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What It Was Like to Skydive for the First Time

October 7, 2013

It says something about a human being’s ability to place super-ego over instinct that we can throw ourselves out of planes at all.  I mean, c’mon, tossing your meatsack out of a plane 10,500 feet in the air into a cloud strewn sky with nothing holding onto you is counter to thousands of years of evolutionary common sense.  Grog the primordial caveman knew not to do that.

But there I was willingly about to jettison myself into midair, and I was even paying for the privilege.

“Ready?” my tandem jump instructor asked me, mouth grinning with straight white teeth, his eyes gleaming behind his dive goggles.

I was ready, sort of.  I had actively listened when Angelo had told my friend and me how to curl like a banana around him during free fall.  We were supposed to rest our heads on his shoulder, kick our legs between his and smack his butt with our shoes.  I had watched him intently as he completed the safety checks once in the air.  I had asked most of the questions that apparently everyone and their mother asks him (do I have goggles?)  I was ready.

I am screaming like a three year old.  Unabashedly.

I think it is a good sign that this makes me giggle.

Angelo opened the Cessna’s sidedoor and wind burst into the plane, sucked at me, impersonal tendrils of sky trying to toss me out.

I was no longer ready.  Not at all.

He placed his foot on the step outside the plane.  The pilot gave me a thumbs up. “Throw your legs over mine!”  Angelo yelled.  Numbly I fumbled my legs over his, and my body was halfway out of the plane.  It is already too late, I am committed. I thought.  I am up here, only one way down!  My tennis shoes dangled over the blue.  My shoelace was coming untied.

“On three I am pushing us out of the plane,” Angelo said.  He wasn’t going to wait for me to do it.  This was definitely a good thing.

“One…”  Angelo said.  I moaned.

The beautiful sight of a life saving device working.

Right after the parachute opened. You bet I was happy.

“Two…” Angelo said.  I began to whisper over and over, “Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me…”

“Three!”

I was falling face first, downwards, spiraling, spinning and shrieking.  I closed my eyes briefly and pretended it was a roller coaster.  My harness bit into my limbs and body in a way that was both slightly painful and comforting.

I opened my eyes.  And just like that, I was no longer scared.  The initial drop, the change from no motion to gravity acceleration had felt like every falling dream you have as a child, losing everything I had ever known in an abyss.  But now that I was just whirling along at a constant 120mph, it felt like I was flying.  I grinned, let go of my death grip on my harness.  I put my arms out like a bird.  Okay, an ungainly bird in goggles who is tied to another person and tethered to a parachute, but a creature of the sky nonetheless.

I love the warning stickers everywhere.

The Parachute. Undeployed, of course.

The Michigan farmland below me, in its square, neat little rows, seemed like another world.

I felt a sharp tug on the harness upwards as Angelo released the parachute at 5,000 feet.  I looked up to see a long rectangular blue and gray parachute above me, attached to our harnesses with thick fibrous gray strands.  Now it didn’t feel like I was moving at all.  Just drifting slightly.

“Stand on my feet!” Angelo commanded.  I stood on his feet and it felt like I was standing on solid ground.  He loosened my harness a bit for comfort, and de-attached one of my connections to him for greater flexibility.  I got off of his feet, and was once again floating gently feeling attached to parachute alone.

“Grab the yellow handles,” he suggested, and I reached up and grabbed the handles on my right and left.  Pulling down on the right at his insistence, we started to spiral sideways and do loop-de-loops downwards, faster.  Now it did feel like I was on a roller coaster.  I laughed and screamed until my head spun.

“The other!” he crowed, and I pulled on the left handle to spiral the other direction.  “Wheee!  Oh God!!” I kept on chanting, my litany of prayer and exuberance.

Okay, the pilot got a seat.

The Cessna we went up in. Could fit the pilot, two tandem couples, and one solo diver. There were no seats

I saw my friend standing on the ground, waving.  We were nearing the boundary between air and land.  Like he told me, I raised my legs into a sitting position, my body in an ‘L’ shaped.  And, just like that, we landed on the soft grass, sliding less than a foot on our bottoms as we stopped moving.  The parachute gracefully curled onto the ground behind us, a docile work animal having finished its task.

All in all, I would sum up the experience as follows:

  • The time in the plane was lovely: beautiful scenery, expectant, otherworldly.
  • The first moment of the fall, the tossing out of the plane, was completely terrifying.  My brain was internally screaming so much I genuinely can’t remember the freefall as detailed as I would like.  It was the only moment I felt actually afraid.
  • The freefall after that: like soaring, exhilarating.
  • The glide down: soft, like you are a feather on the wind.  Unless you are with an adrenaline junkie jump-master, in which case the spiraling is much more like Six Flags Death Mountain on steroids.

Humanity is a funny thing.  We prize safety and so make implicit social contracts with each other so we can live in relative peace: this is known as civilization.  And yet there remains some part of us, maybe that old friend thanatos, which craves the very danger and risk that we spend most of life avoiding.

Isn't that insane?!?  What is with people?  Why do we do this kind of stuff?

Laughing about the fact that soon I will be falling at 120 mph.

We want to feel alive. It is ironic that to feel alive we seek a brush with death, at least an emotional realization of the possibility of cessation.  It isn’t the actual danger we need: driving a car is much more dangerous than skydiving, and yet most people drive and most people do not skydive.  No, we need a perception of risk, an activity out of the norm, to make our Thursday not just another Thursday.

To feel like we are grabbing life by the balls, we need to do the evolutionarily insane.  We need to prove that our monkey bodies can do anything. Even fly.

So I have now been skydiving (skydove? I think it significant that English doesn’t have a past tense for skydiving, hmm).  I have touched the air, fallen through a cloud, crossed that item off of my bucket list.  Now I must progress to doing something far more psychologically difficult: feeling alive without throwing myself out of a plane, in front of a train, or off a mountain.  Looking at the tunnel of three years of law school is far more scary than a momentary act of courage while wearing a harness.

Oh well.  On to the next great adventure, no matter what it may be.

I swear Angelo was responsible, despite the tongue.

From left to right: The pilot, David; my friend, Daniela; myself; and the tandem jump instructor, Angelo.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 7, 2013 11:08 AM

    WOW. At or just before law school?

    • October 7, 2013 5:22 PM

      During law school. What can I say, desperate times, desperate measures….

  2. Betsy permalink
    October 7, 2013 12:06 PM

    😀 What were you saying? It looked like you were saying “Oh my god” or “Holy shit” over and over again.

    • October 7, 2013 5:23 PM

      “Oh god, oh god, oh god.” I wasn’t up to my usual eloquent standard, but as always, I was really verbose.

      I don’t even believe in God….

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