I have a lot of things I’d like to say about college, like how university brochure pictures blatantly lie or how much I love it when professors accidentally walk into things in the middle of their lectures. But all of that wondrous observation will have to wait, because I jumped out of a plane yesterday morning.
(In case you didn’t quite absorb that the first time, let me reiterate: I jumped out of a plane yesterday morning.)
Skydiving has always been one of those distant, vaguely interesting activities that other people do, like going to Red Sox games or changing their bedsheets on a regular basis. I would’ve signed up if someone asked me to go with them, but I probably wouldn’t have inspired an army of friends to jump out of the sky with me of my own accord. When I was twelve or thirteen, my aunt or my friend or my friend’s dog had a birthday or something, and all of my prepubescent friends and our parents got to go indoor skydiving, which was a rather strange experience. They gave me a purple jumpsuit and a pair of plastic goggles that cut into my skin, guided me into this giant cylindrical wind-chamber thing, and shot enough air at my face that my body actually lifted off the ground. (My cheeks also lifted off my face, a flattering phenomenon which can still be admired in the framed picture hanging in my parents’ basement.) It was fun, but to be honest, I spent more time posing for the picture guy outside the chamber than I did actually paying attention to the levitation. (I’m not proud.)
Fast forward a few years, and it’s a warm summer night. Julie and I are sitting on my couch, watching either Tangled or The Blair Witch Project (I can’t quite remember which), and we get an excited phone call from our friend Meg.
(Meg, in a nutshell: Environmental Engineering major, continually frustrated/entertained by the liberal-artsy nature of my homework assignments, owner of a vast collection of pullover sweatshirts in varying colors and styles, the kind of friend who’ll let you know when you’ve got a booger and no one else has the courage to point it out. She lived on our floor last year, and would always stop by to chat on her way to the bathroom. The bathroom plays a surprisingly large role in forming college friendships.)
“Guys, there’s a skydiving Groupon! We could save like a hundred dollars! But we’d have to buy now, probably within the next half hour because Groupons go really fast. Are you in?” Meg said on speakerphone. We’d all talked about the possibility of jumping out of a plane together, and I’d contributed to the conversation with the kind of oh yeah, that’d be fun that some people might reserve for discussing glow-pin bowling. Skydiving had seemed a faraway, logistically difficult adventure, and I kept thinking of my earlier indifference to indoor levitation. But now skydiving, actual skydiving was here, knocking on our doorstep. Maybe this was fate.
(And if not fate, then it was Groupon, which has some pretty magical qualities itself.)
Julie and I looked at each other.
“Uh, fuck yeah, we’re in.”
We pulled into the skydive airport just before seven yesterday morning, oohing and ahhing at the sun rising over haze-filled fields. The air was crisp and cool; it smelled like golden leaves and bonfire smoke.
The afternoon before we had waited on cloud delay for several hours, preparing to jump, but the clouds stayed frustratingly low. We watched the training video. (Set in the 90s, a man with a beard shows how tandem-jumping equipment works while strapping himself to an attractive young woman. The body position demonstrations are jazzercise-sexual.) We signed the all-inclusive waiver. (We literally cannot fit all the ways you could die from what you are about to do on one sheet of paper, but YOU CANNOT SUE US.) We tried to tell each other a few riddles to pass the time. (No one could guess the answers right, everyone got frustrated, brief bathroom break to cool down.) We went home, slept sporadically, and were back on site before some of the instructors had even arrived.
We were ready to jump out of a fricken plane.
The instructors were talking about the awesome party they had thrown the night before, sipping their coffees with bloodshot eyes and scratchy voices. This was slightly disconcerting. (Brief mental image of being strapped to a hungover man as he vomits from 11,000 feet. Not exactly optimal.) But when they realized that we were ready and waiting, the instructors jumped into action.
Jumpsuits, helmets that made us look like The Coneheads from 1980’s SNL, and those beloved plastic goggles– we hopped, adjusted, zipped, and smiled like lunatics. Within twenty minutes of our arrival on site, Meg, Julie and I were piled into a plane with instructors strapped to our backs, a nimble woman with a camera attached to her head (to accompany Meg, who had splurged for professional photography), and a pilot we were trusting to not drop us in the middle of the Atlantic.
They opened the door at 11,200 feet. We couldn’t hear each other over the roaring wind, but we all knew what we would’ve said. Let’s fucking do this, ladies. If I had jumped first, Julie had been planning on waiting until the very last second before I fell from the plane, then shouting, “MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR GOD!”
But I was last to jump, so that plan didn’t work out. Meg and her dude were up first.
One, two, three. And just like that, Meg was out of the plane.
Julie and her dude were up next, with my dude (who was very tall and calm and decidedly not hungover) and me waddling up close behind. I looked out the door for the first time, all the way down at the sprawling Earth below. There were checkered green fields and shimmering ponds and blue skies extending to infinity in every direction. Over the roar of the wind, I could just barely hear Julie’s dude counting down: ONE, TWO, THREE! And they fell gracefully into the open air, flipping once before drifting under the plane and out of my range of vision.
Then, finally, it was my turn. Jumping out of an airplane. This is actually happening.
It pains me that there’s no actual proof of this (as I jumped last and couldn’t find it in my college student budget to invest in a professional photography package), but we did a barrel roll into a back flip coming out of that airplane. My dude had suggested it when Meg told him that I sometimes like to do daredevil-y things, and I was just like, you know what yeah, I could go for some barrel rolling into a back flip out of an airplane today. So when we fell out of the door into blissful oblivion, we started out sideways. My dude counted to three, our feet left the ground, and the plane drifted away. Then there was only sky, then land, then sky, then land again, and a strong cold wind lifting my cheeks off of my face.
I fell from the sky for 5 minutes, or maybe several years. We could see everything, the entire world it felt like, from Boston to Mt. Monadnock to Nashua to the White Mountains. My dude did some roller coaster-esque maneuvers on the way down, and I thought of nothing but the blue at my fingertips and the green below my feet.
Upon landing, I ran to Julie and Meg, we grouped hugged (hurray for survival! hurry for not saddling our families with unmanageable medical bills because they couldn’t sue!) and walked towards our parents looking something like a scene out of Top Gun.
So you may be asking, what does all of this have to do with college? Well, to be honest, not a whole lot– I kind of just wanted to tell you guys about the time we jumped out of a plane. But crazy opportunities are everywhere my friends, especially if you’re lucky enough to be in college. You don’t necessarily have to jump out of an airplane to see how far the world extends, but don’t forget to leap out of your comfort zone every once in a while. You might just find you like the view better from the outside.
(See what I did there? Pun and a metaphor. You’re welcome.)