The International Writers Magazine
: A Chile Diary Number 16

Back To Life
Dermot Sullivan... over the edge...

A few things kept me from writing of late. One of them was that my now former flatmate turned out to be a lunatic and I basically had to put all my money into canned food and shotguns. He’s ‘disappeared’ now, and with any luck, pushing up daises somewhere in the south of Chile.

The bombs went off in London and I was planning a seventeen page rant on how my beloved country is going to hell in a basket. Fortunately everyone was spared the angry Gospel According To Dermot, including himself! I think my thoughts on that subject are not unique, so maybe my words can wait for the time being. I do worry about what will happen at home though, not as in bombs but in the direction my country is taking.

Another thing was that I was ill for ages and I just couldn’t shake off the bloody bug. The pollution here reduces your immune system. I had some sort of a virus that just sapped my energy … anyhow, now I’m physically fit again … or as much as one can be when one does no exercise!

Something last weekend shook me out of my apathy during the patriotic fiestas that mark the 18th and 19th of September. The holidays mark Chilean independence but all symbolise the start of spring for Chileans. Indeed, the weather is very pleasant now: everything is green or in bloom and we have only heat to look forward to.

On the 17th of the month I went outside of Santiago with my posse of Chileans and assorted gringos to crash at a friend of friend’s house. His was in a cool location where we could check out the huasos (Chilean cowboys) doing their patriotic thing on their horses and the such. I wasn’t too keen on the military parading but es la vida.

In the evening we went to a fonda where you could eat patriotic food and dance patriotic dances as you scoped out the local cowgirl talent. I have to admit I enjoyed myself thoroughly despite being one of the few sober people there. Most Chileans get tanked up at the Fiestas Patrias on something called chicha: a very nasty grog-like red vino, and surprisingly not the tip-top wine for which they are world famous.

For the Dieciocho we planned to hike out to a waterfall and lay out in the sun for the afternoon and then party in the night. Unfortunately fate threw a spanner in the works … we did hike up to the aforementioned waterfall, a whole group of us. There were Chileans, a Colombian, some Yanks, some Irish … generally a cool bunch of friends. The weather was hot and when we reached the top my friend bent down to cup his hand in the water to take a drink – at a safe distance of course from the edge - maybe four metres or less. The water was freezing cold as it came from melted snow from the mountains.

Now, I don’t know if everyone is aware of this but the rocks around a waterfall are usually smooth as due to the erosion by the stream or river or whatever it is that’s passing over it. My friend, Mike, bending to take a drink lost his balance and went into the water.

What happened next was done and dusted within three seconds. I can see it now in my mind’s eye, played out again and again in slow motion. FLASH – he went in, a wry smile arises from the mouth of Dermot as he makes his splash – FLASH – he moves down the stream and I think ‘ooh, he better get out of there pretty quickly or he’ll have some hassle (it should be pointed out that the water was very shallow, no more than halfway up to your knees) – FLASH – Mike rolls over in the water and any humour of the situation is gone as I realise that he’s in trouble (this has all taken place in about a second) – FLASH – my good Chilean chum Eduardo dives for him as Mike goes to the edge and dangles off. Another Chilean, Luciano, grabs Eduardo’s feet and Mike holds onto Eduardo’s hand – FLASH – Mike can’t hold on and goes over the edge – FLASH – people shout but I go cold, I know immediately that he is dead (the waterfall is ten storeys high) and that I’m going to have to tell his girlfriend, Madeline, that her boyfriend is dead – FLASH – the Colombian girl with us is screaming. It’s interesting how different people react to these situations. One Yank is running down to where Mike will have landed and his bird is talking in medical language – she used to be a volunteer paramedic or something. I lace up my boots to go and fish out where his body will be floating at the bottom of the fall. If the fall didn’t kill him then he’ll have drowned from being face down in the water.

Then someone shouts that he’s alive. I don’t believe it until I see it. When I climb down and around I can see that he got thrown onto a ledge about four or five metres down and about four metres across. He is, officially, the luckiest man alive. However, there was freezing cold water pouring on him and we had to wait two and a half hours for the fire brigade to come (we were off out in the woods). They sent someone down on a rope who carried Mike up on piggy-back. We all then pulled the two of them up again.
Amazingly there were hardly a scratch on him, unlike the rest of us who were scratched to pieces by the brambles and some of us who cut up our feet on the rocks below, waiting for him to slip off his perch. He just had a bout of hypothermia which cleared up after half an hour - the lucky bastard. He should be dead – I watched him die.

Anyhow, nobody slept for a week after that. He and Eduardo have flashbacks when they have showers. It turned out that Mike actually let go of Eduardo’s hand rather than bring him down too. Just that momentary clinch though changed his trajectory and saved him. The fire brigade told us that three other people had gone over the edge and that they all died. Eduardo sees Mike’s face as he lets go replayed and played again. Mike sees himself slide down the waterfall on his back, then finding himself standing, thinking he’s drowning, thinking he’s dead, then looking around to see where his body is … I just watch the thing in head again and again; that and when I was waiting for him at the bottom in case he slipped off. Christ, that water was cold. I could hardly walk the next day … that and my feet being cut to bits ... another of my friends kept thinking that there was an alternate reality where people were killed … I have to say that you mind can play nasty tricks on you … it protects you in the short term but then you have some weird things happening afterwards.

Well, it all sounds rather dramatic, doesn’t it? All is well that ends well, I suppose, but it was easily the traumatic thing I’ve ever been through in my life. I sleep well though now and quite frankly, once I’ve written this thing I don’t I’ll really care to talk about it too much again. It’s becoming boring and I hate people who tell these sorts of stories again and again as almost a way of ‘I’m a victim, give me attention’.
I have to go to bed now as I have to get up and go to work in the morning. Back to life again.
©  Dermot Sullivan October 2005 - Next Diary November 2005

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