Inhale. My hands clench on the cold metal, and I glance over my shoulder at the middle-aged instructor. A lined face set in a permanent scowl, gray hair balding.
The memory of his voice droned on in the back of my mind, “you could die doing this, pay attention.”
Comforting. Why was that the morsel of information I recall, and not the eight hours of practical instruction? The training class had been full of tips and pointers, continually reminding us we were not doing something safe. I kept a tally sheet of how many times he mentioned our mortality but gave up after filling the page. He presumably hoped most of us would give up. Unfortunately for him, only one out of the fifteen in the class had opted not to jump.
Exhale. My boyfriend and his friend had already gone. I would be the third jumper from this plane and the final one from the class. They had divided us into five flight groups, and mine was last. Winds were picking up, so the team had rushed us on the Cessna, ensuring we would be at the proper altitude before the weather got too dangerous. That should have been my clue to bail. There was no shame in turning back, and everyone would understand. All that BS about conquering fears were just words. I had plenty of terror I could beat. Why heights?
Testing my strength against the wing strut, I realize turning back is not an option. There was no way I could haul myself around against the air pressure. The instructor’s arm raises and falls, signaling that it’s time to let go. I have never been adept at letting go.
Inhale. I freeze, and my fingers will not open. Something needs to happen. I pull relentlessly against the pressure, trying to yank myself back to the plane. The instructor’s eyes meet mine, icy and exasperated. He is mouthing something, but I cannot understand what he is saying. I think he is telling me I will die. Well, we all die, asshole. It’s obvious he hates this part, us cowardly beginners that don’t want to release.
My gaze shifts from the teacher to the pilot, hoping for a reassuring smile. His knuckles are white against the yoke of the plane, and his face filled with dread. He faces the window and avoids my gaze. Why is he afraid? Isn’t he supposed to be an expert? They wouldn’t have a beginning pilot flying us up here, would they?
Exhale. My hands lose their grip, and I am flung into the air, descending. Time stops as I plummet to the earth. Wind rushing by my ears. “I changed my mind!” I shout to no one. “Let me back on the plane, please!” I think I am crying, but the wind is so fast it dries my tears as quickly as they fall.
I am going to die, and I’m afraid. Will it hurt? What will it be like when I’m gone? My head spins as I imagine not being. I suppose it could be worse. It’s not like I have any kids I’m leaving behind. Everyone else will be okay without me. My parents may miss me, but I’m not in town much anymore.
Inhale. Shit, did I even give Steve my parent’s phone number? Mom and dad deserve to know if I die. They were wonderful parents. I hope they know that I love them. I think I told them enough, but my crazy adventures do nothing to help them sleep at night. I hadn’t even told them I was going to do this. My dad would have been okay. He has regularly supported the adventurous part of me.
“Let’s not tell your mom until after,” I could hear him whisper. A giggle erupts from me, despite the terror.
Exhale. My vision blurs, and darkness surrounds me. Am I spinning? I can’t tell. Something in the back of my mind tells me I am supposed to do something, but my thoughts are foggy. I remember being a child and sticking my head out of the car window while we were on the freeway. Somewhere in my consciousness, a voice reminds me I could lose my head that way. I recall leaning out further in rebellion.
Inhale. There is a thunk as the static line catches, and my body jerks, bringing me back to this reality. I remember now. The lines need to untangle or something to make sure that the parachute is deployed correctly. I glance up, trying to make sure the lines were right, but I can’t remember how they should look. It’s too late if there is a problem, anyway. Gripping the handles by my side, I shake them a little. Am I supposed to flare now, or at the end or both? Shoot.
Exhale. The whooshing has stopped, and I am alone. I had imagined that being up here would be noisy. The wind that was sweeping by me and blasting my ears with a cacophony of noise, now gone. Silence. Perhaps the birds would screech, and the plane’s motor would roar as it flew away. Yet, there was nothing. Stillness beset me, and an azure sky surrounded me. Slowly I drift, as light as a feather. Hanging in the balance, just me and the sky as my soul becomes one with the universe. The sun’s warmth surrounds me in its embrace, and I close my eyes for just an instant.
Inhale. The fear dissipates for a brief amount of time, and I feel myself floating in time. Engulfed in bright light, I turn my face upward. The dingy blue chute looms above me, reminding me of the ground below. It rips away the peace, bringing me back into the moment. Fear reclaims my mind, and my jaw clenches. I just want to be on the ground now. A cheerful voice intrudes from the one-way radio. “Great job, everything looks good from down here! There is a pretty heavy wind, so you may be up there longer than usual.” Well shit. “Kick your legs if you want to have some fun!”
Exhale. My body stiffens, and I keep my legs as still as possible. No, thank you!