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  • Meg Cuthbert

Being Afraid of Heights at the CN Tower

The forecast said it was going to be cloudy and even possibly rainy later in the day, and the rain would continue for the rest of my trip. If I was going to get to the CN Tower, it had to be Monday morning.

When I was a kid my Mom went to Toronto to visit my Aunt. She came home with a drinking glass in the shape of the tower for me and pictures of them laying on the glass floor (among other things). Since then I’ve wanted to visit Canada’s great tower but the opportunity has alluded me. As the years passed since my Mom’s trip to Toronto, that I didn’t make it to the observation deck of the CN Tower, I have become increasingly afraid of heights.

My fear of heights is a bit ridiculous, and not in a good way where you’re scared, clinging to your friends and giggling. Not a cute fear of heights, an acute fear of heights. The kind that rekindles asthma attacks and triggers nausea.

I’ve learned that it isn’t the hippest thing for an adult woman to be obsessed with going to the CN Tower. Coming from the bluntly hipster West Coast it’s too obvious; the CN Tower is clearly what tourists do in Toronto. I needed to find an underground distillery, have an ok time, then tell no one. When I told my sister’s Toronto friends my plan to get to the glass floor, they looked bored. Toronto seems bored of the CN Tower, but I’m not.

The one-minute long trip up the elevator wasn’t as scary as I thought. It was just the Tower Attendant and myself in the rocketing box headed to the observation level. He was trying to talk to me about photography and my camera. I could barely understand a word he said. He mentioned that he was learning to use Adobe Lightroom, I thought he said he was learning Latin. I said, “Is Latin hard to learn?” He was bored of me. I couldn’t talk to him, all I could think was, “do these things ever get stuck?” and “would the repair team have to come from the outside?” and “how fast could this free fall?”

When I was dispatched to the observation deck I was greeted by floor-to-ceiling windows. All the organs in my ribcage clenched together, cradling each other for support. But it was ok. It isn’t all floor-to-ceiling windows. I went to where the windows started at my waist with the railings to take some pictures and look out over the never-ending Toronto landscape. This mixture of skyscrapers, green spaces, and three-story walkup heritage buildings make for a diverse view of Canada’s largest city. Honestly, it didn’t look like what I expected. Toronto is surprisingly green, and the people are really friendly (I could see that from up there).

After spending about ten minutes inching toward the floor-to-ceiling lookouts, I was able to get right up to the glass with my toes against the window. Being up there alone let me come to terms with my fear. I didn’t dramatise it or hide it. I didn’t have to explain anything or talk to anyone. I got to go at my own pace and get comfortable. It really wasn’t that bad. It’s like flying; you’re so high up you’re not afraid of heights, it’s unimaginable what will happen to you if you fall. It’s out of your control.

I was feeling really good when I went down the stairs to the glass floor level. There’s an outdoor observation deck that is fully screened in. Of course, it’s windy, but by this time I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was impervious to heights. Then I saw a little sign over the metal net that enclosed the outdoor observation area. A little tiny sign that shows a symbol of someone climbing on the metal mesh with a red circle and a cross through it. Just seeing that symbol brought the image of someone (or worse, me) climbing onto the metal. Again, all my internal organs shrank. Barf. I went back inside ready to face the glass floor.

By this time I was feeling confident. I’d done the elevator, the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the outdoor observation deck. There was only the glass floor left. I inched myself closer to the glass. Other tourists were laying on it, laughing, others were staying well away like me, children just walked right onto it without even realising it (those fearless bastards). Slowly I inched my toes out onto the glass thinking, “freak accident at the CN Tower today as glass floor disintegrates under BC tourist” and “11 dead at the CN Tower as glass panel falls away” and “impossible earthquake shakes the glass floor out of the CN Tower!!!!!!!”

I couldn’t do it. But I wanted that picture (this is how people die), I wanted that picture of my feet on the glass (like every Instagrammer ever), I wanted it bad. I physically couldn’t do it. But then I had a new idea; I just wouldn’t look. I pointed my camera at my feet looked straight ahead at the wall and walked out onto the glass snapping photos and video of my feet. Then I got off the glass and reviewed the footage in safety. After seeing how I wasn’t falling through the glass on my camera, I was able to try it a few more time until I was able to stand on the glass and look down.

I wasn’t calm or particularly happy, but I did it. I spent about 30 minutes on and around the glass floor gathering my courage. Many groups came and went in that time. I felt good, proud of myself, not in a joyous way, more of a content acceptance of being up there. With that acceptance, I was ready to leave. I took the elevator down to safety all the while thinking, “I wonder if the elevator doors have ever opened mid-ride?”

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