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Goodbye Midlife Crisis
Image by Jose Ramos
By Hart Vetter
“You’ve got to choose,” David said. We’d been boyfriends for three months. “Your hobby — or me.” It sounded make-it-or-break-it harsh.
Hang it up, he demanded, this passion of mine, born out of an early midlife crisis, an urgent need for adrenaline to blast away cobwebs. This thrill had taken up many a blue-sky weekend.
David was not about to spend more sunny weekends by himself, let alone play spectator at ground level, bored stiff, terrified stiff, or both.
* * *
My thoughts went back to half a year earlier.
The plane was slogging its way up in narrow, bumpy turns past low-hanging puff clouds.
I felt a weight in my stomach that wanted out.
Not good on your 34th birthday.
Strategic breathing to curtail the nausea. Precious air, slow, deep, in, out, repeat. It was cooler at altitude which I hoped would help. But the constant corkscrew-turning always to the left had become irritating as hell. Never had this problem before.
“Jump run,” the spotter shouted. Finally.
Then, “Door!” Open Sesame. The rush of air was a tonic.
The engine cut to jump speed.
My hand covered the ripcord, as the first four scooted out the door.
Each time a larger group exited, the plane shook. On my stomach by the open door, looking down at the greenish scenery interspersed with a scant few clouds, I wondered if I should just throw up. Get it over with. The heft of the breeze would disperse things evenly over miles.
Oh look, mom, it’s raining oatmeal.
I forged a new plan. “I go last,” I shouted over the engine hum and wind noise.
The remaining folks slipped past, and sailed out.
My sudden, silly dream could get me banned from diving and cost my pilot her license. Because what I planned was illegal in the sport. But only if someone happened to look up right that moment and report us. It was to be my little birthday present to me.
My hand routinely checked that the pilot chute was neatly, safely tugged in its pouch.
Next my feet pushed out the gaping door, shoulders forward, hands out. Flying like Superman. My favorite moment.
Back arched — all wooziness gone. I saw divers in formations thousands of feet beneath.
The wildest, mind-blowing rush, same as the first time.
On came the tune in my head that the crazy romantic in me had recommissioned years ago, when I first got hooked,
Flying high, spirit in the sky; flying high, spirit in the sky,
stolen from Norman Greenbaum’s classic. Never contemplating the morbid second line.
My mind was going into overdrive. The aim was a defined little cloud below, a quarter horizon away — to pierce it and be thrilled!
Terminal velocity gave you one shot, no redo. So I tracked the sky at the perfect angle, kissed by favorable winds. Closer, closer. It might just work!
A silvery-whitish washcloth slapping me whole.
A second of white moist nothing.
* * *
My God! What a jolt!
Happy birthday to me!
4,000 feet. I stabilized, pulled and tossed the pilot chute and deployed.
Opening rough! Always a beautiful sight, my rainbow-colored Pegasus chute. All looked okay, except for the parachute’s right side. I knew perfection when I didn’t see it. Releasing toggles, wiggling risers. A couple of cells of my ram-air canopy weren’t optimally inflated. I pumped the lines, took a sharp right hoping to generate airflow to boost the fabric up.
Is it flyable, is it flyable?
Eyeing my altimeter: twenty-two, twenty-one hundred feet. Landscape closing in fast. Now was a time to cut loose. Eighteen. No! Gonna ride her down. It started spiraling, the opposite direction. Shit. Famous last word. Yanking my left toggle harshly. A thousand, eight hundred. Very last call for cutaway. Trust your spare! Otherwise this wasn’t your sport!
Opted not to cut the main, not get rid of it. Not activate the reserve.
Stomach woozy, different reason.
Drifting offsite, because of too much cloud chasing, canopy futzing.
Coming down hard, fast, rolling to my side, calf, hip, butt.
Nothing broken, nothing sprained.
On my knees, working to collapse the stirred-up canopy, aggressively deflating it, so it wouldn’t drag me across the meadow.
Phew. All fine, nothing to report here. The nylon crammed under my arms, I crossed a brook and then a road to the drop zone. By then I could pretty much contain my shaking.
“What the fuck, man,” my reserve rigger barked at base, the one assigned to pack your reserve and sign off that your reserve was in good working order. “I saw you.”
Shit! The cloud.
“That did not look like a safe chute to ride down! That was one you needed to cut away, damn it!”
“You fly it — it’s your call,” I insisted calmly.
“Next time, man, don’t take a chance! Promise?”
“Promise,” I said knowing well that the chew-out was deserved.
I was still delirious. Cloud jumping was off my list.
* * *
I’d seen all and lived. It was time to move on, I convinced myself. “Yes, David, I’m ready for a new chapter.”
Looking back, it was so much the right move. Our chapter together lasted for over two exciting decades.
But… I still remember that rush of flying high like a spirit in the sky, likely till the day I die.
Hart Christopher Vetter has been writing all his life. He immigrated as a young man and spent formative years in Houston. Switching to short stories in 2021 taught him to get to the point in a flash and offered the thrill of seeing a few of them published. A recent novel, God Forbid, and screenplay, ‘Kill Joy’, are still looking for loving homes. He lives in the river town of Nyack, NY.