What It’s Like to Skydive

I jumped out of an airplane twice. It was something I had to do in life. My brother won a lot of money in Vegas and came to visit my husband and me in San Francisco and offered to take us. We decided why not, we needed to try skydiving, and found a place in Sacramento near open farmland. We first had to watch a video that explained the risk of death. Then we put on flight suits and did some on-the-ground training. As newbie jumpers, we were going tandem which meant we’d be strapped to a big guy who spent all day jumping out of planes. The main thing I remembered about the training was when your shoulders get tapped, spread your arms out wide like they are wings.

My brother and I boarded the little plane first — there was only room for the two of us and our tandem instructors. As the plane reaches 10,000 feet, the enormity of what I am about to do overwhelms me. Then I see my brother, strapped to a big guy, topple out of the open door of the plane. And not a bone in my body wants to get closer to that door open to the sky. I am not fucking jumping. My feet cling to the carpet of the plane. I am not brave. But I am strapped to a large guy who jumps out of planes all day, so he moves (with me strapped to him) towards the door. I vaguely remember from the training we are supposed to count to ten, then jump, but I fucking freeze up there 10,000 feet above the ground, it turns out I am quite a coward. Too bad. The big guy I’m strapped to takes a side dive into the empty air, and I go with him.

And it feels exactly like one of those nightmares where you feel like you’re falling, and you can’t do anything about it, and you’re gonna die…I hear myself screaming at the top of my lungs, as I fall rapidly through the air. Then — I get the tap on the shoulders — and something pierces my fear and I remember, just put your arms out like a bird, and then it was 3 or 10 or 60 seconds where I AM a bird, I have my arms out and I’m flying, flying, like you’ve always imagined you could. The weird thing is, up there you are so far from the ground you don’t see or perceive its existence yet, it’s just you flying through the air with a big guy strapped behind you.

And then — a huge, sudden jerk, where you remember to relax your neck to minimize whiplash, and you jerk up instead of down for a moment, and then you’re floating, floating much more slowly as the parachute has opened. You note: the parachute has opened, and you breathe a sign of relief, because you were not at all at the point in training where there was any way you were going to be the one pulling that cord as you were freefalling through the open air. You feel immensely grateful to this large stranger escorting you through the sky.

And then — it’s almost boring. You drift, and look down, and see the green and brown patches of farmland. But you’re not going as slowly as it seems. When the photographer skydiver, whose presence you finally acknowledge, maneuvers in front of you and manages to take your photo, your face is weirdly compressed and flattened in the high wind.

And then — the green and brown patches of farmland are coming closer and closer. Holy shit, you think, I am speeding down to the earth and I have no fucking idea how I am supposed to land. People break their legs doing this. And worse. And then big guy who is your total hero and savior and you are now in love with and consider godlike, starts to steer and brake the chute, you are spinning and falling and good thing the guy is in back of you because when he starts sliding like he’s sliding home you just naturally copy him, and then you are sliding into the mud and you do a few rolls and he’s unstrapping you and you dizzily see green and brown and then blue when you look up to the sky and you are the happiest you’ve been in so long, or ever. And you squint and then there’s a dot falling from the sky and then you realize that’s your husband. The black dot becomes your husband falling through the air, and suddenly you realize you could lose him. Your stomach drops again because it is fucking scary to see the one you love falling through the air, and you just hope like a little kid that everything will be all right.

And then — this time, he comes back to earth, back to me. Back to me through the air, the one I love, next to me on this earth as the earth spins through emptiness. There was nothing to grab onto as you sped through the air. It was like one of those nightmares where’s there’s nothing you can do, you fall and fall through the terror that this is finally the end. There he lays next to you on the solid ground, his broad brown cheekbones against the green grass, those cheekbones your fingers trace to find something solid in the formlessness of a dark night. The earth is spinning so fast but you see that face clearly, you still see that face clearly. Come down to the ground, his face braces your fall.

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