This column was written a few years back.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not crazy. At least I think I’m not. But still, I seriously questioned my sanity while checking my parachute pack for the tenth time. My curiosity was not based on its technical construction but simply to confirm that it was still on my back.
During our ascent, our pilot Katherine never looked back at us. She seemed rather calm and unaffected by my friends’ and my imminent death. She even had a smile on her face. In contrast, the co-pilot, Alan, somberly stared at the four of us during the 15 minutes it took to reach a jumping altitude of 3500 feet. Squeezing my eyes shut, I whispered my new mantra, “I will live, I will live…”
Finally, the day-long instructional course on skydiving was about to pay off. All the practice jumps from platforms, the lectures and videos and the maneuvers from suspended parachute harnesses would soon be put into action. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember my name.
Mark was the first to leap. But as he jumped backward, it sounded as though his pack hit the wing. We gasped in unison, then immediately turned toward Katherine, who continued to smile. I assumed this meant Mark was still alive. Her grin was our cue that we could resume breathing.
Next out was Rainee. The fear on her face crept into her vocal cords, prohibiting her from yelling, “JERONIMO!” as she leaped from the plane. In stunned silence, she tossed herself spreadeagled into the wind.
Then, Alan motioned for Patty and me to scoot closer to the open door. Neglecting to tell him of her tendency toward airsickness, Patty crawled out onto the platform and promptly regurgitated her lunch. (Fascinating what 90-mile-an-hour winds do to a tuna sandwich.)
Now it was my turn. My heart pounded, my palms glistened with nervous perspiration, and still Katherine smiled. Alan leaned forward, putting his helmet against mine, searching my eyes for some semblance of lucidity. Apparently I fooled him because he lifted my headphones and screamed, “Step out!”
Shaking, I grasped the bar above the jumping platform. Alan pointed to the wing camera and shouted, “Head back and smile!” Was he insane?! I gripped the bar tighter. Before I had time to safely crawl back into the plane, he yelled, “Go!”
As I released my grip, I jolted backward, heard a snap, and felt a sharp tug as my parachute sprung open. My body lurched upward and then I was floating.
In awe, I surveyed the blanket of golden hills below me. While the wind whistled through my parachute, I drifted peacefully through the cloudless sky. Suddenly, my blissful state was interrupted by the voice of our jump instructor, Dave, who spoke into my headset, “Left one-half turn, right one turn.”
He led me through the control checks we had practiced for hours, the ones I thought were forever ingrained in my memory. The same ones I no longer recalled.
I nervously looked down at my destination (the approaching bull’s-eye painted on the dirt) and spotted my friends in various positions. As I struggled to keep from navigating toward a farmhouse roof, I saw that Mark had landed in a cow pasture. Rainee was climbing from a roadside ditch and Patty had belly-flopped onto a dusty road. Even from 500 feet above, I could see they were beaming.
As the ground closed in, I robotically obeyed Dave’s orders. Katherine and Alan were already there, waiting next to Dave. “Flair!” he commanded, so I yanked down on the lines. Twenty minutes after jumping, my death-defying feat was over. Best of all, I was still alive. Barely containing my pride, I stepped out from under a canopy of silk into rousing applause.
Even stoic Alan was smiling; to everyone’s surprise (including me), I was standing smack in the middle of the bull’s-eye.