Sunday, April 12, 2009

To the (Top of the) Lighthouse...

A week ago yesterday, I was in South Texas with family, as some of you may know. I was very excited about visiting South Padre Island, which was on the schedule for things to do that Saturday. Along the way, however, my cousin stopped at the Port Isabel lighthouse. I thought perhaps we were going to look at it and then head to the Island. I soon realized this was not the case. We were not only going to look at the lighthouse, we were going to go inside the lighthouse.

Now, my fear of heights has been so severe over the years that walking to the second floor computer lab at my community college’s library could provoke panic attacks. Just about the time I conquered this second floor library room, I graduated community college and enrolled in a university. Wouldn’t you know, the English classes were all on the 3rd floor at the university, so to make a long story short, I was constantly off the first floor. To make matters worse, the university’s library computer lab was on the 4th floor. There was no escape, so I tried facing my fear. I always chose window seats in my 3rd floor English classes, and I occasionally walked by the windows on the 4th floor of the library. After some time, I got used to these heights.

When I took my first airplane flight, I didn’t know how I would react to altitudes of more than 30,000 feet. Still, I chose the window seat and watched the takeoff. No panic attacks.

Thinking I was cured of my fear of heights, I remember my shock at being creeped out by the escalators to the SkyLink at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Subsequently, with each flight I took, I tried reminding myself that the heights I feared were nowhere near the height I’d been while in the air. Still, standing at the base of the Port Isabel lighthouse, I found myself wishing we could skip the lighthouse and soak up some rays on the beach. My palms were sweating profusely as I started up the steps. I thought this might be a good time to tell Andre and Pierce that I was scared to death. I mean, in the event that I might pass out at the top or freak out and run down the steps without warning.

“You’re scared of… heights?” Andre asked.
“Yeah, quite a bit. Facing that fear though,” I answered, more to reassure myself than to actually respond to the question.
“Funny, I’d never expect that out of you,” she mused.

I was actually doing okay until about halfway up the lighthouse or so, when some joker coming down said, “Be careful—steps get pretty narrow up there.”

“Don’t say that!” I whispered loudly.

So I kept climbing, a little slower this time, until I almost stopped. Andre said, “Just keep climbing—just like the stairs at Dad’s house, ‘cept there’s more of ‘em.”

She had a point. Her dad’s house has a spiral staircase that, as a child, I loved to climb, so much so that I would dream up excuses to go upstairs. That sorta helped.

Suddenly the stairs ended and I faced a short ladder. At this point, I seriously considered doubling back, but instead I started up the ladder. In my flip flops. And my feet were cold and sweating. In fact, my whole body was cold and sweaty, because I knew that this was it—the observation deck. Once at the top, I grabbed onto the door and planted myself firmly in that position. Problem was, I didn’t want to go out on the deck, I didn’t want to ascend to the upper glassed-in level, I didn’t want to go back down, and I didn’t want to be where I was. Eventually, I took a few pictures from my post, still clinging onto the door with my left hand. Pierce saw me standing there and said, “So… I take it that acting like I’m going to push you over for a photo op is out of the question then?” He sounded a little disappointed.

“Uh, YEAH.”

(Funny thing about Pierce, he loves to ham it up for the camera. Had I not been so scared of the heights, I’d have been all for it. But this was serious).

Then, he offered to take my camera around the observation deck so I could have some photos without having to step out of my comfort zone.

“Careful, I got the camera a little sweaty,” I informed him, ashamed of myself.

“Oh yeah. Thanks for the warning. Don’t wanna, drop it over the edge.”

Seriously, Pierce really is a good kid—he just likes to tease.

While he was out taking pictures, I got brave and started climbing the steps to the upper level… and promptly chickened out. I knew I’d hate myself if I went that far and then wouldn’t go to the very top, but these things take time. Then Mom did it. I said, “Hey, I thought you were scared of heights.”

“I am,” she replied.

That was far too offensive for me to handle. Offensive enough to provide an impetus for me to scale the steps to the top. But of course, I had to wait until Mom came down. Finally, I started. Mom said, “I’ll go up there with you.” I know she was trying to be helpful, but I declined, as another person might make me feel claustrophobic. Though I don’t usually have a problem with close spaces, I didn’t want to take any chances. So, I made it to the top. Took some pictures (Pierce had returned me my camera), but I didn’t walk around. Then I really hated it that I hadn’t even set foot on the observation deck. It looked like the lighthouse tour was winding down, so I stood with one foot on the deck and took some terrible photos of nothing in particular. But that just wouldn’t do. There had to be documented proof that I was actually there. Don’t ask me what made me do it, but the next thing I knew, I was actually on the observation deck. It wasn’t so bad, really, but until I get used to these things, they still make me a little nervous. Pierce happened to be out there, so my Mom grabbed a shot of us together.

Now, climbing down the ladder was, of course, worse than going up, but with Andre holding onto me and giving me pep talks, I made it. Then, going down the actual steps wasn’t so bad. I did tell a couple of total strangers that I was terrified of heights, but I had gone to the top. I think they were proud of me?

After we got to the bottom, I looked up. I honestly couldn’t believe that I had just conquered the lighthouse. “So,” I asked Andre, “when we get to South Padre, you wanna go parasailing?”

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Afton said...

Good for you! I get the weak-in-the-knees feeling about heights and definitely prefer to stay on the ground. Don't know if you are familiar with YA author John Green, but he's so afraid of heights he can't even stand on top of a table. Well, he couldn't until he took a challenge from another author and did it. (Think the video is on youtube.)

deepteshpoetry said...

Sunshine, I'm coming back 2 comment on this very soon.Pls chk out my poem on the surreal city n time travel .


Alisa said...

You go girl! There is nothing you can’t conquer now. This was a fun story to read…but I can only imagine your relief when your feet reached terra firma. :)

BJ Roan said...

I'm not sure I could have climbed it. I suspect my toes would have dug a trench in the stairs. You did indeed face your fear! Great piece.

floreta said...

great story and you write it well. sometimes those little things that most people overlook are great triumphs.

Deeptesh said...

I don't fear heights but am scared of flying.Good thing u conquered ur fear...esp I like the way u describe it here.The imageries r so real.N pls chk out my poem.R u busy?

Anonymous said...

Onward Christian soldier!!!

Tumblewords: said...

I know those feelings. You've written a fine description of facing a fear, a step at a time...did you go parasailing? Good post!

"Sunshine" said...

No, we didn't end up parasailing. Apparently you had to make a reservation first. Maybe next time :)