Are You Trying to Kill Me, Mister?

During a recent diversion on an Internet “forum” dedicated to a novel (yes, I’ve come to my senses since then), someone proposed a thread of topics on “amazing things that have happened to you.” I rather liked the little tale I told, so here it is, slightly…modified.


 

When I was about 11 I lived near Naples in southern Italy. My neighbors were an American expatriate married to an Italian woman and their family. Even though he was American and lived in an American enclave, you got the distinct impression he didn’t like Americans. At least, he didn’t act very cordial to the adults in our little housing area. As foreigners of the same nationality living abroad will tend to be, the rest of us were quite chummy. But not this guy.

Their son, who loved everything American, which probably pissed Dad off even more, was quite fond of me. They were planning a trip to the beach, at Sorrento, and he invited me to come along. Sounded good, so along I came. I didn’t consider him a great friend, but he was OK, and I was hoping to see his hot older sister in her underwear or, better yet, naked.

So we go to Sorrento. At one point, the Dad said we would go rock climbing. I’d never done it, but being a game lad I was ready to give it a try. So we all headed out to a cliff he knew of that was apparently good for rock climbing.

We got out onto this cliff, which was very steep, and here I was suddenly clinging to rocks on a sheer cliff, which I soon discovered ended about 50 feet down in a completely sheer (90 degree) sea wall, itself about 20 feet high, and below that were rocks and crashing waves. The sea wall went on for as far as one could see in both directions.

I realized that if I lost my footing and fell–50 feet down the rocky cliff, then the 20 feet of the sea wall and onto the rocks jutting from the sea–I would probably be killed.

The going got tougher. I could barely find any places to hold on–the rocks seemed to get further apart, with only scrub in between. A few times I almost fell, and grabbed instinctively onto the scrub plants to keep from falling.

“Don’t do that,” says my friend’s dad, “those won’t hold you.” He’s perfectly calm, like he couldn’t care less if I do fall.

Meanwhile, he and his son are scrambling along like mountain goats, obviously experienced at this and familiar with the terrain.

Somehow, I made it to the top of the cliff. I didn’t get too freaked out at the time, but later realized that I could have easily fallen at any point on that climb–especially since I was only 11 and completely inexperienced at rock climbing.

Later, we’re going to go swimming. These guys are big swimmers, and since I’ve only been in Italy a few months, I have never experienced swimming in surf. “We like to swim out to that rock,” Dad says, pointing to a large moss-covered rock about a hundred yards out in the bay. “Kind of a race.”

They dive in and start swimming to the rock. So off I go after them, quickly realizing how difficult it is to swim against a current. But I make it to the rock, only to realize it’s wet mossy surface means you don’t get to climb up on it and rest – you have to tread water next to it. “OK, well, let’s head back,” he says. I’m not sure I can make it, but being a kid I don’t say anything. I just start in after them.

I almost didn’t make it. They were way ahead of me, standing on the beach while I was about halfway between the rock and the shore. I slowed way down, treaded water for a while to rest, then swam some more. I finally made it, but was completely exhausted. A few more yards and I would not have made it.

It was strange. After a while I realized that the guy was probably hoping I would either fall off the cliff or drown in the sea–perfectly explainable “accidents.” He seemed disappointed for the rest of the trip, didn’t speak to me much.

I’ve often wondered since growing up what kind of person would toy with a child’s life like that, concluding that the guy was kind of nuts.

I pretty much avoided that family after the trip.

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