Yeah, so I jumped out of an airplane the other day.
It’s well known than New Zealand is famous for bungy-jumping. When we got here there were countless airport brochures covered with alluring photos of smiling people about to hurl themselves to their doom. I thought about skydiving and it seemed sane by comparison—only a little daring like a walk on the foot-high barrier next to the path instead of on the path itself, rather than bungy-jumping daring of hurling yourself right off the cliff next to the path. I could do that.
“Karen’s going to go skydiving,” Matthew remarked to his mom right after we got here. (He had done it himself once before and felt no need to this time.)
She looked at me. “That’s expensive,” she said dismissively. So I ruled it out. Expensive. Not gonna do it.
We got off on our own finally last week, rented a car and headed northward to Taupo. Had little idea what was there besides a big lake and volcanic stuff underground. It was away and that was enough. We stayed at a “backpacker’s,” like a hostel with a communal kitchen and gathering area. I chatted up some of the people there, from everywhere, it seemed, except New Zealand: the U.K. Nova Scotia, some Scandinavian country, etc.
“What’s the best thing you did here?” was my question.
The world tilted a little on its axis, and priorities changed. Plus, I am (apparently) immensely suggestible. Go on, tell me what I will like and I will believe you.
So we went whitewater river rafting, addressing another of my fears (Fear A = Heights. Fear B = Drowning in Water), and it was fab. A high. Easier than I thought. Plus I did not fall out of the raft, a huge plus in my opinion.
That morning I made the reservation for skydiving later that day, for after the rafting, after consulting everyone else in the hostel. Unanimous. “Were you scared?” I asked them. “Of course! Best thing I ever did!”
This, by the way, was a Skydiving Upselling Moneymaking Machine Industry. In case I missed the point or any of the 12000 opportunities to buy merchandise/photos/videos/memorabilia. They wasted not a moment and had the whole thing choreographed. The process of Sell + Wait Around + Get Nervous Waiting + Can’t Change Your Mind Now + Get Ready + Jump + After Jump + More Selling of Things You Hadn’t Known Were for Sale + Pay for Everything You Agreed to Buy While Under Duress took several hours.
It still involved falling out of a plane though.
The ride up took 20 minutes, they said. It may have been five minutes or it may have been an hour, crammed butt to stomach into a small airplane with about 10 other people. I couldn’t count. I couldn’t think. Every few minutes the guy behind me, to whom I was attached by a system of clips and harnesses that I couldn’t see and only nominally trusted that even existed, would show me his gigantic-dialled wrist altimeter, indicating we were at 1000 feet, then 5000 feet, and on upward to 15000 feet (which didn’t even actually show on his altimeter that ended inconveniently at 10000).
Thousands of feet? Meant nothing. I was in the Zone, the Zone of Not Freaking Out.
Pretty soon—hours? days?—the guy behind me pushed me toward the open door of the airplane. This was not happening. Everyone else had disappeared (where did they go? I never saw them leave, actually). There was nothing else to do but surrender and let him push me out too.
Put your head back and curl your feet back. Banana.
My head is back and I am falling. There is a reassuring weight behind me, reassuring only in the lightest sense. I am falling.
Tap on the shoulder. Let go of the harness that is keeping you from (falling?) dying and put your arms out like you are (falling?) flying.
Can’t make sense of what I am seeing. My ears hurt, cold. My fingertips, cold. I begin to worry about my ears and their reaction to the slightest wind. This is way more than the slightest wind.
Clouds? That’s clouds there, the clouds we flew through earlier. There they are.
Now through the clouds and there’s more reassurance. Greenbrownblue, colors swirling, moving so fast.
A tap on the shoulder. Something about a parachute. Suddenly vertical, swinging. Still can’t make sense of what I am seeing. I may have said “fuck.”
Swinging, angling around in stomach-churning circles, over the lake (OVERTHELAKEWATERDROWNING), swinging.
“Relax,” the wielder of parachutes behind me says.
This part should last longer, but there are parachutes far below, colorblips beneath my dangling feet (were they cold too? I can’t remember now), and there is a race, must catch up.
Hold your legs up, let me see you practice, noooo I just want to fly here forever, slowly, just gliding, enjoy the moment.
Then, on the ground (that’s the ground? It feels so … solid), no longer tilting. There is Matthew, two cameras, now I am supposed to smile and look happy to not be dead.
Elation, of a sort.
What just happened?
Ten minutes later my whole body began to shake, and it took two days to hear properly again. Every night since I have dreamed about the open door of that airplane. I still don’t know what it looked like to fall out of it (eyesclosedeyesclosed) so I see it now in my dreams.
Still a blur in my mind, I don’t know what’s real. I have a line item to look at on my credit card statement. I have photos of me, so tiny, still swinging from brightyellow parachute in a red jumpsuit.
I have dreams.
Fear, and moving through the fear.
Part of me suspects I made this up.