Now that I look back, it was bound to happen.

I have always been in excellent physical condition, and at the time was even captain of the track team. A top athlete, one might say. Yet behind my confident, capable exterior, I concealed a frightful/wretched secret. I, Nathan, was scared to death of heights.

Through some miracle of fate, I had never, until then, been forced to confront this phobia. Imagine my horror when I learned that the Secondary One orientation camp included a high elements obstacle course which was, as Lady Luck would have it, mandatory. I went through several stages of fear – alarm when I first found out, distress and dismay when I could not weasel out: “Man up, dude! It’s compulsory anyway,” and finally sinking dread as I awaited my doom.

It was my final hour. Blood pounded through my ears as the teacher walked the class through how to secure their climbing harnesses. Anxiety had turned Mr Tan’s high, shrill voice into a muffled undertone.

The first of us approached the edge of the tower, and after a brief confirmation with the supervising teacher, skillfully rappelled down the structure. I gulped nervously, but my throat was dry.


I jerked out of my grisly reverie and hurried to Mr Tan, who perched himself at the end of the rather rickety platform.

“Ready? I’m not worried about you, you’re okay.”

“Thanks……” I rasped in a shaky voice.

Mr Tan grinned widely and hastily explained the basics. I must have caught none of it, because the moment I stepped off, I completely bungled it.

My stomach lurched heavily as I went into free fall, and then felt the harness drive painfully into my groin as I yo-yoed to a stop. Instinct and animal strength had saved me as I had wrenched the rope about my waist with my hands and legs. A moment later, my skinned knees stung violently.

I heaved breathlessly, eyes glassy with terror, the same terror that permeated my body and petrified my arms into rigid blocks of stone. I could feel the sharp tendrils of adrenaline causing my flesh to crawl, my palms slick with sweat. I clenched my teeth instinctively and pain shot out. A warm, coppery substance coated the inside of my mouth.

“OH MY GOD W — Look at me. Look at me, Nathan!”, said Mr Tan said sharply.

I whimpered inaudibly. My gaze flicked weakly in his direction.

“Calm down. We’re going to do this nice and slow. We’ll go at your pace, and I’ll lower you down slowly. Are you okay with that?” he asked cautiously.

I croaked an affirmative.

Mr Tan relayed instructions to me again, carefully making sure I understood each step. Gingerly, I moved down the wall of the tower, taking great care to lock the abseiling rope around my waist properly this time. Before long, I descended into the waiting arms of the teachers below. I was promptly administered first aid and confined to the sick bay for the remainder of the camp, which thankfully, was uneventful.

The scars I got from that day are fading, but they will forever remain with me, as will the memories of that fateful day, when failing to grasp a teacher’s instructions had left me within a hair’s breadth of a premature demise.

This essay was originally written for the question: Write about a time when you misunderstood your teacher’s instructions and you had to face the consequences.