By Alison Perelman, Assistant Culture Editor
The door of the plane flies open and is pinned to the wing. The cold rushes in — somewhere below 20 degrees.
“Okay, Alison, swing your feet out,” Scott shouts over the noise of wind and the engine.
I bring my legs around and out from under myself. My right leg gets caught by the winds and I jerk it back. Why did I not think about that happening? I tell myself to focus on the small platform, left leg now.
Breathe. I don’t feel my heart pounding. Maybe it has stopped completely. This is it, the moment it becomes real. I’ve been waiting for it to hit me and it finally has. I probably look terrified.
I am no longer aware of my actions. It’s as if the connection between my brain and muscles has been numbed, and things are simply happening around me. My hands are guided to the harness — hold on. My head tilts back. Breathe. What am I about to do? Thumbs up. Lean forward, rock back and down.
We pile into the van — me, Noah, Mom, Nana, Britton and even her dog, Indy. I’m the only one here to skydive. The rest are just part of the audience.
Scott, one of the divers who works at Skydive Warren County, drives us back to the base. I feel anxious, maybe butterflies. I’m almost fidgety, distracted. I’m not paying attention to the questions my nana asks or the answers Scott gives. But it still hasn’t hit me yet.
I fill out a few pages of paperwork, sign my life away. Then I stand around to wait for further instruction.
Nate Mara, president of the MU Dropouts club, is here — he arranged the whole thing for me. The Dropouts are Miami’s skydiving club. Mara, or another exec member, comes out just about every weekend for members of the club to jump. The group also periodically takes trips to Chicago to experience indoor skydiving in a wind tunnel. Two other students are here to jump for their first time, sophomores Adrianne Miller and Saif Alnuaimi.
“I don’t like waiting,” Miller says.
Her sleeve consumes her hand and covers her mouth as she bounces between feet, but she claims to be excited.
“I’ve always wanted to do it.”
Alnuaimi sits alone, eating what appears to be a full breakfast meal from Pulley diner. This doesn’t seem like a great idea to me for someone who’s about to jump out of a plane. I had only a banana earlier.
Scott calls us over for training. We gather around, listening and mimicking motions as he explains how to jump, fall, pull the parachute and land. It all seems simple, but I worry that I won’t remember any of it once I’m out of the plane, plummeting toward the Earth.
The three of us get geared up to go — wind suits, harnesses, gloves, altimeters, goggles. Adrianne goes first, and then it’s my turn.
I do a quick interview for the camera that will capture everything once we’re in the air. We walk over to the plane, and I realize now that I actually want to do this.
The engine roars and wind from the propeller whips under the wing where I stand. But then the pilot says we have to wait for the clouds to clear so there’s visibility.
We head back to the warmth of the building and wait. And wait.
And wait and wait and wait.
I sit with my family and stand under the propane heaters, check the sky outside and check again, watch as a second big group goes through their training. I notice our names on a TV screen with our ETAs. Mine reads 45 minutes.
The minutes go by but soon jump back up to over an hour. I get asked twice if I want to take the harness off — no, I’m pretty comfortable and it’s keeping me warm.
But the excitement has faded away. Even my anxiousness is gone. I’m just pissed. Why do I have to wait so long? I don’t even want to go skydiving anymore.
Eventually, I take off the gear and glare up at the still partly cloudy sky. I pace around, trying to decide what to do. I’m ready to leave and forget it. I look around and notice that almost everyone else has. Then the woman at the desk finally says there’s a good chance.
I gear up again and we get the okay.
I clamber into the plane, squished on the floor next to the pilot. Now I’m nervous.
The plane rattles as it makes its way across the grass. I keep my head down, waiting for takeoff. The familiar flip in my stomach tells me we’re off the ground.
I look out the window and then at my altimeter — still 8,000 feet up to go.
I can feel the temperature change in the tips of my fingers and toes. At 5,000 feet, Scott starts to strap us tightly together. I focus on breathing.
We somersault, the world turning, upside down for just a second. Then we fall through the sky. But it doesn’t feel like falling — my stomach doesn’t drop, I don’t wake with a jolt. The air resistance holds us up, guiding us as we speed toward the ground.
I don’t close my eyes, but I don’t see anything either. Everything is a blur of white and blue.
It’s as if I’m outside of my own body, my brain making its own decisions — the surge of adrenaline forces me to open my mouth, making me want to exclaim my sudden awe and joy, until I quickly realize that’s not a good idea.
I almost miss Scott’s signal, even though it’s right in front of my face. Then I notice him pointing to the altimeter and move both hands to grab for the safety-orange toggle by my hip. I find it and pull.
We’re quickly jerked upright, suspended and floating through the air. I suddenly feel like myself again.
“Alright, you can take your goggles off so you see more clearly.”
I pull the goggles down to my neck and look around. I let out a laugh. “Oh my god!”
“So what’d you think, Alison?”
“That was incredible. I can’t believe I just did that.”
I can’t think of any other way to describe what had happened in the past 30 seconds.
As we glide down to the ground, Scott points out things that are just tiny spots to me. I look around in wonder at the blue horizon that seems so close and the patches of green and brown beneath my dangling feet.
And, whether from adrenaline or wind, or both, I can’t stop smiling.