Like most of you, I was once a cubicle humping zombie fuck. I spent more of my life in a cubicle than a desk. I know what it's like to wander the earth with only your small community of family, friends, and coworkers, doing what you're told and living the "American Dream". To be perfectly frank, I slept through the majority of my life living this so-called dream. I went through the motions, but I was always lost in thought, searching for answers, and exploring the world around me in my mind.
Don't get me wrong, I had some fun times. I've probably put my hands on more strippers than you've ever even seen. I drank, did drugs, had run ins with the law, played pranks, etc. I've had a fantastic life. My problem was always that I imagined being able to do whatever I wanted in life as an adult. On my journey to now, I've figured out that is only true for 1% of the population.
As I wasn't born in this small minority of the population, I quickly found out that doing what I wanted was often frowned upon and swiftly disciplined more often than not. I slowly began figuring out what was lacking in my life. What I noticed was that I wasn't experiencing real life with real people doing real things.
When you read a history book, you'll notice that people are described by their culture, a categorization that is ironically frowned upon when recording the present. Rather than researching the roots of stereotyping, etc, it occurred to me that the best I could ever achieve by following the rules was to be recorded in history generalized as an American (or an American Caucasian Male, depending on how the country shifts in the future). Everyone around me is the same. I, however, am special. I think independently and have a general grasp of knowledge on a wide array of subjects. I'm not like the rest of the people around me.
In order to fully ingrain the concept into my head, I made a decision. I had to do the one thing I always said I'd never do. I had to face my fears of falling, heights, losing control, taking risks. I had to jump out of an airplane. Luckily I had a friend, an ex employee of mine named Pat, who went to school with a girl who he went skydiving with the only time he ever went. She loved it so much, she made it a career. It took me 3 months of researching both skydiving (including video after video well into the night of skydiving successes and failures), but when the date we agreed upon hit, we drove out to the field.
As soon as we got there, Pat's wife dropped us off at the front while she found a place to park. We were immediately greeted by a really cute chick who introduced herself to us (I've unfortunately forgotten her name), and escorted us to the front of every line, explaining the station to us along the way, introducing us to the worker at each station as her friend, and guiding us through the process of filling out forms, providing ID, choosing jump packages, etc. We were then lead into a room for a "Safety Orientation" that I could not believe.
We sit in desks that remind me of when I went to 1st grade in that poor school for a few months before my dad was stationed somewhere new. On each desk is a gnawed generic community bic. Thankfully, I'm prepared for such a scenario, and I brought my own pen. Setting the mutant germ pen aside and cleaning my hands with a baby wipe, I watched as Pat began to thumb through the "Safety Handbook" while people trickled in. Soon the door closed, and a woman introduced herself, informing us we'd be watching a brief video and filling out some worksheets.
The video was fantastic. It started with a man in a suit and tie saying, "Let's just state the facts here. You can die skydiving. Airplanes fail. Pilots fail. Even the most experienced jumpers make mistakes. Even the best parachute manufacturers have quality defects. You are risking your life with ever jump. I need you to understand that. Now watch some videos of our satisfied customers."
This was followed by a barrage of clips of various hot women at various stages of skydiving. At no point was any technical information given. This was given to me on a need to know basis by the ex army jump instructor attached to me as we were jumping. We're not there yet though. I turn to the forms. They are filled with statements you must initial. Some are funny to me (Are you doing this as a way to commit suicide?), while others are annoying (Once again, are you sure you don't have any health issues that could affect your ability to jump?) and some are just weird (I agree not to hold anyone responsible for my death while skydiving)
We fill out the forms and leave the room, where we are met by Pat's friend once again. She introduces us to our jump instructors. My jump instructor is the aforementioned army vet. Having grown up in and around the military, we get along well, and I follow his orders promptly and effectively. As we're walking to the truck to take us to the plane to jump, I notice a strap is loose on my back shoulder and notify the instructor. He tightens it while an aluminum-paneled plane lands in front of me. A door similar to that in the cooler section of a grocery store or Costco is opened on the side, and we begin to pile in.
I'm already a little uncomfortable with airplanes, but I now find myself wearing a Ghostbusters uniform and sitting on a sideways bench on a questionable looking aircraft. I try not to look at my instructor much as he talks about his son's Xbox problems because on the other side of his head cushion is the pilot, who's shoulder I can see. I've never been in the cockpit of an airplane before, and especially not during a takeoff or landing.
As we climb to 15k feet, my instructor attaches himself to me, pats me at each point we're connected, and gives me a chance to inspect the connections. He then shows me a piece of rope with a rubber handle and a golf ball attached to it and has me feel it. This is the cord I need to pull in order to deploy the parachute. The golf ball and handle is attached so you don't get it confused for any other cord. An unforeseen side effect is that it also feels like a penis. It is as I'm having this thought that the door opens and the instructor says, "From this point on, we move as one."
The instructors ask which of us is going first. Pat and I glance at each other, and I suddenly find 3 people pointing to me, saying he's the newbie. He's going first. We get to to the opening. There is an oh shit bar above it, which I immediately grab with both hands to look down for a second, feeling the wind in my face. The instructors yells, "You're going to have to let go of the bar so we can jump." As I let go of the bar, I'm immediately lurched forward.
For the first few seconds I see only alternately the airplane getting quickly smaller and smaller while the ground got slowly bigger. It looked like staring at a quilt and felt like hanging your head out the car window while driving 65 mph. I gave thumbs up on both hands and screamed, "Woo hoo!!" which the instructor took as an ok to do some trick diving, spinning me around like a torpedo. We reached the proper altitude, so I gave him the reach around and pulled the cord to deploy the parachute.
The parachute turned out to be the scariest part. There's not a parachute attached to my back. There's a guy attached to my back with a parachute attached to his back. This is where I learned I have serious trust issues. I held on to both parachute handles enough for me to feel the weight of them. The instructor was kind enough to calmly state, "If you continue pulling down on both of those like that, we're both going to have a very bad day."
I ease my grip, and he teaches me how to control the parachute, having me try each maneuver multiple times if I didn't quite get the effect we were looking for. In order to spin the parachute, for example, you had to pull all the way on one arm. I was a quite hesitant to pull hard enough until he did it for me and the world began to spiral. We finally got close enough to the ground that he barked instructions, and I followed them in order to safely steer us to the field, where I landed softly in his lap.
He detached the parachute quickly, which ground workers caught and began to fold as he detached me from himself so we could get up. I shook his hand and thanked him. As I didn't have my wallet on me (You can't jump with anything in your pockets), I told him I'll leave a $20 tab open with the bartender for him. Pat and I met up with his wife, got a celebratory shot at the bar, left the $20, headed to the souvenir shop for his wife to get us a couple shirts (it was my birthday), and headed home.
Facing this fear taught me a lot about life over the turbulent year that followed. spending 3 months with Pat asking people to jump with us opened my eyes to the various ways people react when presented with a situation. Some people called us crazy. Some politely said no with various excuses. Some gave maybes or try agains. Some said yes but never came through. It taught me that I can let go of myself and things aren't as bad as I imagine them to be. It taught me that sometimes you have to just let go and take a leap of faith. The most important thing it taught me was how to truly identify and interact with the various real life people in this world doing real life things.