Just Like Honey

By Ed Staskus

   Steve De Luca’s cousin Clint had been an addict, gone through rehab, and everything seemed to be all right, until the night he decided to stick a needle into his arm again. The problem with smack is junkies think, since they’ve been clean, they can go back to using the same amount of it they had been using before. It tastes just like honey, except when it doesn’t. When it doesn’t it is trouble.

   It becomes the hard stuff.

   He wasn’t thinking straight. He went into the bathroom, sat down on the American Standard toilet, and stuck a needle in his arm like before. He was thinking less a few minutes later. The junk smacked him upside the head. He went down and out. The next morning his roommate awoke and found Clint curled up like a baby on the bathroom floor. He had been lying there all night, it turns out, on goose bump tile in the dark. It had been a long icy Lake Erie winter night.

   “Clint, my man, get up, I have to go pee,” the roommate said.

   When Clint didn’t move, the roommate, being the sleepy head that he was, went back to bed for an hour. When he woke up again Clint was still in the bathroom, still stone cold. Did he call an ambulance? No. Did he call the police? No. He called his girlfriend. She was almost out the door on her way to work.

   “What is it?” she asked, annoyed.

   “Hey, Clint’s on the floor of the bathroom and I need to get in there to wash up and stuff. I need to get to the grocery store. I’m out of coffee.”

   “Who is this genius?” Maggie Campbell asked her husband.

   “Boy wonder, disaster,” Steve said.

   When Maggie and Steve got married at the turn of the century Maggie kept her name and Steve kept his name. Steve came from Italian blood. Maggie came from Scottish blood. He had the oily hair and dark skin to prove it. She had the pale freckled skin to prove it. “There is no sense in trying to make you a Dago,” Steve said.

   The girlfriend rushed over to the drug den. While she was on the way she called the cops and Clint’s mom. She was thinking and reckoning. She knew Clint’s bad habits. EMS rushed him to the emergency room at the Cleveland Clinic in Fairview Park, where the roommate and Clint’s mom were told the bad news.

   “Here’s what is going on. This kid is not in good shape. He’s overdosed on heroin, his kidneys have shut down, and he’s got compartment syndrome. His whole body is shutting down. Before we can work on the kidneys, before we can work on the syndrome, before we can work on anything, he’s got to pull through the heroin overdose. He’s got to come through that first.”

   After forty-eight hours he was still alive, even though he had chased the dragon and lost. Nobody could believe it. It was like a miracle.

   The deadness is what happens when oxygen gets cut off to the muscles in the body. That’s what happened to Clint. It’s the same thing that happens when you fall asleep on your arm in the middle of the night and wake up with it numb and tingling. 

   You shake it off. It’s no big deal. You get up and have breakfast.

   But Clint had been lying on his face, arms and legs crushed beneath him, when he crumpled to the bathroom floor the night before. It was a big deal. He’d been unconscious for ten hours, circulation, and oxygen, everything, cut off. Everything fell into the big sleep. Then his muscles started dying, dying all night.

   In the hospital they slit his hands open at the palms and slit his hands open at the back. The doctors slit his arms all the way up on both sides and slit his legs down the middle. They manipulated his muscles to get them to start coming back to life.

   He was wide open, machines circulating his blood. They did nineteen surgeries over three months. They saved his arms, but both of his legs were gone. They had to be amputated. His leg on the left side was gone above the knee and his leg on the right side was gone below the knee. The Cleveland Clinic couldn’t bring the muscles back for anything. He lost taking a lazy walk to the corner store for smokes for good.

   His spoonful of fun had gone glum woebegone.

   They didn’t tell him they cut his legs off until he was almost done with all the surgeries and out of the recovery room because they needed him to fight and keep going. They didn’t need him down in the dumps. He was almost ready to leave his hospital room for rehab when they talked to him.

   “We have to tell you something,” they said.

   “Is it bad news?” he asked.

   “Yes,” they said.

   “All right, man, give it to me straight.”

   After he got home, he got a small, motorized wheelchair that he rambled around in. He couldn’t use prosthetics because the muscles in his upper thighs were ruined. They had to take some of them out because they were dying. If they had left them in, that might have made the other muscles die, too.

   The doctors had to take all the muscles that had the syndrome in them out of his legs. He had no strength in his upper leg muscles to support prosthetics, so he was going to be in his wheelchair until he went blue in the face. He was thirty-two years old. His fingers were locked up. They were almost like claws. When he talked and tried to gesture, he couldn’t unclench them.

   Clint took antibiotics anti-inflammatories and narcotic pain killers religiously for months. When his therapist’s care was over and done, he went cold turkey. If you can’t swim, you’re not saddled up. You’re only learning how to drown. He asked Maggie and Steve for a pet to keep him company. All his friends and dopehead pals had dropped him like a hot potato. His roommate had long since disappeared. Nobody wanted reminders of bad times.

   “I need a friend,” he said. “I need one bad. I don’t got nobody.”

   The friend they found for him was a puppy mill dog, a Parti Yorkie. They got her from a rescuer who put her up on Facebook. They didn’t even know what kind of dog she was. They thought she was a Maltipoo, but she was really a Parti dog. She was a kind of new-style designer dog.

   Steve and Maggie jumped the rescue by telling Facebook they had a desirable home for the dog. It was only partly a lie. The rest of it was a white lie. Facebook doesn’t know the difference between bona fide and groundless, anyway, no matter how pious the social site pretends to be. They took the dog, not knowing for sure if Clint would go for it. She was under seven pounds, not a family-sized Yorkie. Steve carried her around with him in his bathrobe pocket. That was a mistake, carrying her around, because Steve then started wanting to keep the dog. They cleaned her up before giving her to the lonely ex-junkie. 

   When they delivered the Yorkie to Clint’s apartment Steve told him if it didn’t work out it would be OK, and he would take the dog back. But Clint had nothing to do except sit in his wheelchair and dote on the dog. And the dog was the kind that needed nothing but being doted on. They were two peas in a pod.

   “I love this dog, man, and she loves me,” Clint said. “I am going to call her Honey. I’m keeping her, for sure.”

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Jumping Stanley Bridge

Richard Moore, Emma MacIssac and Connor McVey

By Ed Staskus

“It was terrifying,” said Johanna Reid.

She was standing on the outside edge of the bridge in the town of Stanley Bridge, on the far side of the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, looking down into the New London Bay.

She was 12-years-old. Her father had already jumped from the bridge. The hard flat dark blue of the bay was more than twenty feet below her.

“He didn’t tell me much. I stood on the opposite side of the rail looking down at the water for probably an hour,” she said. “I just couldn’t do it. I finally closed my eyes and jumped feet first. It took a lot of effort. After I hit the water I thought, Oh, my gosh, why couldn’t I have done that before?”

Now 20-years-old she’s been jumping every summer ever since. The Stanley Bridge is a simply supported beam-style bridge on Route 6 where it crosses the Stanley River. Built in the 1960s to replace a worse for the wear wood overpass, it is made of steel with a concrete deck. There is a sidewalk on the jumping side.

“The first couple of times I jumped I screamed, but now I just get up there, crawl over the railing, and go.”

Prince Edward Islanders living on the north central shore have been jumping the Stanley Bridge for as long as anyone can remember. “I used to jump off the bridge in the 1950s,” said Harriet Meacher.

“We all jumped off the bridge,” said Phyllis Carr, whose Carr’s Oyster Bar, on the near shore of the bay, is a few hundred-or-so yards from the bridge. Anyone on any summer day can sit on the outdoor dining deck of the eatery with a pint and a plate of shellfish and watch jumpers all day long.

“My brother Leon was only 4-years-old when he first jumped. It’s a tradition.”

The bridge at Basin Head, one of PEI’s better-known beaches on the eastern end of the island, is the other launching pad popular with jumpers. The Basin Head Bridge spans a fast-flowing boat run that is capable of rushing jumpers out into the Northumberland Strait, another way to get swept off your feet. Although signs prohibit any and all jumping, it is honored more in the breach.

“It’s one of those time-honored traditions here on Prince Edward Island, and from when I was down there watching the activities, people were really enjoying their experience,” said Tourism Minister Rob Henderson.

“A lot of people do it,” said Johanna about jumping the Stanley Bridge, “especially from around here. My dad lived just up the road and used to jump all the time when he was younger.”

“I dived since I was little,” said Earl Reid.

“I remember seeing people jumping off of it ever since I was born,” said Johanna. “I told my dad, you forward dive, but I’ll jump feet first. I’m too chicken.”

Majoring in Kinesiology, which is the study of human body movement, at the University of New Brunswick, Johanna Reid has played hockey since she was four-years-old, through high school, and continues to play in a women’s conference. A fast fit trim young lady, she has played rugby since she was a teenager and competes in her college league.

“I like making tackles, pulling them down, even when they’re twice my size,” she said.

She may have been a chicken once on the Stanley Bridge, but she takes the chicken out of chicken noodle soup everywhere else.

Some people forward dive off the bridge, others back dive or back flip, but most leap feet first. They do it for good reason

“You can do a starfish, or a belly flop, but that hurts,” said Denver McCabe, Johanna Reid’s 9-year-old cousin, who first jumped Stanley Bridge when he was 8-years-old. “I pencil dive, like a pencil, feet straight in.”

Belly flops are the bane of jumpers. “You never want to belly flop,” said Johanna. It is always a stinging pancake slap of a bad time. The crack of a belly hitting the New London Bay at velocity is the Frankendive of Stanley Bridge.

“One day there were a bunch of tourists jumping, and a little boy, 7 or 8-years-old, was trying to jump with them,” recalled Johanna. “I was swimming back after a jump. He was going to dive, so I watched him, while I paddled around. Halfway down he decided he didn’t want to be diving anymore and started to pull back. He belly flopped. We had to help him out because he was freaking. But, it just hurt him at the time and he was fine in the end.”

“It’s not quite like falling on concrete, but it’s a similar sensation, ” said Dr. Sonu Ahluwalia, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “Most of the time, other than ego and the skin, nothing will happen.”

The plucky brave curious come to Stanley Bridge from around the island, from Victoria, North Rustico, and Kensington, as well as some summer tourists from the rest of Canada and the United States. They jump alone or with their friends.

“Nothing says bonding like jumping off the bridge at Stanley Bridge,” said Rika Kebedie of Burlington, Ontario, about jumping with friends.

“When I was 13-years-old a lady was biking by,” said Johanna. “She had just gotten a cottage down the road and we had a chat when she stopped on the bridge. She had her bathing suit on, so I said, you should jump off.”

The woman gave it a thought. “OK, I’ll jump,” she said, leaning her bicycle on the railing and going over the side.

“She jumped off the bridge and survived, and now she’s here every summer, and she said I was her first friend on PEI.”

Jumping the Stanley Bridge starts in mid-to-late May, once the water has warmed up. “Some people jump in early May. That’s too crazy for me. I usually start at the start of June,” said Johanna. “When it’s cold, it’s an instant shock, like someone dumping a bucket of ice water on you. You come up from under the water pretty fast.”

Since the harbor on the bay side of the bridge brims with working fishing boats, and pleasure craft go up and down on both rivers,  the Stanley and the Southwest, spotters keep an eye out for traffic. “I’ve heard someone once jumped and landed on the deck of a boat, but it could be a myth,” said Johanna.

Besides passing boats and belly flops, jellyfish are the scourge of jumpers swimming back to the breakwall or the shoreline dock ladder. “They just float along, their tentacles floating behind them, and they hit you going by. Some days there are huge ones, as big as a pie plate.”

Jellyfish are free-swimming marine animals and are called jellyfish because they are jelly-like. They have no brains and have been swimming the oceans from even before there were dinosaurs. Crabs sometimes hitch a ride on top of them so they don’t have to exert themselves swimming to where they want to go.

Jellyfish never give their crustacean freeloaders a second thought.

“Every so often you can see them from the bridge, so you wait until they go by,” said Johanna. “When they sting you it really stings, it can really hurt. What I do is take some mud off the ocean, rub it on the bite, and you’re good to go.”

The first step off the edge of a bridge into mid-air is a step into a second-or-two of complete freedom. It is where most people never thought they might be. “Once you step off nothing in the world matters,” said Marta Empinotte, a world-class Brazilian BASE jumper, about stepping into space.

In mid-air jumpers find out that they don’t know anything, only that they’re in the nothing of mid-air, even though there’s no such thing as nothing. Once you’re off firm ground there’s nothing you can do about it, anyway. It’s only when you hit the water that you become something again.

“Whenever you go out on the bridge it looks kind of scary when you look down,” said Denver McCabe. ”The water will be 30 feet, even 40 feet down. The last time I jumped, when I checked on my iPad, it was 26 feet.

“It felt like nuthin’.”

The bravery of small boys can sometimes be larger than life, or not.

“But, you don’t want to belly flop, that’s for sure,” he added.

You don’t want to jump into a mass of eels, either.

“We used to jump off Tommy’s,” said Carrie Thompson, whose family owned the aquarium next to the Oyster Bar. She worked summers at the marine exhibit.

“We weren’t allowed to jump off the bridge, so we jumped off the wharf. Maybe the current pushed the eels that way. It was gross.”

On hot days when there is a crew on the Stanley Bridge waiting their turns, motorists often honk their horns while driving by, yelling, “Jump, jump!” Sometimes friends encourage their friends to make the leap, usually by daring them. “I dare you, they’ll say,” said Johanna, “and then they do it, even when they’ve never jumped from the top of the railing or done a back flip.”

Sometimes the encouragement takes the form of a shove.

“I wouldn’t push anyone I didn’t know or who was younger than me” said Johanna, “but if they were my friend, and weren’t going, weren’t doing it, I would just push them right in. The way I do it, I attempt it a few times, freak them out, and when they’re about to jump, it’s get in there! I just push them.”

The fear of jumping can take an unlikely turn.

“One of my friends from Bermuda was scared to get into the water because in Bermuda you can see everything, the water is so clear, but here it’s dark water. He eventually jumped the bridge, but he would only do it back-flipping.”

Joanna Reid has jumped the bridge every summer with every one of her friends. “Pretty much everyone in my high school did it. You could say, want to go bridge jumping, and anybody would go.”

A native of Stanley Bridge, “Yup, born and raised,” she spends autumn winter spring at university in New Brunswick, but her summers at home, kayaking, hanging out with her friends, and waiting tables at Carr’s Oyster Bar, as well as jumping the bridge at Stanley Bridge.

“When it’s a nice day, but there’s no wind, and you’re really hot, I will jump ten times, more-or-less. It cools you off.”

She never loses her cool, either, flying feet first thrill downwards cooling off, off the Stanley Bridge into the sparkling bright easy-landing water of New London Bay.

A version of this story appeared in Literary Heist.

Photograph by Andre Forget.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”