I wrote this essay my junior year of college, immediately after changing my major to writing. Jumping out of a plane was a lot less scary (I highly recommend skydiving)!
Falling into Place
The atmosphere hands me an espresso shot, frothing with blustering winds and lake-affect snow, as I tread on the ice-glazed pavement. Lana Del Rey is whispering in my ear about summertime and how it makes her sad and heartsick while my tear ducts feel frozen shut. I imagine if the frigid air didn’t burrow beneath my skin and leave my muscles sore from all the shivering, I would stream and spurt like a rusted water can because like Lana, I’m feeling sadness of cinematic proportions. It’s almost ten at night and I’ve walked the campus perimeter twice now. I can’t feel a majority of my body but I also can’t stop walking. Not until I know I’m not stumbling and blindly tumbling into a future I can’t navigate. Not until the universe understands that I don’t want to feel lost anymore.
After my instructor gives me a five-minute lesson on how to properly fall from the sky, I sign a paper that basically states my family will not sue if I die while crashing through the air. He mentions something about arching my back and pointing my toes upward and what I should do if by some evil act of the universe he goes into cardiac arrest mid-air. I think he draws a shape on the white board but I can’t be sure because at this moment, my thoughts are on a free-fall of their own. They keep interrupting what I’m sure are very important instructions.
“Now this part is important. Make sure …”
I’m not nervous, I’m not nervous, I’m not nerv…
“As soon as we exit the plane I want you to…”
Does this mean I have to keep my eyes open?
“Pull the chute when the pressure reads…”
I HAVE TO PULL THE PARACHUTE?
“Ok, are you ready Anna?”
Are you ready, Anna?
I can feel a long chain of unconnected thoughts tangling around my mind as I write in a foreign dialect during anatomy and physiology class. Everyone else seems unscathed by the assault of indecipherable words while I feel defeated.
“The action potential is propagated along the sarcolemma…”
I’m not ready for this test, or that lab quiz, I think to myself.
“You should all know this by now.”
I’m not ready for any of this.
My professor, who doesn’t look much older than fourteen in his oversized flannel shirt and khaki shorts, makes a small mistake as he writes out the steps of ECC (don’t ask me what that stands for). The class corrects him almost immediately in unison.
What I would do for a crowd of people who knew how to correct my latest mistake.
A seasoned hippie with luscious locks and loose cotton trousers stuffs a mess of string and parachute into my pack. He seems too relaxed and bleary-eyed to be assembling my life line. Maybe I should remind him it’s birthday. At least we did cake on Wednesday.
I walk down the makeshift red carpet that leads to the small plane I’ll be free-falling from, flashing my mum and dad a nervous smile as they stand at the sidelines. My instructor and I sit in the back corner of the plane, leaving space for a troop of wacked-out adrenaline junkies who walk with the strut of celebrities on Hollywood Boulevard. They all shake the life out of my hand, asking me if I’ve ever done this before, smiling even wider when I laugh nervously and tell them this is my first time. My instructor begins to fasten himself to me as the plane jolts upwards and my stomach feels like it’s been shaken and stirred one too many times.
I drum softly on the edge of a large round table in Clark Lounge, anxiously slouched as the hour hand of the clock above the door frame creeps towards eleven. I’m completely alone in here because as of late, my muddled head feels like a foreign-exchange student amongst the company of the sharp-witted minds of my friends: friends who haven’t changed their major multiple times or questioned their future. No one worries about them. But everyone is worried about the girl who can’t seem to make up her mind, overwhelmingly lost and unsure within the confines of her ‘safe’ Public Health major. Just like every other night, I try to map out the nonsensical workings of my brain through artful doodling as I stare hopelessly at a blank screen, unable to draw the inspiration needed to write about melanomas and programed-cell death. I think I’d rather write a poem about shoes.
One of the crazies in a tight black biking suit munches on an apple as his leg casually dangles out of the open door of the plane, the strong spurts of high-altitude wind electrifying his bones. His smile is alarmingly wide. Festooned tightly to my energetic instructor, I shuttle towards the gaping, wind-soaked hole I’m about to disappear into watching as the solo jumpers exit the plane first and form a conga line of vibrant shades as they plummet towards the ground.
The late spring air pulsates with a frenzied Bollywood beat as we inch closer to the edge of the door frame. My instructor tells me to fold my arms against my chest in the shape of an “X”, gives me one last pat on the back, and begins the countdown. Five…four…
I write about soles filled with wanderlust, and clumsy clacks and caffeinated clonks. I write about burning puddles and eating the sun. I write until I realize I’ve started falling from the monochromatic comfort of science and guaranteed employment, teetering on the edge of a thick and bubbling frontier where writing is the only thing that keeps my mind alive, and flushed, and interesting.
I call my mum and tell her all I’ve ever wanted to do is write.
My friends tell me they’ll help me find a cardboard box. My classmates tilt their heads in confusion. My mum’s voice falters. The individuals policing my life are ready to pull me over for drunk driving because my life path is spiraling faster and faster off the beaten trail.
My instructor yells “One!” and we fall like shuttling acorns.
I dive into the spangled unknown and change my major to writing.
The first three seconds of the free-fall are wonderfully terrifying. My lips grow instantly chapped as the cold torrent of wind slaps my face numb.
I walk around campus for close to an hour, shivering from the cold and the wonderfully terrifying aftermath of my epiphany.
Rushing, tumbling, swirling, plunging, tripping at sixty miles per hour.
Graphite smudges, alliterations, a bursting mind, an exploding truth.
With a yank of the yellow lever, I jolt aggressively upwards. The parachute deploys and the wind stops rushing. I’m floating now above sparkling bodies of water, and splotchy trees, and bumbling hills, and high-reaching mountains. I feel as big as the universe.
Up here, gravity seems to defy its own laws, carving out a clearing in the sky so I can set camp amongst the clouds. It lets me fall so beautifully slow that my mind has time to shake itself dry before I’m expelled into a marbled frontier where falling is entrance into something spectacular. And thankfully, up in this inverted ocean of electric blue, spectacular is a destination where maps are clouded, roads are skewed, and directions are meaningless.
With the scribble of a pen, I can feel myself plummeting without restraint into the clouded arms of something extraordinary.