When I was a little girl, my father went skydiving. I remember sitting in the grass and squinting up in the sunlight, looking around for what little mosquito-sized speck was supposed to be my dad. I remember the grass being bright green and the sky being deep blue, and all of the people in this memory are bathed in a soft golden light–sort of the way all of our childhood memories seem to be. I wasn’t afraid at all as I watched him float down from the clouds attached to this brightly colored parachute. After he landed, all he would talk about was how peaceful and serene it was. He just floated there—hanging out in the clouds—flying, essentially.
For a good 17 years, all I’ve thought of was how amazing that must be.
And then I watched as the older kids did it: they went skydiving for their 18th birthdays, they went skydiving after graduation…all of them brought back video footage or pictures and all of these amazing, glorious stories about how skydiving was the coolest thing since sliced bread.
That’s it! I thought to myself after seeing Jessica Laws’ pictures while I was in high school, I’m doing it! I’m going to fly! And I contented myself with mental images of me floating through the air—graceful as a bird soaring through the sky—with delicate tufts of puffy white clouds surrounding me.
For her 21st birthday, my sister Rickie decided to finally do it. She did her research. She looked up statistics, history, read feedback and everything. I suppose that if you’re going to leap from a perfectly good airplane attached to none other than a piece of cloth, some string and a random Joe Schmoe, you ought to make sure you’re doing it at the safest place possible.
And so she found it: Sky Dive Space Center in Titusville, FL. Apparently, there haven’t been any…we’ll call them “mishaps”…so far. Plus, as an added bonus, they offer the highest jump in Florida. For a small sum, you can gleefully leap out into 18,000 feet worth of clouds, sunshine and rainbows.
We ended up getting a group discount. (A side note: skydiving is the only time in your life where the word “discount” makes you wince.)
I was stoked. I couldn’t believe it—I was going to skydive. As I sat there filling out all of the forms, I did that restless leg thing where you are litterally bouncing up and down. I looked at the video montage of people jumping and soaked it all in.
I keep a mental playlist in my head for every single event and experience in my life. The whole time, the line from Tim McGraw’s song Live Like You Were Dying played in my head: “I went SKYYYY diving, I went…rocky mountain climbing…” (If I could have it my way, my life would be a constant music video.)
The problem was, it was overcast and chilly. While it wasn’t quite freezing, there is a 15-degree drop once you get to our jump height (15,000 feet)…plus wind chill. The pilots let us wait around for a bit, but after a couple of hours it was determined that we’d need to put it off. If you can’t see the ground, they won’t let you jump, so we all received rain checks good for an entire year and went out for pizza instead.
The earth continued to revolve around the sun. Slowly, the brittle winter gave way to the lush, beautiful spring and summer for which Florida is so famous. Robby and I continued to talk about taking the not-so-proverbial leap, but something always got in the way.
An entire year went by before we realized that our year-passes were about to run out. And so again, we found ourselves right smack-dab in the middle of December bundling up. Again, we drove out to Titusville. And again, I became a mental DJ.
This time, I was pumped. I had waited an entire year. I’d flipped through numerous pictures of my sister and her giant photogenic smile as she leapt out and dove into the sky. I was ready. I was going to do a jackknife into some misty bliss and no one was going to stop me!!
So my mental playlist became filled with “Youth of the Nation” and “Alive” by POD. I couldn’t wait. The forms were already signed, so we just sat there and watched the other random people fill out their own forms. One woman kept making nervously sly comments about how she was signing her life away.
The nervous woman’s brother had gone before and apparently loved it so much that he wound up going to school for it in New Zealand. In my little fantasy land, with the aforementioned background music, I imagined myself falling so in love with this sport that I might even do the same thing. I’d be a little mini badass—heart racing, huge smile across my face: Soon, I would start jumping while attached to a skateboard or maybe I would learn to do flips and stuff in the air. I was made for this.
The plane that carried everyone was too small to accommodate the whole group. Everyone else went first; Robby and I went second. We decided to sit out on the picnic tables and watch them.
Sooo it was definitely one of the coldest winters ever. We looked at the temperature and realized, with a bit of surprise, that it was only 36 degrees out.
Huh, I thought, well, I probably won’t even realize it’s that cold. I’m going to be floating through the freaking AIR!! And so I zipped myself into the skydiving jumper and buried my hands into a pair of gloves somebody leant me.
Super excited, we made jokes the entire time. We ran around like little kids, laughing our asses off. We made fun of the nervous chick (who had clearly been lassoed into the whole thing unwillingly) and talked about how we were totally going to ‘rock this thing.’ If I had a tail, it would have been wagging. When it was my turn, I damn near knocked people over trying to get into that plane.
This is it. This is it. THIS IS IT!! Oh, boy. Oh, boy, Oh BOY!!
So, attached to some random guy I don’t know, I slid down into the hollowed out plane next to Robby—who was equally as excited—and pressed my nose against the window like a puppy going for a ride in the car. “Alive” played in my head on full volume. If I could have blown a mental speaker, I probably would have. Words like awesome and intense kept randomly popping into my head as I realized what I was about to do.
Next to me, Robby starts joking nervously. His tone changed slightly as he looked down and pointed out that the plane we were in was essentially a lawnmower with wings and a tail. They literally scrapped everything but the shell and controls to make this thing fly efficiently and so that people could jump freely.
The plane soared higher. I started to realize just how high 15,000 feet is. You don’t realize it when you’re just flying to New York or something. The reason you don’t realize it is that it doesn’t really concern you. As long as everyone does their job, you’ll never have to experience 15,000 feet. You can snuggle into your travel pillow and turn on your laptop or your iPod and just zone out.
For this flight, if everything went according to plan, I was going to jump the hell out of it. I began to fidget.
The plane leveled out. Robby’s tandem jumper told him to open the door. At the sound of the suction of air, I nearly peed. Robby looked over at me and went “Do you want to go first?”
Uhhhh. “No, baby, you can go first,” I courteously replied, my eyes locked on the door.
“Um, okay. Are you sure?” He said.
I nodded. “Yeah, no, go ahead.”
“Uh. Okay.” He glanced at his tandem jumper. “How do we do this thing?” The guy slid him up towards the door.
My heart leapt in my chest. He has two chutes, he has two chutes, he has two—”
And then he was gone. “Holy Sh#t!” I exclaimed.
My tandem jumper said “alright, let’s go. You ready?”
“No, I’m not—AUUUUUGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I screamed bloody $#@!ing murder as I felt myself drop.
The cold stung my cheeks. My lips flapped back over my teeth. My body was rigid. The utter stream of profanities that escaped my mouth would shock every one of you. And we all know I’m like a damn sailor. Every now and then, the swearing would stop long enough for me to shout out “I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die!”
I’m not sure why, but I always expected that there would be some sort of wind cushion lightly pushing up against me as I floated down. I guess that’s what the parachute is for…to allow you to float. For the first maybe minute or so, you are plummeting towards the ground. I expected to be screaming out “WWWWAAAAHHHOOOOO”.
Instead, I sounded like I was practicing lamaze.
And then I was jerked upward. I swallowed hard and my ears popped half-way. I looked around and blinked. I—I didn’t die. I looked around. Another parachute floated off in the distance. Robby didn’t die. I sighed with relief.
The guy attached to me could not stop laughing. “You’re okay. See? That’s the airport. That’s the Orlando skyline.”
“Uh, huh. Yeah…it’s…it’s beautiful,” I said, unable to be comfortable enough to sound mystified.
And then he told me he was going to adjust my straps to make me feel comfortable.
I felt myself slide down a full ½ inch and nearly had a heart attack.
“Stop! What are you doing!?”
“I’m not gonna drop you,” he laughed, “I’m just making you more comfortable.”
“I don’t wanna be comfortable!” I said through shivering teeth. Now that the fall had slowed down a bit, I could feel that I was slicing through 21-degrees of wintery wind. I’m a snowflake, I thought, I’m mostly water and falling down at 21-degrees. I’m a friggen snowflake.
“Okay, alright,” he said, still laughing because they film all of the jumps and this was being documented. “Here, I’m going to let you control the chute.”
“What?! Are you crazy?! I’m not controlling that thing!! I’m gonna drop it!!”
“You’re not gonna drop it. I promise.”
“Yes I will. I will drop it. I’m not kidding!”
He slid my hands into the grips and tugged on my right hand. I winced as we drifted diagonally to the right and then to the left. “Okay, I did it. Take the ropes!”
Finally, we landed. Shaking and waddling, I felt the sweet grass beneath my feet. Ahh.
My cameraman-tandem-jumper-guy turned around to face me. “So what do you have to say to your friends now that you’ve just jumped fifteen thousand feet?”
“I need a beer.” I said.
Bouncing and bubbling, Robby skipped on over to me and said “Babe! We’re totally doing it again!”
“Y-yeah! Definitely,” I said, my arms out as my shaky legs attempted to recover from what I’d just done.
True to my word, the first thing I did was grab a beer. We watched the videos before turning them down (we were planning a vacation and were utterly broke at the time). I seriously had not shut up from the time I jumped to the time I landed.
It wasn’t until then that I realized that, when the guy handed me the ropes, that wasn’t the only way I would have been attached to the chute. You know that one customer or client at your workplace that just makes you blink a few times because of how retarded they are? That day, for those people, I was that girl. Apparently, as I dropped, so did my mental capacity for rational thought.
All of that being said, I’m probably going to do it again soon.