You can’t take the sky from me
Published 10:04 am Friday, June 13, 2014
Look at the smile on that face. Amazingly enough, it was probably the most peace I had felt since I set out for Skydive Suffolk that morning. In that moment, there was nothing but a sense of serenity.
But back to the beginning. On Friday night I went to sleep with an uneasy feeling, knowing that in the morning I was going to jump out of a plane from more than 7,000 feet up with nothing but a few sheets of nylon to protect me from gravity’s ill effects.
I was afraid, but I also knew that I was not going to back down no matter how I felt. So, with that thought I drifted off into a thankfully dreamless sleep.
When I awoke, the butterflies in my stomach were back, but there was also a sense of excitement about how the experience itself was going to go. I was headed to the Suffolk Executive Airport to meet up with house-wife and mom turned skydiver Cassandra Albert (of course, she’s still a wife and mom) for a story. As part of the story, I wanted to actually experience what she goes through in an attempt to better understand it and in theory, help me better write about it.
I stepped outside, and it was a beautiful day for skydiving. I could see that nature wasn’t going to get me out of it. I told myself that I would not back out because of personal fear, but I wouldn’t have balked at something else getting me out of it.
On the way there, I admit there was a part of me hoping I’d get lost since I’d never been to the airport, and then I could say, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just come to your house and talk.’ But with modern day phones and GPS systems built in, I had no real hope of such luck. It got me there, and I even beat Cassandra by a few minutes.
I recognized one of her daughters working on loading up parachutes, but I held back near the entrance of the hanger for the moment to stand, breathe and try to chill my nerves. Sometimes people-watching can be calming. I saw two men, one who appeared to be in his 70s or 80s, and the other in his 60s. They were loading up their parachutes for a jump, and the sight of longevity was a little reassuring to my fears. I didn’t let myself think that they could have just started skydiving the day before.
Cassandra showed up minutes after I arrived, and we talked for a few moments before we went into the office to get me set up.
The process was pretty easy, just fill out a few forms signing away that I’m aware that skydiving can kill me. Nothing too exciting there.
I then watch the introduction video, which basically went through what was expected of the instructor and victim. The man with a very long and slightly creepy beard even went on again about the dangers and possible death. Nope, I pointlessly gave the TV a defiant look, ‘You are not going to talk me out of this.’
So I went through some more training and got fitted for the harness. The guy was pretty cool about the whole thing and talked about how fun it’d be. He was going to be my tandem instructor, but Cassandra switched me up with a bigger guy, so we’d fall faster (Gulp).
The nerves never really leave, and I work to my best ability to mask any fears. The usual, trying to remember to breathe and fidgeting with my harness (my other valuables, such as my phone — the old nervous energy standby — were long abandoned).
I then head toward the plane. I’m going to jump with Cassandra, my tandem instructor Paul, and the photographer John.
The plane ride up was all nerves and excited anticipation. It was probably the longest 10 minutes of my life, kind of like watching dinner cook.
The knowledge of what would be the scariest part of the whole experience for me comes when we are just about ready to jump. The instructor is going to hang on the rail while I hang off with nothing to grab but the harness, as I look down at the earth thousands of feet below.
As we move to the door, I’m thinking about how crazy I must be and other choice words that I’ll spare the children. Then I’m just hanging there with only the harness to keep me from falling without a parachute. I don’t trust this stupid thing, I start to think, and before I have a panic attack we are off.
At that point, with the wind blowing up at me, it felt like I was just floating there, kind of like being in a pool except the sight below was much more beautiful. I look around at the blue up there and also the clouds. All of that anxiety is gone from my body for those few minutes of free fall.
I feel the rush as the earth must be getting closer, though it’s honestly hard to tell the difference from that high up. I breathe, let it all go, and I know I will never see the sky the same way as I did before.
CAIN MADDEN is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. The parachute ride down is a story for another time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 562-3187.