I’ve always liked iced water.
It’s funny, really. The thoughts unhinged in your mind while hurtling towards the earth.
The plane was cramped. I sat huddled next to another Ryan. In fact, another Baylor Ryan. He wore so much green, I remember thinking he’d be hard to find if he fell into the woods. He kept smiling, as his nerves wrestled for control of his emotions. His tandem jumper sat in front of us, in the back of the plane. The rattling door taunted me to my left.
I glanced out of the window, sealed with a line of grey duct tape. I wanted to pull it off to see if the small window would whip off the plane. Better judgment prevailed.
Other Ryan and I made small talk. If we both died, we joked, Baylor would have to make a Ryan Memorial on campus. We’d be like the Immortal Ten, but more Ryan-ish. He made odd noises. Happy and nervous grunts. He edged his elbow more into my side. “Ready?” he asked.
The height outside the window told me I wasn’t. We didn’t seem high enough. Weren’t we going to jump from space? I had no concept of what 10,000 feet meant. I was busy thinking through the steps of what I needed to do next. One foot out. Then both. Learn forward. One. Two. Three. Go.
Other Ryan’s tandem stirred and motioned for us to get in position. My tandem finally shifted, reminding me he was there. “Get on your knees,” he told me.
The harness pulled in odd places, but I wasn’t afraid. I was awash in excitement. I was doing something I’ve always wanted to do! I was facing it dead on. Anxiety started to build. I caught a glance of the other tandem’s altitude bracelet. 8,900 feet and climbing.
“Lean back,” my tandem yelled. I did. I could feel him connect the straps between us. It didn’t feel tight enough. “Tighten,” I voiced. “Tighten the straps.” Ryan and I shared another look. “Good luck,” I said.
My tandem opened the door, and my heart jumped into my throat. The roar of 80 mile-an-hour winds at 10,000 feet isn’t something to which one is accustomed. The cold wind whirled around the plane, but it didn’t manage to suck us out like a bad B terrorist movie.
“Feet out!” my tandem yelled. I shifted with what little room I had. My 6’1″ frame wasn’t meant to be cramped in such small spaces. I managed my left foot over the metal frame of the door, into the wind. I missed the step. My foot whipped upwards and away, towards the side of the plane. I didn’t expect the strength of the wind. I felt a push at my back again. “Feet on the step!” he yelled again. I wanted to punch him.
A second and a half later, I had one leg on the step. My right foot was over the door, reaching for the step, while fighting the wind. I saw the ground in the distance. Green fields separated in strange geometric patterns. I wondered from the plane if aliens had made them or the farmers were just bored. I felt a tug.
I fell into the sky.
Surprise caught up in my throat and echoed out in a scream. No sound came out. The force of the wind wouldn’t allow it. The cold was impressive. The loss of control, staggering. We twisted and turned. I did a somersault in the air. My back fell, while my face looked up at the sky. I flipped again. Pull your legs back. We fell through the equivalent of an icy pool of water with little resistance. I stopped fighting.
I let myself do the Superman pose. I tried to do a Sic ‘Em Bears, but the wind wasn’t having it. I let myself fall. I watched the sky, my mind blank. No life flashed before my eyes. The thrill overrode my better senses. Adrenaline pumped into every cell of my body. I felt like a super hero.
Another tug. My tandem had pulled the chute. We floated towards the ground, like a balloon on a summer day. I watched the grassland in the distance, and may have marveled at how peaceful it was in the sky. The ground approached slower than I thought it might. Legs up! My tandem took the blunt of the fall. I skipped forward like a stone, but I didn’t feel it. The adrenaline wrapped my body in a shell. A shell of excitement and aliveness.
It’s been a little over a week since I fell into the sky. And I can’t wait to fall again.