Sometimes I forget that I’m a reluctant junkie. I was reminded this morning after having a difficult time getting to sleep the night before. As a result of only getting to sleep as the sun was preparing to rise above the horizon like a prairie dog, I managed to sleep four hours past my morning medication time. When I woke up, my body was having a conniption fit about the lack of morphine it now demands flowing in my bloodstream. Suffice to say I work in a foul mood, each movement a special little torture, each thought irritating the headache camped out behind my eyeballs. My hands were shaking, but I still groped for my medication calendar, which is not a calendar at all but a container with little compartments in which to store routine medications. I flip open the top and empty the pills into my mouth, only to discover the can of Coke on my desk was empty. My mouth only had sufficient saliva to cause the pills to stick to the roof of my mouth and my cheeks, so I hobbled to the bathroom and dented my upper lip on the faucet trying to get a bit of water to wash down the pills. What a great start to the day.
The trip back to my room caused my eyes to water, what with the icepick in my spine, the fire in each of my hips, the aches in my shoulder and, of course, the headache which pulsed with ..well, my pulse. I gingerly put myself on my couch-slash-futon and began the wait for the drugs to kick in, allowing me to again forget my dependency on narcotic levels. Today is an important day and I need to be at my best for it, and so far I was not making a great start. Today is an important day because today is the day that, after long planning and conspiracy, I will throw my wife out of an airplane without a parachute. I have been working this plan for a few weeks, now, finally committing to it by prepaying for the airplane and the assistance I will need to accomplish my premeditated act.
I’m going to do it out near Ritzville, where there isn’t too much besides the scrub brush and dusty ground of the eastern side of Washington’s desert. That’s where West Plains Skydiving operates their business affairs. Today is the day I will strap my wife to a professional skydiver and see her carried out the door and into the slipstream for a 9,000 foot controlled plunge to the earth below. For years now, my wife has listened to my skydiving stories. My son’s skydiving stories. My daughter’s skydiving stories. She has listened to my friends talk about skydiving and looked at hundreds of photographs and seen hours of video. But she has never experienced a fall from great height and now, as a birthday present, she will finally get her chance to know, I mean really know, of what we speak as we share tales. She will be able to share a tale of her own now.
I’m going for the full meal deal here. The professional’s time, equipment rental, airplane ride and general fees will add up to $150. I will spend another $200 on hiring a secondary jumper, festooned with still and video cameras attached to his helmet and held in his hands, to take the fall alongside my wife, filming her short two minute trip. At least I’m hoping it will be two minutes, shorter than that will indicate a lonely drive home. But the other jumper will collect as much camera time as possible and back on the ground, a bored professional will put all of it on a CD of memories, scored with raucous rock and roll music. My wife will have experienced a tandem skydive and have the photographic proof to prove it. I, on the other hand, will very likely take a single photo from the collection to keep as my own touchstone of memory: the look on her face as she realizes that she is literally dangling from a string to a tiny stabilization chute and the ground is so, so far below and there’s no getting back in the plane.
The first time I left an airplane in flight was in the Army. I had completed most of the parachute training at Ft. Benning, GA, and was sent aloft with 106 fellow novices in a C-130 Hercules to execute a side door exit. I have a swirling mass of memories that flood in –had you been watching me type you’d have seen me pause, smile, shake my head and go back to typing. I always smile because I recall that when I got to the ground and pulled the parachute harness from my back, that there was a dusty footprint dead center of the now opened pack flaps of the chute. I had, like many of the guys, been given a motivational assist at the moment I reached the door and saw the nothing I was about to step into. I smile because I recall how the jumpmaster was screeching over the din of the four turbine engines that a jump was not mandatory and we could choose to step aside and ride back with the plane.
Actually a couple of guys did opt out at the last minute, diving to the side of the door as a part of their final steps to the door. Separated from those of us who made the exit, we never saw those guys again. They were quickly absorbed back into the military system for deployment in a less exciting career path. By the time we first timers returned to the barracks, the only remnants of the washouts was an empty bunk with its mattress rolled. None of us would talk much about their departure, save to confirm that they had chosen not to be a part of the colorful history of aerial infantry delivery. The footprint on my back was not a sign of anything except that I had paused in the door way as I leaned out into the wind. The jumpmaster wasn’t really removing my choice, he was ensuring that I didn’t tumble as I exited the aircraft, a situation that could easily cause a tangle of the suspension lines which connected me to the lifesaving circle of nylon that slowed my descent. By the time you get as far into the doorway as I, and others with matching footprints had gotten, it was too late to abort. Inertia alone would carry us and our equipment out the door. I remembered the way it all felt and the sense of real exhilaration and pleasure I felt as I looked at the ground below.
This is the facial expression I hope is caught on my wife’s face. I am hoping it will be a wide eyed, wide mouthed full facial smile and not the scrunched closed eyes and downturned mouth of someone wishing they were anywhere doing anything other than being where they are. That’s about the only two choices and it is important to me that she find the same joy and freedom that my kids and I feel at jumping. I desperately hope that she is not among the 0ne in ten who suffers an unexpected movement of the bowels. Because of the pressure differential, passing gas is a common thing as the plane makes it fast ascent to the 9,000 average jump height. When a little terror is combined with an ill advised late lunching, it can get a bit messy. I say with a certain inexplicable pride that I have never stained my underwear with solids of fluids, and I’m hoping that my wife is a member of the starched and pressed club as she thumps her conclusion to the experience.
The landing will be fun to watch. When to people are connected to each other with the strapping used in tandems, they each have their own balance movements trying to remain erect on landing. These reactions are often out of sync and end up in a two person pig pile in the dirt. Of course, just as often the professional giving her the ride will be properly turned into the wind and the wind maintains a steady level as they near the ground. This will permit a standup landing not unlike stepping down on the bottom step of a stairwell. Dignity remains intact, not like it matters, because dignity is most often secondary to the laughter and pleasure that the drop has produced. There is also a certain bit of relief as well, as one looks at the long way they have come from the heavens to find themselves still safe and whole. On the trip back home, she will be wistful and thinking, hopefully wishing to be able to repeat the experience in the future. Even some who didn’t enjoy the first time look forward to another try. There is something about this sport that is instantly adopted by genetics and becomes a part of you.
So I am anticipating the coming event for my own reasons, most of which revolve around my deep desire that she discovers that she liked the jump. It will bring her a little closer to me and mine as we share in a mutual enjoyment.