One of the following is something I have NEVER done. Can you guess?
- Eaten oysters
- Driven 1,300 miles with a rabbit and a parakeet
- Gone skinny dipping
- Jumped out of an airplane
If you guessed, “eaten oysters” you are correct. But also a shout out to my many supportive fans who wrote in “humor writing”. Yes, I actually jumped out of an airplane. But don’t worry. Many of you will be glad to know I survived.
Normally, I would never do something so stupid. It wasn’t even my idea. You can blame my sister for this reckless fiasco. For purposes of this story, and out of respect for my sister’s privacy, I’m going to refer to her as “Betsy” because, first, that’s her name, and second, I don’t give a rat’s ass about her privacy.
The year was 1982. Betsy and I were both attending The Ohio State University. One day, for reasons unfathomable to me, she quipped, “Hey, let’s go skydiving!” I could only deduce she was off her meds – or perhaps she was looking for a creative way to avoid working on a term paper. I replied as any loving, older brother would – I berated her for being an idiot. But my sister can be extremely persuasive, by which I mean she questioned my masculinity. Eventually, after badgering me for what seemed like three days, but probably was closer to eleven minutes, I caved.
Betsy discovered an outfit called Skydive Green County, in a rural community called Xenia, Ohio, where cows outnumber people 50 to 1. We dove into an intensive full-day crash-course on skydiving, which culminated in a static line jump out of a Cessna from 5,000 feet.
At noon, the class broke for a 45-minute lunch. It took longer than expected for my Last Meal to be served, so Betsy and I arrived back 15 minutes late. I figured, we couldn’t possibly have missed anything important in that short interval. Turns out, I was mistaken – perilously so.
After seven hours of training, the energy of these thrill-seekers was palpable – that is, of all but one. And he looked a lot like me. All I could think was, “How in the world did I let my crazy, impulsive sister corral me into doing such a daredevil act of insanity? Worse yet, I didn’t even use a 50% off Groupon!” My only consolation was that as a law student, I could one day sue my sister for wrongful death. Or maybe not.
Like the cows that surrounded the airstrip, we were herded onto single-engine planes in groups of three. My stomach churned at the thought of leaping to my untimely death. Meanwhile, my sister and the other jumper in our plane laughed and chatted like they were watching an episode of The Simpsons. Was Betsy so heartless as to be giggling at my impending demise? I wanted to crawl under my bed covers with my childhood teddy bear, Sparkles. Then suddenly, BAM! The jump master slammed the door shut. An instant later, we were airborne.
In minutes, we climbed to jumping altitude. Then came the moment of truth. The jump master pulled open the door. I could feel my grip on reality slipping away. I started to feel faint. The sound of the rushing wind was deafening. I could see a bright light through the doorway. In that instant, Sparkles’ life flashed before my eyes. At that moment, I finally saw my sister for the evil being she truly was. She was trying to kill me. I could hear a voice beckoning me. It was the jump master, yelling, “Who wants to go first?” Betsy shouted “I DO! I DO!” Okay, so maybe she was plotting a murder-suicide. It was all so confusing.
Before I knew it, Betsy jumped out the door, screaming with glee. I sighed in despair knowing the very last words I’d ever speak to my sister were, “Oh, shit.”
“Who’s next?”, boomed the jump master. I didn’t want to be rude, so I motioned to Mr. Happy Jumper to go. Then it was my turn. All I could think about was “How did I get here?” and “Did I remember to put my clothes in the dryer before I left?” You think the most random thoughts in the moments before your certain death.
Terrified, I leaped into the sky. For three seconds, I felt the rush of air in my face. Suddenly, the static line pulled my ripcord and my chute opened… sort of. Remember the part about what could I possibly miss that was so important by arriving late to the afternoon session? Turns out this is the part I missed – where they discussed what to do if your chute doesn’t open!
Technically, my chute DID open. But only partially. The cords were twisted so tightly around themselves that the chute wouldn’t fully open to slow my descent. The precarious situation I found myself in even has a name: a barber pole – which I could easily have remedied had I arrived back from lunch on time. A terrifying thought flashed through my brain: “Betsy did seem to linger over lunch…had she planned this all along?” Fortunately, the instructor was on the ground shouting at me through a megaphone.
Ground: Hey, jumper, you’re stuck in a barber pole!
Me: What’s that? What do I do?
As I was plummeting to the earth at a rate roughly eight times faster than I was supposed to, he frantically explained I had to rock myself in a counter-clockwise direction to unravel the cords. It worked. I got my chute to open fully just in time for a very bumpy, hard landing.
The good news is I safely landed right on the target. The better news is that my sister veered way off course and ended up in a corn field half a mile away. Serves her right for coming up with her nefarious scheme.
So, the take-away from this story should be obvious: Never listen to my sister. She just might be plotting to kill you. Probably not. But why take chances?
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time
©Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2017