Some anniversaries, you always keep in your head: The day you got married (March 10, 2007, then again May 25,2013). The date your parents got married (July 7, 1968). The date the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup (June 14, 1994). Your examples may vary.
But sometimes they sneak up on you, like the one I “celebrated” last Friday. I discovered while going through my YouTube account that Friday was the 5th anniversary of the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life: Jumping out of an airplane, strapped to another human’s back.
I also then discovered that I’ve had this blog for almost five years now and never told the story of that day. So settle in with your morning coffee, or beverage of your choice, as I try to explain what possessed me to do this, and how I survived:
All my life, I’ve been scared of heights. I don’t like balconies on tall apartment buildings, I don’t like leaning over the upper deck at baseball stadiums, and I really don’t like looking down from anywhere above four or five stories.
And yet, incongruously, ever since I was in my early 20’s, I’ve wanted to skydive. Some of it was about the ultimate conquering of my fears, but a lot of it was just, it looked so cool. I’d had some friends who’d done it, and they described the feeling of soaring through the clouds, looking down at buildings, and seeing such magnificent beauty.
So for a long while, it was something I talked about only to a few close friends, because it was a dream that I figured I’d never get to do. I didn’t think I’d ever have the courage, quite honestly.
But after talking about it for a few years to my ex-wife, and how I really, really wanted to do it before we had kids, and hearing her tell me over and over again that I was crazy and no way would she let me do it… I woke up one morning in her parents house over Christmas break, and inside a small wrapped envelope was a gift certificate for one skydive of my choice, to be done at DeLand Skydive, a world-famous skydive location 20 miles from our home.
I was elated. I was thrilled. I was also… scared out of my ever-loving mind. It was no longer abstract; now I actually had to jump out of a freaking plane.
I chose a day. My ex-wife convinced some friends to come with her, and bring some Valium, to watch me do this. After first watching a safety video with the rest of that day’s lunatics (I mean jumper. ironic, isn’t it, that they make you watch this? I mean, we’re jumping out of a plane, no safety video is going to dissuade us), and signing at least 12 waivers promising me or my family won’t sue if the parachute doesn’t open, I was introduced to Alberto.
Alberto was about to become my new best friend, since he was the professional diver I’d be strapped to. Alberto got me all suited up, and explained what would happen once we got up in the sky. I wish I could remember any exact quotes or sage advice from him, but mostly my mind was a blur at that point.
I definitely remember him telling me to relax, not try to tug on any part of my parachute while we were up there, and to hold on tight.
We got on the plane, and I was totally calm as we soared to 10,000 feet, with me and Alberto strapped together like mummies. Eva, the pro jumper/videographer who was going to film my jump (hey, it was an extra $75, but I sure as hell wanted to prove I had done this), sat next to us and told me to stay calm.
And I stayed calm, until the final 30 seconds before we jumped. You can tell in the video above that I walked very, very slowly toward the open plane door. I suddenly was having second thoughts, and third thoughts, and what the hell am I doing about to jump out of a plane?! thoughts.
But I did it. And it was amazing. The first 30 seconds after the jump were pretty scary, because I was screaming and couldn’t hear anything. But then Alberto opened the chute and told me to hold my arms out wide and look around.
And I listened. And it was incredible.
The city was below me, and I was as close as a person can come to actually flying through the air. I just kept looking around and shouting “This is so cool!”
After about five minutes, we sadly had to land, and it was an amazingly soft landing, just a few steps of momentum once we hit the ground.
I was exhilarated. I was stunned that I’d actually done it. I had a little bit of a headache, but they told me that’s normal. And I couldn’t wait to jump again.
It’s been five years. I haven’t jumped again. I may never. But for one day in March, 2009, I got to fly.
And I got something else: When any future children of mine express doubt that Daddy was ever cool, I can show them that video.
It may not convince them. But it’ll make me feel alive.