Over the course of my life, I’ve developed a generalized fear of heights. Of course, this implies that there was a point at which heights weren’t problematic for me. In fact, I loved climbing as a kid. I loved being on the top bunk, I loved climbing sets of stairs to be on higher floors in buildings and, more than almost anything, I loved climbing the pine tree in my front yard. The tree had lovely, sturdy branches low to the ground and dense needles delicately suspended on long branches, far from the thick, sap-streaked trunk. They provided a perfect sort of arboreal screen for a makeshift crow’s nest.
On adventurous days, I’d climb up the tree, carefully stepping upwards on the thickest branches I could find until the branches nearly became so small that they could scarcely support their own weight, much less mine as well. It was from this nest that I’d obnoxiously holler at passersby. Innocent retirees, out for an evening stroll with their meticulously groomed Cocker Spaniels, would hear a child’s voice making bird sounds and cackling maniacally. Their heads would swivel about, looking for the source of the offending sound, only to find no bratty children in their field of vision. I’d giggle more and call out “Hellllooooooo? Can you seEEEeee meEEEeee?” Totally unamused by the hijinks, my victims would start walking in the direction they were headed, still looking out for the voice assailing them from above. Some would catch sight of me and call me a varmint. Others would never deduce the source of the sound and proceed on, uncertain of what they’d heard.
Encouraged by the ability to confuse neighbors, my climbing became more ambitious. Our small brick house was outfitted with an aerial antenna, which was bolted to the side of the house with a slight gap between the pole and wall. My small hands fit perfectly between the two and by holding the pole, I could climb up the side of my house and then heave myself over the eave, onto the flat roof of the family room. For a six year old, this was a profound accomplishment. It’s probably also part of why my parents had to continually patch and repair the flat roof on that end of the house.
Being on the roof was terrifying at first, but the commanding view it provided was absolutely intoxicating. So, whenever the bricks weren’t slick from rain and whenever my parents were too busy to notice, I climbed up to the roof and spied the layout of the surrounding houses. From that point on, I was hooked on climbing things I shouldn’t climb. At first, the climbing was innocent enough. I’d climb higher on playground equipment than I should have or I’d climb random trees while out riding my bike with a friend.
As events grew increasingly turbulent at home, I’d spend more time out riding around on my bike, looking for things to climb. When the world seemed unfair, I could lift myself up out of it and feel better just by not being earthbound. I’d climb anything and everything I could, just for the fun of it. Friends’ roofs were scaled and jumped off of. Eventually, I stumbled across and scrambled up ladders bolted to the back side of buildings, climbing rungs mounted on power poles, or observation towers deemed unsafe by city inspectors, but not well-secured from the industrious curiosity of teenagers with bolt cutters.
This doesn’t look like a rusty, unstable, Art Deco deathtrap at all.