Go Ahead, Jump


I stood at the top of the bookshelf in the corner. I had two large garbage bags attached to my arms and one smaller bag on my back; this was my secondary parachute, the first two were my main ones. Mrs. Emory said, "you're going to kill yourself jumping off of desks and bookshelves with nothing but a couple of garbage bags on your arms." That's why I added the last one.

Jason and Lily were sitting in the corner. They'd gotten in trouble for using food "inappropriately" during snack time. Aaron was crying; he always was. Something about Abby taking his spot by the dollhouse. That's where Mrs. Emory was, talking to Aaron, so I had a free moment. I leaned forward, toes positioned perfectly over the edge of the shelf. Head up, arms spread like an eagle, I took my dive. Everyone was busy; no one was looking. For a moment I thought the bags caught the air, the air that whizzed quickly past my ears. They didn't though. I landed on my feet, which quickly twisted in strange directions as I hit the ground. I screamed and Mrs. Emory came over, mumbling "goddamn it" under her breath. Aaron cried.

A couple of weeks ago, more than 250 people went to jail after clashing with police at the end of an Anti-War rally in New York City. The protest spanned over forty Manhattan blocks, from the United Nations building all the way down to Washington Square. On the streets, people flowed like a bloodstream, chanting and carrying handmade signs expressing their rage about the war that they deemed unjust.

REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME
BOOBS NOT BOMBS
GEORGE BUSH: LEAVE THE WHITE HOUSE IN 48 HOURS SUPPORT OUR TROOPS - BRING THEM HOME

I got there late. By the time I arrived, people were no longer moving because they'd hit a police blockade around thirty-seventh street, so we all stood around like we were in a crowded theater, examining other people's signs and banners. I had seen the "regime change begins at home" slogan on a bumper sticker somewhere and was going to put it on a sign, thinking it would be really clever. Luckily I was too lazy to do so because I saw at least five of them before we even started making our way downtown.

On the corner of fortieth and Broadway a woman sat atop a lamppost. Her feet swung in the air like a child's and she clasped the trunk with one arm, her other waving a wild fist in the air.

NO BLOOD FOR OIL! NO WAR FOR PEACE!

She shouted over the crowd. Even from where I was standing I could see the jugular in her neck protruding, like a snake rising from somewhere inside her chest. Her face was red and I imagined her eyes were tearing from the pressure. She looked surprisingly sturdy though.

One time I jumped out of the window of my friend's second floor apartment on Ninety-second Street. Her mom was asleep in the other room; she was an "artist," so she slept all day and then stayed up all night eating Devil-Dogs and scribbling notes for her novel. Kate and I discussed the best ways to fly. I suggested balloons - lots of them - because didn't somebody fly around the world with a balloon? Yeah, she said, I think so. What about those little fans for when it's hot out?

Nah, already tried that, I said, and I pointed to a hole in my mouth where a tooth used to be. She suggested I use umbrellas - lots of them.

We went out on the fire escape; down below was the awning for Ciccio's Pizzeria, below that (unbeknownst to me), a lone bike chained to an iron rail. The sidewalk was pretty far out, but I deemed it doable. We brought out all of the umbrellas we could find in her closet, four of them; one with a broken spoke which would later be removed from my thigh.

I climbed over the railing and leaned back, preparing my umbrellas, two in each hand, ready to scoop up the rushing air and bring me to a safe landing. I knew it would happen, I truly believed it. I woke up in the hospital the next morning.

What were you thinking? My mom asked. You can't fly. How many times do I have to tell you this? You are a person, not a bird. She mumbled as she left the room to get my dad. Why do something over and over if the result never changes?

This was the fourth major Anti-War rally organized throughout the country and the world. It was the first, however, since the war began. I sensed a different mood this time as I stood in the sea of activists: a rising sense of immediacy.

We cut through the crowd, contorting our bodies to squeeze through sweaty backsides and pointed elbows. On the sidewalk I could see hundreds of policemen standing along the building facades, donning riot cuffs and batons. They were a special breed of police; a new homeland security army born out of increased budgets and a society built on fear. On their heads they wore helmets that covered their faces with a pane of bulletproof glass, and in the bags casually strewn over their shoulders I imagined there were gas masks, ready for a secret attack from Saddam. They were talking about sports or what kind of coffee they had that morning. Everyone was busy; no one was looking.

Many protesters sneered when they saw them; wide-eyed tie-dye wearing hippie kids mumbled "fucking pigs" and "oink oink" under their breath. A couple of blocks down I could see the hold up - a barricade in the middle of the road.

LET US THROUGH! LET US THROUGH!

People shouted. A group of middle-aged women afraid of arrest inserted a polite "PLEASE!" in the breaths of the spirited protesters' forceful request. I heard the shouting getting louder and I stood on my toes to try and see although this has always been useless at five feet tall.

"This is ridiculous," the woman next to me said. Her shirt read, "War is not the Answer." Her cheeks were marked with peace signs. "Isn't this supposed to be a march?" Up ahead, the sound escalated as the barricade fell.

Some might say I had a rough childhood, at nobody's fault but my own, of course. Broken bones, split foreheads, sprained fingers, plenty of stitches. I couldn't seem to stop hurting myself; it was as if my blood didn't belong in my veins but rather gushing from my skin and pooling on the floor after I voluntarily jumped off of something - a tree, my mom's dresser, the jungle gym at school. I couldn't understand why I couldn't fly. I thought I could do it if I wanted to badly enough - no, I knew I could. So, I didn't stop after mild concussions or even serious wounds. I just closed my eyes tighter and thought harder before I hit the ground and was sent on my way to the hospital.

My mother thought I was crazy so she signed me up to meet with the school psychologist. One of her friends had told her that the basic warning sign of insanity was not being able to learn from mistakes, and my mom believes everything she hears. The psychologist was a joke, one of those ridiculously tall people that made you pay extra attention to their legs when they sat down because you imagined that if you looked long enough at their ankles you'd see the bottoms of stilts.

"Amanda, why do you keep jumping from high places when you know you're going to hurt yourself?" He'd ask.

"I don't know." I'd answer. Each time the same conversation, nothing ever changed. Always an interrogation with no results. There was something about reality that began to eat at me that year in the third grade; I began to get frustrated by the fact that no matter what I did, nothing worked out the way I planned. I wasn't flying and I knew I should be. I was spending my afternoons with an idiot psychologist instead of with my friends. I cried once, only once, at one of our sessions.
"I don't know!" I yelled, "I want to!" My tears were those of utter exasperation. They burned on my cheeks. "I want to I want to I want to!"

We were moving now. I thought about the first time the war was discussed, on a CNN broadcast last year. The "axis of evil," Bush said. Suddenly it all seemed clear - our President was trying to take over the world. He'd use September 11th all he wanted to summon fear and anger and then he'd bomb his way across the globe until all of the oil and money and resources in the world were his. We cried that night, for the first time in a while, sitting on the roof with a four-dollar bottle of wine. This was all easier to grasp, we figured, with faulty hands, and easier to see through dazed eyes.

"Fuck you, Bush!" we shouted. "Fuck you and your dad and your mom and your fucking brother, fuck you all!" Sometimes at night in Brooklyn everything seems really quiet. I couldn't hear anything except our screams, which ricocheted off the houses and sounded in my ears. "Fuck you," they said. They were shouts of utter exasperation.

I only saw the psychologist for four months. By that point, I'd convinced my dad that I wasn't crazy by telling him that if he didn't have a talk with mom I'd let her know that he was the one who used the expensive tablecloth she bought in Provence as a picnic blanket in Central Park. It was nice to have my afternoons back and I began hanging around with Kate again after school. Two days after my visits with the colossal doctor ended, I broke my arm jumping off the tallest slide in John Jay Park.

We went to visit my grandma over school break. She lived in Los Angeles in the Ocean View Retirement Castle by the beach in a shady part of town. My dad told me he had a surprise for me and took me on a bike ride along the shore toward Manhattan Beach. It was a long ride and the sun beat on our backs but it was nice spending time together, just him and me. He stopped as the road turned into sand ahead of him.

"Okay, ready?" He asked. "If your mother knew I was doing this, she'd kill me."

Around the bend was a beautiful piece of fabric, standing out bright among the mounds of sand. Red, purple, green and blue, it was shaped like a large paper airplane, its nose tucked into the sand. When I went close to touch it, it felt like an umbrella.

Suddenly my father doubled over with laughter. "What?" I asked.
"Look at this sign!" he called out in between laughs. "Hanglider crossing, ha! Who's going to need that sign? We're on a sandy path in the middle of nowhere..." he kept talking. Hanglider, I thought, wow.
Me and dad went up together. It was really windy and at first the glider seemed like it might not fly; it lurched forward, turned down, tossed about in the air like a rogue kite. I closed my eyes waiting for the crash, but it didn't come. We evened out and we were flying, the wind smacked our faces and it hurt but somehow it felt congratulatory. I'd done it, it was happening. Below the water was blue and green, blue in some places, green in others. I could see far out over the water, I even thought I could see that island across the way that was always invisible because of the smog. A plane left from LAX and thundered over our heads and I couldn't hear anything. I felt like a bird must feel.

As we turned into Washington Square Park a police loudspeaker was droning a monotone message, "the march is now over, please disperse the area, the march is now over, please disperse the area..." I blinked as I remembered where I was. How could the march be over? It didn't seem like it ever should be. We'd become a torrent of angry people who were tired of everyone being too busy to notice them, tired of watching the news and reading the papers and hearing nothing about the gross opposition to the war. Sick and tired. Someone began to chant:

THE WAR IS NOT OVER - THE MARCH IS NOT OVER!

It caught on real fast. Soon everyone was screaming and pounding the air with their fists. The march is never over! We shouted. What can I do to make them listen? I wondered. What can I do? I'd written letters, I'd made phone calls, I'd gone to countless rallies. What can you do when you do the same thing over and over again and the result never changes? I thought then about that time in California, up in the sky over the water. How the wind caught the wings of the glider and how we soared, the air whizzing past my ears. "The march is never over!" I shouted. The crowd spilled out over the Park, and the police were drowned out by the screaming. Someone threw a picket sign. Someone pushed over the fence. All around, people stood defiantly, fists in the air, and no one thought of leaving. "The march is never over!" I shouted.
"The march is never over!"

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