|Lauren and her new purchase|
Although we agreed on a price, the next step is for the rigger to repack the reserve and inspect the main parachute and give her the thumbs up. I left it with her, because now it's hers, although no money has yet changed hands. I also gave her my old jumpsuits because they match so perfectly and fit her also and now I have no use for them. Although there is nothing keeping me from borrowing gear and making more skydives, I really feel like I'm done. It's been percolating for awhile, but now I won't even be tempted to go out there for old time's sake. It's time.
I looked in my logbook to see what the my final tally of jumps is: 4,239 skydives over 25 years of jumping. Lauren probably wasn't even born when I made that fateful tandem jump on September 3, 1990. (I didn't ask her how old she is, but she looks impossibly young to me.) I came home from the Drop Zone with all sorts of feelings roiling around inside. When I think of my career of skydiving behind me, I am actually pretty amazed at it all. I've jumped from helicopters and hot-air balloons, gone to 23,000 feet twice for some absurdly long skydives, and taught more than a thousand students how to skydive. I served on the US Parachute Association Board of Directors for four years and met my partner for life through the skydiving world. It truly altered the trajectory of my life when I made that first tandem so long ago.
Last night each time I woke from sleep, I remembered that it's over. It feels a little bit like a missing tooth right now, but I know that as time passes that gap will be filled with life's other activities. It's not like missing a limb, which it would have been a decade ago. There was a time when I couldn't imagine my life without skydiving in it, but then again, there was a time when I couldn't imagine being in my seventies. My life is good and full and satisfying, but it's also good to realize my limitations.
It's not only that my body is more fragile than it was a decade ago, my mental processes are also nowhere near as sharp as they were. I find myself making silly mistakes and forgetting things, which is not dangerous most of the time, but when you're falling towards the ground at 120 miles an hour, there's no time for confusion. I worried about my ability to deal with a malfunction and reacting properly within the few seconds of decision time.
I remember the time when I opened my parachute and realized that it was spinning instead of gently floating above my head. Reaching for my brakes, I realized that I was already going too fast and needed to act quickly. When I reached for my emergency handles, they were not where they were supposed to be, since my harness had distorted from the forces I was experiencing. I frantically searched for the two handles, found them and pulled them in the correct order, releasing the bad parachute and deploying my reserve. I was spinning so hard that one of the disconnected risers smacked me under my chin and gave me a huge bruise. I never felt it, I was so filled with adrenaline. My reserve parachute was a beautiful sight to behold, and I landed it easily. By the time I had returned to the packing area, my main parachute and freebag had been retrieved, and I was able to get my stuff put back together before the end of the day. Although I'm not sure, I think I made another jump before the sun went down.
Just writing about that experience gives me a jolt of adrenaline, even after all these years, which must have been at least a decade ago. I've got all my logbooks and could look it up, searching through all those memories, and I might do that one of these days, but not today. Now it's time to start looking ahead, looking at what might be the next step in my journey. I can rest assured that I've made a good decision; I know I have just by the way I feel: a little pensive but not sad.
Smart Guy went with me to the Drop Zone yesterday, so he drove back home after the deed was done. In the passenger seat, I logged onto Facebook on my iPhone and posted a picture of Lauren in her new gear and wrote that it was a bittersweet farewell. During the long drive back, I kept checking my phone for the comments people made: "We'll always remember those Eloy Christmas boogie years and the many jumps with you" (from the UK). "It served you well. Seems like yesterday we met at Quincy" (East Coast). "You can always buy more gear" (West Coast). And many others, from skydivers and non-skydivers around the world. All that happened while I was sitting in my car traveling from one place to another, which is pretty darned amazing when you think about it. I think of the incredible ability we have to stay connected with dear friends instantaneously and marvel at the world we live in.
And speaking of the world we live in, wasn't it an astounding week in the US? Just like that, gay marriage has become legal in the entire country. I think of my departed friend Robert, who died of AIDS, who would have never believed it but would have been overjoyed. Times are changing, and I'm sorry for those who are unhappy over this ruling, because the world has moved on. I'm glad I got to see this and can hardly believe it myself.
On that note, I realize that it's that time again: my post is done, my tea gone, and my partner gently snoring next to me. The relentless sunshine and heat continues in my part of the world, but we'll get through it, with a little help from our friends. And air conditioning. Be well, my dear dear friends and we'll meet here again next Sunday morning.