Tag Archives: Skydiving

It was all a dream

I went skydiving a few weeks ago, but it turned out to have only been a dream. I wrote about it. It was really scary. A couple of days later I got into a really bad car accident. It wasn’t even my car, it was my sister’s, and I was really drunk, and the cops were making me take this field sobriety test, because in my belligerent state, I took the breathalyzer out of my mouth and threw it into the woods. And so everyone was really pissed off, they were cuffing me, someone was trying to get my sister on the phone, but then one of the cops started blinking red and saying, “Beep! Beep! Beep!” and then I woke up in my bed to the alarm clock, it turned out that it was all a dream.


So that was kind of a relief, until a day or two after that I came home from work and my house wasn’t there, it had been burned to the ground. And my wife was standing outside, she was crying, obviously, and she turned to me and said, “Didn’t I tell you to make sure my hair dryer was unplugged? Didn’t I? The fire marshal said it was an electrical fire. It’s all your fault Rob. It’s all …”

Dream. That was a dream too. It was also a dream that same night, after I finally managed to get back to sleep, I had a dream that I was in the emergency room, some doctor was like, “Well, you shouldn’t have taken so many Tylenol. Why did you think ten pills was a good idea?” and I couldn’t give a good answer, because of course I know you’re not supposed to overdo it on Tylenol. Advil’s OK once in a while, you can take three or four, but Tylenol will mess you up. But like I said, it was a dream, even though I didn’t know it at the time, even though it felt so real, the priest being called in to deliver my last rites as my liver and kidneys started to fail at the same time.

The next day I got home from work, the next thing I knew I was right back at the restaurant, I felt like no time had passed at all, and the place was crazy. “Rob!” my boss screamed, “I need this side of mayonnaise out to table thirteen right! This! Second!” and I was trying, I really was, but I couldn’t remember when they’d installed the moving sidewalk in the middle of the dining room. If it was supposed to be a convenience, it wasn’t, and all of the customers kept fighting it, walking upstream, and I was trying to get to table thirteen but all the table numbers had changed, and my boss was just standing right next to me, I don’t even know how was managing the crowd when I could barely stand up straight, “Rob! What’s wrong with you! Table! Thirteen! Now!”

And I turned around and I slipped and I was lying down face first in a really shallow puddle. It was so shallow, only an inch deep really, just barely enough water to cover my mouth and my nose, but I couldn’t move my body, I could only barely rock it back and forth, but only if I used every ounce of strength I could muster, and still it wasn’t enough to break free from that puddle, and I couldn’t breathe and I felt the life slipping away, all while my boss kept yelling at me about the mayonnaise.

Finally I managed to get to my feet, but I had been struggling so hard, every muscle in my body was clenched, including my jaw, which was unnecessary, and unfortunate, because I’d chomped down to the point where my teeth crumbled, it was just tooth-sand in my mouth, tiny pebbles falling past my lips while I futilely tried to keep everything in, like maybe I’d be able to fix this, all while more pebbles got in my throat, I was choking, I couldn’t breath again.

And then I woke up in my bed, it was all a dream. But I couldn’t move yet, because I’d woken up too suddenly. All I could do was open my eyes and wait for the movement to return to my limbs, all while the sleep-paralysis demon sat grinning on my chest, in the middle of the night, staring down at me, whispering incomprehensible threats in his sleep-demon language. And everybody in the classroom was pointing and laughing. Because I was naked. And it was all a dream.

And it was all a dream

I was getting ready to jump out of the plane, but just as I peered over the edge, something kept me from pushing myself through that invisible membrane separating me from terminal velocity. What was it? I couldn’t be sure, so I tried to shake it. Just nerves, I told myself. Still, I tried to jump one more time and it was the same, no good. What had gotten into me?


So I resolved to sit this one out. But Rick, my old trainer, the guy who’d taught me everything I know about skydiving, maybe he saw something that I didn’t. Maybe he had been there before, somewhat new, but enough dives under his belt to mistake the momentary hesitation for what it really was, doubt, fear, crippling anxiety. “Don’t be such a …” was all that I heard, because Rick had pushed me out midsentence, and in less than I second I went from being on the plane, to the plane disappearing above me.

The unexpected shove jolted my senses, like when your hot shower goes suddenly ice cold. But it didn’t take long for me to come to terms with how it went down. And now that I was in free fall, the familiarity of the rush started to kick in, clearing my head. A heartbeat later and I was back to where I always was, falling, flying, whatever, just pure adrenaline induced euphoria.

But the very instant before my altimeter alerted me that it was about time to deploy the shoot, it hit me, the reason that I was so reluctant to step off of that plane. The chord. I don’t know why, or for reason, but I knew that it wasn’t going to work. The idea that I was by myself up here, coupled with the lack of any details, it stopped my breath, it was like I was in the beginnings of a panic attack.

While my brain stumbled through a replay of my preparations this morning, my equipment check, refueling the tank, I couldn’t for sure identify that all of these little steps, steps that I’ve completed dozens of times by now, I wasn’t positive if they were from today or yesterday or the week before. Finally my hands took control of the situation and gripped the handle sticking out of the left side of the backpack.

And I pulled. And nothing. I pulled a little harder. It was the same. I was dead.

I thought, what do I do? Can I try to take the pack off my back, somehow go through it in mid-fall, identify the problem, fix the problem, get the pack strapped back on, with enough time to successfully open up the chute? Because the ground was coming fast. It’s like, those first few thousand feet, yeah, you feel the wind, but the surface is so far away, it doesn’t even really look like you’re moving in relation to anything down below.

But now, I was seeing less and less of certain objects in the horizon. My mind kept jumping forward, all the way to the automatic conclusion. My body cringed as I imagined what it would feel like, if I’d even have time to feel anything at all. Would death really be instant? Or would I kind of exist in a breathless state of panic while my surviving brain cells slowly shut down due to lack of oxygen?

Could I somehow make it through this? I mean, it was at least technically possible. I’ve heard of people walking away from stuff like this. Well, if not walking, at least breathing. Would it be enough to just breath? Should I try to get my body to start rolling the second I make contact with the ground?

A thousand questions, a million different thought fragments, mostly just emotions, fight, flight, instinct into overdrive.

And then just before I started totally freaking out, arms flailing uselessly in the sky, my bladder releasing its contents into my jumpsuit, just before the ground came right up to my face, I woke up.

I was in my bed. I’ve never been skydiving. What the hell man, I’ve never been on a small plane. Fuck that, are you crazy? Wow, it just felt so real. But it wasn’t real. It was a dream.

I thought I was about to fall to my death, but I didn’t, because I woke up. Because it was all a dream.

You have no idea (what your body is capable of)

The other day I was out on a really long run. Halfway through, my stomach drops. Does that make sense? That’s what it felt like. It felt like everything holding my insides in place suddenly vanished, gave way, and in the span of about fifteen seconds, I went from perfectly fine to total agony. Did I mention that it was pouring rain? It was pouring rain. And when I say really long run, it’s like much longer than you’re imagining, twice as long. I hobbled along for another mile or so before coming across the most disgusting public bathroom in some park by the Williamsburg Bridge. There was a group of homeless people inside, taking cover from the rain, passing around a bottle of hooch. As soon as I open the door they all turn to me. Man, what do I do? I just kind of motioned toward the stall. It’s amazing what your body is capable of in moments of extreme duress.

Last spring I was biking to work. It was total gridlock, everywhere, all the way from my house to my job in the city. The cars were at a complete standstill. So I’m just flying in between rows of parked vehicles, weaving in and out. I get to the Queensboro Bridge. Usually I’d just stay in the bike lane, but traffic wasn’t moving in the car lane, and I figured, what the hell? Why not? It would save me a left turn going downtown. At first everything was great. The lanes are so wide on the bridge that I basically had my own lane in between lanes. And I’m just feeling fantastic, cruising past all of these cars, them totally stuck, and I’m just flying.

But then like halfway across traffic opens up, and not gradually, but all at once. Like something must have been stuck up ahead, an accident, I have no idea what, but something. And now, nothing. Traffic picks up. The cars start flying by. They’re honking at me and cursing at me out the window, and while my lane is still somewhat wide, I mean, it’s hard to stay in a perfectly straight line with cars zooming by me on both sides, fifty miles per hour. And it’s a long bridge. Finally, and I don’t know if it was my fault or the taxi’s fault, but this taxi kind of clips me, just barely. And so I kind of ricochet into the next lane, and another taxi clips me, again, just slightly. And so I’m bouncing back and force in between these two cars, like I’m in some weird pinball machine. All I’m thinking is, I’m so fucked, this is it. But it gets worse. Another car comes up and hits me, and my derailleur gets actually physically stuck in the hubcap of another car in front of me. Did I mention that it’s a police car? So I’m riding in tandem with him, but he doesn’t know it. He sees me, he thinks I’m up to something, apart from just being in the car lane, he thinks I’m up to some stunt, which I kind of am, but not this stunt. And he’s out of the window, “Slow down!” and I’m like, “I can’t!” and he’s like, “You can’t? You will! I’m the cops!” It’s crazy what your mind is able to make your body do in insane situations like that, using all of your reflexes, having a conversation with a policeman while barely maintaining control of your stuck bicycle, then getting off the bridge, dislodging your bike and making a break for it before the cop figures out what’s going on.

One time I was skydiving. Did I mention that there was a tornado warning on the same day? The pilot was crazy, like a total adrenaline junky crazy person, and as the sky blackened and the hailstones started to fall he looked me dead on, a real insane glint in his eye, and he just said, “I’m good if you’re good.” And I’m so stupid, I was just thinking, well, this guy’s a pilot, I’m sure he’s been through it all. Did I mention that there was actually a tornado on the other end of the runway? “Don’t worry!” he yelled back, “I think I can beat it!” He took off and yeah, he actually beat it. But the canvas roof of the plane got ripped off and that’s when I started to get really worried. When I wasn’t getting smacked in the head with hailstones, all I could hear was the pilot going, “Yeeeee-haw! I ain’t fraid a no tornados!” We got up to jumping altitude and I realized, shit, I totally forgot to bring my parachute. Did I mention there was a tornado? There were actually three tornadoes, and we were in the center of the tornado triangle.

Just when I make a move to tell the pilot, that we better land, that I don’t have a parachute, a huge hailstone comes out of nowhere and knocks him in the head, knocks him right out. Then the hailstone ricochets off of his head and onto the cockpit, hitting some of the airplane controls. The whole thing goes dead. My only idea is, is there some way I can get inside this guy’s skydiving outfit, lug his unconscious body out of the plane, all while it’s in a total freefall, spiraling out of control, and activate his parachute without getting eaten up by one of those tornadoes? Did I mention that the three tornadoes had since splintered off into nine tornadoes? And that there was a constant web of lightning bolts connecting all nine of them, like an octagon, but with nine sides instead of eight, and us plummeting to our doom in the middle? I mean, yeah I made it, I’m alive, right? But still, you never know what your made of until you’re looking death right in the eye, or in the gaping hole where his eye would be if he had one.

I’ll never go skydiving. Ever.

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.