250 Feet Up
By: Anvita Gurumurthy
No, no, no. No, no, no.
My shallow breaths became even more shaky as I dragged my legs to the next step, and then the next. I felt as if I weighed a thousand pounds. I’m sure my dad’s hand almost broke that night from my constant and desperately tight grip on it. As I slowly climbed, the ancient gray walls seemed they had been going on forever. How much longer could this take?
After a couple more steps, I saw a hole in the wall about the size of a window. I later learned there had already been a couple of them, but in my panic I hadn’t noticed. The hole, seemingly black as I approached it from below, suddenly lit up with millions of tiny lights when I got closer. Mainly yellow, I saw them light up the entire city of Porto, Portugal. The stout buildings, the flowing river lit up blue by the lights on the bustling bridge above, the little houses downtown-- I could see it all, just for a second. It was dazzling, but all I could feel in that moment was the sheer height of where I was looking from, made worse by the fact that even the tallest buildings seemed hundreds of miles away. I jerked like I had been given a shock and shut my eyes tightly.
I was reluctantly trying to climb the tallest tower in Porto, the Torre de los Clerigos. I remembered seeing it earlier in the day from all the churches and restaurants we visited, since its remarkable height made it loom over the town, impossible to miss. But now, thanks to my family, I had to climb all 225 steps to the top.
I could feel my dad pulling me up more steps. I could even make out a little of his voice as he urged me to keep climbing. I knew my mom and brother had already gone way ahead of us. But the immense and quickly growing fear inside me took over my body. That, combined with the darkness gave me the feeling I was having a dream. No, not a dream. A nightmare.
Eventually, we reached a small balcony. It wrapped all around the tower in the same material as the walls-- ancient and menacing. Later, in the pictures, I saw that the balcony railing was beautifully sculpted with sweeping and gorgeous designs. But all I could see at that moment was the space between the railings, the pitch black sky with the lit city below. There were lights brighter than the sun wedged into the ground and my eyes took a long time to adjust to them, making me almost blind when I first got up there. I could hear my brother and mom, and I went to join them, grasping onto my mom’s hand and letting go of my dad’s so that he could take pictures. I tried to ignore the bright light in the ground, loud noise, and terror rising inside of me by focusing on the gray wall, but my curiosity got the better of me and I turned to look at the view. It was both stunning and breathtaking, but after a moment, all I could feel was the height. My knees wobbled like they were in a blender and I clutched my mom’s hand even tighter. My breaths got clipped and shaky as I struggled to calm myself down. Phrases I had heard before floated through my mind-- “Think positive!”; “Go to your happy place!”; “Smile!”.
I couldn’t. I couldn’t think anything. I couldn’t move. My mom and my dad started talking, and my mom and brother went up the stairs to continue to the top. My dad stayed, and started talking to me. I zoned out of my panic enough to hear, “Come with me, we’ll take more pictures then go back down.” I felt a brief but genuine flush of relief at the fact that I’d soon go down. I stumbled with my wobbly knees to where my dad’s hand was leading me, which turned out to be the very edge of the balcony.
“No!” I managed to get out. “Not the edge!”
My dad seemed to understand and took me to the wall at the center of the balcony. I stayed there, back against the wall, while he went to get pictures. I saw the city below through the railings and the uncontrollable panic came over me. Again, my muscles felt like cement and my heart was racing as if I had run a mile. My only thought was: No, no, no. No, no, no. No, no, no. I repeated it again and again, giving into the fear. After what seemed like hours, I realized I was okay. I could move again. My breaths were controlled and longer. Though I was still scared, and my knees still wobbled, I had somehow gotten my fear under control enough not to completely panic.
I learned something that day. I thought about it as I descended the steps again with my wobbly knees. Fear isn’t something you can just make go away with positive thoughts. Accepting the fear instead of denying it, for me, is how I can control it. So yes, I still have a huge fear of heights. I know I can’t just make it go away, and I’ve accepted it as a part of who I am. And the next time I find myself in the same position, I now know how to control it.
I woke up at 8 AM that day, so filled with excitement that I could barely believe what was about to happen: I was getting a bunny. I danced through the morning and after breakfast, I headed down to the basement to check on my future bunny’s pen. We had set her up in a puppy playpen and placed toys, food bowls, and more on the bright blue fleece bedding. Then I grabbed her carrier and my brother, dad, and I got it ready to hold the bunny. By then, it was around 9:30 so we got ready to leave, since my dad and I had to be there by 12 to pick up the bunny from the breeder.
We got into the car with the carrier and I could hardly contain my eagerness. The drive would take about two hours, since we were going to a special place to get the rabbit. All the shelters in my area didn’t have good rabbits (they needed special care and weren’t what we were looking for). So we found a good reputable breeder who lived fairly close and decided to go with that. All of this made the trip special, since this wasn’t just any bunny we were picking up. After two hours and a bit of trouble finding the house, we finally made it to the breeder’s front door.
She opened the door and led us down a set of stairs to her bunny room. The pink walls were covered in stacked and tidy hutches where bunnies hopped around in their big space to greet us. The rug was pink as well, and there was a fish tank in the back with a goldfish lazily swimming around. On top of the rug, a blanket had been laid out, and a pen surrounded it. Inside, a bunny sat, shy and timid. I was in complete awe. She was so tiny, and looked exactly like a stuffed animal. There were light orange markings around her face and on her back, and as she lifted her head to see us, I saw her big black eyes and I inwardly screamed in adoration. I had to remind myself to keep walking toward the chair the breeder had pulled out for me. She began speaking to us about the bunny and how to take care of her. She handed my dad a care sheet and bag with a little bit of food. Then, she turned toward the bunny, bent down, and swept her up. She then showed me how to hold her and then let me try it. I held her the way I’d been showed, and I honestly couldn’t believe how small and soft she was. It was so cool as she slowly got accustomed to me, and then too accustomed as she started chewing at my jacket zipper. Then I placed her gently in the carrier. The breeder asked me if we had a name yet. I told her what we’d been planning: Bubbles. Then we left, and we put the bunny right next to me in the middle seat and drove home.
On the way there, we stopped for hot chocolate since it was a cold day and there was still an hour left. My dad went inside to go get it so I could keep an eye on our bunny. I opened the top of her carrier-- a small door that allowed her to peek out but not get out. She was immediately up on her hind legs to inspect the area. She let me pet her and even tried to get out, at once showing me she was both mischievous and brave. Soon my dad came back, and so I closed the carrier and we drove the rest of the way back.
Finally, we arrived. It was raining, so I ran in (I didn’t have a hood) while my dad brought her inside. My brother was eager to bring her downstairs, and once he did, we lifted her out of the carrier and set her down in the pen. She at once explored all her “furniture”, sniffing and nudging around. My brother and I stayed downstairs with her for a while and watched her. We decided Bubbles wouldn’t be her name. We called her Cookie, since her markings were the color of a cookie. We were elated-- Cookie was something we’d been waiting for for so long, and she was finally here. That day couldn’t have gone better.