Thursday, May 1, 2008

day 1: float like a butterfly

land like an elephant.

nah, it wasn't that bad. it was a fairly delicate landing. and a completely safe one.

despite having to wait all day for the opportunity to jump, i didn't spend the time writhing in anxiety. i was pretty calm. we did some other things earlier in the day. we intended to get pictures taken for mom and we wanted to do it before our activities could have any, shall we say, unphotogenic ramifications. we were denied, however, because the studio personnel never showed up to work. we headed off to see the psychic, who also was not there. we were starting to look at this day as a bad omen, but after grabbing some lunch we returned to the psychic and got our readings. that was interesting. i'd say she was about 85% accurate regarding me. the one glaring error was that she didn't see child lines in my palm. hmmm, i know i had them here somewhere....

finally, around 330 pm, we made it to the airport. after we checked in for the jump, i endured the 40-60 minute wait calmly. we spent the time enjoying the sun and watching the landings of the flights before ours. there were some other tandem jumpers, but the vast majority were singles. they looked so peaceful and landed gently. many of them actually wore helmets, for what reason, i never figured out.

there was a tent nearby wherein a guy was repacking a chute. he spent a loooong time getting it right. i later saw some other people who seemed to go faster, but i think it's worth the effort to get it right-- it could be a matter of life or death.

there was a young marine doing a tandem jump along with pam and i. the instructors were very helpful with their instructions, but also full of lame jokes meant, i'm sure, to lighten the tension for first-timers. there was no need, however, as i was quite serene and both pam and the marine were eager to get up in the air. there was an official photo/videographer, plus i had a niece manning my camera.

we were packed into the plane like sardines, with one person sitting between the legs of the person behind. the plane rose very steeply, but i maintained my calm. a group of jumpers went out well before the rest, apparently they were a team that made formations in the air. then we climbed some more. at approximately 11,000 feet, the door opened again (man, it's cold up there!) and the rest of the jumpers started leaving. at that point, although mentally unruffled, i did experience a moment of physical dread in the form of a racing heart; it quickly passed. pam and i were the last ones out (the photog actually went between us). she wanted to do flips in the air. since we went out upside down, i saw the plane nosedive for earth once we were clear. or maybe that was just a trick of perception.

after landing, pam asked me what was going through my head during the brief seconds staring out the door at the ground far, far below me. honestly, nothing. or at least, nothing i can remember. i was preoccupied trying to get rid of the gum i had been gnashing between my teeth for the whole ascent. before i knew it, we were out. then my thoughts were about how cold it is, how dry my mouth was, and how i really wasn't going to pass out. then i was busy trying not to throw up as bob, my tandem jumper, started doing spins; i had expressly told him no flips.
shortly after he deployed the parachute, my stomach caught up with me. i developed a mild sense of nausea that didn't really go away until more than an hour after landing.

the opening of the 'chute was not as violent as cartoons make it look. bob had me grab the handles and i tried veering to the sides and speeding up and slowing down. i wasn't interested in speeding up much. while i controlled our descent, bob was busy loosening my harness. at one point he had me stand on his feet; he unbuckled something and i fell at least an inch. that doesn't sound like much, but when you're still thousands of feet in the air, it will make you nervous.

we had an excellent view of central florida-no we could not see the mouse house, although we could see a wildfire. i was tickled by being able to see the shadows of the clouds on the ground, while the clouds themselves were at eye level.

we drifted back and forth over the airfield and i was a little dubious when he said we were going to land in the sand pit. i didn't think he could pinpoint the landing so closely. it took a severely gut-wrenching 180 degree turn to make it, but we came down right in the pit. pam immediately rushed me before i had even gotten my bearings.

an amazing feat that will, in all probability, not be repeated. but i'm glad i did it. it was very empowering and gave me a feeling of invulnerability, at least temporarily.

later i called mom. she was not happy. pam and i thought, what can she do? it's a done deal. you know, easier to ask forgiveness than permission. we did not expect her to be as upset as she was, considering that we were already safe on the ground. never underestimate the anger of a woman whose children have disobeyed her by participating in a potentially life-threatening activity and risking condemning her grandchildren to a motherless existence.