…..I’m flush against a 6 foot 3 Swede, who, at every second, is pulling tighter on straps across my chest, stomach, waist, hips, legs. I’m barely registering the words he is yelling in my ear; I’m trying to mentally force my heart to stop hammering against my chest like it plans on breaking out and taking the 11,000 ft fall without me.
…..“Get up on your feet.” They must move because I’m sitting on his lap, my Nikes planted on the floor of a plane with a cockpit that can’t be more than 8 feet long, climbing into the sky. I look at Cassie, who’s staring out of the window, expression blank, probably tackling her own jittering demons.
…..“This is one of those times where my body has to keep promises my mouth makes,” I mumble as the Spaniard who’s strapped to Cassie kicks open the door to my left. He’s going, and taking Cassie with him, first. I’m starting to think the guys that inhabit the rest of the world are born with death wishes.
…..“Remember when you step out, legs like bananas, arms like X. Arch, arch.”
…..There’s a black tread step I see outside of the door that I stepped on to scramble into the cockpit while it was still on the ground. I think I see Cassie step out, I can’t remember. Actually, I’m even starting to forget how I got here.
…..“Dangle your feet. Go, go!”
…..And I’m sucked out into the Great, Wide Blue.
…..“You have arrived at your destination.” We both send questioning looks at each other.
…..“Did you see?”
…..“There wasn’t a turn off?”
…..We pull up to the next right, a dead end, to turn around. It is our first opportunity to ditch. I pause for a picture of blonde weeds along a tree lined corridor, phone stuck out the window of the Camry into the cold. I honestly, in a half serious, half humorous way wonder if it’s the last Instagram photo I will take.
…..“You didn’t see anything did you?”
…..“No. Did you?
…..Backtracking the last mile we find a yellow airplane mailbox that sticks out like a sore thumb; we were too busy being nervous to notice that we missed the plane, the turn-off road and a sign that says Jump Florida in giant letters. I’m surprised the in-car GPS didn’t scream “You idiots it was right there” as we drove past it the first time.
…..The half-shack, half-open air porch surrounded by a small patch of tobacco and an open field of green sits at the end of the dirt lane like a prison sentence. It looks stable, but if it comes down to it, I’m not betting the house on it. Once we play around on the iPad—our waivers, pictures, emergency contact info—we just have to wait for the winds to be right. We head back to the Camry where it’s warm—seat warmers really do save lives— and the lack of long pants is not a detriment.I don’t remember what we talked about, waiting for a hour and a half for our impending doom, but I do remember going over in my head the first time I met Cassie, in my senior year of college in photojournalism class, and wondering if she was now thinking it was an incredible mistake talking to me two and a half years ago. If she had just pretended not to hear me, we would not be jumping out of planes today.
…..By the time it’s our turn we’ve watched two sets of people successful come down from the sky, and to be frank it’s becoming easier to see myself up there. Until they hand me the tiny harness that is supposed to keep me from becoming road kill. I question it with the expression on my face rather than words and someone behind me starts going on about how it has already gotten 4 people safely to the ground today. Was I really worried?
…..“No, I won’t die, not today. Not when the last CD I listened to was Taylor Swift.”
…..Outside of the plane I momentarily forget to cross my arms; I’ve opened them up as far as they can go, whether by instinct trying to grab hold of the something or surrendering to the fact that I was then out of the plane and death was imminent, I do not know.
…..I wanted to write my whole article in my head as I was falling; this assignment already completed and sealed with a kicker before I touched back down, but all I could think about was the incredible journey and the incredible friend who was floating somewhere beside me. Take a new Camry for a few days! Do something crazy! Go live your life! I didn’t want it to be this rebel moment of me stretching some sort of constraint I had put on myself, but despite a lot of things running through my mind, I forgot to be worried, I forgot to be stressed. I remember giving my parachute guy a thumbs up, smiling and laughing like an idiot, and I felt weightless. At some point he opened a parachute, and then another one, and then we came to a seated stop. I’d survived, Cassie had survived, we were going to live another day to do something potentially dangerous, somewhat reckless, and 100% twenty-somethingish.
…..Post-jump we stood around with our jump buddies, letting ourselves come off of the mad adrenaline of the fall; the first thing I did when I got to the ground was calculate just how fast we were “flying.” It didn’t disappoint. After the fact, the knowledge that I fell a mile in 30 seconds is thrilling, pre-jump, I might have puked.
…..As we were on our way to Tampa, keying in a beach side suggestion for lunch, I thought back on the four minutes I could hardly believe belonged to me; green fields as far the curve of the Earth will let me see, an afternoon sun sinking behind puffy, cumulus clouds, a deep ocean meeting the sky at the horizon and blending like some Monet watercolor. You think you’ve got all this time up there to reflect, to see your problems in a new way before your butt hits the ground, but you don’t—there’s no time to look back. There’s only looking forward and being aware of a very few things: first, that you don’t always have to make the scary jumps alone, and most of all, sometimes it is the things that we are most afraid of that will set us free. That and James Bond may have been on to something with his penchant for bad ass cars because if being bold and daring is a characteristics of the new Camry, I’d like one in all black.
…..Maybe this devil-may-care thing isn’t so bad after all.
A special thanks to Toyota Camry for the ride of a lifetime, and an experience that was as bold with a capital “B.”If you are ever in search of two half-adults who are hellbent on never growing up, you know where to find us!