So there I was… at the magical age of seven and on the roof of my garage, peering over the side and wondering if I could jump off and survive when my brother provided me with the answer – in the most direct way possible.
Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the odds that any given day would find the ground covered in snow were always in your favor. On this particular afternoon, the drifts were so high that my younger brother Justin and I were able to clamber up onto the top of our family’s garage. The feat was only possible from one side since, due to the incredible steepness of our street, the opposite side dropped some twenty feet into our backyard. That’s the side we immediately wandered over to so we could see what we could see.
From our new vantage point, we could now look down into the aforementioned yard. It got me to thinking about what would happen if we stepped off. Would the several feet of fresh snow in the yard below be enough to prevent our untimely deaths? Would our legs snap off at the ankles leaving us maimed and, even worse, subjected to name-calling from our friends? I turned to my fellow junior-scientist and asked, “What do you think? Is is safe to jump?”
In response, Justin, being a boy of few words, took a single step back and without hesitation pushed me off the roof.
Before I had any chance to protest or scream in fear, I plunged downwards like an Olympic diver going in feet first. I zipped past the stone walkway on the edge of the garage and narrowly missed the exposed ropes of the clothesline. Landing vertically like a lawn dart, I penetrated the snow until I finally came to a jarring halt buried up to my shoulders. After the wave of relief of knowing I was still of this world passed over me, I was faced with a new dilemma. I was stuck. I could not move any part of my body because my arms had become pinned to my sides. Turning my head the best I could, I yelled back at my treacherous sibling that I wasn’t able to get out. He immediately did what any quick-thinking five-year-old would do… he jumped, too.
With a short scream and a sudden stop, he landed right beside me and found himself in a similar situation. We were now both essentially trapped in frozen quicksand with no way of getting ourselves free. This was a real concern because, it being the middle of winter, not a lot of pedestrians were out; and, with my chest being so compressed, I couldn’t really yell very loud. The next people to see us might very well be some deer hunters who found our bleached bones that Spring. Fortunately, through maternal intervention, we were able to avoid such a disastrous fate.
Being so young at the time, I never thought to ask my mother what she was thinking that day when not one, but two, of her children dropped from the sky as she looked placidly out her kitchen window. I’m pretty certain she had some choice words for us while she put on her boots and coat to come rescue her pair of wee little idiots. I do know I was very glad to see Mama ElRite come trudging out the porch door with an exasperated look on her face. It was no small feat for her to pry us both straight up and loose, but she was able to eventually dislodge the pair of us. To her credit, she never even bothered asking what we were thinking. She just got us back into our house and made us some hot chocolate.
As an adult, I’ve reflected back on this incident several times over the years. The real question that always nags at me is why Justin didn’t just go into the house for help once he saw me trapped? I’m not kidding about that clothesline. There was a strong possibility of serious injury. Maybe he was afraid to get into trouble for he did throw me off the roof without cause. I’d like to think there was a different reason. Something we never verbalized but always understood even at that tender age. I believe he jumped because he felt I was in danger and needed his help. That’s just what brothers do.
And I will always love him for that.