Why I Jumped

I’ve never had answers to questions like “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” or “What’s the most fun you’ve ever had?” That’s because I’m a total control freak and anything that counts as crazy or fun probably doesn’t have a slot in my Google Calendar. But, for my 26th birthday, I wanted to do something that would take me out of my comfort zone, which for me was synonymous enough with crazy. I had already taken a trip to a new city, alone, for a week and while that was really “living on the edge” for me, I wanted more.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I made a reservation to go skydiving with a facility that returned no results when Googling their name followed by the word “deaths.” Despite the fact that I was supposed to be skydiving to combat my need for control, I found myself smiling at everything being in order to plan the best birthday ever.

So, naturally, I woke up the next morning to a thunderstorm and despite how hard I wished for clear skies, they never came. My reservation was postponed and it looked like a sign that I shouldn’t be jumping out of a plane anyway. In fact, since I didn’t tell anybody about my plan, I knew I wouldn’t get any flak for chickening out — but I felt I owed it to myself and decided to reschedule.

Forty-eight hours felt like the longest wait of my life, but the day finally came when I signed my life away in the form of waivers and casually skipped over the sections that explained how I could die or be left severely disfigured. In desperate need of a distraction, I looked up at the students who went before me as they glided through the sky. They were flying ants as their colorful parachutes opened up like blobs of paint being splattered across the clouds. I was so captivated that I almost didn’t hear my name being called.

Robbie introduced himself as my tandem instructor. He looked nice enough and his smile was encouraging, but nothing could silence the paranoid thoughts competing for my attention. Did the parachute packers miss something? Was I going to be their first and only casualty? Did Robbie have an ex-girlfriend with the same name as me, prompting him to purposely put me in harm’s way? Who would take care of my cat? Still, I stood like a helpless child while he secured me in my harness and led me to the smallest plane I’ve ever boarded.

We started ascending and my heart pounded from my throat, immediately drowning out the nervous chatter from my fellow jumpers. I stared out the window and counted what looked like rows of tiny dollhouses until, eventually, everything was a faraway painting and all I could see were patches of green and brown.

The door of the plane flew open and a gush of wind filled the cabin. Since I was the last one to board the plane, I would be the first one out. Robbie gave me instructions that were to be followed after we jumped and 15 seconds later, I forgot them. As we hobbled towards the door together, me strapped to his chest, it was then that I realized what I was about to do. He told me not to grab the metal rail above the door, and I instinctively reached for it anyway. I wanted to grab it for dear life. I wanted to jump if it meant I could hold onto something — anything — seemingly sturdy, but I held onto the straps of my harness as he screamed, “Are you ready?!”

I wasn’t.

Brisk air shot up my nostrils, my goggles started sliding off my face, my curly hair could not be tamed and it felt like I was swallowing the wind. Worst of all, I couldn’t stop my face from distorting from the pressure even though I tried my hardest to smile for the GoPro camera Robbie had strapped to his wrist. It was clear I was not winning this battle for control and I wondered if I would soon find out what having a panic attack while skydiving felt like. When I gripped the straps of my harness so tight that I thought my fingertips would be permanently etched onto them, I knew I had to surrender. So, I finally let go and stretched my arms out. As I freely soared through the sky, just for a moment I was the flying ant who would paint colors onto the clouds.

Before I knew it, I was holding my knees up to my chest, kicking my legs straight out, and sliding onto a field of grass with a look of triumph on my face. Though skydiving might be something to check off a bucket list for some, it took falling at over 100 miles per hour from 13,500 feet up in the air with a total stranger to realize I can’t control everything. And that’s okay.

About: Shavonne Bell is a writer, tea drinker, cat lover, and self-care advocate. She has a passion for storytelling and seeking out communities that amplify marginalized voices. When she’s not having an existential crisis, she enjoys crafting, cursing her way through Downward-facing Dog, and complaining about growing up. Follow her on Twitter @shavonnebee.

%d bloggers like this: