Here I was, standing perhaps 10 feet from the door, patiently waiting my turn. For the last half hour, I heard the rigger and the jump master repeat the instructions over and over again to the others.
“Harness Check?” the short, burley guy yelled above the engine noise. The first timer patted his shoulders and crotch. Everything was where it was supposed to be. Two thumbs up framed his face of fear. I could see it on his face, if there was a way to back off, and climb down the first timer would. Yet here he was strapped to his instructor who had no intention of staying put, waddled to the open door, yelled a blood curdling war cry and the two tumbled out the door and began to plummet toward the earth, a mere seventeen thousand feet below.
There were 2 more first timers to go. Then it would be my turn. Christ! I hated first timers!
It had all started innocently enough. I was working construction and would gravitate to the highest spots which was typically the roofs of homes or small office buildings. I liked the freedom of working high with the sounds below muffled by the distance. It was a bit selfish, but thoroughly enjoyable. I had a good sense of balance and of place, so I never got scared as I scurried about from one rafter beam to another. There was also something about the skeleton of a building that was exhilarating that disappeared once the building became closed up. Eventually, I changed jobs and began to work as an iron worker, setting steel I-beams up 6 stories up, then 8, then 10. Each new floor of a building built upon the thrill of those floors below. I frequently found myself leaning way out over the girders looking at how small the people and trucks were. Between the view and unobstructed wind blowing through my hair, I felt I was halfway to heaven. Then Shelia came into my life.
She was self-assured which meant that at first, she hated me and I hated her. I had never met a woman who didn’t mince words and would rather torch a relationship than to accept anything less than what she needed. We only dated for 5 months, but she introduced me to skydiving. I simply loved it.
Shelia was long gone. She moved to Rome to study art, or cooking, or Renaissance painters, or all three. I didn’t listen enough when she told me the 200 times she mentioned it. I was her last American fling before heading overseas. Like the skydiving she gave me, I was along for the thrill ride that was Shelia.
“Harness Check!” the jump master yelled at the last first timer. This time, the newbie was more assured, grinned from ear to ear. I could hear his scream of pleasure quickly fade away as he fell away from the plane. It was now my turn, along with the other seasoned jumpers. We stood there waiting for the signal like runners in the blocks, all coiled energy ready to be unleashed upon the world. He was listening to the pilot through head phones, and his expression was fairly easy to read, especially his eyes. His arm went up. Big smile. His arm came down and I was out the door in an instant.
Joy, pure joy as I floated above the earth.