When one of the instructors asked me, "What brought you here today?"
I answered, "A promise."
"Oh, that's a good answer. The best."
He left it at that for a moment as we were riding out way out to the airfield. Finally, I thought I'd fill in the silence.
"A friend of mine died two years ago, today, and she knew I wanted to go, so she made me promise that I would, since she couldn't."
He took it in. His sunglasses reflecting the snowy fields of Long's Peak. "Hey, that's good. I respect that."
In many ways, it was George's passing that prompted me to finally do this. It was two years ago that Tasha died, and last year was such a mess for other reasons that I just couldn't get the gumption up to even try.
But this year, with George going, I finally decided I had to just do this for my own well-being, for my own methods of grieving, and because I'd made a promise I intended to keep. I made the reservation as soon as Jet and I came back from the hospital trip, and with the way the weather is out here, we weren't sure if it was going to be snowing or sunny.
The lady on the phone had said to plan for anywhere from two to four hours here at the field, and some part of me imagined that there might be classes that left every two hours or something, and they'd do 'em in batches like that, but the truth was completely different from what I was imagining.
Mile High Skydiving is the largest skydiving outfit on the Front Range. It's big, commercial, and it's only two miles from our house. In the summer we see the skydivers coming out in droves, and every year they hold a contest that brings people from all over the world to our little town. They run a very efficient outfit, with hundreds of tandem jumps every day in the summer.
Today, however, was probably the first sunny, calm weekend in a very long while, and they were jumping. The lady at the front desk had me sign a three-page waiver, with an addendum for the tandem jumps that since you were going to be in very very close contact with your instructor that you waived all rights to sue for any sort of sexual harassment charges due to the intimacy of the contact.
The funny thing for me was being pretty much churned through what seemed to be a pretty solid mill. *laughs* You take your papers, you sign away your right to sue because they warn you, pretty clearly that you could DIE doing this and that you could GET INJURED. And then you paid your money and they asked if I wanted a video and I very firmly said no, and found myself extremely glad of it later. She asked me to step on a scale and I was ridiculously pleased to be within a pound of what I said I would be in street clothes.
Another group was doing it as a St. Paddy Day's lark, with a Mom and Dad and 20-something kids, and everyone was trying to pressure Mom into doing it too. She was game, but obviously dubious and rather frightened, when one of the daughters suddenly said, "Neoprene! Mom, you're allergic to neoprene and I bet they have a ton of it in their stuff..."
And the dispatcher laughed and said, "I think that's the best excuse I've ever heard, ma'am. I think you've got your out."
Later, John took pictures for them, and they were very grateful for that.
With my group, a single instructor showed up, and pointed out jump suits for all three of us. It was only as I was zipping mine on that I realized where the name for women's jumpsuits finally came from and laughed hard enough that Jet had to ask me what was wrong. Ahem. One of those strange things that never quite made sense to me, but now does. I liked that the guy told me, "It's going to be a little baggy on you...", and John had to fight to not laugh when he saw my butt hanging nearly to my knees.
It didn't have to be sleek or fit well. It was mostly just for warmth and to protect against anything in the air. The harness was solid, though, and had hooks for the tandem connections. The one instructor sent with the three of us said, "I'm not going to tighten your harnesses. Don't worry. Your instructor is going to tighten them the way they like 'em, so no worries."
He also gave his guy a quick demonstration of what he wanted, which was for the rider to cross his arms after they first got out of the plane, and when he was tapped three times, he should just relax and spread his arms, relax to catch the most air to stabilize their position. And then he said something that was very very reassuring indeed. "And if you forget all of that you'll still have fun. I'll take care of it, and make sure it works out."
I'm going to call his client "the Asian dude", who was taller than I was and who had a great laugh and an outgoing personality. He was from Quebec and seems to be in a local band. The other guy had a crew cut, bullet build, was shorter than I am, and pale pale eyes. He seemed very intent and was asking questions about the solo training classes and the schedule for that on the trailer in, so I think he's doing this for real. So I kinda call him, "Crew Cut", as it just kinda worked. He had all the lovely signs of a real adrenaline rider, quiet, cool, collected, and good and intense.
John and Jet came on the trailer with us, as they could get right on the landing field and be right there when we came down. John had his camera and Jet wanted to see me land. He wasn't so sure about seeing me go up, but coming down safely, he wanted to see.
On the way to the plane he grabbed my elbow and said, "Gonna take you by the arm here, so I can steer you clear of what's dangerous."
"I like that," I replied.
We walked around the back of the plane, to the side, and the entrance was in front of the wings. The wash from the wings shoved me toward the back of the plane, something I rather appreciated as I could see how that would make it so that when we jumped out we'd clear like crazy. Jet asked one of the maintenance guys on the ground why we'd clear the plane when we jumped out and the guy said it was a combination of the plane going up after being relieved of our weight and us going down pretty fast. I tried grabbing the ladder to climb up it, but the wind nearly took it from me. Marty steadied it while I found a handhold up on the doorway into the plane. My weight steadied the ladder, and then I was in.
The interior only had two bare, black benches built into the floor of the plane. The Asian dude and his instructor straddled the bench against the far wall. My instructor took a straddle seat on the near bench and patted the bench in front of him. I slid into place and suddenly realized exactly why that additional waiver was probably necessary to all kinds of people that could take this entirely the wrong way. I have never minded those kinds of things, especially when my life is pretty much on the line with the contact, so when he told me to lean back so he could tighten the harness I did.
After we took off, he asked me if I'd ever been on the back of a motorcycle, and I said, "Yeah, I have."
"Well, it's like that. Lean with me, don't fight me, and we'll do just fine. It's just the same thing, but you're going to be in front."
Oh. That made sense to me in a visceral sense. Had to trust him physically to get this to really work.
He gave me the quick run down of what would happen right after we jumped out of the plane. He wanted me to put both hands on the straps at my shoulders immediately when we were out, and to try and kick his butt with my feet. Then, when he tapped me on the shoulders, I could let my arms spread and let my head go back onto his shoulder for support if I wanted it.
I waited a moment and when I realized that was all the instruction I was going to get, I asked, "Is there anything you want me to do when we land?"
"Oh, I usually save that under canopy conversation," he said. "But I can tell you now if you want."
"Uhm... oh, it's okay..."
He started in on the instructions for getting my feet up in front of us, so that he could do all the coordinating of legs and such, and that at that speed, getting all four legs to move in concert was too much of a pain. So he'd just ask me to get my legs up, and he'd take care of the landing.
My brain, on the other hand, had seized suddenly on the fact that there would be "time under the canopy", that it wasn't just going to be a terror of falling forever, that there would be quiet time just floating underneath the cloth. For some odd reason I hadn't really thought of that being there, and the peace I got at just realizing that was astonishing.
I peered out the plexiglass window at the jagged teeth of the Rockies to the West, the golden Valley of the St. Vrain to our north, and the plains of Kansas to our East, and I said, with real wonder, "I bet the view outside is even better, huh?"
Marty grinned. "Yeah. The Garden of the Gods at your feet. It's great with nothing between you and all of that."
There was joking in the cabin. Stuff that I now see was probably adrenaline related and it was all right but odd for me. And, yeah, I laugh more when I'm under stress. It makes it easier somehow, and while it doesn't always hide the stress, it gives it an outlet. The camera man was trying to get Crew Cut to talk to him about the flight, about how he was looking forward to the jump, and I was suddenly and fiercely glad I had not bought the video option.
Marty handed me a pair of gloves, which I strapped on, and then a pair of goggles that I hung about my neck. The camera guy also worked as the doorman. And when we reached 12,500 feet, he opened the rolling door and the world roared in.
I struggled with the elastic and my hair, but got the goggles good and solid over my eyes and was very very glad I was wearing contacts instead of glasses.
Camera man jumped first, then Crew Cut, and then Asian guy, and as they were standing on the threshold, Marty urged me forward, and I went, stopping just as Asian guy stood on the threshold and then fell forward into space.
Now that I look at the memory, it's a little like a movie shot. The world so far below it was like a Google map from space, streets cutting patterns in the brown sear of winter earth. The threshold took all of my attention, the shining two inch plate at the bottom sill, the sides rolled chrome, perfect for holding onto as I came up to it. I balanced my sneakers on the threshold, and without really *thinking* about it and oddly suddenly eager for it, I tipped forward and out.
It never felt like falling. It felt like being blasted by the wind. Like trying to cross an alley in Boulder when there are 100 mph gusts and knowing that I'm going to lose to the damned wind as it shoves me where it will. There were no references to make it falling. It was a wall of roaring blasting sound and my hearing tunneled the way I thought my vision would under the pressure of it all. I felt one tap, and then three on my shoulders, and I released my grip on my shoulder straps and spread like a bird, arching my back to get my feet back, and letting my arms float up to both sides.
Everything was getting just hammered by the air, shaken, beaten, and tugged. I had this instant of worry, of what I might let go of while I was spread out like that, but realized that the goggles were on good and tight, the gloves were solidly fastened on, and everything else covered by that baggy jump suit. There was nothing that could come off, and I relaxed.
Marty's hands swam before me, doing swimming strokes to either side, and he swung us to face Long's Peak for a bit, and then to the East to see the full expanse of the plains, down to see my neighborhood for a bit, which was way too much like seeing a Google Map from above to be believed, and then back around to see the jagged teeth of all the Rockies from North all the way to the South. Pikes Peak down by Colorado Springs was clearly visible, way past the Flat Irons of Boulder.
It was a truly amazing view.
After we were on the ground, Asian Guy came up to me and talked about how amazing it was, once he figured out how to breathe. That the mouth just wasn't going to work as it was like drinking from a fire hydrant, he said. I echoed, "Yeah, like from a fire hose." And I loved that neither of us asked when the other had taken that drink...
But I was fighting to breathe, but that was a familiar fight for me. *laughs* So I took sips of air through my nose and did all right. But then wind of our passage was just blasting at all of me, and the intensity of it notched further and further up. Not so much because I could see that we were losing altitude, I was beyond that worry, but more because my endurance of that constant hammering away of all my senses was starting to wear thin.
Then he moved differently than the subtle tilt and turn that I'd followed, and I was warned, so when he pulled the ripcord, I whooped in glee, felt dropped, yanked hard on all the straps, and then it all smoothed out like silk.
That's when I realized that what had really happened was that my ears hadn't had any chance to pop to equilibrium. I moved my jaw and my ears popped with a vengeance, and then I could hear again.
Then he asked me to hold onto the steering lines, and I did that while he loosened the harness for the landing. I just relaxed, let him do the work, and pulled just a little to the side to see how it felt, and it was so easy to control I was fascinated.
Soon I could see the tent of people, and John and Jet waiting in the orange barricaded area. The other two had landed further away in the field. I waved at them, and then Marty told me to get my feet up, so I did. Then he got his feet up and we slid on our well-padded jump suit butts onto a soft bed of gravel just a bare ten feet from John and Jet!
The Hispanic Instructor laughed and said, "Hey, izzit B-Boy jump day?"
They were all part of the rap scene here in Denver, and he talked about getting old and not being able to really dance anymore and it was just fun to listen in and relax. And very cool to just see other Asians in the area Making It in the local scene. I just don't see many around here, and it was oddly good.
Marty gave me two compliments that I liked a lot. One he gave John was "She didn't even scream." One of the other instructors teased him with a, "But I heard you screaming!" He sounded really surprised by that, as I guess he gets a lot of lady screamers. The other one though was that he said that the exit from the plane was really good, it was smooth. He seemed struck by that as well, and I'll take that compliment from someone that does dozens of these things a day, for him to notice that I was better at that part of it was really nice.
When we got back, we got out of our harnesses and suits, and the instructors bade us wait for certificates, bumper stickers, and a coupon for a jump at two-thirds the full cost, if we bought it today. We could use it any time in the next year, and I thought hard about it. On finding that it was nontransferable, I was deflated on the idea of buying the coupon and giving it to a friend who really wanted to do this, too.
I enjoyed it. I might do it again, especially if someone else wanted company to just do it with, and I think I'd do better the second time, if I went. In an odd way I feel like it's like river rafting for me. Something I like doing, but will only do with other people's equipment and only as a sort of a tourist instead of making it my way of life, and I could, very easily see how this could be a way of life.
On the trailer back, the instructors were talking about how repacking a parachute is a bit like origami, and Jet perked up. I asked what it took to become a packer, and they said that packers get $10 a chute, and some of the packers there, in the summer, go home with $500 for a day's worth of work. Marty said that he started packing chutes when he was 8, and you don't have to be 18 to do it, unlike the actual jump itself. You have to take a class, and get certified, but after that you're home free.
Jet looked kind of speculative, and I said I'd do the class with him and go packing with him if he wanted to make money over the summer. He grinned and said he'd think about it.
After that we went grocery shopping, and it was kind of surreal to be looking at ramen and thinking, This morning, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.
I spent most of the rest of the day making corned beef and cabbage, and baking a Key Lime Pie in a graham cracker crust, and it was just soothing to do it all. I even had half a beer with my dinner, and we played Settlers of Catan after. And it still makes me smile a little at how the jump made me feel extraordinary for a little while, and how ordinary everything else still is, after.
And as for the promise. I fulfilled it, Tasha. Thank you, my friend, for giving me the courage to do something I really wanted to do, and I'm sorry you weren't here to see it. Though maybe you did. I remembered looking up, thinking the sky looked close enough to touch. I still remember you, still miss you, but it doesn't hurt as badly as it did, and I think I can let go of this one thing as well done.