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A leap, a plummet, a splash — I was addicted to the high dive. 

Taking the Plunge

Every summer comes with an occasion that marks my awkward response to gravity and water. It started when I was 6 and hoped to impress my parents and younger brothers by leaping from a diving board into the deep end of a hotel pool.

"Here I go!" I proclaimed. Then I jumped.

For the rest of that year, my mother insists, those words echoed through our house as I called them out repeatedly in my sleep. For a long while any feat I attempted inspired family members to tease, "Here I go!"

The next summer I tackled my fear of jumping from the high dive at our neighborhood pool. That was so much fun that routinely I spent hours just jumping, annoying the lifeguards who knew that my flailing arms and ungraceful entries required constant attention. While I never progressed as a diver, the thrill of plunging into water from far above was enough to keep me hooked.

No matter how many times I jumped the tingling in my stomach was the same. I closed my eyes, sucked in air and sprang into what felt like nothingness. Too soon, I'd crash into a breathless blue world, only to flounder and kick my way to the surface like some bungling creature from the deep.

My lust for more spectacular launches grew. As a teen-ager I, with my friends, would sneak at night into a small community pool. Stripping down to our bathing suits, we'd take turns climbing the roof of its adjacent snack bar. With a running start, we would fly off the roof and land in the pool below. Parents later caught on to our secret stupid fun and stopped it. A slanted roof was added to the building that made our flights impossible. But by that time we had moved on to bigger waters.

Nestled deep in woods near my childhood neighborhood is a lake. Here I discovered the hand-burning delight that comes from clinging to a rope for dear life. And now I'm quite sure it's why Tarzan's call sounds so crazy.

The liquid that fills the lake looks like murky iced tea. In summer, my friends and I would trek there past lichen-covered rocks, fallen trunks and tangled roots. The woods smelled of honeysuckle, mud and moss. We'd gather at the peak of a steep red bank that seemed to swell like a giant pitcher's mound. Tall skinny oaks and elms jutted from it. And high above us, just below a canopy of thick green leaves, two knotted ropes dangled amid random vines. One of the ropes was too frayed and out-of-reach to bother with. But using a long branch, we could bat the other rope toward the bank until someone caught it.

Everybody fought to go first. The rope was looped around an oak that had four wooden slats nailed to it. Each board slipped when it was stepped on, and you had to catch your balance fast. With the slack of the rope tucked under an arm, one by one we'd climb to the top post, tighten our grip and flash the others a thoroughly fearless smile.

Then we'd spring from the tree and sail across the lake as far as the swing would go. The idea, naturally, was to create a whale of a splash. But when it was my turn, I'd hang on the perch for an extra second.

In college there were different friends, watering holes and rope swings. Every year I'd take some kind of plunge. Once it was from a 65-foot cliff overlooking a dam in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was the next to the last one to muster the will to jump. And when I did, I kept my feet together, arms straight by my side and my chin to my chest. I was so petrified that all I remember is the silvery glint you see with your eyes closed. That and my calling out "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jeeeeessssuuusss!" all the way down. I've always felt something guided me through that fall.

Since then, my jumps into bodies of water have grown milder. Last summer I leapt from the second story of my friend's boathouse into the Pamunkey River. It wasn't particularly dangerous and it wasn't particularly fun.

Still, after years of experience jumping from a variety of heights and ledges, I am always a little bit chicken. Except for those times at the rope swing. But who knows, maybe I'd be scared to death to make the leap today.

I'd like to think I'd cast a look over the water and focus on a spot where I planned to drop. "Here I go!" I'd yell as I bounded for oblivion, if only for a
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