Suddenly, I screamed to Mom, “Stop! Please stop the car! A man just fell of the cliff!” My mom, a bit startled, responded, “Jessica, what are you talking about? There’s no man. What cliff? We’re going to be late!” I think it was the insistent, hysterical panic in my voice that caused her to stop. We raced towards the high rock face. The image played over in my mind: at the beginning of the fall, the man’s limbs were spread out like a star against the earth creating a trail of dirt down the side until he let go and fell backwards toward the river. The dirt trail where his hands disturbed the earth on the way down the eroded embankment led me to the edge of the river that divided me from the base of the cliff. This May was dry and the river water was low making it easy to cross because many pebbles and rocks were exposed. I saw him through a patch of grass growing among these stones and ran to his side.
He was unmoving. I yelled to my mom and two younger sisters, Rachel and Kim, “I found him!” Mom helped my sisters flag a passing vehicle to call for help. The man regained consciousness and sat up. He stood up as the paramedics approached. My indelible image is of that man falling, then moments later, standing and walking away with the EMS men.
When we arrived home, my mom called the hospital to check on the man finding that he bruised his spleen, nothing more. My dad listened intently to our story and called us all heroes. He felt we had possibly saved a life. Having been a lifeguard while growing up, Mom felt guilty for not having remembered how to perform CPR if she had been forced to use it that day; so, that night, she looked it up.
Two weeks later, May 13, 1994, my mom and youngest sister Kim walked into my house. Mom went upstairs to the master bedroom to check on my dad who was ill with the flu that day. She didn’t realize five-year-old Kim followed her into the bedroom. Mom screamed, “Ed!” as Kim began panicking, “Why is my daddy blue? Why is my daddy blue?” Mom didn’t hesitate to call 911 while beginning to perform CPR. “Kim, go let the men in!” Mom pleaded. EMS arrived and took Dad away.
I was spending time at Mary’s house while all of this transpired. Her mother had just dropped us off at the high school pool for the Friday night swim when moments later my aunt and uncle unexpectedly showed up and took me home. Aunt Diane and Uncle Dave led me to the living room where my mom was waiting. “What’s going on?” I insisted. “I want your sisters here too,” Mom replied. Once they arrived, we three girls, Daddy’s girls, sat on the living room couch and looked up into Mom’s eyes. Her legs buckled underneath her bringing her eyes down to our eye level. She muttered through her tears, “Your dad died today. He had a massive heart attack. There was nothing anyone could do.” My sisters fell into her arms with an explosion of sobs, but I didn’t. My tears came later.
My dad died that day; but I know that my mom lives knowing that she did everything she could that Friday, Friday the 13th. I don’t know who that man in the valley was, why I happened to see him fall from the cliff, or how he was able to just walk away. I do know that if these events had not transpired exactly as they did, my mom would forever feel the guilt of not having been able to try and save my father’s life. I will admit I am not a religious person, but I can tell you that I believe sometimes things must happen for a reason.
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