When I Fell Off A CliffAlessandra Rizzotti

From CBS News

I was never an active person.  I didn’t exercise often.  I didn’t even walk more than I had to.  Talking also took a lot out of me.  And, I never took risks.  I wouldn’t even eat food that wasn’t cooked in front of my face.  I did not take leaps of faith that could potentially affect my life in more ways than one.  Meaning, if there were too many variables, I looked for a constant, and if there was no constant, I backed out.  I needed assurance.  I was generally afraid of the world and most often, the victim.  Very boring.  Very hopeless.  It was neurosis at its finest.  Then I fell off a cliff in 2008 and things changed…

The intention wasn’t to fall off a cliff, of course.  The intention was to attempt for the first time in many months, to exercise with some friends.  And, yes, I could have done this at a gym, but my friends weren’t the type to do really go into large corporate establishments or any concrete buildings with equipment inside of them.  They wanted to see nature while exercising, to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.  And I thought “hiking” meant “walking on a very easy trail that didn’t involve climbing things”.  I’ll be honest, I just wanted to try opening up for once and hiking with three guys (one of which I had a crush on) seemed to be the way to do it.

That day, I brought a lot of water and snacks with me.  I wanted to be very prepared.  I even strapped on my eighth grade Jansport backpack to carry everything with me.  We hiked Escondido Canyon Trail, or Winding Way, as it’s known to most hikers.  At the end of it, which was very easy to walk through, we saw a waterfall.  Beautiful.  Rare for Los Angeles.  Totally worth seeing when you can’t afford a ticket to Hawaii.  Out of breath, I was ready to sit for half an hour, eat some snacks, then head out.  But the guys wanted to climb up to the top of the waterfall and I wasn’t about to be the loser that stayed back.  I was trying to impress one of them, after all.

Nick Carver Photography

It had just rained and the climb was quite slippery.  I got up the rocks just fine.  I felt so accomplished, so full of pride.  We sat atop the waterfall and took the fresh air in.  It was incredibly relaxing and for the first time, I thought I would try exercising more often than I never did.  Then, came the time to climb back down.  I was wearing MOCCASINS and already, in the rain, the tread on these shoes wasn’t the best.  I definitely shouldn’t have been wearing them, but again, I was never a hiker, and those were the shoes I cared least about.  As I tried to navigate my way back down, I handed my Jansport backpack to my crush while the other two guys had already reached the bottom.  I slipped slightly, from what I remember, but according to my friends, I tumbled for thirty feet, then flipped through the air three times for the other thirty feet, screaming all the way down till I landed face down in a creek.

My two friends that were down by the creek immediately lifted me out so that I wouldn’t drown.  One tried to pin me down to the floor because I kept trying to get up, saying I was fine when I really wasn’t because my knees had split open, my two front teeth had fallen out of my face, and I was covered in blood.  One guy ran all the way away from the trail to a house to call 911.  And my crush had to climb back down really really carefully, after having seen me fall.  I was helicoptered out and rushed to UCLA’s medical center.  And, I do remember the sound of the helicopter and saying “Yes” when someone asked me what my name was.  But that’s really all I can recall.

Photo by Charles Mallison

I woke up in the hospital, seeing my very wealthy great great aunt sleeping in a chair next to me.  She’s incredibly youthful at heart, but not in age exactly, so I immediately thought, “Why is she here?  She never comes to anything I do…”  My mother had just landed in Philadelphia for a trip, so she was frantically taking a plane back to Los Angeles.  My friend walked in and told me I was on the CBS news, the online version, but still, I was on the news:  “Woman falls 60 feet off a cliff.  We’re happy to report it wasn’t a suicide attempt.”  As friends flooded in to bring their love and support, I started to realize I was in a neck brace.  My neck was broken.  My face was incredibly scarred.  When I got up to go to the bathroom, I could barely walk.  My feet and ankles were broken too.  And, the entire time, I somehow had the most jovial attitude about my situation.  I was cracking jokes.  The nurse actually told me, “Any more of this Morphine stuff and you’ll be a regular standup comedian.”

I was on disability from my job and my great great aunt offered to let me stay in her mansion in Bel Air, so I was in an incredibly privileged, lucky situation during recovery.  I had time to relax, write, and just clear my head.  Despite the pain I was in, I resolved to work even more on my writing.  I have to reiterate, the situation was not terrible whatsoever.  I was incredibly happy to be alive in so many ways.

Bel Air Home In Which I Stayed...Photo by Charles Mallison

Friends would visit me, old, new.  One of them was comedian Asterios Kokkinos (very funny).  One night, he proposed that we perform a skit in Ed Galvez’s Punkhouse at the Westside Comedy Theater.  He even wore a neckbrace and we made up this whole spiel  about how we had gotten in a car accident but we had to go to the American Girl Store to buy some American Girl dolls because we were so obsessed with them…

American Girl Store Photo

Photo by Oliviafoto@gmail.com

It wasn’t the best skit, but, I suddenly got the urge to perform.  For some reason, this neck brace was forcing me to come out of my shell.   I started doing standup – dirty standup about guys wanting to date me while I was in my disabled condition…and it was partly true, because two guys were interested in me while I was in my state, one of them I had met on a bus.  They must have thought I was desperate and would appreciate their attention, and I did, I am not ashamed to say.

I genuinely enjoyed all the attention that I got.   I even attracted one weird person that secretly filmed me while asking me questions and later put the video on the internet, refusing to remove it even three years later.  Case in point, this youtube wonder.  Pretty creepy.  Because of all the attention I was getting, I actually felt slightly empowered…but disgusting, because I had been given the chance to extend my life a little longer without being paralyzed and I wasn’t actually doing anything admirable with it.  Case in point…this blog I wrote where I responded to Missed Connections on Craigslist …and these slightly inane jokes that I wrote with horror writer Peter Podgursky

And I have to say, I’ve done nothing extraordinary since my accident, but the fall was one step towards getting out of my shell and taking bigger risks.  The risks I did take (doing standup and writing to people on Missed Connections) weren’t exactly commendable, but they made me explore a side I wouldn’t have even known existed before my accident.  Since being out of the neck brace, I haven’t gone back to doing standup.  I’ve taken other risks that may not be risks to you, but they are to me, like starting a sketch group, doing voiceovers on the side, writing on this blog, and signing myself up for puppetry and psychology classes all while working a 9-7 job.  I really should be saving the world right now, maybe starting a virtual movement like Occupy Wall Street or creating a non-profit worldwide organization.  But for now, I’m taking baby steps towards becoming a more confident, well-rounded individual.  The world is my oyster and I should probably take advantage of it.  It certainly gave me the opportunity to, just as it gives all of us the opportunity to.

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  1. wow this is crazy inspiring, & now I’ve just saved your blog into my favorites +followed you on twitter xD!

  2. Your talent is amaaazing.

  3. [...] VS. WEST, LESSON 1: What is the cardinal rule of extended outdoor adventuring?  Wear the appropriate footwear! In my non-snow Cascade Treks, I found that usually involved wearing gaiters to keep the sharp [...]

  4. Thank you!

  5. Your Craigslist missed connections blog is HILARIOUS!

  6. I work in post with all the post producers. Pretty cool stuff. I feel really lucky to work there. :)

  7. This is a crazy story, then I read you work for FAMILY GUY!! Totally makes up for the whole falling off a cliff thing I hope. Would love to hear more about what you do there!

  8. He’s a good friend and he’s happily with someone and I am happily with someone!

  9. Amazing story!! But I have to know… What happened to the crush!?!

  10. Ah! Alessandra! Whenever I think of this incident, I am reminded of what an incredible person you are. And you carry your awesome-ness effortlessly and gracefully. You are such an inspiration and I feel lucky to know you!

  11. This story is crazy/amazing. I love it. Thanks for sharing (:

  12. Wowwwww. I bet you’re the friend who has stories that top everyone else’s ;)
    It’s strange how life works out sometimes