The Leap at Crater Lake
Travel Stories: Amy Eward's infertility strained her marriage and left her reeling. During a trip to Oregon, she made a bold move to try to regain control.
04.13.10 | 10:15 AM ET
Dustin and I sat in our rented Dodge in a parking lot near the head of the Cleetwood Trail in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park. I stared out the windshield at the dusty Cascades, dotted with firs and hemlocks. I felt him staring at me.
“I’m not going swimming,” I said.
“You know what? I’m done,” he said.
He threw his hands in the air and let them fall into his lap. Beneath his wire-frame glasses, his eyes burned like cadet blue flames. His normally deep dimples were slight grooves on his face.
Earlier in the day, he’d been sympathetic to my foul mood. As we drove to the park that morning, I’d pointed to another pimple in the expanding range on my chin. He’d taken my hand away from my face and woven his fingers with mine, holding my hand for the rest of the ride.
When I’d trudged silently on our hike to the Watchman Overlook, he’d slowed his pace to match mine. When I’d sat on a rock, he’d taken his tripod from his pack. “Wow, I’m suddenly moved,” he’d said, dimples on his thin cheeks.
His being “moved” was our joke. Dustin loves taking pictures—of everything but people. He will stand with his tripod for hours waiting for a break in foot traffic so that he can take The Perfect Shot. I’ve chided him, asking why he’s never moved to take my picture. When he makes a big deal about my picture, I usually strike my best Tyra Banks pose, giggling as I attempt to glance seductively over my shoulder. But that morning Dustin captured only my profile: A 27-year-old woman with dirty blonde ringlets tied in a bursting bun, hugging her legs tight to her marathon finisher’s T-shirt, looking away from the camera, away from her husband.
Now, in the parking lot, I’d pushed too far. “You sabotage everything,” he said. “Here we are; I’ve taken you to this beautiful place. You don’t even want to be happy. I’m tired of catering to your sadness.”
I sucked in my breath and gazed forward: The blue sky, the wedding-veil clouds, the endless, silent mountains. The cramps in my abdomen cascaded downward, and all I could feel was the wetness between my legs. You can’t pretend it’s not happening, I thought.
I turned to Dustin with a meanness I knew I would regret. Covering my lap with a jacket, I tugged off my shorts and underwear. I shoved the underwear in his face, the pale-brown splotch of blood an inch from his eyes.
He erupted, yelling that we might as well leave, that I had no perspective, no respect. I yelled back, that he didn’t understand me, didn’t try to, didn’t care. I just wanted to fight, to hear his anger, to feel his emotion, to not be the only one to shed tears.
We sat for a few tense minutes, us and the mountains. I was disgusted with myself. Not only couldn’t I create life, I couldn’t enjoy life, or even fake it for the sake of my marriage. There was no real reason I couldn’t swim—I knew that my body was not about to gush blood. So even though I’d already blown it, I pulled on my red-and-black bikini bottom, and then my shorts. I tied the black halter beneath my T-shirt.
“Let’s go,” I said, opening the car door.
“I’m sorry,” I said when we reached the trail head.
“No you’re not,” he told the mountains.
We hiked down the rim of the caldera toward Cleetwood Cove. The hike was steep, and the ground was loose and dusty. I shuffled slowly, afraid of skidding. At one point, I did slip, turning my ankle on a hidden rock. “I’m OK,” I grumbled. I didn’t want to talk, and I could see that Dustin didn’t want to hear my voice.
Crater Lake was bright crayon blue that September day. The lake sits in the pocket of the erupted Mount Mazama in a deep hole formed when the volcano collapsed. Over the years, snow filled the caldera, forming the deepest freshwater lake in the United States. The water is so clear that, at points, you can see 100 feet down. Looking into the lake as I hiked, I wanted to dive in and emerge as someone new.
We’d planned the vacation to Oregon a few months earlier, in the spring. “Let’s choose someplace we can go even if you’re pregnant,” Dustin had said. And earlier in the week, lying in the sand on Canon Beach on the Oregon coast, Haystack Rock had looked to me like a reclining pregnant woman, her full belly pointing toward the sky. I’d reasoned with myself not to hope, but I had anyway.
Even now as I hiked toward the shore of Crater Lake, my period imminent, my vacation polluted, I still found myself daydreaming. In my daydream, the spotting would stop, stilling like the lake. And Dustin would chastise me, but wouldn’t be able to stay mad for long, because finally, after almost two years of trying, I’d be pregnant.
When we reached the rocky shore, we saw a group of men and teenage boys jumping from a 25-foot-tall cliff. We didn’t have a clear plan—we knew people were allowed to swim in the cove, so we’d put it on our agenda. But now, standing on the shore, it clicked: You don’t wade into 55-degree water. You jump in off a cliff.
“No way,” Dustin said.
“Let’s just go up there and see,” I said, touching his arm. And he came with me.
We climbed up the cliff and talked to the guys. Although I’m sure Dustin was still angry, he acted normal—he had a knack for that. Or maybe he wasn’t angry. Maybe, like me, he couldn’t help but hope: Hope that if I jumped off a cliff, I wouldn’t be angry either. “This rock here, it sticks out a little,” a boy in threadbare boxer shorts told us. He led us to the boulder, which jutted out about a foot.
We looked down, and I knew I needed to feel that cold water. I needed to show myself that even though I was sad, I wasn’t pathetic. I needed to show myself that even though my stomach was flat, and my breasts were small, I still had worth. I needed to regain control from the unexplained failure, to untangle my will from the grip of my follicles. “I’m going to jump, Dust,” I said. “Can you take my picture?”
If Dustin were a cartoon character, he would have raised one chestnut-brown eyebrow all the way over his head. I took off my T-shirt and asked him to tie my bikini top as tight as he could. With my clothing in tow, he descended the cliff.
“You first,” I said to a white-haired man in soaked white briefs. The man ran to the edge and, well, kept running, not even looking down. A line was forming behind me. I walked to the overhanging boulder, clamping the edge with my toes. “What the hell?” I thought. Then I gave Dustin a thumbs-up, pinched my nose, and leapt.
I ripped through the autumn air. Fighting gravity, instinct jerked my knees toward my chest—a cannonball. But I only got my legs halfway up before I crashed through the still water. I shot down into the frigid blue. Then I stopped; bubbles cradled me, a thousand tiny pearls. For a moment, it was quiet, before I burst up, sweeping Ys with my arms to break the surface. My body, my hair, and for a moment, my mind, felt clean.
I pulled myself up onto the shore. Dustin held out my T-shirt in one hand. With the other, he pressed buttons on the back of his Nikon. “Do you want to see the pictures?” he asked. His smile reflected my own.
Goosebumps raised on my arms. A chill swept my body as a breeze sifted into the caldera. Yes, I wanted to see the pictures.