Part of the Bury Yourself writing project
35 years is both a long time to live and a short amount of time. It is relative those surrounding you. Whether I am looking at my daughter (nearly 5 years old) or my grandma (90) who lives in Kelowna, I think about how much that has happened or will happen for me. I consider myself lucky enough to be able to say those words. Death is always a possibility these days, robbing life way too young or prolonging it for an excoriating amount of time.
And here I am. Alive, healthy, with many years to go if genetic history can be counted on.
Being alive is one thing; encountering death and surviving is quite another. I have yet to really face death head on or put myself into a position where death was a very likely thing to occur. I am not a big risk taker and never put myself into those questionable positions. I have never been deeply depressed and suicidal. I have never faced any serious health concerns that hospitalized me. I have lived a rather boring life to some, but hopefully a long life if things go to plan.
The one time where death was a strong possibility occurred when I was fresh out of high school. 18 years old, working for a production company setting up stages for performances in various venues across Whitehorse. For the majority of it, I was working on the ground or on small ladders, nothing to be scared of. The worst that could happen is maybe some broken bones and bruises from a short fall or equipment falling into you.
A haunting memory for me happened towards the end of that summer of work. It was an outdoor venue, a large circus tent in a half-shell. Inside the tent, at the back, was the stage. The crowd was half inside, half outside, with a gazebo acting as the command central for the sound and lighting operators. With the huge amount of people crowding around the stage, having cables run on the ground towards the stage was unfeasible. The solution: run the cables to the top of the tent from the top of the gazebo and down towards the stage.
Simple enough in an environment that owned a Genie lift to get up to that height safely. In this outdoor location, however, no such lift existed. The only way up to that height was to climb up the sides of the tent along the supports. At its peak height, the tent was roughly 40’ above the ground.
The height was something I never considered until I was at the top. I also didn’t factor in how much the tent would be swaying in the wind while working at the top.
The climb upwards started off fine, following a coworkers’ lead. The way to climb up was to grip onto an extra flap of canvas from the tent, being careful to step on the rungs of the tent and not put your foot through a hole. Once at the top, you felt a little safer laying across the supports at the top and not feeling the wind striking your body. Of course, laying across the tent meant I could feel the swaying of the tent in the wind even more than when I was climbing up.
It is at those moments when you make the mistake of looking down. You calculate in your head roughly how high up you are and the potential damage you could receive. One wrong move could send you into the hospital. Or worse.
I learned rather quickly to work as fast as I possibly could, and always verify whether I could return to the ground. The last thing you wanted was to have to make that climb more than you needed to.
I stupidly made that climb up and down several times during that summer. Reaching the top, I always questioned what I was doing up this high without any safety gear. Each time, I finished the job, and climbed back down.
I held my breath.
Waiting for that next order to go back up and face my potential death.