(Originally published on Thursday, May 9, 2002.)
I grew up in Ashland City, Tennessee, a smudge on a map that sits just 30 miles outside Nashville. Despite its close proximity to the Music City, most people assume Ashland City is near Memphis or in the Appalachia. Those who do know where it is probably never visited, or if they did so came to fish or they were lost. The population was just under 1,300 then, in the early 90s, one hundred or so less than those enrolled at the central county high school.
Aside from football games, field parties and barnyard smoke-outs, the town was absolutely devoid of culture or entertainment--like so many of its sister cities.
Kids in Ashland City kept busy like other kids elsewhere kept busy, except we had a rock quarry. Actually, it wasn't ours at all, it was privately owned. And while everyone was in constant fear of being found out, it was obvious the land owners merely turned a blind eye to the throngs of kids carrying sweaty cans of Bud in dusty sandals and little else.
The quarry was enormous, filled with sparkling, clear blue water that was deeper than most cared to guess. No one had ever touched the bottom, though how many ventured to discover how deep it all went is questionable. The place was picturesque--a rare beauty, and the best way to experience it was from below in the vast, cold water. There was even a wooden raft, shoddy, but tied to a post alongside the only point where the water could be entered without jumping. However, reaching the docking place was an exercise in bravery since anyone looking not to jump had to scale down a sloping cliff.
Most, wisely, chose to jump into the quarry from above--how far above was the subsequent decision. The lowest rock from which to jump was 30 feet--no meager leap for a wimpy girl-type. I successfully completed this jump numerous times with nearly no real issue. There was also a 60-foot high rock which most everyone dared fall from. After watching every, single one of my Latin Club girlfriends fling themselves without caution into the pool below, I gathered up all my confidence. As my turn approached my pulse quickened and my mouth grew sandy dry. As each body before me disappeared below the jutting mass of stone, my pupils must have also increased their diameter.
My turn came and I was paralyzed. Two guys swam in place in the waters under me, so far away I could barely see it, shouting up instructions.
"Point your toes and don't hold out your arms--you'll bruise them!"
"Try to enter the water like a spike, if you flatten out you'll be fucked!"
"Take a huge, running leap so you avoid these sharp ass rocks!"
While they were trying to educate and instruct, this was not what I wanted to hear with my toes hanging over the side of a 60-foot drop. I tried to move. I struggled to merely step backward but couldn't. I wanted to jump, but I failed.
The boys grew tired of treading water and soon the others were resigned to the fact I wasn't going. Irritated friends told me how to climb down and helped me off the rock platform. Shaking uncontrollably and defeated I stumbled, slid and scraped my way down the side of that cliff with 20 of my closest friends watching from the banks. My face was flush red from the sun and the tears and the humiliation, a shade rivaled only by that of the crimson rivulets that ran down my arms and shins from the torturous climb down.
Surely today, ten years later, in the cool spring heat, before it grows sticky and sweltering, there are kids hurling themselves from the walls of the quarry into her watery bottom. Perhaps a few of them brave the Black Rock, a legendary 90-foot plateau only the daring or the drunk ever attempt. I, though, never, ever went back.