I think I have figured out how to fly again. If I just pretend that the plane might go down and I just might end up on FUCKYOU Island, where there is a hatch, a dog, a polar bear, and an actress with a great profile…
Live Through This
I have been struggling with a particularly debilitating irrational fear for over a decade now. A fear that has, over time, grown to epic proportions. I have always thought that there is great importance in being able to face your fears. To stare terror in the eye, and say “Fuck you terror.” Unfortunately I am finding that this is an incredibly difficult feat to accomplish.
Albert Brooks made a film a while back titled “Defending Your Life.” For some reason the concept of that film has always stuck with me. I have wrestled with the significance of challenging the dark corners of my mind for a long time now. I don’t think I can live with myself if I don’t make an attempt to face the things that frighten me. And this one thing chills me to the very core of my soul.
I had heard once that the majority of people that enroll in Psychology classes do so in hopes of learning more about themselves. I am of the opinion that irrational fears develop over time quite often due to a childhood trauma that was left unresolved. At least that is an idea I took away from my psych classes at Syracuse. In my case, I think I needed to replace the very real fear I experienced during childhood with an irrational fear during adulthood. It’s almost as if I need to be afraid of something now because I was imprinted in my youth; perhaps feeling that fear is just a normal part of everyone’s life.
Tomorrow morning I am driving down to a remote air strip an hour away with my closest friends, and I am jumping out of an airplane. In order to impart the gravity (no pun intended) of this decision, I must explain the degree to which I am terrified of flying. I used to fly all the time, in fact I quite enjoyed it when I was younger. Somewhere along the line, perhaps when I felt I was dying from a drug overdose in Boulder Colorado, all of that changed. Slowly but surely, over time I experienced more and more anxiety over flying. I haven’t stepped on a plane in over ten years, and now I can’t even look at a plane on TV without becoming uncomfortable.
The idea of jumping out of one at 17,000 feet doesn’t exactly thrill me either. I don’t know if I am going to be able to do this, but I don’t know if I could stomach the humiliation of backing down either. More importantly, I don’t know if I could look myself in the mirror anymore if I don’t go through with this tomorrow. My gut has turned over and over these past few days as the impending date with doom approaches. And in the moment of truth, I am hoping to learn something about myself. I don’t want to go through this life afraid of anything, and I hope that is enough to carry me through this and give me enough strength to follow through.
I see three possible outcomes for this adventure. One, I could back out. Somewhere along the way tomorrow I may just be overcome with fear and unable to do it. Two, I might reach deep down and find the determination I need to go all the way on this one. Three, I may “bounce.” I don’t like three at all, or one for that matter. But three definitely sucks. I guess though if I do die facing my fears, there really isn’t a more poetic way to go. Any bets?
Lived Through That
Well, in the end it was twelve of us who were crazy and stupid enough to drag our asses out to lovely Ottawa Illinois to experience the thrill of gravity first hand. Since I am writing this it is obvious that I have survived, unless Microsoft’s ever increasing hold on the market reaches even into Nirvana. It was a lovely 80 degrees here in Chicago, not a cloud in the sky. The air was dead still, which I thought was a good thing, but apparently “no wind” means no ability to “flare” for landings. I’ll get to that part in a bit.
As we were driving up I looked over at Peter and said, “the next time someone asks me to do something completely insane when I’m intoxicated, I am going to remember to tell them to fuck right off.” Peter looked back at me, and he is always good for a quote, and said, “You know Hemingway once said something about that. I think he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘People should be made to do what they said they would do when they were drunk. That way either two things will happen, people will start doing a whole lot more when they are sober, or talking a whole lot less when they are drunk.'”
We arrived at Skydive Chicago at around noon, and first up was all the documentation and of course payment. The documentation was literally three pages with perhaps 25 articles all saying in slightly different ways “You can’t sue us. You can’t sue us if we fuck up, and you can’t sue us if you fuck up. You can’t sue us if the plane fucks up, and you can’t sue us if the pilot fucks up. You, complete idiot that you are, are putting your life in our hands and we take absolutely no responsibility for it.” The cost for this day in the sun? Two hundred and thirty dollars. That includes a personal video and snapshots.
Next up, training. It sure was hard to pay attention when all you can think about is plummeting at the acceleration of 9.8 meters per second every second towards the earth. Of course that acceleration only lasts for approximately 3.5 seconds, leaving you traveling at roughly 150 feet per second. I tried to pay attention though, all the safety checks and crap we had to go through while we were in the air. Right, like I am going to remember all that shit right after I step out of a perfectly good airplane. The training lasted about an hour and a half, and was pretty thorough despite my inability to focus. I knew some of that shit he was babbling about could become extremely important at some point in the day, but it was all becoming so surreal at that point.
At about two o’clock we suited up. I was wearing a very fashionable blue jump suit. Speaking of clothing, I was somewhat despondent when I woke up in the morning and I was actually looking around for padded clothing in my drawers, like that would make a fucking difference! Realizing the futility, I just started grabbing shit and saying things like “Okay, I guess I could die in this underwear.” Anyway, so I finally get to meet my tandem jump partner. Get this; his fucking name was “Dangerous” Dan Fears. Is life too fucking weird or what?!! So “Dangerous” Dan and I are going through all the things I need to do to not piss him off, while Woody my cameraman is asking me questions about how excited I was. There is a point in the Video where Dan says, “Yeah man we’re going to kiss the sky…see if gravity is still workin’ today!” And then you hear me mumble, “I’m sure it is…”
Well the moment of truth was upon me. We walked towards our twin propeller plane with looks of pained excitement. Dan and I were first in, which subsequently meant last to leave. It was a tight fit for the first six of us to go. With our tandem partners and a few other experienced jumpers and the cameramen there were about 24 people in the plane. We had to sit legs apart on the floor straddling whoever was in front of us. Once the plane was loaded we were off. I felt strange, butterflies and all, but not scared really. I realized I hadn’t flown in a decade and recognized the importance of this decision. As the ground flew away I think I just resigned myself to inevitability of this whole thing happening. It took maybe ten minutes to reach ten thousand feet, which is when Dan started hooking us together. During a tandem jump, you wear a special harness that connects you to the master; he wears the parachute on his back. You are responsible for pulling one of two cords that must be pulled to deploy the chute. You are also responsible for not flailing about and sending the two of you into an uncontrollable spin after leaving the aircraft, henceforth pissing “Dangerous” Dan off to no end. During the ride up the experienced jumpers were fucking with all of us, telling us the plane was losing oil, and we had to return, throwing their friends out of the plane. The levity served only to relax me even more. I was far less frightened than I thought I would be.
At thirteen thousand feet it was time to go. It started happening so fast I couldn’t even think about it. Peter was out first, disappearing from my view in a flash. One by one we inched our way towards the door and hurled ourselves into the oblivion. Before I knew it I was the last man in the plane. Well, ok Dan was behind me so technically he was the last man. My cameraman had already pulled himself outside the plane and had his video on me, while I leaned out and tried to hold the exit position that Dan had taught me. My mind was blank. There was no terror, and only a nominal amount of fear. Distant fear that couldn’t break through the surreal energy that surrounded me. And then he pushed us out.
Gravity has a way of waking you right up! Holy Fucking Shit!!!!!! Holy Mother Of Fucking God, Shit, Jesus, Balls! Those first three seconds of extreme acceleration were insane!! We spun once and Dan regained control, tapping me on the head to let me know it was time for the free fall position (arms out at your sides like you are being held at gunpoint, and your legs bent at the knees behind you) and that he had deployed the drag chute. I looked at my altimeter that was strapped to my left hand and it was fucking dropping fast boy! My camera guy was literally five feet from my face, which I found a bit disconcerting, but I was too busy soaking in the moment. The curvature of the earth was incredible! My cheeks were flapping in the wind, but on the tape you can see a smirk (My smirk) on my face. It all was going so fast it was hard to do all the checks I was supposed to do. But “Dangerous” was behind me grabbing my hands and putting them where they were supposed to be. What a fucking rush! It was my job to look at the altimeter and flash a “five five” hand signal to Dan at fifty-five hundred feet, and pull the ripcord. The time went by so fast and we had already dropped eight thousand feet in less than a minute. I checked my altimeter, flashed my hands, reached back and yanked away!
Then everything just stopped. The rush of the wind and roar of our descent was over. Our chute opened perfectly, and by comparison the remainder of our trip felt like a stroll in the park. Dan let me bring a portable camera, and I took some shots. We did some turns and watched the others below us as they landed. As we floated back towards the earth, Dan thought it might be a good time to tell me that this was an “Experimental” parachute and he wasn’t sure how well it was going to “flare.” “Whattya mean Dan?” I asked somewhat helplessly. Dan told me that because we had no wind it could very well be a tough landing, so we needed to practice our landing procedure. Which we did a couple of times and the chute seemed to “flare” quite nicely, bringing us to a halt in mid-air. Unfortunately the chute decided it was not going to “flare” as the ground was rushing towards us and we hit hard. So here I sit before the keyboard now with two severely bruised and battered legs. We hit, my knees buckled from the force of the landing, and I fell forward. “Dangerous” Dan rode me like the bitch I am for almost twenty yards. I can barely walk, but damn it, this is the best pain I’ve ever had.
Walking off the field in our jump suits, Peter, Chris and I did our best “Right Stuff” impersonation. Seriously, we felt like we were ten feet tall. On the ride home I would periodically snicker, Peter would say something like “I can’t believe we just jumped out of an airplane,” and Chris would yell something out the window. Riding by the Sears Tower I felt like I could reach out and uproot it with one hand. The adrenaline and energy lasted the rest of the evening, and my description of the event pales in comparison to the experience itself. There just are no words to describe the feeling you get from beating something that has been beating you since before you can remember. Sure just getting on a plane would be facing my fear, but jumping out of one was like grabbing fear by the balls and making him call me “Sir.”