“Get in the harness,” he says. Ten of us were on the three-foot platforms hanging on every word. “Step in, loop the straps around your thighs. Ladies, adjust the braces so they won’t crush your breasts when the chute snaps open. Men, reach in and adjust your privates so the straps don’t crush the boys when the chute snaps the straps harshly around your thighs.”
How the hell did we, I mean I, get here? Why am I taking this class? Oh, I know why. Just so my thrill seeker girlfriend doesn’t know how much of a wimp I am. I remember challenging Sue. That was a mistake. Just two weeks ago, it went down like this.
“Sue, you have been successful in keeping me from figuring you out. Your smile tells me you love that, but your eyes are full of suspicion. Despite your promise of ‘no secrets,’ I know you are holding something important back. I can only hope you will trust me as much as you say you do.”
“So, Al, now I’m a liar? No, sorry. I know that’s not what you mean. Some secrets are not meant to share. I’ve never shared that one with anyone. If I ever do, it will be with you, my love. What did you really want to talk about?”
“You scare me sometimes and I worry about you. Though you just shrug off being a ‘risk taker,’ there’s so much more going on than that. All the risks you take are not for the same reasons. Forgive my pop psychology, but I think I am in the best position to figure this out. Yes, honey, I know you don’t want to be figured out. That too is telling of a serious problem. I understand why you take risks exposing yourself ‘accidentally’ to strangers. Risking minor injuries may just be for adrenalin/thrill seeking. Why you need that is for you to figure out. I can help, but you will need to ask so we know you are ready.
“What really scares me is when you risk your life with extreme risks for little or no adrenalin reward. Deliberately putting your self in mortal danger with no good reason says there is a profound problem. I know if I tell you what I think it is, you will rebel as you have so many times. Just know, I am frightened for you. I could not stand to lose you.”
“Well, you play it too safe. Taking no risks, no thrills is boring. Small risks mean nothing to me. Where have I put my life in danger?”
“Promise to just listen and think how you would feel if your baby sister did these things? Leaving your front door unlocked and sometimes open in risky areas. With your hearing loss, you won’t hear anyone until they are on you. Same with your jogging after dark in a high crime area. Even if you were not a sexy, attractive woman, dressing in tiny shorts and a braless, threadbare T-shirt would still be an invitation for trouble. You jog where there is no help available if you need it. Riding a motorcycle when you aren’t fully attentive is high risk. Driving, especially at high speeds in a trance is high risk. Meeting strangers casually and letting them take you to isolated rooms where no one will hear you scream for help is high risk. All may be evidence of self-destructive intentions.”
“Well, what the hell can I do that gives me a rush and probably won’t kill me? Rock climbing; scuba diving; BASE jumping? Tell me what will make life less boring.”
“There are many challenges that will give you a rush without all those risks. Intellectual problem solving; sport racing against yourself; skill sports like tennis. You mentioned BASE jumping, but that’s about the riskiest kind of skydiving. Hell, even plane based skydiving is much safer, though still risky. There are very few ‘high speed dirt’ problems, though chute failures happen and people are injured. Does that appeal to you? I’m not a big fan, but at least you get a second chute.”
“That sounds like a dare and I like the sound of it. But YOU must jump with me. Falling a few thousand feet before opening the chute sounds great. Let’s do it. There’s a small airport offering that within fifty miles. I’ll call and sign us up for a class now. Don’t let fear stop you.”
My jaw dropped. “Ummmmmmm, t-t-that sounds great, except for the falling part and the chute f-f-failures. I didn’t say -I- wanted to jump. S-s-somebody has to drive you to the hospital—just in case.”
So here we are! “. . . Men, reach in and adjust your privates so the straps don’t crush the boys when the chute snaps the straps harshly around your thighs.”
Was that supposed to make me feel better? It didn’t. Was it supposed to distract me from my greatest fear, falling? It didn’t! Though they say it’s not the fall that kills you—it’s the sudden stop, the fall might still kill me before I reach the ground. Why am I taking this class? Oh, I know why. Just so my thrill seeker girlfriend doesn’t know how much of a wimp I am. The class is stressful enough. I’ll have to think up a reason I can’t jump. My hands are shaking and sweating too much; my anxiety is spiking. Time to take my new mantra for a spin. I WILL NOT FEAR. Whew. That helped a lot—NOT! What’s he saying now?
“Adjust the chest brace by sliding the clasps to nipple level.” Is he going to check us? “OK. Now jump.” All of us jumped or stepped off the platform to hang by our chutes, secured to the barn rafters. No problem. As we swung helplessly, he said to imagine that we had just jumped out the door of the plane at 10,000 feet and got to the ideal ‘falling’ position and were ready to pull the chute open. Yeah right! Sweaty hands can’t grip the cord well.
“Don’t just pull; YANK it hard and hold the cable away from your body. You don’t want to lose the costly cord and you don’t want it tangling the chute.” Just what I needed, another clear visual! I WILL NOT FEAR. (Gulp.) Nearly everyone gasped. Good! Maybe he’ll excuse us. Why is everyone looking at my girlfriend?
“Sue, are you OK? Your mouth is bleeding; your lip is split open.” The guy on her right flushed crimson, tried covering his face then kick out of his chute. He had punched her hard in the face when he yanked his cable. The trainer rushed to Sue to ask if she was OK. I was on her left, but I wanted to swing over and punch out the goon who punched her. Once she wiped the surprise from her face, she laughed. “Never been punched in the face before. It’s, umm, interesting.” Bleeding stopped and tensions eased so we resumed our jump lessons. Damn!
The next exercise was climbing up a four-foot platform with a dummy chute on then jumping off. The point was to learn how to handle a hard landing and roll before pulling one side of the chute to prevent its refilling and dragging us away. When I was next in line to climb up, I imagined stepping up to the plane’s door, looking down 10,000 feet and j-j-jumping. “I will not fear,” I whispered. My sweaty palms disagreed; my knees shook; my mind panicked. The bitter taste in my mouth convinced me. I got to the third step. “OW!” I shouted as I pretended to twist my ankle. Limping convincingly, I stepped down removed the chute and told myself, I WILL NOT FEAR driving home.
I hobbled away wondering if falling were my biggest fear or if it were dwarfed by that other fear which pushed me to the class in the first place.