“Jayden!” My brother screamed, terrifyingly high pitched. At first, I slid, my pace slowing slightly, as I slid over damp, mulch that was strewn over fresh mud. I could see my dad’s focused reaction to my brother’s wailing. My body stopped working; I had become a spectator.
“Grab onto something!” Dad yelled, terror and anger in his voice. I wanted to obey, but everything around me was slowly pulsing from light to dark, and I slid. The sounds of sliding and screaming began to blur into slow motion as I fell. Finally, when my brother and father were much smaller and higher, it seemed my descent had halted. My eyes slowly opened. I had landed on my side, the base of the hill directly in front of me. With great effort, I rolled my head to look up. My dad seemed to be telling Bradley to stay put, and he began to make his way down the trail.
From my sideways laying orientation, there were slim trees growing above me and below me. Not far in front of me was a tiny tree sprout. With what control I’d gained, I tried to reach out and grab the sprout to start pulling myself up, but instead my hand barely moved. In that moment, I was conscious enough to panic. I began thrashing my body around in an attempt to gain control away from paralysis.
My hand began to wave instead of twitch, and my body began to rock slightly. I had not realized that I had come to a stop only by chance, and behind me was a sheer drop of at least thirteen feet, straight down into the main parking area. As I fought with all my child might, I was finally managing to stay conscious long enough for my arms to do what I wanted them to. I reached outward, but as I did, it tilted my body so that I rolled backward and plummeted to the paved road below.
All the conscious strength I’d acquired, all my memories, all of who I am was gone from me. Wind audibly rushed passed me as my limp body dropped. I couldn’t feel or think anything. I’m not completely certain I survived.
I landed on my back, with a hard thud, my head about a foot in front of the bumper of someone’s truck. My eyes shot open and I gasped for air in short and long, panicked, pain breaths. As I struggled to breathe, a man, a stranger came up to me; he looked up at the cliff’s edge and then back at me in disbelief.
The man helped me up to my feet, looked me in the eye, and yelled at me, asking if I was okay, and it was then that I realized that I could hear the thunderous crashing of the waterfall throughout the entire ordeal. I nodded, still trying to gain better control of my breathing, now taking long, controlled breaths.
I looked up at where I fell and couldn’t help but be shocked at how little I was hurt. Even taking away the fact that there were no serious injurious, the fall itself hadn’t stung that much. I had a few scrapes on my back, but there was very little blood, and virtually no pain. Sure it knocked the breath out of me, but all things considered, I felt lucky. Or protected.
To the left, I saw movement at the base of the main trail. Dad was running toward the stranger and I. Shortly behind was my confused mother carrying Enid, followed by Brad, whose face was quivering, as he held back tears. Dad grabbed me by my shoulders and then pulled me into a hug. I hugged him back, still completely jarred by the experience. Dad pulled away and stood up, turning his attention to the stranger.
“Thank you, sir. Thank you. I didn’t know if…” He trailed off. “I just… I just didn’t know.”
“Mister, that’s about a fifteen foot drop.” The stranger said. “I heard a noise, sounded like a rock falling from the woods, I look up and see this boy falling. He lands flat on his back. There’s a good chance he’s got a concussion.”
The thought of a concussion scared the hell out of me, but mainly because I had no idea what a concussion was.
“Just don’t let him fall asleep for’ you get him to a doctor.” the man said before dad made a move to get the family back to the car.
Dad picked me up, and he carried me back to the van, while the rest of my family followed.
“I can walk.” I told my father.
“Do you want to?” he asked. I nodded. He set me down, and though I was mildly dizzy, my energy was mostly back to normal. We arrived back at the van, and dad opened the back door, so I could climb back into my seat. Everyone else piled into the van quickly, and before I knew it, we were back on the road.
“How are you feeling, honey?” mom asked, fortunately spared from most of the fright brought on by the event.
“I’m sore and tired.” I said, noticing a significant increase in my pain. “What’s a concussion?” Dad looked into the rear view mirror at me like he always did, so that I saw his eyes and had to guess at his frown. Mom turned around in her seat to look at me, trying to comfort me.
“It can happen when someone hits their head.” mom said.
“Do you feel like you want to sleep?” Dad asked, his reflection still staring at me.
I thought about it for a few seconds while I took some deep breaths and closing my eyes. I made eye contact and shook my head. His eye twitched. His gaze lingered for a moment, before he set them back onto the twisty road before us.
“How far did you fall?” Bradley asked, his bright red nose still sniffling. My eyes shifted to the rearview mirror.
“How far did I fall?” I asked.
“That man said fifteen, didn’t he?” mom asked, almost in disbelief.
“Well, I don’t know if it was quite that high, but it was at least ten-gosh, I think it was closer to twelve feet.” dad said.
“How high is that?” Bradley asked, and I was glad, because I was embarrassed I didn’t know either.
“It’s about as tall as one of your daddy’s standing on topa’ the other.” mom said. Bradley laughed at the thought. I smiled, but I may have been enjoying the attention, so I didn’t want to let on that I was feeling better than I did.
“That’s really high, are you sure he’s not hurt?” mom asked. Dad shot her a stern glance then back to the road.
“He’s got some scrapes and cuts on his back.” dad said. “I lifted up his shirt to check him out. I checked his head too, but nothing was bleeding, so I figured he’d live.”
“You’ve got some cuts?” mom asked. I nodded. “Oh, poor baby. We’ll get you doctored when we get home.
Dad turned on the radio shortly after, and I sat there, silently proud and moderately freaked out about how everything turned out. Enid sat awake in her car seat, just as happy as always. Although I pretended not to notice, I could see Brad out of the corner of my eye; he was staring at me, smiling. I knew even then, even as I began falling and he screamed out for me, that he didn’t want his big brother to go.
I can’t say for sure that any of this was related; the timing of it all seemed fairly strange to me at the time, but my grades began to climb, I became more physically active, and my general personality seemed to change for the better as the pursuit of knowledge quickly became my primary concern. It was also around this time that I became convinced of God’s existence.
Throughout elementary school and middle school, I remained at the top of my class. Everyone was always telling me how mature I was and how I had “a good head on my shoulders”. Simply put, I wanted to learn as much as I could and become the best I could be.
Although I was in the best shape of my life by then, some of my motivation toward secular education did waver when I got to high school, but I attribute that to being busy chasing girls. Either way, I didn’t graduate high school with a college degree or anything, but I did get out about three months before graduation.
Meanwhile, at my job as a videogame retail salesperson, I moved up to assistant manager in just two years, and I was making close to $30,000 per year. This was extremely helpful to me, because I was in the process of explaining to my girlfriend’s mother, why it would be a good idea for her daughter to move in with me, even though I was now five towns away from her home. Eventually, I won her trust, and she gave us her approval. We were so excited, and I was so happy.
I had a good job, my own apartment, a car, a promising relationship, no substance abuse problems, and I was healthy. In other words, life was good.
One day in August of 2009, my dad invited us all to hike at Pocket Wilderness in Dayton, Tennessee. It was planned about a week in advance, so it was no problem for everyone to find their way there. Enid and Bradley were still living at home, so really it was just a matter of me getting there after work one evening.
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