January 4, 2012 by NH
At 4:45 am on Friday, 30 December 2011, my sister and I left our apartment and drove through the dark streets of Byron Bay toward the Pacific Highway.
The car was virtually silent. We couldn’t listen to music. We didn’t talk much. We were terrified.
We arrived at the airport. As the sun rose and turned everything it touched to pink, we took a photo of ourselves. We walked past a hangar, where a man in a dark fleecy parker bent to check a row of khaki- and grey-coloured packs. A black and white cat sat close by, watching on.
We registered, were weighed, and agreed (through terror-shaken hands and pre-coffee muddled-headedness) to up our jump height from 9000 feet to 14,000 feet, Australia’s highest skydive.
Someone called our names. We entered the hangar and each pulled on a pair of red pants. Our instructors strapped us into our harnesses. We did some high-fives, learnt how to arch our bodies like bananas, how to sit with our legs swinging over and under the edge of the plane.
The whole way up, I looked at the bay as the sunlight pierced the clouds and thought, banana, banana, banana.
My instructor tried to talk to me, to ask me questions. I think I answered him—I’m pretty sure I did. I crossed my arms over my chest and breathed deep. I smiled and I giggled.
Banana. Banana. Banana.
The people around me slipped their masks over their faces. I did the same, hands shaking. The door next to my sister went up. Frigid air rushed the cabin.
She swung her legs out. She screamed.
And she fell.
And then it was my turn.
At this point, there was no time to re-think the things that had been swirling in my brain and in my gut for the past month. There was no time to think about the possibilities—splat, tangle, crunch, slip, fall, fear, pain, oblivion. I’d played all of those eventualities out, over and over; the news headlines, my funeral, my parents’ reaction to losing their daughter—both their daughters—in the name of experimentation, adrenalin, hedonism.
There was no time.
I arched like a banana, the wind blew fiercely against my legs, I screamed. I fell.
There’s a beautiful instant—when you’ve left the plane and you’re spinning toward terminal velocity—where you realise the fall is completely beyond your control. There is no choice to make. The wind is rushing in your ears. You think you’re screaming, but you’re not sure … and then you realise: if this is it, if this is all there is, you better make the most of it.
You’re falling and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
You hand over. You laugh so hard your mouth dries, and you smile so big your lips split. You have the best goddamned sixty seconds of your life.
Because you’re falling.