Walking into Trapeze Arts in Oakland for my very first flying trapeze lesson yesterday, I looked up to see a woman hanging by her knees on a bar that was easily 50 feet off the ground, reaching back to grab the wrists of a staff member also hanging by his knees. It was a successful catch, and the woman dismounted gracefully, landing on her back on the net below. I glanced around the gym to see where the beginners’ trapeze was; surely I was not expected to get all the way up there.
Oh, but I was.
I’m not sure where this crippling fear of heights came from, but it first reared its ugly head in my middle school Project Adventure class, a unit in gym where we were supposed to do insane things like climb walls, walk on wires, and do “free falls.” God I hated it. Many of my classmates were such naturals at it, climbing with ease and falling with laughter, actually finding it fun. I just had to look up at one of these ridiculous aparatuses and my palms would start to sweat. The day I remember most vividly, our task was to climb up a telephone pole forty feet high (ed. note: in my memory, it was a hundred feet, but I fully admit that it might have been more like twenty, so I’m compromising for the sake of the story), then stand on top of it (just the pole, there was no platform), and jump off, with the goal of reaching and grabbing onto a trapeze that was hanging six or seven feet away. Add a windy day into the mix, and my wobbly knees, and by the time I got up to the top, the pole was shaking back and forth so much I thought it would buck me off. Mr. Fondow below was encouraging me, all of my classmates were cheering me on. I prepared to jump, bending my knees and taking my arms back, and … fell off the pole. The bright side: I was fine, obviously, as I was wearing a harness. The not-so-bright side: humiliation, captured on videotape and shown later that year at my eighth grade graduation. (Side note: Seriously? I want to know who was responsible for that. Wouldn’t graduation be a time to show the triumphant moments of the year?)
So fast forward to Oakland, circa yesterday. After a short lesson on a static trapeze bar six feet off the ground (hips forward, shoulders back, “hup” means jump), I was instructed to climb on up. Oh God. I climbed, got myself onto the platform, and, uh, fear was there. Anna was going to be after me but I made her go first. And then, mainly because I couldn’t stomach the idea of climbing DOWN the ladder, I went. The first time I was holding on for dear life, engaging bandha (really, it works in arenas other than yoga) and squeezing my feet together so I wouldn’t flail. This apparently translates to good form, I was told by one of the trainers as I reviewed the videotape (they video you there not for humiliation purposes but for actual learning). I went again a few times, trying to lift my knees at the right time to get my legs over the bar. No dice. Too scary. The fourth time I got one foot up on the bar, the fifth time I got my knees over the bar. Success! But when the trainer below told me to let go with my hands, yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. All of these things I had done on the stationary trapeze below, but it’s a bit of a different story when you’re swinging fifty feet off the ground. But the sixth time, it was getting close to the end of class, I figured I had come so far I may as well go for the gold. One of the trainers was on the second trapeze ready to do the “catch.” I was into bargaining mode with myself: if I just try to do the catch this one time, then I can call it a day. Except this last time, as I passed the bottom of my first swing, my hands slipped on the bar and I couldn’t hold on. I fell onto the net below. As I got up to stumble off the net, I realized my hands were bloody, with long strips of skin hanging off. The trainer told me my flying trapeze career was over, at least for the day.
Would I go back? Maaaaaaybe. I’d really like to do a catch. But I’d still consider the day a total success.