A gentle breeze swished against our cheeks and stung our ears. The overcast sky seemed unwelcoming, and my dad fretted over whether the company would let us jump from the heavens.
‘It’s not that bad,’ my mum said. ‘Besides, we still have a few hours until we jump, it might warm up. But if the worst happens, we’ll just have to come back when it’s warmer.
‘It’s the middle of August,’ My dad said, ‘when are we supposed to come back?’
‘Who’s jumping out of this plane,’ My mum said. ‘Because you’re more worried than we are.’
My dad fell silent. My mum was returning for her second skydive in the space of a year, and she loved the experience so much she brought me a session for Christmas.
‘I hope I get Max again.’ she said.
‘I’m sure if you ask, they’ll let you jump with him,’ My dad said, pulling off the motorway and turning into a dirt-road car park.
Max was my mum’s first instructor, and she felt safe in his presence. I didn’t have a preference, nor did I know what to expect, but the only thing to fear at this point was a wasted journey. My stomach rumbled having skipped breakfast to get there early. Portacabins stood in the corner. A stall with a sign reading refreshments had its metal cage pulled down. There was no sign of human life as traffic whizzed by in the distance.
My mum stood by the car, smoking a cigarette as my dad wandered off looking for someone to guide us to our destination. ‘Nervous?’ she asked.
‘Yeah,’ I said with a laugh, ‘but not about jumping. That’s the least of my worries.’
‘What else is there to worry about?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Maybe not jumping at all. The place looks closed to me.’
‘Dad booked the first flight of the morning. Maybe we’re the first ones here.’
‘He always dies stupid things like this,’ I said. ‘I’m hungry.’
‘There’s a shop there,’ my mum said, pointing towards the boarded cabin. ‘Shame, it’s closed I could murder a cuppa.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It could be your last.’
Through the fog, a figure emerged shrouded by a cloud. A man with a proud smile, waiting to prove to the family who believed he’d have let down, that they were wrong.
‘They’re looking at the weather. If it stays like this, then the flight will go ahead, but if it gets any windier or it rains, then they may have to rearrange.’
‘It’s still early,’ my mum said. ‘You know what the weather’s like. You wake up, and it’s raining, so you go out wrapped head to toe and come lunchtime, you’re sweltering in the baking sun.’
My dad chuckled. ‘Well let’s hope your theories right today. We check in over there,’ my dad said, pointing towards the furthest portacabin.
Inside the cabins, the well-lit front offices displayed videos and leaflets showcasing the life-changing experiences on offer. On one side sat the main desk where we filled out forms declaring our fitness to jump and a form stating we knew the risk involved with jumping from the plane. On the other side, a smaller desk with a TV screen and price book listing the prices of recording these life-changing experiences. My mum forced me to buy a video, having purchased it last year and watched the video at least four times the day it arrived.
‘It’s for the memory. It’s one you’ll never want to forget. I’m telling you, once you hit the ground, you’ll want to do it again.’
‘I hope I don’t hit the ground, I’d rather a softer landing,’ I said.
The man behind the till laughed. ‘I understand, one of you was here last year?’ He said, but his tone was inquisitive.
‘I was,’ my mum said, bouncing up and down.
‘Good, good,’ the man said, smiling. ‘Return flyers are always good. Shows we’re doing something right.’
‘It’s an incredible experience,’ my mum said. ‘And Max, the instructor, was great, didn’t make me feel nervous once.’
‘Okay,’ the man said. ‘I think he’s around today, so we’ll get the two of you together.’
The door opposite the entrance led to a gravelled area with a portacabin opposite and a hanger around the back. We were guided towards the hangar where the rest of our flight group joined us. Max, my mum’s preferred instructor, introduced himself and his colleagues and explained the plan of action.
‘Weather looks good,’ he said. ‘We won’t have to worry about postponing our flight today. In my hand, I have a clipboard with a list of names. I’ll call your name and then the name of one of my colleagues. They’ll be your instructor for today and will help you in to your jumpsuit.’
Max called names and one by one the group tried to fit into their jumpsuits.
‘Glenn,’ he said. ‘You’re with Tibbi.’
Tibbi handed me a jumpsuit, and I tried to squeeze it over my abdomen, but it wouldn’t pull. I tugged harder, but Tibbi clutched my arm and shook his head.
‘Try this one,’ he said. ‘You’ll want to be comfortable.’
A larger jumpsuit later, I strapped a helmet around my neck and felt like a turtle trying to break from his shell. It was difficult to move at first but after a little wiggle, space became free, and my limbs felt less constricted. Tibbi led me outside and a woman greeted us, with a bight a bubbly smile. Her jumpsuit was unzipped and hung loose.
The wind rushed against our faces as we boarded the small propeller headed plane. Wooden benches ran either side of the aircraft, the left seats broke off to make room for a large sliding door. We sat with our backs to the instructor and faced away from the pilots. The captain made jokes as we began our take-off, nervous jitters and smile drifted through the air. Everyone excited and nervous in inequal qualities.
In front of us, two sole divers in white jumpsuits bounced around and boasted off their excitement. The plane levelled, and the doors opened. The white suits leapt without much thought. A wave goodbye and they were off, and soaring through the sky. Clouds floated by the windows, but I saw miles of Suffolk fields beyond the horizon. The tiny dots speeding down the same road we’d turned off. Everything seemed insignificant from the sky. Life went on.
I gazed around the plane, stunned and silent. My mum deemed herself an expert amongst the professionals who had jumped a thousand times between them and first-timers strapping themselves to their jumping partners.
‘Nervous?’ My mum asked.
I shook my head slowly.
‘Liar,’ she said. ‘Why are you so quiet then.’
I shook my head again, I wasn’t nervous about jumping, but I don’t like feeling surrounded by people in a confined space. My silence was my defence, my way of blending into the background until I escaped confinement with a death-defying jump.
One-by-one strangers leapt from the plane. Soon, social anxiety disappeared. My legs hung from the edge of the aircraft. Tibbi nudged my body off the side and left me floating in the sky, suspended only to him. ‘Let me know when you’re ready,’ he said.
I started out at the clouds, trying to avoid the ground. Now I was nervous, not fearful, but anxious about ever hitting the ground. They’d explained how we were supposed to land, with our legs out straight, I tried to practise but the air felt heavy. Like being underwater.
I slammed my eyes shut, took a deep breath. ‘I’m ready,’ I said, forcing my eyes open.
‘Okay,’ Tibbi said shuffling, ‘3,2,1.’
We fell and dropped and spun and rolled as the air rushed by us. The wind pierced my cheeks. There was no sound, everything felt silent as though life had stopped around us. The force of the atmosphere forced my eyes open. Tibu threw my arms up and we began to drift and soar through the air, all around us the earth rotated. Fields expanded and stretched as cars sored by on the distant motorway. The faster we glided, the further the famous English countryside seemed to feel.
Then, Tibbi tapped my shoulders, which was explained meant I was supposed to clutch parachute straps, which I did. The camerawoman waved goodbye and flew away as though she was heading back to the plane. We shot up, and the fields drifted away. All I could see was the sky of the everlasting sky. The clouds floating by without a care. We slowed and the wind echoed, the sound slowly returned as we drifted through the skies.
Around us, the fields rotated, as Tibbi turned and guided as towards the landing spot. It felt as though we sat suspended in mid-air, nothing felt close. Trees and fields stretched for miles over the horizon. A few houses, but human civilisation seemed a distant memory. I thought about trips through the Namibian deserts and how mesmerising the view would have been, but there’s something about the countryside. The peace and beauty.
It was a long wait until the ground.
As the ground approached, we seemed to glide faster until it felt as though Tibbi was in control of the fall. Tibbi tapped my shoulders and pointed to his stretched-out legs, which I duly followed. We slid and bounced into the ground. The force echoed through my body, shaking in my eardrums.
We skidded to a halt. On the ground, my dad and mum waited, smiling with my personal photographer. My gloomy morning expression replaced with bulging and uncontrollable smiles. The rush, the buzz, the adrenaline. I’d jumped from a plane and survived. The invincible feeling.
‘How was it?’ my dad asked, rushing towards me.
‘Fff amazing,’ I tried to hold in an expletive. ‘I want to do it again.’
‘Me too,’ My mum said. ‘There’s another flight later today.’
In my excitement, I forgot the instructor. Tibbi approached with a rolled-up parachute and asked me how it was. I repeated everything I said. He smiled, we shook hands with bright and wide smiled. I thanked him relentlessly for the incredible experience. For the way, he barely spoke to me, sensing my desire to be quiet. For keeping me safe. For ensuring I hit the ground safely. Everything was okay.