To say you are feeling small would be an understatement, because somehow the waves seem to rise and fall at the same size from up here, while the distance looking down seems but so much further than the distance looking up had been, before you marched at the end of a line of six, not quite men, not quite brave, but certainly proud – braggadocio flying from peach-fuzz-dusted mouths on the walk up and mingling in the air with the early summer pollen, waiting to be fulfilled – the girls waiting down below, some in bulging one pieces, others in bikinis, leaning back on elbows in poses, flattering to their stomachs, bronzed and making idle conversation – about you, you imagine – the way you lay claim to them like parceled land in the gold rush.
‘Mary wants to kiss me, I can tell,’ someone says. ‘Going to take her on a walk tonight, if you know what I mean.’
‘Too late, amigo,’ says another. ‘Been there already.’
‘Bull. Shit.’ says the first one. ‘It’s day three.’
You think it might be bullshit, like much of this: Sexual hyperbole, exaggeration. You think they might be as virgin as Joseph Himself. But you don’t know for sure, so keep your own virgin mouth shut.
You stand and look down at the spot, fifty yards or so from where the girls are absorbing UV at the end of the gold fingernail-clipping of a beach, the next one down from the camp, the one your parish supports, where your parents send you to learn how to be good Catholics.
You’re forty feet up now, on top of what looks like a demigod’s upside down Lego, plopped down with a trapezoidal edge angling from where you are standing inward, so you look down and only see murky brown. Only one of you has done this before. His name is Jim. Or Tim. You can’t remember exactly. You’ve talked to him enough now that it would be weird to ask again.
‘See those dark things that look like shadows?’ Jim/Tim asks. ‘Those are rocks. You want to go between them.’
Look down. Look nonchalant, like the others are looking. You’ve learned this by now. You adjust your shorts and tie your string tighter.
‘ – and Lucé, this one with the nice ass is a good kisser, I bet.’
‘She smells like old lady.’
‘It’s lavender, jackass.’
‘She looks damn good in that suit though. I bet somebody could write a whole book about that ass.’
There are mmhmms of agreement. You keep yours to yourself. It is Lucé who brought you here from your chair during afternoon leisure time. ‘Come On,’ she’d pleaded. You won’t admit it to yourself (because something feels wrong about it), but you like that she begged. You have claimed her already in your mind. You’ve practically married her already in your mind, with two boys and Sunday Sacraments and an SUV, like the one your uncle drives.
You feel like a character in a novel, thinking like this. Don’t worry about that. ‘It’s a big world out there,’ your brother says, when he gives you shit for reading all the time. ‘Why don’t you go outside?’
You’re outside now, aren’t you? It’s a big world and you’re on top of it.
‘ – want to keep your legs together. Come up talking like a girl otherwise.’ Jim/Tim is doling out instructions. ‘I’ll go first. Show you how it’s done.’
You know if you get off the rock any way that doesn’t end with a splash, you’ll hear ‘Pussy!’ and ‘Chicken Shit!’ all the way down and you know that no girl who can wear a bikini will go for a pussy.
‘ – and well, a bit out, not straight down, so you get right in the deepest part. Just watch.’
You watch Jim/Tim wave with an actor’s flourish, no doubt for the girls’ benefit. He jumps, and you draw a breath on his behalf, joining the others to look down. He disappears between the two underwater shadows with barely a splash, the noise a badoomschk, like the sound of the hairless Olympic divers you’ve seen on TV when they dive perfectly. You stand, looking over the edge and he comes up after what seems like a long time, treading water and giving the okay sign with one hand. There is a shout from on top and claps and much woohooing from the girls. They’ll clap for you too. Don’t worry.
The others go, each braver for the bravery of the last. Now it is your turn. Jim/Tim is nearly dry by now, the others with shorts still clinging, goosebumped from the wind up here, arms crossed and shoulders hunched when clouds shield the sun. You’re being watched. By everyone.
Your heartbeat has resembled a train accelerating these last few minutes.
Breathe. Relax. Look nonchalant.
Lucé yells something you can’t understand. You feel like a tumbleweed inside, because of the anxiety.
‘You gonna jump or what, man?’
You ignore that and swallow the balloon in your throat. Your mouth feels gummy like you just ate a block of cheese. It always does this when you’re nervous. Exhale slowly through your pursed lips. It will help.
You put your arms out, trying to channel your inner Olympic diver or something, and bend your knees and unbend them, like a golfer taking practice swings.
You jump, finally.
You remember to tuck your arms and close your legs.
You hit the water and the impact stings your feet. Your shorts are forced up so it hurts your dick. One foot hits the sandy bottom and you push off, surfacing and whipping your head around to get the water out of your hair.
You look at Lucé and she’s standing now, looking at you and smiling, arms up in a victory v. You’ve a plan, newly hatched. You will bring her back up on the cliff tonight, after you whisper in her ear at the nightly bonfire and she gets up to follow you.
Kiss her. Claim your reward.
You worry because you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s okay.
It’s a big world out there.
Live a little and put your hand up her shirt if she lets you.
Go to confession when you get home. For once in your life, have something to say.