Every once in a while, I dust off an old memory and write about it. More often than not, I’ve already written about it here somewhere.
(That’s really just a ‘law of averages’ sort of thing. I’ve made right around two thousand posts on this site. And at any given time, I can remember approximately three things.
If I have a new cell phone number, two. If the office just made me reset my password, one. And if I just watched Jeopardy, all bets are off.
Not that I watch a lot of Jeopardy. Frankly, all bets are off if I watch The Powerpuff Girls — or anything else, for that matter. I was just trying to seem ‘thinky’.)
Often when I re-write about something, it’s for somewhere else. Another website, a Mug of Woe entry, or some contest or other. And usually, when it’s for a contest, the piece ends up here. Because they sure as hell didn’t want it.
In the vein, say re-hello! to my experience a few years back with skydiving. Or planefalling. Plungescreaming. Whatever you want to call it. I call it “free post”. Have at it.
I believe it’s important to face your fears. Whether the phobia is mice or microbes, the doctor or the dark, mice, lice or Vincent Price, you meet your demons head on and you conquer them.
Or your demons send you squealing like a hyperventilating piglet under the nearest pile of bedcovers. Still, it’s important to find out. You have to stare into the abyss.
I reflected on this philosophy as the jumpmaster stood up, looked back at me and the other novice skydivers filling the belly of his Cessna, and shouted over the engine roar, “Who wants some air?!”
None of us answered. We were busy trying to keep our breakfasts off the airplane walls.
Encouraged somehow by our queasy stares, the jumpmaster threw open the door and let in the wind. He smiled at me and screamed something presumably encouraging. Between the motor and the maelstrom, I couldn’t hear a word.
It was just as well. My courage was firmly shrunk up inside me at that point. He’d have needed an industrial plunger and the jaws of life to coax it out.
“Philosophies suck. Fear is healthy. It’s probably not a good idea to wet yourself at terminal velocity.”
That didn’t stop him from pulling me to my feet, latching the static line to my belt, and nudging… well, pushing, really, and eventually, booting — me toward the yawning door.
I stood, contemplating what lay beyond — a wide stretch of rural Ohio countryside, dotted with trees and fences and gravel roads. It would have been quite pretty, had it not been rushing by thirty-five hundred feet below my sweating feet.
I thought again about my philosophy of meeting phobias — including my extreme fear of heights — head on. Or in this case, head down and hurtling earthward. Now staring, quite literally, into the abyss, I had a succession of new and too-late epiphanies:
Philosophies suck. Fear is healthy. It’s probably not a good idea to wet yourself at terminal velocity.
The insistent foot in the small of my back told me it was time to go. My breakfast volunteered to go first. I’ve never known eggs Benedict to be so noble. But this was my fight; I climbed out onto the step above the wheel.
The “static line jump”, as it’s known in skydiving parlance, is a bit of a misnomer. If this had been a regular jump, or even a “tandem dive” — with an on-board instructor bungeed to my backside — the next bit would have been relatively easy:
Just jump. Or fall. Or relax into that size-eleven Birkenstock making dents in my vertebrae and get kicked into the void. Any way you do it, it’s over in a flash — you’re in the plane, and then you’re soverymuchNOT in the plane, and there’s only the ripcord and gravity and plowing face-first into a freaking planet to worry about.
Or so I’m told. I’ve never had the (relative) pleasure of a “regular” skydive. I’ve only tried the “static line”, and how that works is this:
You step out of the aircraft onto a small step — little more than a bicycle pedal — atop one of the Cessna’s wheels. You then turn toward the front of the aircraft and reach over the wing in front of you with both arms.
At this point, you may scream bloody murder, if you like. I nearly screamed eggs Benedict. ‘Diver’s choice, really.
Next, you hold on — oh, believe me, you hold on — to the wing and step off the wheel. Your legs are now dangling in mid-air at eighty miles an hour. You are, effectively, a human windsock.
The final step is to shimmy yourself by hand halfway out the wing, hindlimbs still flapping in the breeze, and finally, mercifully: let go.
It’s a complicated maneuver. And unlike the blink-of-an-eye of a ‘Geronimo!’ dive, it takes a fair bit of time. That time may seem a tad longer if, like me, your brain is screaming at you to “GET INSIDE! GET IN! GET IN! WE’RE DYING! THIS IS DEATH! I WILL ANEURYSM YOU BACK IN THAT PLANE IF I HAVE TO, MISTER!”
Probably it was ten seconds. It felt like sitting through the English Patient. In other words: YEARS.
Finally, I shimmied out. I hung for a moment. I distracted my brain by counting loose rivets on the wingtip. And I let go.
The beauty of a static line jump is that there’s no chance of panicking and forgetting to open the parachute. Your rip cord is attached to the deck of the plane, so when it flies away — or rather, when you flop away from it, sinking like a screaming sack of soggy windsocks — the aircraft pulls your cord for you. No muss, no fuss, and no person-shaped stain on the landing strip below.
All that’s left is approximately three minutes of gently wafting toward the ground, wherever the wind may take you. Also, looking down and remembering that you’re deathly afraid of heights and the only things between you and the ground half a mile below are a scuffed pair of sneakers and some very-possibly soiled pants.
Because sometimes you face your demons. And sometimes you wind up in a staring contest, with nowhere to run and a pair of underpants you can’t look in the eye any more.
I’m proud to say that I made it back to Earth. A fourteen-point landing is still a landing, and if I kissed the cow-patty-laden ground around me after my descent, it was merely a sign of relief, and of gratitude at facing my fear, and managing to survive the day.
But mostly, it was to wash out the taste of that haunting eggs Benedict. To this day, I can’t eat Hollandaise without getting vertigo.Permalink | No Comments