01 September 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 3)

(cont'd from previous post)

I didn't. I did not march my two beloved children out the door and forbid them from jumping out of a perfectly functional airplane. I was, I suppose, afraid I'd incur their noisy resentment (and louder resistance) and look like an idiot—especially since I'd already agreed to it and PREPAID (sneaky thing that!). At some primitive level I was torn between the urge to protect my cubs—which, by the way, is a very powerful instinct, right up there with self-preservation—and my normal rational self. I knew that thousands of people skydive safely every day, and we were going to jump in tandem with experienced professionals. That thought—and the promise I'd made to my kids—carried the day.

One other thing: that morning, Wisdoc had awoken and said she'd been dreaming about jumping, and, after declaring she had no desire to do it, had changed her mind, and that she, too, wanted to jump. She said she simply saw herself in her dream going through the door over and over and eventually falling safely to the ground. So she was on board to jump now as well. Talk about the power of the unconscious.

We filled out our forms and went through a brief orientation session with "Jeff". Jeff had wild, spiky hair and piercings and tatoos up and down his legs and arms and something like 5,000 jumps under his belt. He was not an adrenaline junky, he swore. He was clean and sober too, he said through bleary eyes—all the instructors there were, even though it was Sunday morning. He said it was perfectly normal to be afraid of jumping. In fact, it would be abnormal not to be a little apprehensive. Everybody, even the instructors who did multiple jumps every day, was. "Fear makes you careful," he said. "Believe me," he said, "none of us are (sic) suicidal."

On the carpet there in the waiting room, we practiced the motions we would need to do to exit the door of the plane and the jutting belly and arched back posture we would need to maintain during freefall. And we met the people who would be clipped to our backs for the ride down and pull the chutes at the appropriate time. So far, so good.

After orientation we had about an hour to mingle with other jumpers. I struck up a conversation with guy in a scuba diving tee shirt. He looked to be about sixty, but he had the truest, smoothest blond hair I've ever seen—even his mustache and goatee and eyebrows. His hair cascaded in gentle locks down below his shoulders. His skin was smooth and hairless and as tanned red as the laces on a baseball. He looked like he could've been a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. He said he walked iron, which I interpreted to mean he worked construction on skyscrapers—not a job I could ever do, though I did work construction on a twelve-story hospital the year I dropped out of college. I think his name was Jeff, too.

This Jeff and I talked about our favorite places to scuba dive and then about our fears of skydiving. He told me he'd never done it before, but his wife and daughter (who were there with him) had given him a certificate to do so for his birthday. Eventually I asked the question that had been preying on me: "What do you do if you get to the door and decide you just can't jump?" He thought about it a moment and pulled his hair back into a temporary pony tail with both hands and said something so ridiculously cliched I nearly sputtered. He said, quoting "Dirty Harry" and, I suppose, the wisdom of his colleagues who walked the iron-framed skyscraper shells: "Man's got to know his limitations."

But I didn't laugh. I looked him in his crystal-clear blue eyes and saw how sincere he was. I nodded to his experience. It sounded like a statement he'd earned somehow—though I didn't ask. "I guess that's what it is," I said turning my head to look out the mouth of the hangar at the latest group of returning jumpers. Just at that moment a voice on the loudspeaker called his group to suit up. They were the jumpers immediately ahead of us. "See you when you get down," I said. "Good luck."

Clearly the fear had its grips on me.

(to be continued)

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