STORIES FROM MY PAST, VOLUME 1 “That time my best friend fell off a clifftop on New Years day.”

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Over 15 years ago my New Years celebrations usually consisted of a party up in the bush organised by my good friend, but on this particular year that didn’t happen for some reason or another. None of my friends were into doing crowds or big events so in a last-minute dash we all chose to head to a place that would change our lives forever.

We loaded up our cars and headed to this place down near a large island about and hour or so from the city. It was a small 24 hr festival that was illegal and totally underground. We arrived when it was dark and for the first time since I could remember it was a really windy and cold New years. There was a small gathering of different crews scattered about and it was apparently on the top of a cliff but we just couldn’t see it in the dark. The dance floor of the party however, was pretty much in the car park set back from the edge of the cliff by about 100 meters. The guys that were putting it on warned us not to go walking and to stick to the tracks and the car park. We had no problems with this and we all got drunk, took ecstasy pills, got high, danced and spoke shit until the sunrise. As the sun came up, my best friend whom I had met in art school and was just over a decade older than me, came up and put a tab of lsd in my mouth. This was the moment I wouldn’t forget, the trip had started, we had all taken tabs of strong lsd and I suppose there was about 10 of us.  We were a tight and very close group of friends. The acid took over the ecstasy and the usual lsd antics ensued, lots of uncontrollable laughter and debauchery for the next few hours. We gradually became aware that everyone whom had been at the party had left. It was just our little group of friends left on top of this cliff on New Years day, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. My best mate and I went for a walk with his dog who was always by his side. To this day I have never met another dog like his. It was never on a lead and always did what he asked it. Beazly was the most staunch dog ever.

We had jumped the fence off the track that had a sign that said DO NOT ENTER, UNSTABLE CLIFFS. We saw this, but to us the cliffs where a good 50-60 meters away, plenty of room for us to go for a walk without exposing ourselves to danger. Eventually though we meandered closer to the edge and were actually looking for a way down. I found a dodgy crumbling track down to the rocks below. It was really dicey and the bottom of the cliff was about 25 meters below covered in large rocks. I proceeded to head down the track and went a little way before I stopped and assessed the potential for others to follow in the differing states we were all in. I realised that although I may have been able to get down, some of the others wouldn’t. I walked back up and told everyone else that it was not a good idea and that the water was a no go. Everyone seemed o.k about it all and we went back up to the cars and the lsd trip kept going.

We started to play charades. Playing charades on lsd with a group of good friends is absolutely one of the best things ever. I guarantee it. We were all having fun and totally immersed in this game. At one point though, I did notice my  best friend lose interest and get up and walk off with his dog. I was going to go after him, but I was having too much fun playing the game with everyone.

It turned out to be the worst choice ever.

I should have gone off after him. It’s taken a long time to come to terms with that. It all happened the way it did, there is no changing things. Acceptance of this fact was a major part in the healing process.

I lost myself in the game for who knows how long. We were all having fun and it was pretty magical. For some reason or another I turned my head and looked towards the cliff and I could see my best mates dog bounding up towards us. Beazly looked panicked, well out of sorts. My stomach dropped, I instantly knew something was wrong. I got up and walked towards the dog. The main thing that set me off was that Beazly was always by my friends side and he was no-where to be seen. I took off towards the cliff edge as fast as I could.

In my mind full of lsd I knew what had happened but I was wishing that it wasn’t so. I kept saying this to myself over and over like a mantra, denying the reality that was unfolding before me as I hurried towards that cliff edge.

“He better not be at the bottom of the cliff, he better not be at the bottom of that cliff”

Over and over I repeated this to myself as I got closer to the edge and I just knew he was down there. My instinct has saved me many times in my life and even though I was under the influence of some pretty strong drugs I still trusted my instincts on this and was pushing against it hard.

At the edge I slowed up and leaned out over. What I saw still haunts me to this day. It instantly reminded me of the Hitchcock film “Vertigo” and that famous scene from the tower. I looked down and sure enough, there was my best friend.

Splayed out, covered in blood and terrifyingly, not moving. My first thought was that he was dead. I went from a state of tripping on lsd, to completely straight and in control in a second. All the previous years of training in first aid from the scout movement and being a lifeguard all kicked in. I used the huge rush of adrenaline and controlled myself for what I knew I had to do next.

Get down there and help him.

I turned and started running back up the hill to my friends who were still playing charades. I screamed at them that our friend had fallen off the cliff and I needed help. I then ran back to the cliff edge to check on him again. As I looked over he moved his leg slightly.

YES ! I knew that he wasn’t dead. I had instant hope. I knew I had to get down to him but I had no idea if anyone else would be able to get down there as well. I turned again and by this time my other friends had arrived at the cliff edge. I told them not to look over and my mate asked if he should call the ambulance. I said no. I said that at the time in panic as we were all on drugs and I didn’t want anyone to get into trouble. I thought maybe we might have been able to get him up. My friend thank-fully ignored me and went up the hill to get signal on his mobile and call the emergency services. My other best friend from art school looked at me and I said “Do you think you can make it down there ?”

He looked me square in the eyes and tearing up said “Yes, let’s go”

We started our way down the track that I had originally said was too dangerous. Another friend started down and I yelled at him to stay up on top just in case we got into trouble. I didn’t know at that point if we could actually get to him and I didn’t want anymore people injured. I had this vision of all of us slipping and falling to the bottom. I think he got pissed off with me but he stayed put. I didn’t realise it but I was doing everything that I had been trained to do when I was a lifeguard. The amount of drugs I had taken had been overridden by the adrenaline and the huge responsibility I felt to save my friend and get him help. I had taken total control of the situation. I felt as straight as an arrow.

We  made it down to the bottom of the cliff safely and then had to scramble over large rocks to get to our friend. By this time he was really just coming to and was semi conscious lying sprawled on the rocks covered in blood with his head lolling around. It was a horrible thing to witness. I immediately reassured him that everything would be o.k and I asked him if he could feel his legs and his toes he said that he could. He was totally suffering from concussion and the drugs he had taken were definitely affecting him as well. He face was a mess, his nose was squashed and pushed to the side and there was blood everywhere. I asked him if he had fallen and what had happened and he didn’t respond. I asked him if he hurt anywhere and he said everywhere. I asked him again if he could feel his toes, he said yes. At this point I had to make a choice. I knew that were he lay was not a good spot for a helicopter to get in to pick him up as he was too close to the overhanging cliff. He was getting more coherent at this point and was agitated and wanted us to carry him up the cliff. I told him the ambulance had been called and he was pissed, he didn’t want any trouble. I placated him as best as I could then I reassessed his body and the position we were in. I made a choice to move him to a more open spot. I know this is a big no-no, but I felt we had no choice I told my friend who was about half my size to grab one side of him and I’d grab the other and together we could move him over the rocks to a more open space. We would try to do a fireman lift. My injured friend was not a big guy but my other friend was even smaller than him. To this day I believe it was the adrenaline that made what happened next possible. My small friend and I picked him up and carried him over 50 meters of huge rocks, driftwood and uneven ground to a much clearer, more flat spot.

I look back at this and am amazed that we did not stop once, nor slip, nor falter. In my mind we had done everything we could for him. I again asked him if he could feel his toes he said yes, I asked him were it hurt and again he said everywhere again. At this point I knew I had to get back up top and find out what was happening. I also needed to get water down to my friend. I asked my friend if he was o.k to stay with him and then I proceeded to scramble back up to the top of the cliff.

By the time I got to the top of the cliff, the locals and rescue people were just starting to arrive. Another friend at the top of the cliff asked to go down and I said no, it was too dangerous and that he didn’t need to see what I had seen. It was a pretty horrible thing to have to deal with especially on a head full of lsd. He disregarded what I said and wanted to go.

I said “O.k, just take some water with you.”

He went down. I stayed at the top of the cliff as the emergency workers arrived and directed them to where he was. The next thing I became aware of was that the helicopters had arrived. Their was three of them, all news networks, then the police arrived and also the ambulance. They were all asking questions and I was doing my best to control my emotions and deal with them as best as I could. They told me they were getting the police helicopter in to get him out. I was relived. Then I noticed that there was literally 50 or 60 people on the cliff top now. All the emergency workers had bought there families down as it was New Years day and they had come to see the show.

It had become a spectacle and we were in the middle of it.

The police took me aside and questioned me throughly. I answered as best I could, they kept asking about my friends state of mind before he left the group. I knew where this questioning was going. I told them that my friend had not jumped, he was happy and he did not try to kill himself. The policeman seemed happy with my responses and left me to go ask my other friends more questions. Then I had to deal with the National parks people, again the same questions and then they asked if we had seen the sign that said unstable cliffs I said “Yes”.

He asked why we ignored it.

“We wanted to sit on the grass and play charades.”

“We were far enough back that we didn’t think there was danger back there, which there wasn’t.”

He wasn’t happy but he could see how traumatized I was, so he didn’t push it. It took a bit but eventually my friend was airlifted up to the top of the cliff by the Police chopper. This really upset me, seeing him in the stretcher with an oxygen mask on and not knowing what was going to happen. But I also felt really relived that he was being looked after and I no longer had the immense responsibility of the situation.

My other mates returned from the bottom of the cliff visibly upset as well. We all lost it and started crying and we kind of just hugged it out. It was then that I realized no one had Beazly. We started to look for him and eventually found him hiding under my friend’s car. He was terrified, the poor thing.

Beazly was the hero that day.

If it was not for that dog who knows how long we would have been oblivious to the fact our friend was lying at the bottom of the cliff. As we were getting the dog out from under the car a news reporter approached us and asked if anyone would like to comment. I lost it, I had just rescued my best mate and here was this parasite wanting a story. My partner and others told him to leave. The excitement had died down and the spectators had left the area. I was feeling drained and incredibly tired. We now had to drive back to the city and get to the hospital to find out what injuries he had and if he would be alright. I was totally exhausted and my partner drove whilst I tried to deal and debrief myself on the epic-ness of what had just happened.

During my life I have always felt that certain parts of it have played out like a film. A movie. It’s like I have seen them happen before in my dreams and when they occur I am just remembering them all over again. It’s not like a deja vu exactly.  I can’t quiet describe it properly. I feel like I’m actually reliving it for the second time not the first. If you understand my meaning.

I was really upset about the whole thing and by the time we got to the hospital I was pretty much just wanted to know if he was going to be alright.

We met his family outside the hospital and as it would happen my old flatmate had been one of the nurses who got my friend off the helicopter. She had contacted us and met us at the hospital. It’s a such a small world and nothing happens by co-incidence. She was also pretty upset. It was all very confronting. We found out that my friend was telling the police and anyone who asked him that he was pushed off the cliff.

We thought it was absurd. There was no-one else up there on that cliff apart from us and we were all together. We put it down the drugs and the concussion that he suffered. The doctors told us his injuries were consistent with a tumbling fall, not a cliff swan dive, so that put the whole suicide notion out. We figured out that he had tried to walk down the dodgy crumbling track we had gotten down to rescue him. At some point he tripped or slipped and then the tumbling fall was actually what saved him and messed him up at the same time. He was extremely lucky. If he had taken a swan dive from the top it would not have been as good a result .His family where full of gratitude for what we had done and then went on to explain that this wasn’t the first time he had escaped death. I could almost write a book about my friends exploits.

We finally made it home and I collapsed onto the couch with my partner. Then I just burst into tears. I was pretty upset and I knew deep down that the event would change things between all of us forever.

Things were never the same after that.  A rift had started between my injured friend and the friend whom helped me carry him across the rocks. They had been sharing a house together and I know for a fact that was a huge part of the rift forming. My freind and I looked at this as some sort of sign for my friend to retire from partying and get his shit together. I knew that my freind probably wouldn’t do that but my other freind certainly held it against him for not growing up from the experience that he had inadvertently put us all through. There were a lot of other extenuating circumstances involved as there always is with it but those two drifted apart quite rapidly and it was a real shame for me to see this amazing trinity between us all fall apart. It was an end of an era and the bond that held us through art school and the next few years was slowly disintegrating. Life was closing doorways and opening new ones for each of us.

10 years or so on I am still very good friends with both those friends from that day. My friend that fell now has two beautiful little boys and an amazing partner. He lives 20 mins away from me and I visit them regularly. It’s a bond that we will always have. I only have a handful of really close friends these days and he is one of them. I’ve known him for 17-18 years now and it’s not in every relationship you have to save someone’s life, so I cherish this unique bond we have.

I dealt with the trauma of that event many years later in my therapy sessions. I realized with a bang that I had never dealt with that trauma properly and I needed to face it and move forwards from it. That’s when I sat down and wrote the majority of this piece. Its been good to come back and share this epic little story from my life. Everything always works out for a reason and his little children are the best outcome anyone could have hoped for him.

I always maintain I did what any normal person would do when someone was in danger. I don’t think of what did as heroic, I just wanted to help my friend who was in danger. I’d like to think if someone found me in a similar situation they would do the same. Sometimes you just have to put the thought of your own personal safety aside in order to help someone.



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