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Without a Net

I noticed my daughter’s number lighting up the phone.

            “What’s up?”

            “You know our trip to Montreal? Is Phillip coming?”

            “No, it’s a mother-daughter trip.”




            “Well, Jayden wanted to come. (Pause) But that’s OK.”

           I’d been looking forward to our trip for a couple of months: quality time with my daughter and a chance to practice my ailing French. I’d only met Jayden twice, briefly, when I helped Alicia move from Dallas to her new job with Philadanco. He’s obviously important in her life. Having him on the trip would give me a chance to know him better, and give them some needed time together, since they live 1,500 miles apart.

           “Well, why not? Sure, he can come.”

            A few days later, another phone call.

            “Jayden and I were looking at Montreal. It’d be pretty expensive for him. We were thinking maybe Cancun?”

            I had reservations to go there once, but I canceled. Since then, I’d heard about American tourists filling its beaches, looking for sun, cheap resorts, and booze. It wasn’t my first choice. But I hadn’t been to Mexico in decades, so it might be fun. And by now, I really wanted Jayden to come with us. Keeping a long-distance relationship together is hard. It was the least I could do for Alicia.

            “Sure. Why not?”

            Weeks later, the three of us flew from Dallas to Cancun, then made our way to the hotel. It wasn’t fancy, but included two pools, a beach, more alcohol than one could imagine drinking, meals, and a resident peacock.

            As a trio, we took a ferry to Isla Mujeres, a bus to Chichen Itza, watched folklorico dancers at the hotel, and met for breakfasts and dinners. The two of them spent other time alone, and I enjoyed solitary activities: a walk on the coast, swimming, and photographing the sights. Jayden was likeable, smart, and polite. He seemed a good fit with my daughter.

            Our only disagreement was over parasailing. Alicia really wanted me to go with her, but I’m scared of heights. My past includes sitting outside Seattle’s Space Needle and the Eiffel Tower, several times each, before I risked an entrance. And this time, my feet wouldn’t even be on solid ground.

           Persistence is one of Alicia’s stronger traits. When she’s determined, it’s hard to refuse her. At the same time, she knows I like pushing beyond my fears. Still, this was a big one for me.

           “We already talked to a guy on the beach. He’s fixing his boat today, but we can go tomorrow afternoon. We got him to cut the price, and he’ll let me go once with Jayden and a second time with you, for no extra charge.”

           His boat needs fixing? Just what I wanted to hear.

            “Mom, I really want you to go. It’ll be totally fun.”

            Yeah, right.

            I gave in. Defying death seemed easier than listening to more impassioned pleas.

            After breakfast the next day, Jayden and Alicia decided to go jet skiing first. I joined a half-day excursion to La Tierra de los Maya, traveling in a small van with six other passengers and a Mayan guide named Aapo, which he told us meant “Father of Many Nations.” A short, brown-skinned man with a wrinkled face, perhaps sixty years old, he identified himself as a healer who sometimes took part in secret ceremonies inside pyramids. Tour members asked about the dire predictions attached to the end of the Mayan calendar, only months away, which were stirring both media attention and public anxiety.

            “Yes, it’s coming. It doesn’t mean the end of the world, but it does mean planetary shifts.”

            I wanted to know more, but that’s all he would say.

            The highlight of the day was the Coba pyramid, the tallest Mayan temple in the Yucatan Peninsula—137 feet high, 120 steps to the top. It’s one of the few remaining monuments allowing climbers, especially since a woman fell to her death from Chichen Itza in recent years.

            But it looked easier than parasailing.

           Some of the stones, slippery from erosion caused by decades of tourists, now had a polished sheen. To avoid mishaps, some people ascended and descended, crab-like, on their bottoms. I considered it, especially since I had already broken an ankle falling down stairs in London. Truly, I’m a klutz.

            But dignity took the upper hand. I began the climb slowly, standing. Steps were uneven, steep, and crumbling. I kept focusing upward. If I looked back to see the view, I’d be too scared to move. Looking up was enough.

            One step at a time… Keep going…

            My heart didn’t stop pounding, even at the top. From a view not too close to the edge, the jungle looked like a carpet of green foliage, with numerous unexplored mounds in the distance. It was breathtaking.  

          But then, the descent. I retied my hat under my chin, tightened the laces on my shoes, and tried to convince myself this would be easy. There weren’t any railings, but this time I noticed a safety rope in the middle of the stairs, fastened through metal inserts pounded into stone. In some places the rope dragged on the steps. At its highest, it was probably only a foot above the hardened rock.

           Others are doing it. I’m sure I can too. Besides, I have no choice. It’s the only way down.

            It happened quickly.

           I stepped on the stone in front of me, and my foot slid right off. Down I went, face forward, slipping past three stairs, with two-thirds of the steep pyramid beneath me. At the last possible second, I grabbed that small rope on my left, scraping one knee, and bracing myself by smashing my right hand onto the stair, saving me.

            It wasn’t like the movies. My life didn’t flash before me. There was only enough time to think: Oh shit. This could be it…the end.

            No one came to help. I doubted anyone saw me. Still shaking, I stood up, making sure nothing was broken. I descended in a daze, standing right next to that rope, just in case.

            If that was supposed to be my life’s exit point, I’m not ready. And I couldn’t do that to my daughter. Not here.

            Apparently, one of the van passengers did see my fall and rushed over to our guide. They waited for me at the bottom of the stairs.

            “I’m fine,” I said.

           Then I showed them a huge black and purple blood blister already covering three-quarters of my palm, the most visible sign of my near demise. Aapo took my hand and pressed his thumb into it for several minutes, as I retold the story of my fall. When he let go, I looked down at my palm.

           I was astonished to see only a small remnant of bruising remained, the rest…gone. A healer, indeed.

            I spent the ride back to the hotel in silence, quietly thanking whomever or whatever had saved me, appreciative of the extra time I’d been given.

            Then I remembered: parasailing.

            Yikes! Our tour’s running late. Maybe Alicia and Jayden left without me? One risk-taking adventure is enough for the day. I hope…

            When I was dropped off, three hours late, no one was waiting for me.

            That’s a good sign, right? Maybe I won’t have to parasail?

            I didn’t see my traveling companions until dinner. They had stalled as long as they could, until the boat driver said they could wait no longer.

            “When I saw the equipment, the little rusty bar you’d be holding onto, I knew there was no way you’d go anyway,” said Alicia.

            She was probably right, but what a relief! Maybe the Mayan gods decided escaping death once today was enough. And I agreed.


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