How Skydiving Changed My Life - Laura Bonner

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by Laura Bonner | Richmond, Virginia

I don’t skydive. As a friend of mine says, I stay on the ground and collect life insurance. And I have my reasons, none of which matter to you junkies out there, but I can admit that skydiving has irrevocably altered the course of my existence in ways that somehow mesh with nostalgic memories from childhood and then push me into the wondrous exploration of the unknown.

I grew up visiting my grandparents on an Army base downriver from my childhood home in New Orleans. My father’s upbringing there and subsequent time in the service—before I was born—led him to drag my sister and me on outings to airfields and bases across the country. I have watched all manner of flight, even piloted myself twice. My very conservative mother has absorbed all of this and has even ridden in a sail plane that did three stalls—shocking the pilot by not screaming at all and by asking him politely if she could experience those repeat stalls and recoveries—nose-down, earth-plummeting, gut-twisting returns to controlled flight. Apparently, I am not my mother’s child in that way. But I can appreciate her nerves of steel and her love of blue skies. My husband has this gene times a thousand but claims that an aircraft is a manmade machine doomed to eventual failure; he is a diehard skydiver who has been jumping out of airborne craft since 1979. When he isn’t instructing AFF or tandem or thrilling some crowd on a demo, he is a straight-laced, whip-cracking dean at a university. While many there think he hasn’t fully transitioned from his first career as an officer in the Air Force, they’re still stupefied that he insists on what he calls his weekly air-bath ritual. When he doesn’t have students on the other side of his desk at the office, he has one strapped to his chest in freefall.

Weekends, I am a veritable war widow, albeit temporarily. For those who jump, this is who they are, and the fuel put into their veins by successful freefall and canopy work can be substituted with nothing else—not even great sex (OK, well, maybe). And so I grouch along that I have been replaced with the Mistress of Sky. I admit her lure and intrigue. She has permeated my being, as well.

And so I have submitted to the spectator sport of watching the rainbow of canopies and flight-suited humans descend from untouchable heights. I bring my kids along for a picnic and sit around with a bunch of airjocks speaking their language: We discuss dirt diving, hop-and-pops, 4-ways, reserve static lines. My son, at not even 5 years old, can name the parts of an airplane: fuselage, nose, horizontal stabilizer, vertical stabilizer. He knows a King Air from a Cessna from a CASA from an Otter. My youngest step-daughter has jumped twice. Like her father, she craves a drink of sky and wishes for that gentle blue mistress to run windy fingers past her skin. She describes the earth as a Google map as she sees the planet first slide away from her then move closer to catch her. I, however, stand on the airfield watching parachute and parachutist land in the holy near-silence of birds’ wings flapping, as those canopies sound.

My most memorable moment at the DZ thus far was standing there watching with my 11-year-old daughter. I turned to her as women strode bravely past me into a waiting King Air, their rigs tightly packed on their backs, helmets strapped under chins, and I said to my daughter that if she wanted, when she was 18, she could do this, too—that gender would not stop her. All the world of possibility and promise opened up to her in her seawater-colored eyes that reflected sun and downward drifting canopies. My life forever changed, and hers just beginning.

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