I would never go skydiving. I know lots of people who have done it and they all say it was great, unbelievable, super exciting, you should definitely go skydiving. But I would never, ever go skydiving. I’ve pictured the whole thing in my mind, played out exactly how it would go down, and I’m already pretty scarred just from the whole visualization process. I have a very vivid imagination, and I really don’t like what I’ve seen in my head.
It’s not just skydiving. Maybe if it were just jumping out of a plane I would consider it. No, I still probably wouldn’t do it. But the jumping out of the plane isn’t really the hardest part. It all starts months in advance, when one or more of your friends decides to plan a skydiving outing. You don’t want to look like a weenie, and so you say, “Of course! Yes! Hell yes!” and that’s it. That’s when the terror starts.
So it might be a month, or two months away until it’s time to go skydiving. And you’re just thinking about it constantly. You’re like, holy shit, in two months I’m going to have to jump out of an airplane. And you just sit there thinking about it, picturing what it’s going to be like, waiting around for the plane to take off, getting up there in this tiny little box, nothing like anything you’ve ever been in before, this toy, this propeller driven prop. And that’s just imagining it.
And as the weeks crawl by, you keep getting text messages from the group saying stuff like, “Only five weeks left until the big day!” and you’ve tried to put it out of your head but it’s the only thing that you can think about. Your work is suffering. Your home life is spiraling out of control. You can’t seem to connect with anything or anybody. Everywhere you look you’re reminded of skydiving.
And then all of the sudden skydiving is tomorrow. And you can’t go to sleep that night. You’re just lying in your bed, shaking, figuring out if there is any realistic possibility of somehow getting out of it. But there’s no way. Your friend who organized the whole thing already put down a lot of money. But it’s really not about the money. Right now you’d pay double just to get out of it. But where would that get you, really? All of your friends would see right through your lame-ass excuse. Their perception of you would forever be altered. Maybe they wouldn’t show it right away, but it would be there, a chasm between your relationships.
And what would you talk about the next time you saw them all? Would you just pretend like nobody went skydiving, like the trip never happened and that you never chickened out? It would be super awkward, everyone sitting around, talking about the Mets or about the election and then someone would say something like, “Man the Mets’ season is in freefall,” and everyone in the group would look at each other, their eyes getting just a little wider, smiles creeping up on their faces. They all want to say, “Just like when we all went skydiving!” but they wouldn’t say it, because they’re trying not to make you feel bad. But you can tell. You can feel their energy, their shared experience. And they can feel your discomfort, your awkward smile, and it would make them feel bad about their accomplishment. So they’d have to have separate get-togethers, separate from you, so they could talk about skydiving, about their giant leap into their communal conquering of such a base fear, and the rapturous thrill of staring death in the face.
You definitely can’t back out. It’s the night before and, if you backed out now, what, the previous two months’ worth of fear and anxiety and sleepless nights were all for nothing? You back out now and it’s going to haunt you for the rest of your life, because you’ve found your limits with fear. You know exactly what your body and mind are capable of doing. All of the sudden your whole viewpoint on life has gone from “sky’s the limit” to “skydiving’s the limit.” And it’s a real limit. And part of you will never get past it.
So you wake up on that big day and you and your friends have to drive way out of the city to some rinky-dink little airport somewhere in the country and that tiny old plane that you imagined is even more dilapidated in real life. Is that really a canvas roof? What is this pedal-powered? But don’t get too excited, because you all have to sit through some five-hour class before you all get to pile into that death trap. And the five-hour class is all about safety, and how to jump, and how to land, and please sign this waiver, so that if you die, our skydiving company won’t get shut down and we can still collect money from people who want to skydive in the future, because it’s not our fault, it’s your fault, you signed the waiver, you jumped out of an airplane, idiot.
And then it’s time to go. But let’s just all wait a second, just an hour or two, or four, the wind’s not right. We’re all just going to wait for some better wind. Really? Wouldn’t it be safer to just wait for a different day with perfect wind? But no, the company’s booked for the next month, and there’re no refunds, and everybody else’s months are just booked from here on out, so the wind should be OK, they’ve done skydiving in wind like this, yeah, plenty of skydiving in wind like this.
The plane can only fit half the group, and everybody draws straws to see who goes first. And you’re in the second group. So you have to sit around and watch everybody go up first. And you’re not even jumping, you’re attached to some instructor. He gets the parachute, you just get some clips so you’re attached to his chest. What happens if the clips break? Don’t worry, each clip can hold up to four hundred pounds, and there are four clips. But what happens if the strap that the clip is attached to rips off the clip? Just shut up and get on the plane.
What do you mean get on the plane? I thought you said we had to split up into two groups? Yeah, but we spent so much time waiting for that wind to get better that we’re all running late, and we don’t have all day, and sure, you guys’ll all fit. You’ll all be fine. We’ve got more skydiving groups scheduled and everybody’s waiting. Just come on man, hop on.
And that’s it. You didn’t want to chicken out, but the fear is completely paralyzing. You’re stuck. All of your friends try really hard to snap you out of it, but you’re firm in your commitment not to get on that plane. And your friends try to wave you over, even as the plane starts taxiing, and they all have that look on their face like, really? You’re really not coming?
And you want to move. Just get on the plane. This is going to haunt you forever. And you sit there and watch as the plane picks up speed and takes off. And it starts flying higher and higher, but then it starts to dip. It looks like it’s struggling. It’s definitely too heavy. The plane can’t take it. It sputters, spins out of control, and crashes. You run to the wreckage to see if anybody is still alive. It wasn’t that high up. They could’ve survived it. But just as you start to run, the plane explodes, a huge fireball. You can feel the heat.
And then at the memorial service you’re standing around the wreaths and the framed pictures of all of your friends. And everybody’s bawling and blowing their noses and they come up to pay their respects and when they get to you they pause, and they say, “Didn’t you go skydiving also?” And you say, “Yeah, I went, but I … I … I didn’t get on the plane.”
“Why didn’t you get on the plane?”
“I don’t know, I guess I chickened out. I really had a tough time with …”
“What do you mean you chickened out? Were you worried that the plane was too full? Because that’s why the plane crashed, right? Too full?”
“Maybe. There were a lot of things going through my head at the moment. I …”
“Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you try harder to get them to split up into two groups? Why didn’t you insist?”
“I couldn’t have thought … I was just … I …”
“This is your fault! All of your friends are dead and it’s all your fault!”
And that person would start crying even harder than before, and you’d just hang your head in shame, waiting for that exact conversation to repeat itself over and over again, the line of people stretching around the block, all of them wondering why you didn’t speak up, didn’t try to convince everyone that the plane was too heavy to carry the whole group.
How would you live with all of that guilt? How would anybody ever want to be friends with you ever again? Nope, there’s no way that I’m ever going skydiving. Never. And I never even want to be friends with anybody who ever wants to go skydiving. So never ask me. Because I’ll just hang up the phone midsentence and I’ll delete your number from my contacts. It’ll be like I never knew you in the first place.