It was the Saturday before Easter, though it felt more like the Fourth of July. The air was hot and dry, but more than the weather, was the lure of possibility that only long summer days promise. My roommate, Meg drove us as fast as her little ‘89 Toyota Tercel would take us that morning. We rolled the windows down and rocked out to the classics of Gloria Gainor and the Pointer Sisters for at least two hours before we started our descent into the valley.
Later, the sun burned straight overhead while prop planes whirred against a backdrop of mustard weed and lupine. The scent of eucalyptus floated across the valley. We completed the last of the required classes and signed piles of disclaimers in triplicate. The risks were now quantified and could not be mitigated with one more off key sing-along to Gloria Gainor’s, “I Will Survive”. Even still, knowing the plane could crash, the parachutes may not open, rattlesnakes lurked on the ground, or even tandem instructors potentially becoming incapacitated during the jump—none of it seemed relevant, at least not on paper. Glassy eyed, I tossed all of the disclaimers into the trash barrel at the end of the deck. We took the first of three steps down off the platform and sat shoulder to shoulder and waited, silent.
Meg, who had recently graduated from UCSD with a Mathematics degree, was alert; her eyes darted amongst the injured and disfigured regulars that passed before us. Thankfully, she restrained herself from regaling me with any sort of actuarial hypotheses.
My focus was dulled, having drawn myself into a comfortable state of numb to deal with the dread of what I could see no way out of. I turned toward several deeply weathered guys packing chutes under an awning. They bobbled unlit cigarettes at the outer edges of their lips while calling out endearments disguised as obscenities in volumes much louder than necessary. I wondered vaguely who was responsible for the precise job of folding the expanse of nylon that would prevent me from plummeting to my death.
“We don’t have to do this you know,” I said.
“I know,” she said, “but we are.”
I stared off into the middle distance. Voices became slow and misshapen as if played on a child’s record player at the wrong speed. Splashes of color appeared in the clear blue and floated down like the last bits of confetti on a New Year’s night. Coffee and nerves rotted my gut. I wondered if people actually soiled themselves in moments of great fear and would the five pounds I shaved off of my reported weight result in certain death? When would the bead of sweat making its way across my scalp reach the last row of hair and slide down and around my neck?
I heard my name called. I presume I did as I was told because too soon I was crouched in the open doorway of a plane looking at the patchwork of landscape 13,000 feet below. I gripped the bars on either side of the doorway and leaned back into the chest of the stranger latched to my back. He smelled of Irish Spring and spearmint gum. His hands held onto the bars above mine, his body curved around me as he maneuvered himself into position. Finally, he leaned forward and spoke over the din of the plane, but still soft, almost on my ear, “I won’t ask if you’re ready, we’ll simply go out on my count of three.” I closed my eyes. He rocked back and forth and as promised, on three, we tumbled over and out.