I’m at the airport, confident. I’ve never had vertigo in a plane before, so I’m not worried about jumping out of one.
Besides, my dad is jumping, too, and I don’t want to wimp out on him. Mom is here, too, documenting the whole thing in photos, so if I wimp out, there will be photographic evidence of my cowardice.
She snaps pictures of us putting on our blue suits. Then, we wait for instructions. It’s the first time we’ve done this, so there’ll be a professional strapped to our backs during the jump. While we wait, we watch a group of people preparing for their first solo jumps.
They roll around on the ground to simulate movements they’ll make while they are in free fall. The instructor says something like, “And this is what you’d do if the cord gets wrapped around your leg.”
I decide right away not to go any further with skydiver training. This decision is based on a general policy I have of avoiding situations where I have to fix something in less than a minute or else die.
A man comes up to Dad and introduces himself. He’s the guy that will be strapped to Dad’s back, so he takes Dad through what’s going to happen.
There are directions for how to jump out of the plane, what to do in the air, and how to land. I pay attention because I’m curious, but I also try not to pay too much attention because I don’t want to be bored when my professional skydiver gives me directions.
However, my skydiver shows up late, just as it’s time to get on the plane. Mom expresses concern that I didn’t get directions, but Dad’s skydiver says, “Eh, you heard me explain things, right?”
I kind of shrug my shoulders and nod. I pretty much had the gist of things. I felt like I was cool.
We all get strapped to our skydivers, and then we get in the plane. After the plane takes off, I decide I am definitely not cool. It’s a tiny plane and the ground gets farther and farther away very quickly. My stomach clenches.
We’re seated in sequence: Some kid shooting a video of his jump will go first, then Dad, then me.
In my head, I review the directions they gave Dad. Did anyone say it was normal to panic? I don’t remember anyone saying that, but it must be normal, right? I think about asking, but I can’t really speak.
I think to myself: Don’t wimp out in front of your Dad. You have to do this. You have to do this. You have to do this you stupid ridiculous moron.
The ground is two miles below us. We aren’t getting down there by plane. The door has been wide open for a while now.
My heart is a hammer.
“Nice weather, isn’t it?” my skydiver hollers from behind me.
“Yeah,” says one of the other pros.
In my head, I ask if we can shut the door. No one hears.
And then it’s time to jump. A skydiver with a camera hops out onto the wing of the plane, as if it were an ordinary thing to do.
Then the kid and his strapped-on skydiver shuffle over to the door.
They hunch over together in the tiny doorway, count to three, and then fall forward, out of the plane. Then the camera person falls forward off the wing of the plane, following after them. The whole thing twists my stomach.
Then it’s Dad’s turn. No time for reflection. I can only see Dad’s right arm, but he seems as cool as a glacier. He and his skydiver stand in the doorway and count to three, then fall out of the plane.
My turn. It takes me a second to move. Maybe more. We shuffle forward. I have to go into a deep place inside myself to get my feet to move far enough forward so that my toes hang over the edge. I’m now bent over in the doorway, looking between my toes at the ground below.
My skydiver is counting to three but he seems to have stopped at one, like he’s pausing to make me more queasy, to torture me. It’s taking far too long. What is he waiting for? I don’t want to be looking at the ground right now.
I want to tell him we should jump now before I change my mind. Do we have to stare at the land two miles down for so long? Do we have to count to three? Can we just go?
I suck it up.
I think: I will just do this. I will not think about anything else except falling forward on three. I yield to the universe.
I fall forward, pushing my arms out and spreading my legs. The wind hits. It’s chaos for a second, and then a new equilibrium is achieved. We’re falling.
It doesn’t feel like falling, though. The vertigo I experienced in the plane is completely gone.
I look down. It looks peaceful down there.
I look at the mountains. The tips of the mountains are even with my line of sight. I’m at fifteen thousand feet. And I’m flying.
I’m so high up that I can see the curvature of the Earth. I can feel the planet’s enormous size. I can also grasp how small I am.
I’m suddenly comforted by the knowledge that whatever might happen during my skydiving experience doesn’t really matter. How could I possibly affect the giant, enormous planet below? Earth will be precisely the same, whether I smash into the ground at 120 miles per hour or not. I am a speck, and all my worries are gone.
My skydiver taps me on the shoulder. “Doing okay?”
I nod. I actually am.
I think about saying, “Does it matter?” But I figure it doesn’t matter enough to ask.