporate executives or halfway-house residents. The reactions, he assures me, will be amplified on the trapeze.
Thirty feet might not sound like much, but the lengthy climb up the spidery ladder, past the voluminous safety net, to the larger-than-standard (but-not-nearly-as-large-as-it-should-be) platform is enough to challenge at least one or two phobias. Sampson clips a safety line to my harness and asks me to hold on to one of the anchoring cables as she pulls the trapeze toward us with the help of a 10-foot-long pole called the "noodle." She asks me to grab the trapeze with my free hand and tells me to place my toes over the edge of the platform. There is no doubt that the trapeze is going to pull me off the platform. I can feel it. I am being flung through space. Sampson shoves her hand through my harness and uses her body as counterweight. "Now, let go of the cable and grab the trapeze with your other hand." This is no small request, but I make the grab, and, despite misgivings about my grip, I bend my knees and jump. From the ground, guiding my safety lines, Cameron shouts out simple commands: "Swing your legs, forward, back, forward. Hook your knees. Let go with your hands. Arch. Reach for the catcher's trapeze. Bring your arms up. When you let go, grab your knees." If not for the deft manipulation of Cameron's safety line, my somersault would have landed me on my head. The women below laugh. Nine-year-old Téa Sampson scurries from her lounging pad in the net and unhooks me with a matter-of-fact smile. I'm happy, but not eager to try the "catch."
Up the ladder I go, somehow more afraid of the height now than I was the first time. (This is an unforeseen reaction.) I grab the bar, bend my knees and let gravity pull me off the platform. (Tenacity wins out over grace.) I reach toward the catcher, and Sam Keen's hands are around my wrists before I can blink. My knees forget to let go of the other trapeze and Keen pulls me off. "The catcher always wins," he says with a wink. He drops me into the net. It's exhilarating, but I understand the reactions before me: Laura Allard's eagerness to show off what she learned last time; Monica Johnson screaming bloody murder as her beaded braids trail behind her; Sylvie Thompson panting ("Oh my god, oh my god, I can't, I can't") when asked to place her second hand on the trapeze, followed by the shallow sound of panic ("I'm OK, I'm OK") as she swings back and forth over the net; Dana Stock howling and landing, face down in the net, laughing; Kathleen Cooley announcing that she is going to cry, and asking over and over again that Sampson not let go of her; Heidi Quezada refusing to go up the ladder, then doing a double backflip into the net; Wendie McCormick worried about the "red badge of courage" she earned when her face hit her safety line. "It doesn't hurt at all," she assures me with a tough grin, "but how's it look?"
After a second round, the women gather to talk about the experience, laughing excitedly, their eyes moving with an animated keenness.
"I didn't think I could do it," says Quezada. "I definitely pushed myself to let go. And it felt really, really good. It was a really good high, something I don't have to feel guilty about."
"I was the sissy la-la with tears in my eyes," says Cooley. "I had trouble trusting the person who was holding on to my belt. I've trusted other people to hold me and wound up on the ground. But it felt good to do. I'd do it again. I'd be scared, but I'd do it again."
"I didn't think I'd be scared," says Thompson. "I'm a thrill-seeker. I like roller coasters. I didn't expect such a rush. It wasn't until my butt dropped in the net that I realized how scared I was, and I was bawling my eyes out. I was caught by this burst of emotion. Weird."
"I'm afraid of heights and I don't trust people," says Charlotte Howard. "I couldn't even look down from the ladder. I had to focus on the bathroom, but I did it."
Renee Miranda didn't. "I enjoy watching the other girls," she says at the end of the bull session, "but I won't ever do it. It makes me nauseous."
"Are you afraid?" asks Cameron.
"Sure, I guess," says Miranda.
"What's wrong with being afraid?"
Miranda shrugs. "Maybe next time."
"Maybe you could sit in the net?" suggests Corinna Sampson.
"Do you want to sit in the net?"
"How about the ladder," presses Sampson, "can you take a few steps up the ladder?"
"Will you touch the ladder?"
The women all laugh and gather up their stuff, carrying away their variant experiences.
"There are metaphors in flying," says Jorge Scott, "personal metaphors."
And, evidently, nausea. Personal nausea.