Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fly like an Eagle

One Saturday morning, when I was a teenager, it was still dark outside when I woke up. I slipped into the bathroom to get ready to go. I heard my Mom get up and go downstairs to fix a little breakfast.

I showered, brushed my teeth, combed my hair, dressed and was ready to go quick fast and in a hurry! I was so excited.

I thundered down the stairs and followed the smell of bacon into the kitchen.
All ready to go, she asked
Yup, I responded.
Promise me that you won’t jump out of any airplanes, she admonished.
I promise, I said.
And I want to talk to him when he gets here.
Okay, I said.

I was eating bacon and toast when I heard his car door slam. I ran and opened the door before he knocked.
My Mom wants to talk to you, I said.
Okay, he said.
She came out of the kitchen. Promise me that she will not jump out of any airplanes.
Okay, he laughed, that deep throaty laugh, I promise.
She kissed me on my forehead, I grabbed my knapsack and we were gone.

In the car I met his friend, Jim. I rode in the center and we were off.
We drove down long stretches of deserted highway with his foot to the floor, or as we say, pedal to the metal, to see if his car would actually go the top speed on the speedometer.
We sang along to the radio.
We stopped for gas along the way.
Finally, in the distance, he pointed out the site.
That’s where we’re going, he said.

I could see colorful parachutes floating from the sky, like hot air balloons on race day. I saw a plane way over the group disgorging individuals whose parachutes would open seconds later. My heart was thumping. I was so excited.
He had asked me a couple days before if I wanted to go with him this weekend because he was going to do his first untethered jump. For your first 10 jumps, you do the motions, but the ripcord is pulled as you exit the plane. The 11th jump, you get to pull the ripcord on your own. He was doing 10 and 11 this morning.

My friend and I had been running around the halls at school doing this simulation that he taught us. One-one thousand, leap out; two-one thousand, open your arms; three-one thousand, grab your ripcord; four-one thousand pull the ripcord; five-one thousand, look up for the chute; six-one thousand, if no chute appears; seven- one thousand grab the safety chute ripcord; eight-one thousand, pull the ripcord.

We ran through the hallways, miming the routine as if we were wearing parachutes. We would look up as if checking for our chutes, and run into people. Then we’d tumble over them, laugh hysterically, and race to our next class.

This was for real. He was taking me to the place where he and his friend Jim were learning to skydive. He was taking me to watch him make his first solo jump. I am sure I was as excited as he was.

I loved all the things he did that I thought were pretty cool for a teen-aged boy. He was learning to be a pilot. He was learning to skydive. He was learning to deep-sea dive. And, the least of which, he had learned to drive.

When he first bought the car and picked up our friend Mike, he came and picked me up so I would be the first girl to ride in it. We only went around the block, he promised my Mom, but it was sweet.

Soon, he was coming to pick me up to take me different places and my mother eventually allowed us to spend more than 10 minutes in the car together. She even let him drive HER car once. That’s when I knew she trusted him. I like to think that she liked him, too. And he respected her and her rules. He even took direction from her that he rejected from his own Mother!

I had loved him madly since elementary school and he knew it. This was our summer. I didn’t know that then, but hindsight…

When we got to the Skydiving place, there were cars parked all over a field next to a low roofed building housing rows and rows of long picnic style table tops and benches. I immediately learned that this is where they wrapped their parachutes after a jump.

On the other side was a building several stories tall with folks on the top jumping off onto stacks of mattresses. This is where they practiced the ripcord routine.

They give plenty of lessons on how to wrap your parachute. For the novice, there are tables with rake like tines sticking up at intervals to show you how to separate and untangle the ropes in your parachute as you repack it. And there are plenty of tables long enough to wrap your chute without these guides for when you get to be an expert.

I was fascinated by the variety of people and parachutes. Some of the chutes were standard issue canopy, solid color all the way through. Others were just as colorful and festive, as I mentioned, as hot air balloons. Lots of folks had jumpsuits to match and made a fetching view from the ground as they fell out of the sky.

There was a husband and wife team who were elegant and delightful to watch as they twisted and turned and danced their way down out of the sky. Then they would separate and open their chutes, and descend lightly to the ground. 

At one point, JL asked me if I wanted to ride in the plane.

Oh yes, oh yes, I said, doing a little dance like a puppy that needed to pee. I had never been in an airplane before.

The pilot came over and said, Put this on. So I got to wear my own jumpsuit over my clothes. They strapped me into a safety parachute, the ones worn in the front, and then they asked me to jump off the roof of the building, just like the skydiving students, to practice the three second count to pull the ripcord if necessary. Jump, arms outstretched, reach in, and then pull. They were impressed at my efficiency at this task. But they had no idea how many times I had practiced this routine running through the halls of my high school.

The pilot told me that if he said to jump, he was not kidding.

I got it, I said. My heart was racing and my feet were pumping. Whoopee! I said, Whoopee! Hands clapping.

Since there are no seats in a jump plane, they physically strapped me to a side rail with a quick release button behind my back, in case I really did have to get out in a hurry.

The rest of the students were on the plane as well. This was the jump that JL was going to get to do solo. His first jump without the ripcord being pulled for him in his practice simulation. His first jump where he got to decide how far to fall before pulling the ripcord. And I was on the plane with him. Strapped to the side rail.

After all the divers had jumped out, at 10, 15 and 18,000 feet, the pilot then took me on a quick tour of the area. It was just like I had seen in pictures. It was out in farm country in New Jersey. The land was divided into quilted squares of brown and green and tan. People and tractors were tiny from my vantage point in the sky. The grass and trees in the woods looked imposing even from that distance.

Sailing across the sky, over hills and farms and houses and people and cars, I felt exhilarated. This was amazing. This view was amazing.

The plane started to stutter and I looked to the pilot, but he never looked back at me. I looked down and saw JL and his friends jumping up and down and waving at me. I waved back!

The pilot then circled around and landed on the tarmac. JL ran over to me and asked me why I didn’t jump. I said because the pilot didn’t say so. He said, one of the engines stalled while I was in the air! And I didn’t even know it!

That night, driving home, with Jim in tow, I realized that between JL's free-fall and my first plane ride, it had been a really, really, really good day.

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