The French have a term for the desire to throw oneself from a high place, "l'appel du vide" or "call of the void." Several articles assured me that the phenomenon is common and not necessarily a sign of mental illness, but I am skeptical. It was many years ago when I felt this urge, but it haunts my thoughts of Ireland and the summer I turned twenty-one.
Icy gusts of wind struck my face as I got off the bus. It had been cold in Dublin, but it felt like winter here. As I headed to an overlook, I buttoned my coat and tightened the wool scarf that was draped around my neck. There were several groups of tourists gathered there already, and I fought off a wave of loneliness. Looking away from the crowd—and squinting into an aggressive wind—I examined my surroundings in search of privacy. A short distance away, there was a vacant dirt trail that followed the coastline. Although I would have to walk into the attacking cold to reach it, I began to hike in that direction.
On my right was a beleaguered field of brown with occasional patches of the remarkable green only found in Irish landscapes. To my left was the photograph that had been my inspiration to see the cliffs, but more vibrant than anything that could appear in a brochure. I considered taking a picture but instead pushed both hands deep into my pockets. The path headed downhill, and I took big, eager steps. While pausing to rewrap my scarf, a remarkable view held me for a moment. The great sky was a perfect blue that stopped dramatically at the black outline of the Atlantic Ocean. In both directions, the water continued forever.
Closer to where I stood, there was a row of imposing rock formations guarding the cove from white-capped invaders. Behind them, the cliffs seemed to hold up the island protectively. Without turning completely from this benevolent image, I looked for a place to sit. Downhill a few yards, there was a large, flat rock near the path. It jutted over the water as if it had been designed for a lookout. I stepped onto its smooth surface and sat down with my legs stretched out before me. Cautiously, I slid forward until my knees and feet could hang over the edge. Then I leaned over for a better view.
The height did not scare me; instead, I longed for a clearer picture of the dark water below. A frightening voice drifted from a hollow place within me. Think how easy it would be to let go, it said suggestively. The ocean was a seductive blue, and I wanted to look deeper. All you have to do is fall, the chilling voice continued. Holding my gaze still, I watched whirlpools rotate, disintegrate, and reform. Another sentence formed in my brain, ricocheting through murky thoughts until it became clear: You do not have to go home. I focused on the turbulent surface, hearing the line repeat several times: You do not have to go home. Then, abruptly, my concentration broke when I heard a young voice behind me.
I lifted my head and glanced back to see a boy talking to two adults on the trail. He shouted something in my direction, but the words dissipated in the wind. The trio walked toward me, and I pulled myself from the edge, suddenly aware that my pose might have shocked them. Once they were in front of my rock, the boy and a woman stared from the path and a man stepped forward. He crouched down and asked me gently, “Want your picture here, miss?” Sitting up taller, I took my camera from a pocket and held it out. “Yeah, thanks!” Then I moved into a normal-looking tourist pose and faked a smile. After the photo, the man and boy said a quick goodbye and I scrambled up to the overlook.
Without looking toward the cliffs again, I got back on the bus. During the return trip to Dublin, I tried to read, but could not stay focused. The words were eclipsed by a resurfacing vision: the Atlantic —achingly beautiful and dangerous—calling to me. Longing to erase that memory, I closed the book and stared out the window. While other passengers remarked on the beautiful landscape we passed, everything in front of me appeared to be gray and silent.
Dorothy Bossman, PhD, is a writer specializing in creative non-fiction who resides in Bellevue, Nebraska. She is a former secondary English teacher who works as a university composition instructor. Bossman completed her graduate degree in education at the University of Nebraska, where she employed disability studies and autoethnography in her dissertation. She is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing at Augsburg University.