My first trust fall was in the summer after ninth grade. It was 1995. It was the summer of Alanis’s Jagged Little Pill, of Jim Carrey as the Riddler, of “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” For me, summer of ‘95 was also the summer of the Ulster Project.
At that point in my academic career, I had not joined my high school debate team, so I wasn’t quite up to speed on recent history. I needed to get the debrief from my parents, who told me that Ulster is Northern Ireland. And in Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants “don’t get along.” But never fear, there was a plan: the Ulster Project organization found twelve teenagers – half Catholic, half Protestant – and paired them with equivalent American host teens. All twenty-four of us kids then went forth and did activities all summer, thus realizing we’re all the same. Let the hijinks ensue!
To emphasize how clueless I and the other Americans were, we didn’t understand why they wanted to call us Protestants. In Georgia, a “Protestant” was definitely a Southern Baptist. All the “Protestants” in the Ulster Project that summer were Episcopalians (or Anglicans if they came from across the pond), and seeing as we were basically all watered down Catholics, none of the Troubles made much sense. But no one offered any explanation, probably because explaining sectarian bombings and centuries of strife to a bunch of kids wasn’t going to get anyone very far. What was going to go the distance?
Definitely trust falls!
Ours was the non-brain-injury variety in which you stand close together and take turns catching the person in the middle. No one was in any real danger, yet supposedly we were building familial bonds.
The trust falls were part of a one-day youth group seminar that included leadership challenges, collective puzzle solving, and overly enthusiastic attempts to get us to perform skits. A pair of former circus performers, who had not retired their clown outfits, ushered us from one exercise to the next, seemingly oblivious to the deadpan stares and snarky chuckles from the lot of us. They even juggled.
I maintain that it was our ruthless mocking of this couple that built more trust. We parodied them for the rest of the summer, mostly at the numerous sleepovers we participated in. Late at night, the chaperones left us to our own devices, and we felt free to curse, listen to shitty music, and…well, I mentioned hijinks, didn’t I? The Northern Irish kids taught us how to drink and how to “snog.” We were adolescents after all, and young love is its own kind of trust fall.
As I gathered stories for this issue, I felt a need to represent that very specific kind of rush. The abandon, the leap of faith, the hand-holding that we knew wouldn’t last, the vertigo of pairing off with the boy I fancied in the sacristy of a church hosting a “lock-in.” There really was love between Catholics and Protestants that summer. Perhaps not the diplomatic kind that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but who knows – maybe those kids are sitting at their desks to this day feeling the same level of nostalgia for a night by the campfire, for the roller coasters we rode, and for those damn clowns that made us catch each other over and over again.
The February 2024 edition of Flash Fiction Online is an all-literary issue dedicated to the patron saints of love – whether canonized or not, whether working to diplomatically end strife or merely turning a blind eye to the teens they should be chaperoning.
We have scrappy, unexpected love in our reprint story of the month – Christine Hanolsy’s “Afterimage.” We have a neurodivergent meet-cute in Eric Witchey’s “Flirting Implicature in Cooperative Discourse.” We have tentative, wounded love after heartbreak in Marilyn Hope’s “Somebody Lonely.” And in honor of Leap Year, we have a celebration of self-discovery in Melissa Fitzpatrick’s “Leap Day.”
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