The trampoline is a death contraption. Just look at it: spindly steel legs hold up a set of old-timey springs that tug at a thin, stretchy patch of fabric, forming an intentionally unstable surface for children to jump on, bouncing their little bodies to unnatural heights. Its elasticity promises safe landings if you come down just right, but that’s not always the case. So I get nervous watching my cousin fail a butt-to-front-flip, competing to stick the most audacious trick. At barbecues like this I stick with the adults, focusing on the smell of grilled burgers and fresh-mown grass, but when my 13-year-old brother climbs up there, I feel my chest tighten.
About 100,000 trampoline users land in the emergency room each year, and the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages trampolines at home. Even manufacturers like Skywalker Trampolines warn us: “DO NOT let more than one person inside the trampoline enclosure at the same time” and “DO NOT attempt or allow somersaults (flips).” Still, Americans buy half a million trampolines annually. They’re so prevalent in the Intermountain West, Barstool Sports once highlighted satellite images of neighborhoods along the Wasatch Front dotted with the distinctive black circles, like swimming pools in Hollywood. I can’t help wondering why.
My brother hops, warming up, but he doesn’t remember a scene from our past the way I do. I was eight years old, keeping an eye on him. He was three. The neighbors’ trampoline seemed safe until an older kid landed hard, launching my brother into the air like a ragdoll. Helpless, I watched his body arc above the fence-line and drop onto the grass, where his leg crumpled beneath him. I carried him home. Later, X-rays showed a break below his knee, close enough that we feared permanent damage. He got a cast, which I signed, and made a full recovery. That’s not the part that’s stuck in my mind.
Ready to go, he jumps defiantly higher and higher into the air, leaving me rooted to the ground. He’s always been fearless, putting out candles with his fingers and riding down stairwells in cardboard boxes, and I’ve always felt responsible for tapping his brakes. He doesn’t think about rules or statistics as he whips himself into a crazy series of front- and back-flips, but I can’t help catching my breath. When he lands upright to a huge cheer from all the other kids, a relieved smile returns to my face. It can’t be helped. I keep my worries to myself.
Eventually, I take my turn. With each bounce, the world shrinks below me and a pit sinks into my stomach, but a giddy, weightless feeling rises in my chest and I can’t stop grinning. Each jump catapults me further into the unknown but makes me feel more alive. Maybe safety isn’t the answer. Life is precious because we die. The beauty of falling in love is that we do it knowing the heartbreak we’ll likely suffer, sooner or later. Because it’s worth doing. I know the risks. I jump anyway. High in the air, I tuck my knees to my chest, lean into the flip, and let go.