Every group of friends has that one person shooting out outlandish plans, more than once in a while, disrupting the cozy, familiar equilibrium of the others: be it a Nicholas Cage movie, the new Eritrean restaurant (no, I didn’t shorten Mediterranean), an undrinkable experimental cocktail—or in my case, skydiving.
I had always wanted to do it, and it ranked high in my mostly forgotten bucket list, but I was never the kind to just pick up the bag one day, drive down to a place and jump off a plane 15,000 feet above the ground. So, thanks to the relentless persuasive tactics of my friend, seven of us set out for skydiving, high on nervous excitement; higher on smugness. The drive to the airfield in the early morning mist peppered with the our usual chatter and japery set the tone for the day. Most talked about how their emotional blackmail combating skills were put to test, when they had to persuade their parents to let them jump. Sometimes I think living in a foreign country away from parents, takes the greatest toll on them. Here we were, making plans for bungee jumping next, and there they were, sleepless and scared to death, thinking of all the possible ways things could go wrong. Of course, yours truly avoided this quandary by conveniently forgetting to mention it during the weekly Skype call.
We reached the airfield around noon for a 1pm schedule, the chilly air amplifying the sensation that zipped through us as we saw two planes take off. We were going to be next!
We weren’t nearly the next. First, we had to sign paperwork that listed all the possible ways we could die, and then watch a video where Bill Booth assured us that his equipment could fail anytime. When we finally suited up for the jump, it was nearly 2pm. We were weight-matched with our tandem skydiving professionals and split into two groups. I was in the second, with three others. My tandem jumper was an engineer who sky dove for a hobby. As he helped me get into my muscle cramping harness, I fought the urge to ask him if the hobby was a new found one. Other than my inane doubts about the tightness of my harness, we didn’t talk much until we got onto the plane. As we ambled out to board the plane, the photo and video crew (at a sweet $90) chronicled every moment with a conscientiousness reserved probably only for space missions: every smile, every hand wave, every word….I felt like a star.
I still don’t know if it was the adrenaline or that I didn’t know what to expect, but there was not the slightest tinge of fear until my tandem jumper hooked his harness onto mine. Then, the plane door slid open and fear rushed in like a hungry lion set free. My jumper mumbled some instructions but he was barely audible amidst the plane rumbling and my heart threatening to burst open. All I knew when I pushed myself to the edge of the plane, resisting all defensive instincts, the wide world below in clear view, was that the guy with me had done this many more times than I ever will. And then, it happened.
Whenever I had pictured skydiving, the free fall had always seemed like the scariest part. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is the anticipation of the fall that nearly kills you. The actual fall was over in a blink, and the feeling wasn’t even close to the butterflies you feel in a roller coaster ride. The free fall lasted for about 58 sec (my jumper informed me later), after which I posed for the camera in all the wannabe poses history has ever known (now that I knew I was safe). After I got my money’s worth, we were yanked up in the air by our parachute for the second, more peaceful part of skydiving—gliding. I was literally floating on top of the world and blabbering like a mute person who suddenly found out that he could speak. I wanted it to never end.
As we slowly began our descent like a bird, I felt like it had all ended too soon: the teeth-clenched jump, the screaming until my throat dried up, the wind blowing through my hair like a tornado, and finally the tranquility of the glide. I don’t know about others, but skydiving is surely one of the things I would have regretted not doing; not because I overcame some fear, not because I could put up photos on Facebook (although that came close), but simply because, for those 5 minutes, I COULD FLY!
The cherry on top of the cake was my mom’s response to my guilt-ridden call to inform her about it. “Ohh you did skydivingaaa? Isn’t that where you jump off the plane? OK. That’s fine. By the way, I saw your photo on Facebook ….why do you wear such short clothes kanna?”