I could imagine it would be just like swimming in the ocean. It would be like watching the bubbling waves circle around my fluid arms and swallow my essence whole. The feeling of such freedom. Like there is nothing that could possibly drown you. Where even your lungs are full of clouds. There you are, suspended like a folded paper bird on a kindergartner’s mobile, rotating around, slowly, and never finding an end. You are falling with style, with a gift-wrapped parachute, nonetheless. For a moment, you are no longer a puppet. For a moment, you are no longer controlled by anything above you, or below you. For a moment, you can breathe as deeply as you feel and you can feel as deeply as you exist.
I could imagine this feeling of eternal suspense as being like swimming in the largest body of water known to man. Oceans born of oceans. Fishes housed in seaweeds—for as far as the eye can see and as far as the mind takes the time to imagine. But with even as much breath as I could picture, I told myself that this experience would be even better than assuming the personality of a driftwood. You see, in the ocean, I might snag my foot on a rock or a sea urchin if I got too close to the coral prickles on the floor. I might make a permanent razor scratch along the top of my foot from beating my legs too hard on a sea tumor as I try to tread enough water to stay buoyant. But up there, where the feeling of liberty cohabits with the exhilaration of danger, up there where the floating birds live, nothing can ever hurt.
The aircraft hangar was our dock. Where we could sit, watching the waves of anxiety lap at the stable shore. It was as vast and as empty as the entirety of existence. These thick, strong, metal bars held the metal plates above us. It was an enormous warehouse, like a Walmart for giants, meant to contain these small planes that would release people into the adventure of their lives, like they were just jumping into a canoe and sailing straight downward. A vertical adventure, with only one task—to pull a string.
My fiancé Will told me on the day that he met me that he might like to be one of those buffoons that goes up into a plane to be dropped on the edge of oblivion. He said that it was something he wanted to do since he was a kid. I told him he was completely senseless and wild. But, I guess the joke was on me. In the end, it was this senselessness and foolish taste for adventure that convinced me to marry him, and so I decided almost two months before our big day that it would be a good experience after all to jump out of a plane before writing his last name with my first name on a piece of paper.
Will gave a nod to the worker at the front desk. It was his way of showing respect and acknowledgement to people that he felt were doing good work. Our desk attendant was a skinny red-haired college student. He walked around the front of the desk to pull my harness tight, looking at all of the bells and whistles to ensure that everything was in place. He responded to my very obviously panic-infused question with a mellow sort of stoner voice: “I’m sorry Ma’am, I should know exact numbers, but I know that it is significantly less than one percent.”
“Just relaaax, Tiff,” Will, planted his hand on my shoulder with a soft grip. You relax—buddy. My eyes narrowed playfully.
I looked at the straps nestled around my body. A fake sense of security swept up over my skin. I mean, people do this all the time, and what is there to worry about? Less than one percent? It’s more likely I would die in a car accident than not have my parachute inflate. I knew for a fact that I was just talking around the subject. That is the problem with adrenaline junkies like my fiancé, they believe in their hearts that they are going to die, and they can face it with such beautiful certainty. I wished in that moment that I had that awareness of audacity.
Will gave me a wink with that sparkling diamond flash in his emerald gaze. He smiled his most giddy smile and said the three words you are always supposed to say before you leave someone alone. It was a little habit of ours to always say goodbye and I love you and all of those necessary things. Although, I would say that this is more for my benefit than for his. I always make a point to have things closed and sealed, taped up and put neatly away. Just in case something were to happen. It is a side-effect of being an altruist. Will, however, doesn’t mind a little mess of emotions or a few unsaid words. That is a side-effect of being a daydreamer. Whereas I wouldn’t dare try to leave someone with something as un-heartfelt as an “I love you” tackily slapped together last minute, he believes in a more clandestine sense of sentiment, where the affections themselves hold such a density that doesn’t need passing acknowledgement to be valid. Maybe that’s just what I adore about him. He never really needed much from me other than to feel hopelessly devoted. But I shouldn’t get carried away with myself. We can save all that gush for after the wedding, when we have been advised that we will certainly need it.
He reached for my hand like a middle schooler trying to figure out what his mom would deem appropriate. I could tell that he was just trying to make sure that I felt okay about the whole situation. I like to know how things are going to end up and I don’t like to feel the heavy pounds of uncertainty before I am about to do something ridiculous. I knew that Will loved me, and I knew that he wouldn’t put me into any situation that he didn’t believe on his life would be a safe decision. That is what that skinny red-head told us after all. Less than one percent. Part of me still wondered why I was still freaking out in the first place.
We climbed into the plane and chatted a little with the pilot. He told us to ‘be safe’ like he was a grandfather trying to teach a sex-ed class he didn’t believe in. Will put his arm around me as the craft hiked higher and higher into the cloud infested blue. We leveled off and I felt immediately the sensation of “this is it.” I wondered to myself if walking down the aisle would produce this kind of anxiety. I thanked God that I could experience something like this before I made such a mammoth legal decision as signing my name on a marriage license. I toyed with my diamond and the man told us to stand and get ready.
Head down and jump straight. You are going to roll. It won’t hurt, all you are touching is air. Count sixty seconds, and pull this cord here.
I nodded to show that I understood what he was saying. Will kissed me on the mouth. A sensation came over me that made my stomach squeal with butterfly kisses and my fingers tingle with the voltage of a secluded log cabin catching electricity for the first time in years. The air was screaming with engines and wind, so he mouthed “I love you babe” as best as he could. He squeezed my hand a last time and silently fell out of the plane. With a pint of boldness, he drank in his dreams, and I tried to follow him with as much bravery as I could conjure.
The freedom was instantaneous. Only a moment had passed, but this warm calming breeze of energy pushed itself into my body and I breathed in so full, as if I had just discovered two open nostrils after a fit of pollen-season sneezes in the night. I closed my eyes and began counting. I was sure that there was nothing beyond this moment. There was nothing beyond falling from a plane, singularly re-entering the world. I was a comet, falling towards the subterranean cornfields. If it had not been daytime, maybe the children would have wished upon me from their cozy laced-up beds. Maybe they would have secretly told their friends about their innocent desires. I maybe could get them a pony, or a kiss from a boy, or the whole family together for Christmas. The smell of power encapsulated my muscles. I was a flying fish. I was a falling star.
Will opened his parachute to reveal bright green stripes surrounded by tea-colored swirls. I could only imagine what kind of flips and tricks he would tell me about when we reached the ground. I felt like the boring one—again—as I had only decided to fall instead of take full advantage of this once in a lifetime drop. I decided to myself that I had quite enough time falling and I reached backwards to pull my lifeline.
Jackson Wartel was a troubled boy. His history of mental illness and desire to wreak havoc on society only manifested itself one time. His father was not a dad and his stepmother was not a person, and so it had come to a point where he just wanted someone to pay attention to him. He was delivering his load to the skydiver’s club downtown—a full set of brand-new-federally-marked-safe-parachutes. He pulled out the knife from his pocket. A small Swiss Army knife, and he ripped into the seams of a single parachute. Tampering. That is what they might charge him with. Just a bit of fun for a troubled boy now grown into a psychotic specimen. He would turn himself in after he heard about the news story. He would march right up to the asylum and ask for help for his issues. That didn’t mean that he didn’t want to regret at least one thing in his sad little life. He needed to control something. He needed to be heard. He slashed a hole into one of the packages. Just big enough to set fire to the Earth. He was going to ruin someone’s life. He was going to ruin many lives. It was that kind of thought that made him feel this sense of revenge. Finally, his father would listen to him. Finally, his father would notice him instead of Tracy, or Maria, or Yelania, or Penny. He ripped apart the veins of strong woven fabric. Someone would have a terrible day too. He was going to see a counselor tonight.
I pulled the bungee-like rope with as much force as my little biceps could create. I felt a weight leave the pack against my shoulder blades. It opened full and bright above me. Perhaps a little too bright. Why was the sun shining through the chute? Is that what it is supposed to look like?
I noticed a gaping hole, cut wide into my salvation. My mind scrambled for the alternative solution. What had that red-head kid said? A reserve? A reserve? I felt for the other string, suddenly becoming hyper-aware that this was wrong. So, so wrong. So very, very wrong. This was wrong. This was wrong. This was wrong.
I pulled the other rope with a striking adrenaline that even would have surprised my future husband. It inflated like a jellyfish and put my mind at ease.
Why is there still sunlight?
Where did these holes come from?
I have three minutes before I am attacked by the Earth.
Fall, 2018 Issue