We would always make him jump first. Standing, shivering, on the cold metal ledge of the bridge we would watch him jump and fall down, down, down into the swirling, muddy water of the Nishnabotna River.
His sunburned skin, covered in blotchy, rust-colored freckles, would disappear into the current,
and bob back up right before we grew panicked.
It wasn’t that we made him go first to show us his courage, it was to make sure there were no tree branches or over-sized catfish floating below our three-story fall.
It was a typical sixteen-year old mentality and complete disregard of consequence and consideration for other human beings.
Counting to three, I would always jump on four or five. My breath would catch in my throat, my stomach catapulting out of my mouth as I sliced through the humid, Iowa air.
Silence as the cold water engulfed me.
Terror as I searched for the surface.
Then the bright sun, the boys we had crushes on staring down from that old, railroad bridge. Crawl strokes to the river bank I would jump out with silt and leafy debris matted to my hair and race back to the gravel road in a burst of adrenaline.