OUR LEGS DANGLED OVER the side of the airplane. Fifteen thousand feet below, the rugged mountains of New Zealand waited to swallow us whole.
Alan tilted my chin toward the exit camera, pressed his chapped lips against my cheek and snapped a photo. Our bodies were strapped together tightly, his familiar heart beating calmly as mine pounded. He leaned forward and we were sucked violently into the atmosphere. I should have been terrified, but the only thing I could comprehend was that Alan had turned my head toward the sun and was kissing me again.
We fell, somewhere around 120 miles per hour. Air filled my lungs. As we raced through the atmosphere, I became acutely aware that being fully alive meant an imminent collision with death.
Alan deployed the parachute and steered us to the landing spot. I adjusted my googles then clung to his leg, the only thing within my reach. A primal scream escaped from deep within me. As the ground grew closer, it became clear the rush would soon end. The finality seeped into my soul like a poison.
I had never been more certain our intimacy would not last.
When we first met, I thought Alan was strange. A few chance encounters grew to a few organized ones and I discovered that he wasn’t strange at all, just a complex coil of rope that needed to be carefully unraveled. Like a postman delivering the mail, Alan earned his paycheck as a skydiving tandem master, strapping himself to countless people as they checked off their bucket list. It was monotonous work. Apply sunscreen. Grab a rig. Shake hands with the tandem. Fly. Jump. Land. Repeat. On clear days, there were over a dozen jumps by sunset.
Alan lived in a house nicknamed The Wolf Den. On the previous census, he listed his religion as Jedi. Jehovah’s Witness visited frequently in feeble attempts to convert him. He ate fresh venison and blue cheese for dinner, paired with a red wine if there was a sale at the Countdown Market. Alan would walk barefoot into the supermarket to buy a case, half merlot and half cabernet. He practiced sheep whistling while a video projector beamed a dancing Michael Jackson on the living room wall.
Quickly I learned that it was the extreme of the extreme where Alan found complete freedom. On a small, spiral bound notebook tucked away on a sloping bookshelf, he recorded the details of what made him truly come alive.
A number corresponded with each encounter with mortality.
When I met Alan, that number held at 740 BASE jumps.
I once asked Alan if he was scared, even after so many jumps. Fuck yeah, Anna, I’m terrified, he said. But I do it anyway.
BIO: ANNA REID says, I have a journalism degree from Belmont University. My work has appeared in Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, Claudius Speaks and Cold Creek Review. I am an active member of The Porch, A Writer’s Collective in Nashville, Tennessee, where I live with my Scottish husband. I am currently working on a travel memoir. You can find me on Instagram @anna_reid_me and online at www.annareid.me.
Photo: Cris Peterson