The plane circles again. The Jumpmaster’s voice crackles across the transmitter, “Let go. Goddammit! There’s no coming inside now. Holy mother of horse pucky, you have to let go.”
Richard, Kim, Rick, and I shield the sun from our eyes. We watch the plane come around. We squint, observing the student hanging off the wing strut refusing to relinquish his grip. We exchange broad expressions of concern, animated head shakes, and hidden grins at the reluctant jumper. We can afford to be smug. Our jump was over.
When we signed up for skydiving, we assumed— first mistake, that we would be jumping out of a big plane. This skydiving company used a Cessna182. The only seat in the plane was for the pilot. The rest were taken out to make room for the economy students of skydiving. With the seats removed there was room for the instructor, and the four of us. We became connected in an awkward game of twister.
Along with our stylish jump attire, we had a communication device on our parachute harness— So the Jumpmaster could give us last rites if our chutes malfunctioned.
We took off into the wild blue yonder wondering what the hell we were doing, leaving perfectly good ground. At 3000 feet, the instructor pipes up, “Door opening,” A rush of wind enters the cramped cab. I can taste the fear that rolls around the cockpit. “Who’s first?” asks the Jumpmaster.
My mouth is dust, I force out the words, “I will. I’ll go first.” I wanted to go first, almost more than I wanted my first pony. Not because I was brave. I was freakin terrified. However, I couldn’t sit still, and watch other people climb out of the plane. I’m a runner. I’m not built like a runner, nor fast like a runner, but in muscle twitching, gut quivering situations, my feet must move. The only place to move, was out the door.
The jumpmaster hollers, “Move out.”
I nod. My voice box leaps out of my throat, and decides to ride down with the plane. I flick a glance at my husband Rick, and our two friends. They look like they have diarrhea with no place to go. I stand up. I place a hand on either side of the door, and lean forward. The wind shoves at me, trying to force me back into the plane. I want to oblige. Moving on, I grip the wing strut with my left hand, and place my foot on the step. I place my right hand further out along the wing strut, and step out with my other foot. I shake. The air resistance steals my breath. I clench my jaw and push ahead dropping my feet into space letting them dangle. This was my misguided idea. I can’t sprout feathers and cluck like a chicken now. My eyes tear up. My arms feel the strain. I decorate the wing strut like piece of clothing on a clothesline. It’s distressing. I stare at the jumpmaster with dry-eyed fright.
“Ready.” I quaver.
“Go.” He explodes.
I open my fingers. I fall for a few seconds. The pilot chute he had thrown out after me pulls my parachute out. A stunning rainbow of colour expands above me. Reaching up I grasp the steering lines to direct my parachute to the specified landing area. It is freedom, flying with control, floating down to the ground like a piece of poplar fuzz in the spring. It is pure bliss.
After landing safely, we are picked up by the ground crew.
Back at base, we watch the student dangling from the airplane like a sticky piece of sap off a tree branch. I feel bad for him, he doesn’t know about the bliss yet. We eavesdrop on a crew member with a communication device. We hear the Jumpmaster’s voice became hostile, “This is the last time we are circling around. Let go when I tell you to let go. I see your holy weenie of woo woo face. Don’t you dare let go now! You Shite water Mother effer. Wait for the drop zone. I can see you want to let go— but I’m telling you— don’t you do it! You had three chances at this. Hang on cream puff. Two more minutes, then you can open your fingers.”
The guy let go.
We suck in our breath.
The radio snaps to life, “Truck one, did you see that dirty rotten lint licker? I don’t know where he thinks he’s heading. Damn it! I just hope he misses all the power lines.”
There is a reason the Jumpmaster instructs you on the timing to release your hands. It’s to keep you alive— away from power sources, trees, and ferocious farmers and their dogs.
The saga continues for the only student in the sky. “Where are you going jumper? Steer your chute. Head towards the jump site! For Christ’s sakes pull right! You’re headed for the wheat field. Shit! Look out for those trees.” There is an audible heavy sigh,”Truck number one, pick up jumper on range road twenty-one. The bloody blighter landed in Ian Murphy’s wheat field. You might need the first aid kit. He was trimming the trees with his face.
Our group sympathizes for the jumper, but also for jump team looking after our greenhorn butts. We did a second jump that day to experience bliss again.
Years later, I wonder about the reluctant jumper. He was tenacious on the wing strut. I bet he rocks the Boxing Day sales, and local neighborhood tug-a-wars. Whatever he’s become, I hope he’s found his bliss.