Without going into the details of my axed ex, life had got me down a bit, and I had been ordered into our cafe for a ‘needed talk’ by my best friend Julie and her new partner Ingrid.
“Look, give your money to the drug industry if you want to” Jool’s said, sugaring her skinny latte, “But you really don’t need anti-depressives Sarah, you just need to move on with your life”.
“But that’s the reason why Dr.Mullinar put me on them” I replied, “Surely?”
“And he may be right”, Ingrid chipped in, “But sometimes I reckon we just need like, a shot in the arm, you know, something to get us back into the world again like”. Jool’s eyebrows rose at Ingrid’s ‘likes’.
“I was a real basket case when I was questioning my sexuality”, she continued, “And an old army mate of mine suggested I try skydiving, he said I needed a bit of shock therapy to sandblast a lot of my shit away, and just deal with my life’s essentials”.
Julie squeezed Ingrid’s hand as she found out something new about her girlfriend.
“Christ, I could never do that” I said, “Did you do it?”
“Eventually” she laughed, “But only because he kept on about it. Anyway Sarah, the thing is, Alan was right. Parachuting out of an aeroplane was the biggest challenge of my life, and I did it. And I figured out afterwards, if I could do that, then I could show the world who I really was, and they could suck it up if they didn’t like it”.
“That’s beautiful Ingrid, but I could never find the courage to do that”, I said.
“Yeah, well that’s just what I thought as well. So, that being the case, how about you borrow some of mine then”, she said, ”And after you use it, you can pass it on, pay it forward like”.
Well, how can you say no to such caring wisdom?
So, after shoving all commonsense aside, (for a bit), and without going into all the preparation details, I soon found myself alongside three other dare-devils, inside a Cessna aeroplane with a parachute strapped to my back. We were tearing down a runway at ever-increasing speed, the aircraft shaking and rattling like an overloaded clothes dryer as it thundered over the grass. With just enough runway to spare, our wheels left the ground as we rose into the smooth sky, leaving the airfield way below us. After a steady climb we reached our jumping height of 760 metres.
Our instructor Tony directed the pilot to take us over the drop zone, where he pointed out the large white circle painted on the ground – the target upon which we would hopefully land. We then began a circling manoeuver that would return us to the drop zone again for the first jumper to go. I had been given this ‘honour’, and Tony indicated for me to crawl up next to the open doorway.
“All set to jump?” he called out to me. “I beg your pardon?” I said, cunningly playing for time. Unimpressed, he gave me the signal to begin the Exiting Aircraft Procedure that we had practiced earlier on the ground.
Under his watchful gaze, I first placed my right foot on the outside fuselage step just below the aircraft’s open door. I reached my arms out and took hold of the tubular metal strut that supported the overhead wing, and eased myself up into a standing position.
I was now outside the plane, copping the strong buffeting wind that was blowing back from the propeller. I placed my left leg onto the plane’s locked wheel, and swung my right leg from the fuselage step back against my left leg. With my adrenalin flowing like chardy on a Friday night, I was all set to jump. Never the hero, I was absolutely terrified. Shaping his hands as if shouting through a megaphone, Tony shouted GO! and off I went to my not so heroic cry of FFFUUUCCCKKKKKK!!
The twenty-metre long safety static line that ran from the Cessna’s fuselage to my parachute pack soon pulled my ripcord, and my parachute burst forth, instantly filling with air and breaking my fall. The noise of the Cessna’s engine quickly receded as the plane flew away into the distance.
I was alone, silently floating in a river of air, high at being high. There were no jet engines roaring away, or noisy helicopter rotors whirring around to keep me aloft. I became lost in the moment, just me in the peaceful silence, cheating gravity by hanging beneath a canopy of billowing white nylon. This was a truly wonderful moment, a special memory to file away for the future.
I could see the whole rural vista of the Mornington Peninsula way below me; toy cars traveling along Melway map roads, smoke curling up from a farmhouse chimney, and a ship sailing towards the city upon Port Phillip Bay. I could see cyclists pedaling along a back road, and a farmer plowing a field, sending dust skywards in the wake of the shears.
A flock of yellow-crested cockatoos flew past me in formation on their way to somewhere, and being on equal terms, the boss cocky gave me a knowing nod saying, “G’day mate, ripper flying weather eh?”
I figured I was about half way through my descent, when I became aware of the sound of an aeroplane, and looking up I saw our Cessna high above me, with the next skydiver all set to go.
I watched the person jump off the plane, saw their parachute open, drop below me, and land. Now, although not a Rhodes scholar, I did have a reasonable knowledge of the laws of gravity, and I was kind of expecting to land before the next jumper did.
I gathered that I was caught in a pocket of thermal air that was slowing my descent, and at a height of about two hundred metres, I was drifting past the drop zone as the wind speed carried me onwards. I was passing over farmland now, down to about 50 metres in height, and heading kamikaze style towards a barbed wire fence. Swearing profusely, I was valiantly pulling at the strings of my parachute in a desperate attempt to steer myself away from the many sharp rusted barbs.
Hearing my profanities, a herd of grazing cows turned their heads up towards me, noting some idiot human’s predicament with complete indifference. With just bum-ripping inches to spare from the barbs, and more luck than technique, I finally landed.
Looking up to the sky from whence I came, I was ecstatic and joyous and rapturous and all of those words at what I had achieved. Bloody hell! Can you believe it? I had just jumped off a plane flying at two and a half thousand feet in the air, and floated back down to mother earth. I hadn’t felt this alive for years – I could have powered a small town. I gathered up my spent parachute, farewelled the cows, and began climbing paddock fences to return to base.
My wonderful friends were right, it was time to move on.