When I first met my wife, Mel, I was 21 years old and really into mountain biking and snow boarding. I had a motto: let’s see what happens. It was the way I lived my life. I approached a cliff on my snowboard, and I thought to myself: let’s see what happens. I did the same when I hit a questionable stretch of trail on my mountain bike. During the summer, it was unusual for me to not have a large wound on one or both of my elbows from a bike wreck, and during the winter, I almost always had a splint on at least one wrist or a brace on my knee. Now, at age 31, I bitch a lot about joint pain.
There were a few reasons for this carefree behavior. I saw it as a source of pride. It was my way of showing people that I was hardcore. That I had the stuff to be an extreme athlete. But if I were to strip down my lust for death defiance to its core, I would have found that I was actually very depressed. I didn’t feel like I had much to live for. My father had recently died, and so had my grandmother who raised me from 12 to 18. I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother, and my relationship was strained with my siblings. Honestly, I liked the idea of dying on the trail, or on the side of a snowy peak.
Sadly, it seemed like a glorious way to end my depression.
A lot of that changed after I met my wife. She was charming, and sweet, and beautiful. She had a serious desire for my well-being, and an interest in my outcome. She brought a light into my life I hadn’t felt… well… ever.
Shortly after we got married, I stopped racing mountain bikes. I still rode them, and I still road my snowboard, but I didn’t take the risks anymore. At least not as many. But there was one thing I didn’t adopt, and that was safety gear. I never wore a helmet while snow boarding, and only about half the time on my mountain bike. Thinking back on all the head injuries I’d sustained, I’m really surprised that I fought the use of a helmet so passionately. I think the main problem was I saw them as nerdy. I saw them as this big bubble of nerdy safety gear strapped to my head. A helmet was a sign of weakness.
Mel asked me regularly to strap one of those things to my head, and I almost always refused.
Right before Christmas the year after we got married, I was in Utah snowboarding with my brother-in-law John, and an old friend named Isaac. We went down a slender canyon, and near the middle was a 15-foot cliff.
The three of us sat above the cliff for a bit, and then Isaac punched me in the arm and said, “You going to hit that, bitch. What’s your motto? Let’s see what happens?”
I felt the peer pressure. I felt a determination to be that cool rebellious and dangerous guy I’d always been. In that moment, I looked at Isaac, and felt like marriage had weakened me somehow.
I’d dropped that very cliff a few times. And I knew that I had a 50% chance of landing it. It wasn’t the biggest thing I’d ever hit, and I could see that there was a good amount of powder near the bottom, so I felt confident that I could pull it off. If I didn’t land it, I’d simply fall into a soft pile of snow, dust myself off, and ride off.
So I did it.
A few inches before the drop, the front of my board was snagged by a small firm rock. My board stopped, but my body kept moving. I ended up taking a face first dive off the cliff and getting knocked out cold at the bottom.
I don’t know how long I was out, but when I came to, I could hear John and Isaac calling my name. Then I felt a pain in my head. The first thing I did was wiggle my toes to make sure that I wasn’t paralyzed. They worked, so then I cried up, “Hey!”
“You okay?” Isaac asked.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“That was really awesome,” he said.
Foolishly I finished out the day riding, even though my head was terribly dizzy. I didn’t want my buddies to know how badly I’d been hurt, because I didn’t want them to see me as weak or something. It was foolish and stupid, the kind of thing I’d only do in my early twenties.
I came home with intentions of not telling Mel. And I probably wouldn’t have said a word if I hadn’t broken my cell phone in the crash, something I didn’t realize until I tried to use it on the drive home.
Mel was in the living room of our small condo. We’d been married just over a year. We didn’t have kids yet.
“Why didn’t you answer my calls?” she asked.
I thought about lying to her. I thought about telling her that my phone battery died, and then using the next day to go find a replacement phone. But then I realized that was a bad idea. If I was willing to lie about wrecking on my snowboard, who knows what else I was willing to lie about.
So I told her what happened. I told her about wrecking on my board and getting knocked out. I tried to tell her the story like it was a joke. Like it was a really funny thing that had happened. But she wasn’t buying it.
“You fell off a cliff and onto your head? You are getting a helmet,” she said. “I am not letting you snowboard without a helmet anymore. You need your head. I am not going to be married to a vegetable just because you are too stupid to protect your brain.”
I tried to fight with her. I told her that none of my friends wore helmets. I sounded like a child. It was no use. I caved because she was my wife. Because I loved her. But mostly, because I knew that she loved me. That the reason she was asking me to do this was because she wanted me to stick around.
Before I met Mel, I’d felt very alone. Sometimes even abandoned, particularly when I thought about my father. But to have someone in my life that cared enough about me to force me to do something for my own safety felt, well, good.
That next day, we picked up a snowboarding helmet. It was a large clunky black thing that caused most of my friends to call me Dark Helmet after the moronic villain in Mel Brooks’ Space Balls. And frankly, I didn’t care because that helmet became a sign of my wife, her love for me, and her passion to keep me whole.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley