You hang in the air, the world in its glory stretching about you, held aloft by the warm current of adoration as your friends laugh and cheer you on. Light glints off the sheer cliff face, dancing on the golden liquid below, the sky itself a brilliant cloudless blue on this, this perfect day. The grin spreads on your face… the headiness, the warmth, the love, the delicious anticipation… and you plummet downwards.
A small laugh escapes you. This is The Greatest Feeling. There’s time for a forced gulp, driving the air further into your lungs knowing you’ll need it when…
The silence before you hit is so loud, so complete, even the piercing cry of a gull plays to underline it, to amplify the quiet, then
The bubbles rush past you like raucous applause as you continue down, down, knowing that if you do hit the bottom you can simply kick off, springing magically back up to the surface where you can do it all again. This knowledge is intoxicating, and you cannot get enough, now, next time, forever.
It’s a different world down here. Its obvious where the light is and the dark is but you can’t quite see where they meet, just a bit in between that you think you could swim toward but somehow know you’ll never reach.
Once again you hang motionless, suspended in a world where you don’t belong. How easy it would be to exhale, bubbles of air roiling upwards as you surrender, your body becoming one with the Great Drink, feeding it long after you’ve let the last drop creep into your lungs.
The certainty of panic, the fear of dying alone, drives you kicking back towards the patch of light. ‘You nearly had me,’ you think as breach the surface, your aching lungs expelling their fetid air with a percussive spray before another breath is hurriedly drawn. ‘You nearly had me,‘ you say gasping, treading water, turning this way then that to get your bearings.
There. You’re further out than you realised. Striking off towards the shore, to terra firma where your friends and your real life wait. But as you swim they don’t appear to be getting any closer. In fact, are they…? They’re getting further away! Getting your head down you strike harder, struggling against the seas cold embrace. A riptide, a rip tide. You must be in a riptide.
There’s a voice, metallic and unreal, offering to take you to shore, to take you back to the harbour, saying its dangerous out here. ‘You shouldn’t be swimming,’ it says. ‘Let us take you to the harbour.’
The Harbour. Cold walls of sheer cement slick with a sickly green algae, patrolled by surly fishermen and other types that silently scream ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ The Harbour. No.
‘No, no, I think I’ll swim,’ you say, knowing that a riptide will eventually peter out, and besides if you swim perpendicular to it… there, you can no longer feel its malevolent pull, you’re out, and can strike for shore on your own, rejoin your friends who are laughing and dancing on the clifftop.
Your limbs are so heavy when you get to shore, but you find the familiar path easily enough and start climbing again.
It’s slipperier though, this time, your feet lacking friction, making you work, making you bend over and scrabble up in all fours. In fact nothing is sharp anymore – it all blends into itself like a childs painting forgotten in the rain. A cloud has blocked out the sun and a cool breeze runs its fingers up and down your damp skin. Grasping handfuls of thick grass you pull yourself up and your friends are there, still laughing. They accept you back into their throng with backslaps and semi-hugs. ‘You’re one of us’, they seem to say. ‘Will you jump again?’
A drink is thrust into your hand and you peer over the cliff. Pressing the can to your lips, your tongue finding the sharp edge of the hole before warm froth rolls over it, chased by the bittersweet liquid that rolls and surges around your mouth, washing the salty tang away. ‘It’s not so far,’ you think, ‘and I’ve already done it once.’
Closing your eyes, tilting your head back, drinking in the comradery, the joviality, crushing the can into a vee and pitching it over the edge when you’re done. It sails out of view and you turn to grin back at your friends, their faces contorted into masques of encouragement, and you jump.
Once again you’re in the air and you’re falling, falling. FaWooomph! But its not applause this time. It’s more a broken clattering, a… a shattering… a cacophony of broken dreams, as if the inhabitants of this other world are angry that you’ve dared to disturb them again. This is wrong, it feels wrong, you know that now but it’s oh so too late. You strike up toward the surface even while your momentum forces you down.
Your limbs, you feet, they seem ineffectual, your arms passing right through the water and for the briefest moment you are like a bug, a specimen, pinned to a board, enframed with wood and glass for people to study, or just pass you as they get on with their lives. Then slowly it turns around, you make progress. Pitiful progress, you realise, but progress all the same as you thrust weakly towards the window of light.
An air bubble is choked out of you. It takes forever to dance its way up and a thought comes unbidden, ‘I’m not going to make it. I’m just not.’
But of course you do, of course. Lungs on fire, limbs devoid of strength, your face just breaching the surface. And now, as you have been for what seems like forever, you tread water. There’s nothing left. No beach, no shore, no cliff, no friends. No lifeboat, no megaphone, no harbour. Not even the seagull. Nothing, in every direction. Even the sea is still. You tread water and wait for the chance to jump again.
If you or someone you know is affected by alcoholism there is help. Contact the NHS or your local advice centre.