I remember my first time.
It was a little crisp, no too cold for that time of year, considering. And it was early – much earlier than I would usually rise on a weekend. But there I was, donning something tight and red, and secured with laces so tight, my ribs creaked. He talked, a soothing voice. Don’t worry, he said. I‘ll talk you through it. It’s perfectly safe.
I could see the glint of sunlight on metal, the misty steam rising off the concrete, foggy windows evaporating moisture in this unusually warm sunlit morning. I knew I should be concentrating more closely, after all, what if something did happen? Listen, I tell myself. Instructions are being given. You don’t want to look like a clutsy first timer.
His big brown eyes looked earnestly into mine. Are you OK? If you are going to change your mind, now’s the time to do it. Can’t speak. Numb tongue. I shake my head: no. Watch your head. Duck now. OK, sit there – no, just here. That’s it. Turn around – you have to face this way, and brace against that. That’s right. We don’t close the door, don’t need it really. You right now? Good-oh. Now, press against me. That’s it.
The motor turns, clicks, then whirs. The craft rumbles, shudders a bit, then proceeds to taxi. As the engine picks up speed, I feel my first flutter of apprehension. Little butterflies dance in my tummy. I see buildings pass, a startled kangaroo looks right at me as we rush past his patch of bush, then all of a sudden that tummy-wrenching lurch – and we are up. And climbing. The pilot calls out heights as we climb, and points out landmarks, shouting over the roar of the little engine. 200 feet, 400 feet, 800 feet. 1000 feet.
The man behind me squeezes my shoulders in a rather intimate way. Whad’ya reckon? he shouts in my ear, his broad Aussie drawl gone in a rush of emotion. Best thing you’ve ever seen, right? He is right. Looking down, my beach side home town looks like a scene from a map – and grows increasingly tiny. The girl beside me looks pale. I think she may throw up.
12000 feet. 13000 feet. Time to get ready, says the man in my ear. He manipulates me and my body closer to the door, inching on our bums. I experience a huge rush, adrenaline pumps through my veins at locomotive speed. I have a hand each side of the door, and the blast of wind on my face is so icy, it’s hard to catch my breath. I look out, across, down.
The coastline looks so small, the peninsula a speck jutting out from the mainland. The reef system curls, laid out like patchworks of sea – jewels of green, blue, purple, mauve. God, I am so insignificant in the world, really. My house, my home, my yard – nothing but specks of green bordering the mauve, green and blue quilt. “14000 feet”, calls the pilot. “15,000”. One last breath. Am I ready? Says the voice. You betcha, I reply, but the wind whips away my words and takes them into the universe. I nod. He holds me tighter, kisses the back of my neck ‘just for luck’, and…
then, I jump.
Happy Birthday, me.