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Sky Falling   —   Personal

There's a great many things in life that are on my wish list of things to do before I die. Some of them are practical things, like owning a hairless cat, living in Hawaii, or learning to play the piano. Others are more on the ridiculous side, things I never expect to happen but remain on the list just the same, like being in a girl gang, becoming an archer assassin, or battling the undead in the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse. And then there are others still, things that lay somewhere in between the practical and the ridiculous. Things that can be realistically done if only I'm able to muster enough courage to do them. Some examples of these things would be, say, getting a shit load of tattoos, doing a burlesque performance, or becoming a treasure hunting scuba diver. And until very recently I could have mentioned skydiving on that list. But now it no longer belongs there because I went ahead and did it. Holy fucking shit!

It all began with a beautiful blond named, Natalya. Nat and I met back in the summer of 2008 and we have been the best of friends ever since. She and her boyfriend, Carl, have become our little family here on the West Coast. We eat together, party together, spend holidays and major events together, we fight, we love, we console and advise, we play games together and watch movies together and apparently we jump out of planes (in the sky!) together.

After four years of hard work and sacrifices, debt and frustration, and oh yeah, learning stuff, Natalya graduated from college. (hooray!) One night while sitting on the couch in her living room she turned to me and says something like, "To celebrate graduating I want to go skydiving! Will you do it with me?" I didn't respond immediately, my face probably looked like one of those cartoon cats in Tom & Jerry, you know, the look one of them gets as he standing there in the alleyway digging through a garbage can when a foxy lady cat comes walking past. The eyes bulge, the jaw hits the ground and the tongue rolls out comically. Eventually I regained my face and squeaked out, "yes?"

The fact was, I had always wanted to skydive. I thought it would be the ultimate rush, a test of bravery and character, a major awesome super-duper life experience. But remember the earlier lists? Yeah, it was right there after being a treasure hunting scuba diver so I never gave the idea any serious thought, until now.

But part of me still didn't think it was really going to happen. It costs a stupid amount of money to do it and none of us have stupid amounts of money, also, I was in denial.

So as Nat's graduation neared Adam and I had a conversation over dinner one night about what to give her as a graduation gift. I suggested a Porsche or a pony but for whatever reason Adam didn't think those were good ideas. Boys! Whatever. So after he shoots down my other "crazy" ideas that may or may not have included BeDazzling Carl, Adam suggested paying for her to skydive. It was the perfect idea! Yes, let's do it! Wait, now this means I have to do it, too. And then I suggested the pony again.

Nat was thrilled. More than thrilled. Ecstatic. When Adam told her of her graduation gift she actually squealed, ran across the room and threw her arms around him in what looked like a violent collision of stars. She was beaming.

We booked the date a month in advance. Those four weeks were spent being simultaneously very excited about skydiving and also trying not to think about it at all. In fact, the closer the skydiving date got, the more I strong armed the door closed on any thoughts that had to do with jumping from a plane and falling to the earth. But alas, apparently time doesn't stand still like Out of this World led me to believe once upon a time.

Skydiving Day. The morning was spent rationally preparing the day's upcoming event, eat a solid breakfast, dress in comfortable clothes, tie back the hair, make sure my will is prepared, load the car with the groceries for our after-jump BBQ at Carl & Nat's. We swung by to pick up Carl and Natalya and put the food in their fridge. Carl was as calm as the placid sea. He was excited but collected, eager yet cool. And then Nat walked into the room and the look on her face mimicked the fear in my heart and then we chattered in high pitched voices about boom and splat.

The drive to the skydiving place was through beautiful country and while the conversation flowed from Adam and Carl I took some deep breaths and tried to center and calm myself. My heart was hammering. As we approached the Skydive Oregon land we were greeted by the view of dozens of people parachuting down into a field of grass as onlookers watched them fall. Inside the building we checked in, paid our way and were given about 8 pages of legal documents that essentially signed away any and all rights to hold Skydive Oregon or any of their employees or equipment liable for our injury or death. Talk about a boost of confidence. Serious second thoughts swam through my head as I initialed next to sentences that read things like, "Landing is dangerous. Broken legs and ankles are not uncommon. I agree to not sue if injury occurs to my person." And, "Equipment malfunctions can happen. I agree that in the event of airplane or parachute equipment malfunctions which results in injury or death to my person that I or any friend or relative cannot sue"

Once the paperwork and the 10 minutes of "training" and the three hour wait were over and done with, it was time to suit up!

I stood in front of a strange man as he strapped a harness through my legs and over my hips and across my stomach and through my arms and over my chest. He pulled and tugged and fastened and yanked and adjusted. My personal space was nonexistent. My body was in the hands of a man whose hands I would never hold. I was nervous because I didn't want to screw up and I didn't know what to expect. I was no longer afraid of dying or becoming injured. I simply wanted to perform adequately for my instructor and for myself.

After leaving the building and going across the field to wait for the plane, my instructor made small talk and asked about the skull tattooed on my right ankle. I told him it represented my love of the macabre, my love of horror movies, and to one degree my peace with being made of flesh and bone. He stared at me blankly and said, "That's some freaky shit". I countered, "Well, you jump out of planes for a living, one could argue that that is some freaky shit as well." He said, "nah". And that was the end of it. My confidence was not boosted by our interactions.

We boarded the plane with about 10 other jumpers and their instructors. In my group was Carl and Natalya but we did not speak to each other. (Adam by the way was not jumping) I straddled a bench facing the plane door with my instructor sitting directly behind me. As the plane took off and flew to the spot where we were to jump, my instructor began the process of attaching my harness to his harness. His arms snaked around my waist and chest and legs, more pulling and snapping and tugging occurred and suddenly I was attached so tightly to him that I was practically sitting on his lap. I could not move without him moving with me. I gave up total control of my space and function and was puppeteered off of the bench and toward the open airplane door. As he swung me to the door my legs left the plane first and blew to the right like a flag caught in the wind. My instructor leaned through the door, his hands still firmly gripping the frame of the plane and my body folded forward and hovered above the earth at 13,000 feet, suspended by nothing but straps and clasps. He didn't tell me he was letting go of the plane, didn't warn me that we were about to fall, the moment just suddenly was upon me, I was falling.

And then I wasn't.

The thrill of the feeling of falling lasted seconds and then I just floated down to earth at 120 miles an hour. Once terminal velocity was hit after about 15 seconds there was no sensation of falling, it was just intense wind and drifting downward. My instructor pulled the parachute open and the harness jerked painfully upward as the speed of our fall was rudely braked. The parachute slowly glided us down for about 6 minutes. The view was beautiful, it was a clear sunny and warm day and below us were trees and farmland and houses. We had a perfect landing on our feet and just like that, it was over.

I stopped being nervous sometime between the three hour wait to jump and the call of my name to get suited up. My excitement leveled off as I was walking across the field to wait for the plane and I was operating on automatic for the most part. Once inside the plane I wasn't scared, I was calm. When hanging out of the plane I was thrilled. And when I started to fall I felt nothing. I remember being annoyed that there was so much wind blowing up at me. I remember being surprised at how cold it was. I remember struggling to keep my arms in the position that my instructor had wanted me to hold them. I remember not knowing what to do with my legs because the way they told us to hold them didn't feel right. And I remember the severe pain of the harness as it yanked upward when the parachute was opened. I remember not caring about the view as I drifted downward. I remember being nervous about landing properly. And I remember being disappointed that I wasn't having the time of my life.

It was fun, no doubt about it. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But my expectations of the thrill I thought it would bring was at like, 100%. And in reality the thrill that it delivered was about 40%. I like to be scared, I like the feeling of danger and the feeling of an uncertain outcome. I reach a certain nirvana when my body and mind are seriously challenged like that and it doesn't happen often since it's not something I really seek out, I can be a chicken at times. But the jump was calming, serene, and that was the last thing I expected.

On the way home we all shared our experience and Carl and Natalya were in agreement that the whole skydiving thing was pretty fucking awesome. Nat had a nearly spiritual experience and I could tell it made her a little sad when I told her that it wasn't as great as I had hoped it would be. The rest of the evening was spent drinking wine and eating grilled salmon, cherries, corn on the cob, and raspberry filled cookies. We watched Hobo with a Shotgun and I fell asleep on their couch and dreamt of falling.

Posted 8.1.2011 10:52:04 PM

Rose wrote:
It's such an individual experience...you never know how anyone will react. My sister went from hating the whole thing (the minute she landed) to being more into skydiving than I was! The important thing is that you did it, and survived, to tell about it. Sounds like you all had a good day of it!
Posted 8/2/2011 9:33:57 AM - Rose's website
Dad wrote:
You have always been a dare devil, from jumping off the countertop into my arms a few feet away when you were 2yrs old to climbing up on the roof to help clean out the eaves when you were 10. Nothing you do suprises me, it must in your genes. Great to have you in my arms once again, I love you.
Posted 8/4/2011 6:09:13 AM
Mom wrote:
I second the words of your Dad 100 % you have always had a fire in your spirit and it shows in your eyes. When I was informed of this jump,my heart flew out of my chest with excitement and so wishing I could be there beside you....go go Heather Marie. Loved having you home once again...to kiss you and hold you is always special for this Mom.....love you like crazy babe....
Posted 8/7/2011 9:27:34 AM
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