Local Upstate NY Writer David Levine Conquers His Fear of Heights at Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, NY
Others ran, biked, skated and strolled across the Walkway Over the Hudson. Could I?
Illustration by Elwood H. Smith
I didn’t used to be a wuss. And I am not sure exactly when I became a wuss. But now, a wuss is what I am. And my wussiness reared its wussy head about 50 yards into my family’s initial foray on the Walkway Over the Hudson. Hello, my name is David, and I am an acrophobic. I am afraid of heights.
I am not fearful by nature. Really. I have no other phobias. I’ll eat just about anything, go just about anywhere. Snakes? No problem. Bugs? Don’t love ’em, but happy to kill spiders when my wife asks. Germs? Please — I play hockey, and have you ever been in a hockey locker room?
But about 20 years ago, out of the blue, I suddenly got — I believe the technical term is “creeped out” — when driving over a bridge. Looking down from a balcony or rooftop shivered me timbers. I couldn’t get within 10 feet of a cliff edge. I never had this problem as a kid. I remember thinking, “Where the hell did this come from?” And I still think that every time I feel its wussy presence.
It’s not always a logical phobia. (Which I suppose is an oxymoron, isn’t it?) I am fine in airplanes, but not so much in cars. Inside the penthouse, I’m all “Look at that view!” Out on the terrace, I am Jell-O in a moving subway.
My family, of course, is well aware of my predicament. “Are you gonna be okay with this?” my wife Kimberly asked when she saw me slide to the absolute center of the walkway.
“Imfine,” I barked, in one syllable. Since I was clearly not fine, my daughter Grace then asked me, every three minutes or so, “Are you okay daddy?” “Are you okay daddy?” “Are you okay daddy?”
I am going to push through this, I told them. It’s not a petrified-stuck-to-the-ground-unable-to-move fear I feel. I just feel a bit queasy. My anxiety needle ticks up a couple of notches, like when the cop car pulls in behind you and follows you for a few moments before he tears off after the other guy.
I am going to make it across, I told myself.
But man, it’s really high up here...
Meanwhile, a grand parade passed me in each direction. Some were on foot — runners, walkers, limpers. Some were on wheels — bikers, skateboarders, roller-bladers, babies in strollers, seniors in wheelchairs. Dogs could do it. Cats could do it. (Yes, someone had a cat on a leash.) All of them seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they were 100-plus feet above a turbulent river and could... could...
“Could what, exactly?” I asked myself. Reasoning with a phobia is like arguing with a Tea Partier, but I tried anyway. “Could the bridge collapse?” Short of a major earthquake or terrorist attack, no, it couldn’t. “Could you fall off?” Short of the previous two events or you downing a fifth of bourbon, no, you can’t. “What else you got, fraidy cat?” I challenged myself. I knew I had nothing to fear but my fear itself.
Then, just then, a tiny boy, not more than four or five, zipped past me on a tricycle. His head was down, his legs were pumping furiously, he was having the kind of pure fun only a tyke on a trike can have. And he was 100-plus feet above a turbulent river.
“I said, what else you got, wuss?”
I got nothing.
So I made it to the other side of the river, and walked back with my family. I still hewed to the center rivets mostly. But I did inch toward the edge to read the informational placards on each side of the bridge. And by the end, I had found a steady state, a walking rhythm that let me actually enjoy where I was.
It really is quite beautiful up there.