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A Fall In Five Scenes

1.

“KAYE!” Curtis watched as the fall happened in slow motion, her name erupting from his lips without even realizing it. No matter how fast he tried to move, he knew it was too late. Despite a running leap, Kaye hadn’t fully made it across a five-foot gorge. Before Curtis’s eyes, the woman he had come to love as life itself was falling back from the edge of a cliff 20 feet down — and 20 feet is a very long way to fall. What should have certainly been a death sentence, though, changed their lives (and the lives of many, many others) for the better.

• • •

The line ahead was so very long, so very full of people, who were all so very full of joy — in fact, beaming because of that joy. All of these very happy people in this very long line were there for two very special people — in fact, two very special people who all these very happy people loved very much. You could feel the excitement in the very happy people’s small talk and in how they shifted their weight frequently backwards and forwards and side to side. These very happy people bobbed, bounced on their heels, all while beaming and trying to catch a glimpse of how close to the front of the line they were. They were trying to see how close they were to the two very special people. I’ve heard this called “antsiness.” Antsiness is a word that means nervous but happy, as if it were the linguistic intersection of where anticipation meets exhilaration. These people were very full of antsiness. At the front of the line, I knew one of the two very special people who we were all waiting to see.

Kaye enjoys a contemplative moment writing at Cattail Falls.
Photo credit: Curtis Callaway

Curtis Callaway, a senior lecturer of journalism, public relations, and new media at Baylor, officed next door to a friend, who I went to see almost weekly. One day, when I passed his office door, Curtis struck up a conversation. He is a photographer extraordinaire and his talent and reputation are well known. I am a writer and not a photographer, so why should he have ever paid me any mind? But Curtis didn’t care. He collects people — interesting, talented, special people — and I had been collected. After a few conversations, Curtis had invited me to a party at his house in his backyard. He said it was casual, a blue jeans and beer kind of party. Eventually, in line with all these very happy people, I’d learned it was his wedding reception. I didn’t feel I should be there. Standing in line, I was not antsy. I was worried, anxious, out-of-place, stewing in the fear that I would be found out. So, finally, when it came my time to be greeted by these two very special people, I reached out and shook Curtis’s hand, hoping to make it through the pleasantries quickly and then plan a quiet exit.

“Hey! Congratulations! It’s so good to see you. Thanks for having me out,” I said.

“It’s great to have you,” Curtis replied. “Jonathon, have you met my—”

He was cut off. Two small hands had climbed my face, cupped me on either side. They were farm hands, I recognized this immediately. Growing up in the country, I’d learned of these hands. My grandmother has them. Hands that are rough but soft at the same time. These two small, rough, soft hands were on my cheeks. They began to move my face, angling my gaze downward. I met the eyes of a woman I’d never seen. I could feel my own eyes wide with fear, locked on this stranger. Had I just been found out? One last darting glance back to Curtis and he was just smiling. When my gaze met the stranger’s again, I returned to find tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Her small, farm-worn hands gently pulled me in close to her.

Kaye takes in the majestic view on Dom Rock.
Photo credit: Curtis Callaway

“Tonight,” she spoke softly and sternly, “why don’t we just turn it off? We can be imperfect together tonight. Deal?” I melted and began to sob into this small stranger’s shoulder. We hugged, I knew she knew me, I somehow now knew her. I had just met Kaye Robinson Callaway (JD ‘09) and, if you’ve ever met her, you know this experience is not an uncommon one. She can read you, know exactly what your fears are, meet you in those fears, and walk with you back to safety. She is not afraid to cry with you, though this has not always been the case. She is this way because of several reasons. Some people say she is magical, some that she has unimaginable strength, one told me Kaye is Kaye because she has somehow convinced Jesus to be very good, very close friends with her.

Some people say she is magical, some that she has unimaginable strength, one told me Kaye is Kaye because she has somehow convinced Jesus to be very good, very close friends with her.

Soon after meeting Kaye, I learned of the tragic fall she experienced. Though painful and heart-wrenching when it happened, she and Curtis now tell the story often, so full of joy and not regret. In a journal entry from 2015, just after her fall when she was finally out of the hospital and in physical therapy, she explained it this way: “I jumped between two rocks at Big Bend, fell and injured my brain.” At the time she wrote this, a therapist corrected her, made her scratch out “brain” with three rough scratches and begrudgingly replace it with “head.” (Six years later, she told me she still meant “brain.”)

2.

Find the boys. Find the boys. Find the boys. That was Jody’s job: find the boys and tell them to go for help. Curtis was still back with Kaye, holding her head and neck steady. She was conscious, but not fully coherent. They’d done a brief test to see if she had broken any bones. As Jody would press on a part of Kaye’s body, Curtis would ask, “Kaye, does that hurt? Tap your fingers twice for no.” She’d tapped twice every time as Jody carefully navigated up and down her frame. Somehow, two taps every time. It was a miracle. He couldn’t believe it. Jody’s view of the fall had been just to the right of Curtis. He’d watched the same tragedy. He knew the odds were against them. As he ran to find the boys — Drew and Robby — he prayed. Find the boys. God, please, help this poor lady. She’s hurt bad. Find the boys. God, please, help this poor lady. She’s hurt real bad. Find the boys. Please, please, help this lady. Find the boys. Jody was certain Kaye would be dead when he got back.

• • •

Kaye’s fall happened in early 2015 in a place called Tuff Canyon. That’s in Big Bend National Park out near Terlingua. About a decade before, she had fallen in a skiing accident, damaging her knee and requiring surgery to mend the injury. That’s the closest she had ever come to a life-threatening incident. She walked — or, rather, limped — away with a torn MCL and continued walking on it for nine months, putting off any medical help before finally having corrective surgery. Kaye is tough. On the ski slope, after she fell, she made everyone leave. “I said, ‘Y’all go on down.’ The students, my girls, everybody left, my husband at the time, too. Everybody left. I said, ‘I’ll get down there.’ And that was probably the worst pain, honestly, because then I started skiing all the way down and then it started snowing. I didn’t get lost, but I remember crying all the way down because my knee was hurt so bad.” Probably like you, she doesn’t like attention when she’s hurt. She is also a daredevil, a self-described “Tomboy,” and a younger sister to a brother who ran with a large, tough group of guys. Kaye cut her teeth, defined herself, made it her brand to be tough from an early age.

“She was little sister to big brother,” Helen Robinson, Kaye’s mother, recalled. “And he had a bunch of friends and Kaye much preferred to play rough and tough. She told me one time, she said, ‘I have 13 brothers’ . . . She had some girl friends and they’re still close, but never like running with the guys. She was just a Tomboy and loved it. And they would let her participate because she didn’t act girly. I mean, she didn’t tune up and cry or pout, she fit in.”

There’s a gentle side of Kaye, too. She’s not all tough and rough. She’s patient, gracious, supporting, and a great, great listener. She loves to write, loves to learn, but hates too much attention. So, the day of January 7, 2015, is kind of a perfect representation of and perfect storm for Kaye Robinson Callaway. The day had started — though it’s cliché to say this — normally. Kaye and Curtis were staying at a cousin’s house near Big Bend. Curtis’s other cousin Jody Smyers was with them, as were two of Curtis’s students, Robby Hirst and Drew Mills. Earlier in the week, a huge storm had knocked out the power, so — by way of lanterns and phone lights — they set a plan in motion to be up early, not waste daylight, and head out for Cattail Falls. Curtis described this place as “kind of a hidden waterfall.” He somehow always knows where all the hidden gems can be found. The trail to Cattail Falls has no markings and is not listed on the National Park Service, officially, but if you know the way, it is well, well worth the work. Within this hidden gem is another hidden gem: an orchid that only grows in this area. It’s endemic and naturally sprouts along the trail to the falls, almost like a secret code for the most dedicated and deserving. “You don’t expect to see an orchid,” Curtis told me, a wide grin across his face. He loves being the person who can guide others to the hidden gems. “So we hike in, we get there and there’s a waterfall. There’s a little pool of water, I’m just taking pictures. We’re all taking pictures. Kaye is sitting down, writing in her journal, which I have a picture of. We’re just kind of hanging out, doing our thing. It’s a beautiful morning. It’s a great morning. One of those you kind of never know —” Here Curtis choked up and looked away from me to Kaye. He didn’t want me to see the tears forming in the corners of his eyes. He cleared his throat to steady himself, found some footing in the patient, extended eye contact from Kaye, who was, of course, also teary-eyed, and then he finished his sentence: “It’s one of those you’d never guess what’s about to happen.” From Cattail Falls, the group left for Santa Elena Canyon. Curtis, Kaye, and Drew in one truck. Jody and Robby ahead in the other.

“That’s enough. Come on down. No, Kaye. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Pssf,” Kaye spit.

A fall in eight scenes.
Photo credit: Curtis Callaway & Jody Smyers

In Big Bend, there’s no such thing as cell service. (Except for one spot, but we’ll get to that.) So, when Curtis decided to turn off for an unscheduled stop, he just kind of had to assume Jody would know where and why he’d detoured. Jody and Curtis made regular trips to Big Bend. They photographed, explored, and got to know the land as experts, becoming acquainted with the hidden gems — like Cattail Falls, like the orchid, like a specific spot in Tuff Canyon just wide enough to jump across. (Or, almost.) Curtis had seen the spot in Tuff Canyon on a previous trip, but, without a model to leap, he’d not been able to capture the photo he envisioned. Drew obliged to be the model this time, though, leaping across the five-foot gap easily with his long legs. Curtis perfectly framed the shot from 20-feet below, laying on his back almost directly beneath the two ledges and shooting each jump. Eventually, Jody and Robby arrived, Jody joining Curtis in shooting, while Robby joined Drew in jumping. Where was Kaye? Observing, encouraging, laughing, and whooping for each jump. Remember how Kaye had told her mother she had 13 brothers, though? How she’s rough and tough and a Tomboy? At around three in the afternoon, Kaye had done enough observing and scaled the trail to the top of the jump site to follow in her tradition of fitting in with “the boys.” As she got there, Robby made a final jump and Curtis saw through his lens the heel of Robby’s shoe just barely make the full leap. “Okay,” Curtis said, marking the end of their detour. “That’s enough. Come on down. No, Kaye. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Pssf,” Kaye spit.

From left: Jody Smyers, Robby Hirst, Drew Mills, Kaye Robinson Callaway, and Curtis Callaway
Photo credit: Jody Smyers

The next few seconds weren’t how they were supposed to go. She made three long, good bounding steps. She was supposed to make it across. She was supposed to show the boys she could fit in. She wasn’t supposed to get hurt and need attention or help or to become a burden. But she didn’t stick the landing. In photos captured by Curtis and Jody, you can see her eyes and her hands — as she’s balancing on the verge of falling backward down the 20-foot fall — they’re grasping. What to grab for? What to cling to? What to do now?

“Crud,” Kaye thought.

Kaye and Curtis on Tuff Canyon Trail in Big Bend National Park.
Photo credit: Jody Smyers

From below, Curtis watched in absolute horror. That’s probably an understatement. Eight months earlier, he had met this woman in jail — literally, in a jail. Kaye owns the old, two-cell jail building in downtown Clifton. She turned it into a bed-and-booze, as she calls it. When it was time to have it photographed, two names were recommended to her. Guess who she hired. She met Curtis at the site, which she named The Cell Block, where he took photos. They spent a whole afternoon, evening, and late night together. As client and contractor, they learned how much they had in common. Both divorced. (“We both said we were never getting married, again,” Curtis will tell you.) Both had two daughters. Both enjoyed travel, adventuring all over the globe. Both had made life so very full with the friends, experiences, and memories they’d made in those adventures. And, now, both were exceptionally interested in the other. Over the ensuing months, they’d begun hanging out then dating. They met each other’s families, took a few trips together, but both were still explicit on never getting married again. They had told each other they loved the other — Kaye volunteered that information first, naturally — but they were both content simply dating and falling in a different kind of love.

As Kaye fell, Curtis shouted her name: “KAYE!” He doesn’t remember this. Kaye remembers the entire thing. Except the thud. On the way down, Kaye hit her head on a boulder. It made her brain ricochet against her skull, and she blacked out for a moment. She hit the ground, one arm tucking behind her, the other and her legs sprawled out like a ragdoll. Curtis was there immediately. Kaye came-to within seconds. Her first memory back in consciousness was Curtis cradling her head in his hands. As Curtis instructed Jody how to check for injuries, he held Kaye’s head, now so precious and so fragile — the one thing she hated to be more than anything. As Curtis instructed Jody and held Kaye’s head, he came to a realization.

3

Why is Curtis calling me? It was late — 11 o’clock at night. Melissa was tired. She didn’t want to talk to anyone. The phone was vibrating in her hand with Curtis’s name scrolling across the screen as she reached forward with a finger. She almost declined the call, but something nudged her to answer. “Hello?” she said. “Melissa, it’s Curtis. Your mom and I are out in Big Bend, and she’s had a really bad fall.” At first, it didn’t register with Melissa. People fall all the time. She thought Kaye had maybe fallen down some stairs or slipped off the curb. “Okay,” she said. “Is she okay?” Curtis’s response shook her. “We don’t know,” he said. Melissa listened as Curtis explained the severity of Kaye’s fall and injuries. Melissa’s mind raced and she could feel herself beginning to grow scared, beginning to break down, beginning to wonder, worry if she’d ever be with her mom again. But she had to be strong, had to get it together. Because, next, she had to call her younger sister, Andrea. She had to be strong in case Andrea needed to be weak. In the ensuing weeks of Kaye’s surgery and recovery, they passed that responsibility back and forth. One would be strong, so the other could be scared. Then, without a word of indication, they would swap. Of course, Melissa didn’t know that when she called Andrea. She just knew she had to be strong.

• • •

Somehow — “and this is where the miracles began,” Kaye says — Robby found cell service. Over a painstakingly slow two hours, the paramedic team carefully, carefully brought Kaye out of the canyon; had carefully, carefully driven her out of Big Bend; and then doctors in Alpine carefully, carefully weighed options on what to do and where to send her for the advanced level of care she needed. Next came the deluge of logistics. Curtis had a big question to answer: Who to call? Craig, Kaye’s older brother? Helen, Kaye’s mom? Andrea (MSEd ‘11) or Melissa, Kaye’s daughters? He was still an outsider to them, though they had met a few times. He knew if he made the wrong call, it could ruin any chances of being trusted by them. It was 11 pm by then, so when Craig didn’t answer, he called Melissa, the older sister. There was pain in that conversation and in Melissa’s call to Andrea and in Melissa’s call to Craig and in Craig’s call to Helen. A chain of pain. All hurting and praying for Kaye. Once Kaye’s girls were informed, they began to book plane tickets, plan travel, and would arrive in the morning. Overnight, Kaye was moved from Alpine to San Antonio. When the girls arrived, they were able to see their mom. “We showed up and maybe she was in a holding room to get to the ER,” Melissa remembered, “but we were in this tiny little room. And then that’s where Curtis met us. And then they were going to take her to the ER, I think, and it was sort of like they weren’t going to let us see her again.” Decisions had to be made about Kaye quickly. The pressure was building in her head. What were they going to do? “There were just so many things, I mean, that I don’t even know if I still really understood until way after the fact of what actually happened, what was actually wrong with her,” Andrea said. “I just never really understood what the problems were. Like that it was a brain injury, sure. But then this is what a brain injury is?” Surgery to remove part of her skull was the decision finally made. A craniotomy.

Sharing a laugh in the hospital.
Photo Credit: Curtis Callaway

While all this pain and chaos was occurring, while all this late-night, cross-state travel and overwhelming decisions were being made, Kaye was in-and-out of consciousness. She doesn’t remember much but has pieced together what she knows happened from the memories of her family. One experience Kaye’s family did not recount to her — one of the few, vivid, personal memories she has of the time is when she met God. While sedated, Kaye left this life. She approached God. Tried to walk further forward but found she could not. He told her it was not her time. She had to go back. So she did. The craniotomy was a success, and the next few days allowed some much-needed relief not just for her brain, but for those gathered around her. Besides doctors and nurses, only four people were allowed into her hospital room. Kaye is from Clifton, Texas — population 3,391. As small towns go, the word of Kaye’s injury spread quickly. “So we put her on blacklist,” Andrea said. “Basically, like they do celebrities, there was no record of her being there. So when people called, they wouldn’t even say she was there.” Only four people were allowed back: Melissa and Andrea during the day, Craig on the nightshift, Curtis there 24/7. Sometimes, though, Kaye would ask who the man in the corner was. She meant Curtis, the girls assumed. That wasn’t right, their mother argued. He wore a wool sweater, she told them. Talked to her and comforted her. Oh, she means the minister who came by. “Dadgumit!” Kaye remembers thinking. They couldn’t understand her. He was the guy she was talking with some time when they came back in. No one understood. No one else had been there. They’d never seen anyone else.

“I had always prayed to meet an angel,” Kaye said, crying with joy from the memories. God didn’t call her Home, but he did grant that prayer. He gave her someone to watch her in her time of greatest need.

4

It had already been a long day. Andrea woke up in San Antonio early that morning, took a flight to Dallas, left straight from the airport to head back south with her car, and then finally arrived here: her childhood home. It was the same four numbers — the same four buttons — she had always pressed to open the gate. They seemed heavier this time. The gate seemed to open more slowly this time. The driveway seemed to stretch out forever this time. She knew her job was important, but she didn’t want to be home this time. She had to get her mother’s things together and take them back to the hospital in San Antonio. Walking in, the house was quiet, lonely — Andrea felt comforted to be back in her home, but uncomfortable for why she was there. Every sound echoed off the tile. She wished Melissa, her sister, had come with her. But, like all of us when there’s a job to be done, Andrea quickly snapped herself into business mode. She had her job, she had her list, she had her marching orders. In a one-day, whirlwind roundtrip from San Antonio to Waco and back, Curtis had left some of Kaye’s things from the trip at the house. Her mom’s bag lay on the floor. As Andrea tossed the contents out, a shirt caught her eye. She laid it out on the bed, looking at it. It was the shirt Kaye had been wearing when she fell. The paramedics had cut it right up the middle to take it off. It was surreal. The dirt and damage still there, looking back at Andrea. Her mother was alive, but it would be a long road to recovery.

• • •

It’s amazing what the brain can do. It keeps us breathing, processes complex problems, instructs our muscles and movements all day long. When, suddenly, it won’t perform properly, we can feel useless. Think about the last time you couldn’t remember a word or how you knew someone you recognized in the grocery story but couldn’t place exactly how. Think about what you go through: You know you know that guy over in the lettuce section. Oh, come on. Where do you know him from? Traumatic brain injuries can leave one in a constant state of that feeling. Sometimes, even today, when Kaye talks, she gets to a word that leaves her grasping, like you feel when you can’t remember the guy over in the lettuce. What’s worse: She knows she knows the word. Sometimes she hunts for it, says words that are close but not precise. For someone who values the immense importance of language, that’s hell. Kaye was a teacher in younger years. An English teacher at that. One of her greatest joys is in reading beautiful works of literature. She’s been working on-and-off on her own books since 1986. Kaye loves words. But she now struggles with them. What’s amazing is, though she misses her “old” brain, she has come to see the brain post-injury as her “new” brain. And she loves it. She sees it as a newfound source for empathy toward others. She can connect with people in different ways. Her father, Ralph, before he passed away, suffered from dementia. In those final months of his life, Kaye, still healing and suffering from her traumatic brain injury, could relate to him. Another form of Kaye’s empathy is that Helen, her mother, now uses a walker. Having had to learn to walk again and use a walker to assist herself, Kaye loves that she can relate to her mom in this way. “What brand is that one, mom?” she said she will jokingly ask Helen. “Ah! That’s the good kind!” An injury of this magnitude can leave one cynical, victimized, even just stuck. Kaye has never seen it this way.

“I was dead, and I was going to see God,” she recalled from her earliest time in the hospital. “I told him I was coming home. I’m happy to die. That’s fine. It wasn’t because I was unhappy to live. Then when he told me, no, it wasn’t my time, then I had to rephrase. Okay. If I’m still alive, there is a reason I’m alive. There’s a different purpose or a further purpose. That’s why I never asked for anything I lost to come back, because I thought there could be a purpose that I can’t read anymore. I’ve learned what it’s like for people that can’t. There could be a purpose that I can’t write anymore. I’ve learned what it’s like for people that can’t. I remember when I couldn’t see well, all month it was furry, fuzzy. My granddad was blind. I’ve learned what it’s like. I never asked for those things back, even my brain. I don’t ask for it back.

“The whole point is, anything He takes from someone or allows to be taken from them, if you’re still alive, you still have a purpose. That should give you joy. It’s a weird combination of: the more love I feel, the more joy I have, no matter who I am now. I’m learning to love myself, which I did not do well. I liked myself a whole lot but loving myself is just the joy in who He has created me, as the new me. It’s more like a kid and it’s more fun in life, instead of accomplishing and success and helping other people. Just relax, breathe deep. Still work, still improve, but have joy in who you are, no matter who that is.”

Out of such trauma, this is her perspective. Out of such pain, this her way forward. Out of her greatest loss, this is her God-given gift.

5

Eyes closed, she said the words that felt right. “Thank you for letting me drop the way you had me drop,” Kaye prayed, holding Curtis’s hands. “And thank you for Curtis being here and for all the people that came down to get me out and then helped me get better and got me back down to this place.” Kaye and Curtis were standing at the bottom of Tuff Canyon in the exact place her life had almost ended five months earlier. “I just thank you for life,” she concluded. Being back, they had explored where it all happened. How high was the cliff, actually? Where did she hit her head? How did she land? Surreal didn’t describe the experience. It was beyond description to be there together where such an awful tragedy had occurred and to have Kaye there so whole and healing. Curtis said he wanted to pray next. “Dear Lord, we’re thankful for you keeping her alive. Thank you for bringing us together. Thank you for letting her live,” he prayed. Kaye was grateful for his patience and for his consistency. She was grateful he had offered a prayer and as he finished his words, she opened her eyes to look at him. She was tired, ready to climb back out. She knew the hike would take work, but she was so grateful to be making that hike back up with Curtis from the place he almost lost her forever. They began to let go of each other’s hands. Then, swiftly, she saw Curtis dropping. It was sudden, as if someone had pushed down on his shoulders. In total surprise to them both, Curtis asked simply, “Will you marry me?” “Well, yes!” was Kaye’s own simple reply.

• • •

Two people who met in jail one afternoon married just two years later — but they were not short years, mind you. On the day of their wedding, they did what Kaye and Curtis do: they went adventuring. Each year out along both sides of the Rio Grande, people gather for music, food, dancing, and celebration for the Voices From Both Sides festival. Bands from the neighboring areas around the small, border town of Lajitas, Texas, take turns serenading friends from across the border and the even smaller town of Paso Lajitas, Mexico. Then, those on the Mexican side of the river, pick up their instruments and play. In the water and along the banks are people enjoying the festivities. In the middle of the crowd, on May 21, 2016, was Kaye. Curtis showed me a video of her crossing the river. She wobbles a little. “Were you worried about her?” I asked. “Not at all,” he said. “You know her. As soon as she saw it, she had to do it.” Mid-stream, a large man reaches his hand out, he takes one of her small, rough, soft hands in his own and helps Kaye cross the waist-deep water. She crests the bank and immediately makes friends. She dances with a Mexican woman to the beautiful music. The video cuts off as she turns to face the Texas side. She is smiling. She is full of joy.

You can hear Curtis laugh. He is happy. He is full of joy. They are together, sharing in this joy just a few miles from where Kaye fell. But that’s not important. They are together. That’s all that matters. In a few hours, they will stand with a different crowd and take each other’s hands. They will say some words a minister asks them to repeat. They will listen to words explaining their love for each other. They will kiss and be married. But they are already together now in this scene of chaotic joy. They are together. And that’s all that matters. Neither of them knew this day would come — they even told others countlessly how they’d each never marry again. But something changed at the bottom of Tuff Canyon. While Curtis held Kaye’s head, so precious and so fragile, he came to a realization. This was the woman he loved. “It was then when I was holding her and there for her. That’s when I realized: this is for life. That moment is when I knew I was never leaving her side,” he said.

Always smiling.
Photo credit: Curtis Callaway

When he told me that, he choked up again, looking down the table to Kaye. And, again, she was already teary-eyed, smiling back at him so very full of joy. She didn’t need me to ask. She knew my next question. “For me,” she said, “it was the day I came back to Waco, and I told him he didn’t have to keep coming back.” She said Curtis ruffled at the suggestion and told her he would be coming back, that he always would be coming back. “I thought he would come back to me,” she explained. “It wasn’t meant like I doubted him, but it was my gut. He needed to work. He had to do his job. And yet he was apologizing to me because he wasn’t going to be there 24/7. And he hadn’t even been to his apartment. He needed to sleep. He needed to go. And that’s what I meant, he didn’t have to come back. Go rest is what I meant. And when he said that, then it was like, ‘Oh, he means, means it in the way I didn’t.’” As Curtis came to a realization holding Kaye’s head at the bottom of Tuff Canyon, Kaye came to a similar conclusion in a rehabilitation center in Waco. “That was my moment, when I knew he really loved me,” she said. And that became the moment she knew she could really love him.

Kaye told me that as she walked the aisle on their wedding day, approaching Curtis in his dashing blue suit, she saw a smirk grow across his face. Nothing inappropriate. Nothing anyone else would notice. But she didn’t catch or, at least, didn’t know what his expression meant. As she came within reach of him to be joined together in marriage, she learned what his little smirk was about. Curtis opened the right side of his jacket in a way no one else could see what was inside. Embroidered there against the contrasting deep, navy blue of his suit, Kaye read the words: “Don’t jump.” And they laughed together.

But the thing is, sometimes we have to jump. Sometimes we even have to fall. Because while many will tell you the jumps are worth it — the adrenaline, the excitement, the irreplicability of doing something wild, free, and careless — it’s the falls with all the pain and setbacks and heartbreak that so often teach us who we are and make us into who we need to be. The Old Testament author recorded that Joseph, upon seeing his brothers again for the first time after they sold him into slavery, said to them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many people.” Sometimes, it turns out, the falls are worth it.

Keep leaping.
Photo Credit: Caitlin Ahlenius

*Originally Published: Fall 2021 Baylor Line Magazine

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