Tuesday, December 25, 2012
I always wonder who knows I'm terrified.
I'm called "fearless" an awful lot. I imagine most of us are -- we plane-jumper-outers, we cliff-leapers, we who pull big pieces of fabric up over our heads and let them pull us up into the clouds.
I'm not fearless at all. Not one tiny bit. I think I'm probably more of a natural scaredy-cat than most of the people who accuse me of having none of the stuff. I have great gobbling oubliettes of fear; the caustic kind, the mean-making kind, the kind that swells in your belly like rice in seagulls. Fear that revels and grows in its own nonsensicality. Fear that pushes people away, just when you need them close. Fear that freezes muscle and narrows vision and screws the mouth down against smiling. Hateable fear.
Today, tugging on my wingsuit for the first time since it arrived so many months ago, I saw in clear relief the distance I've come this year.
I remembered that first BASE jump, done the evening of a day I'd already jumped frankly frightening gear from a plane over a sea visibly full of great white sharks. (That jump seemed so tame in comparison, I sang pop songs all the way to the exit.)
I remembered launching Lion's Head, running down a hill so steep that my glider had to be held at the top of the launch so as not to slide down on me, into absolutely no wind, off the edge of a cliff.
I remembered that late afternoon on Babadag, watching my wing fold, then pin itself into a whipping spiral as I watched the ground come up so terribly fast and yanking my lines for dear life.
I remembered speed launching Mürren alone for the first time, sprinting down towards electrified fences and barns and trees and bored-looking, pointy-headed cows, tripping in a gopher hole and barely clearing all of the above.
I remembered Yellow Ocean, when the fear was so complete that it was elevating; that it constricted my vision, my blood, my fists, my hearing, my breath, my jaw, to the point that I felt physically lifted by it; that my knees were water because I didn't need them, borne forward on a dizzy cloud of terror. I remembered the feeling of pushing through that fear as being the liquid sensation of putting a palm through a soap bubble, snapped at the moment my little hop converted to downward speed, lungs filling suddenly and painfully with air as my sternum found its heading.
Even those first skydives rate somewhere on this scale -- all alone in a crowded plane, hands folded between my knees, impossibly uncomfortable in a rig.
Today, it was better.
I remember, in the plane, looking down at the unfamiliar stitching over my belly; the strange little inlets and zippers obscuring my customary leg straps. I remember kneading the wingtips between my fingers, feeling the peculiar pressures against my knees and toes. I looked around at the other faces, mouths set in concentration, minds already in freefall, and suddenly felt the absence of that old familiar fear. Oddly, there was nothing in its place -- just a yawning emptiness under my belly button, utterly neutral, letting me breathe and wiggle playfully for the camera; letting me snag Brett's finger with mine and meet his puppy smile with one of my own.
I'm not fearless. Not in the least. But sometimes, the fear forgets its footholds.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
I've always been at peace with my own madness.
I haven't looked to medication. I haven't looked to professional conversationalists. I haven't consulted friends; I haven't pondered trite works of self-help; I haven't cast myself into the abyss of religion. I've ridden the waves wheresoever they took me, bounding ecstatically into the forest after every winking will-o-the-wisp, and I have yet to be disappointed by the decision.
It's not that I hate convention, or that I'm inherently contrary. It's just that I see so much beyond the false horizon of supposed-tos and really-oughtas. I refuse to waste the opportunity to play out there.
You're mad, too. Stark raving, with the starkness carefully shrouded and the raving bound and compressed. The crackling light of it draws me ever closer.
I wonder if you'll ever let me get a good look.
No, I don't know what I'm doing.
Thanks for not asking.
Monday, October 22, 2012
You give me that look that's like laughing
With liquid in your mouth
Like you're choosing between choking and spitting it all out
Like you're trying to fight gravity
On a planet that insists
That love is like falling and falling is like this
Feels like reckless driving when we're talking
It's fun while it lasts, and it's faster than walking
But no one's going to sympathize when we crash
They'll say you hit what you head for, you get what you ask
And we'll say we didn't know, no we didn't even try
One minute there was road beneath us and the next just sky
I'm sorry I can't help you, I cannot keep you safe
I'm sorry I can't help myself, so don't look at me that way
We can't fight gravity on a planet that insists
That love is like falling and falling is like
Love is like falling and falling is like
Love is like falling and falling is like this
It's like this
It's like this
It's like this
- Ani DiFranco
I'm listening to Prince.
Monday, October 15, 2012
I stand facing the blue horizon. On every side, the driftwood tourists lie prone on their towels. I peel down the layers to my bikini, leaving an untidy ball of clothing when I stride over and slip into a wave.
The Oludeniz water is salty and mineral; so much moreso than the ocean water I grew up in. It tastes like blood in the mouth, as though I'm brushing my lips against an open vein with every breath.
The water here stings everything that needs healing. A cut on my hand; eyes, red and tired from recycled airplane air and incessant screenlight; my scuffed right heel -- all singing with a peculiar, tingling pain. So, too, my heart.
I take several languid strokes, landing myself far enough from the thin crowd on the beach that my earplugs silence the roughhousing, bickering and shrieking that clings to the shoreline. It unnerves me to be out this far, but I'm eager to be alone today.
Between the clarity of the water and the uniformity of the grey rocks below, it feels as though I'm floating over the surface of the moon.
I try to lose myself in the rythm of hands and feet. When that fails I submerge, arms and legs akimbo, hair impossibly soft in its suspended animation. I listen to the morse-code clicking of the rocks far below me as they move with the shifting of the currents. I startle at the rocketship movements of the creatures that live here. They are entirely unperturbed by my awkwardness -- a grave-faced porcelain doll, misplaced.
I have never minded solitude. Indeed, it's my happy default. Solitude is the most defensible position; the most reliable refuge; the space where you kneel quietly and wait for inspiration to come shyly out from under the couch and nuzzle your hand.
These days, however, I'm thinking of solitude's other faces. I'm thinking about the moment just after my feet have left the cliff, when the buoyancy of the leap has just started to convert to downward speed. I'm thinking of a night spent crumpled on the floor in my own living room next to a phone full of thousands of uncallable numbers, emptying a bottle of whiskey into a solitude that had turned abruptly to despair. I'm thinking about the solitude that lives in the secrets you're keeping even from yourself; of the solitude inherent in opening a door to your deep inner rooms and waiting for someone to walk in.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Ornamental lions suckle at the waterline, snouts green with the living tattoo of their labors.
The alleys, silent and sepulchral as a country dusk, give briefly way to sun-splashed courtyards before swallowing you up again.
This is a place that, in its seasonless, stony oubliettes, your thoughts will always find you.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
It is always the same.
Someone tells you.
You're caught in a moment of hollowing disbelief.
Then -- always -- you remember the last time you saw them.
You remember the last time your eyes caught theirs, and when those eyes turned away.
She was dead within weeks.
When it first dawned on me that the cryptic news I was hearing must be about him, I couldn't quite grasp the possibility. So many times I'd seen that pair of puckish eyes flash across mine in the plane; been honored to be there in the same place with the man whose name was a part of the fabric of skydiving. As I sifted for clarification on the details, I remembered.
I remembered standing next to the swoop pond at Elsinore in the dark, pressed into a crowd that was jostling for the front cordons, beer in hand, chin tilted up, searching for movement in the black sky. I remember the announcer say his name, and his sudden emergence from the night, and the surge of sound as his toe dug into the surface, and the shimmering plume of water he painted across the floodlights.
I remember his frame in flight -- so birdlike, every limb a distinct note in the sweet and complicated chord.
I can't picture that frame broken, as little as I can picture Jasna's.
Just in case it doesn't go as planned.
Just in case it's the last time you see them, or if it's the last time anyone sees you and still sees you inside.
Sean was one of my first papa birds. His smile (which always looked half-surprised, as if he were startled and delighted to see you there, even if you'd been in the same room for hours) keeps blossoming up into my heart's eyeline, reminding me that he never looked quite like himself when his face wasn't mid-expression.
I remember him at Echo, standing next to the exit's Flying Spaghetti Monster flag, long arms wiry in a long-sleeved shirt. He was grinning even as he scrabbled over the scree to check the winds at the bottom; his face never fell into solemnity. His love for the sport -- for all of us -- seemed always to buoy him up from the exit, a feather-light soul in the void.
There were so many exits; so many lackadaisical moments lolling around launch; so many nights curled up in his cavernous living room with him and his wife and our neighbors and their dogs and their kids.
I've remembered every single one of them today.
Then, suddenly, we were standing in the early-evening chill outside the Horner. I was struggling, trying to embrace his tireless encouragement in a moment I was feeling desperately unsure. Then there was a skinny, sincere hug. Then there was a promise to reconnect, and soon. Then he loped away, stash bag slung over a shoulder, out of sight.
That was the last time.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Saturday, May 12, 2012
It was much, much easier than I thought it would be to climb over the railing of this bridge.
I had assumed I'd whinge and hesitate, leaning over and looking and leaning over and looking again and flitting around for an excuse to wait -- just one more moment, just to catch my breath -- and just one more pin check -- and just until this last group of cars has roared behind me, traffic wind pressing my jacket collar firmly against my neck, trucks bleating deeply and hoarsely when they see my silhouetted figure leaning out over the void of the canyon.
In actuality, the African sun recently tucked itself behind the Outeniquas. I'm quickly losing the light.
This is obviously, precisely the right place, time and moment to make this step. We're leaving RSA in a handful of days. If I don't move decisively, I'll lose this chance.
I catch Brett's wide smile with my own. We dash to the other side through the headlights of the evening traffic. I follow the last trickles of honeyed sunlight that pour along the narrow railing. I find the center of the bridge. I gauge the breath of wind that moves across the span. I throw my right leg over. I throw my left leg over. The left shoulder of Brett's enormous rig has slipped from its rightful place into the crook of my elbow, so I slide it back and ask him to confirm its position.
I feel the cold curve of the railing under each hand.
I hear the rustle of the pilot chute as Brett gathers it carefully into his grip.
I glance quickly down at the river canyon below. It's perfect -- a long, flat, wide, soft swath of powdery sand. A shallow, calm panel of water slips along the left-hand side of the canyon, gamely wending itself out of my intended path.
A handful of construction workers has quietly lined up along the railing to my left, dark faces and hands disappearing into the advancing night, safety-orange jumpsuits craned over the edge, waiting.
I tip my chin up to the invisible horizon behind the hill in front of me, and I see the last of the light slide from it.
"Ready?" My voice is steady.
"Yep. I love you baby."
"I love you, too." Good lord, do I ever mean it. "Three, two, one...see ya."
My hands slide smoothly over the metal. My knees bend, then spring.
For a moment, perfect silence. Perfect peace.
Then, suddenly, the world is full of fabric sounds and I'm suspended over the riverbank. I grab one orange toggle in each hand, sashay into the slight turbulence in the canyon-bottom venturi and land, alighting gently on my feet.
I turn my face up to my beloved on the bridge and holler madly, my voice meeting his (and the construction workers') somewhere in the middle.
This is a fork in a long, long path, with the promise of an extraordinary journey ahead.
I'm so glad I waited for this.
Saturday, April 07, 2012
Not every day is a red-letter day out here, but sometimes it's good to remember just how delightful every. Single. Day. Always. Is. Today, I:
- Slept in like I meant it
- Listened to buckets of rain pounding symphonically on the roof, in the marshland reeds and on the surface of the lagoon, accompanied by the howling Capetonian wind
- Got my hair cropped into a swingy little shag
- Got a cute lil' nose ring and a pretty new dress
- Made my first batch of pickled peppers
- Fed flying grapes to a friendly dog
- Had a great yoga session
- Planned a week chockablock with awesomeness
Monday, April 02, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
The clouds have been gathering for hours before we careen up the dirt road to the Sedgefield launch. Looking out onto the ocean from the ridge, the multitude of clouds casts a shifting reflection on the silver sea, the late-afternoon sun warming the whites to a pale buttercream.
The sock, steadfast and orange, snaps to oscillating attention, pointing insistently across the grass.
No one else hangs in the air, nor is anyone waiting on the ground. The carpark is eerily empty, devoid of dogs and backpacks scattered in the sun; of nervous families fussing with the children as they wait wearily for a tandem passenger, whooping giddily from somewhere along the treeline; of helmet-headed pilots, moving their Santa-sacks of nylon to and from the shade.
There's only the thwap-thwap of the sock; the sussurus of the wind pushing up and over the wooded ridge; the snap of my fingernail between my teeth.
The clouds, dense and clotted-grey, knead themselves along the glass ceiling of cloudbase. Shafts of sunlight split the velvety canopy for long moments, throwing the trees into crisp relief before disappearing.
I decide: I'm gonna fly.
I apply my gear with great ceremony, giving each buckle a solid tug before shimmying back into the harness. The straps, once hopelessly awkward, settle easily onto the slopes of my collarbones; over the soft rise of my chest; across my breathing belly; along the same line of thigh that a lover's hand nestles. The toggles in my palms, I buck the glider into a firm and heaving wall, letting it gather breath before slipping it into the airflow over my head.
Before I know it, I'm bouyed into a dancing mass of bubbling thermals, sweeping me swiftly towards the patchy afternoon sun. Delighted, I bounce through the jostling crowd, spinning handily up and down; leaning so far out of the soft side of the harness that I seem to be drawn bodily up into heaven, trees retreating dizzily into a green featureless carpet, a heathen version of the Rapture with bare feet crossed at the ankles and a breathy Portishead soundtrack pumping in my ears.
I spin, and dive, and dolphin, and whip wide wingovers over the fields far below. I buck and deflate and reinflate and rattle in my high-suspended seat. I whoop and holler and sing.
At some point, I notice the other pilots crowding the carpark. I smile, knowing we brought them here.
One thing is clear: I'm a different pilot today than I have ever been.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
You smelled like the sea.
There's a boogie board strapped to my wrist. It was the only thing from the encyclopedic rack of boards in the carport that would fit in the cabin of the golf-cart-sized car I'm driving. The board is festooned with smiling dolphins and, inexplicably, the planet Saturn. One dolphin leers up at me from the technicolor nonsense of the board, goading.
What a question.
A single jellyfish burbles by. A crab runs across the top of my foot, its movements feather-light needles on my skin. This ocean teems with life below its dancefloor surface, and I perch at the edge - me and my flourescent-dolphins-passing-Saturn boogie board - unable to see beyond the first line of breaks.
You're so careful with me. I like it.
I watch the glassy water swell into an azurite blueness, bubble into cloudlike white, then spread into a twisting, airy clarity as it passes the pillars of my legs. I wonder who invented the color "seafoam," and what made them think of it. I wade deeper.
The only way out of the foxhole was to shoot the SS gunner.
Submerged to the waist, I sashay along the beach in my shimmering skirt of sea. Sand-colored fish explode in neutral starburts as I move through them. Little remembered things swim across my thinking, then dart back into the depths.
I'll see you soon.
Monday, March 05, 2012
Sunday, March 04, 2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Punchy, capricious conditions make me hopelessly awkward on launch; it takes me six or seven tries to get the glider over my head and, when I do, it feels so miraculous that I'm dumbstruck for the first few moments of flight.
As soon as I begin to slide along the forested ridge, I'm cutting through thermals so sharp they feel like air-gun blasts aimed haphazardly from the ground below. My heart in my throat, I keep pressure on the glider, doggedly willing my head back into the customary position. It fights me, creeping up between the risers.
Moment by moment, I struggle to relax as my twitching glider rings me like a bell in the harness. I hear small collapses crinkle the sides of the wing, waiting sickly for the moment until there's a crisp snap as the airfoil reinflates. Albatross tandems swoop across my path. Occasional gusts shove me too close for comfort to the toothy line of trees that runs across the top of the ridge. Struggling to keep my head, I talk to myself. Hum. Sing a little bit: African Sky Blue. Take It Easy. Across the Universe. Breathe loudly through the nose, focusing on the texture of the air as it traces a long curve over the back of my throat.
No dice. The conditions are unrelenting, and my heart has worked its way up from my throat to my mouth.
Defeated, I point my glider out from the ridge. A series of explosive thermals keeps me up longer than I anticipated, but it gives me ample time to choose a landing area from the options on offer. Cruising in on final, ground effect cruelly pops me up again five or six times before finally allowing me to settle to the ground.
As I start to gather my lines, I see that my hands are shaking.
On the ride back, I ponder the validity of my sense of defeat. I think about how difficult it was to launch in those conditions (when the immense disquietude of the air had already been explained to me) and to be dragged around the topside at least once -- in front of a crowd -- with a biffed launch.
There's only one way forward: do the hardest thing, over and over, with a smile -- and soon, the smile will be real.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
The sensation is so raw that it makes my blood sting the hollows of my veins.
I'm watching my face reflected in the enormous panel of glass that separates this living room from the coastal forest spread out below. The early-morning sea throws handfuls of foam at the shore. My paraglider is waiting expectantly for the day to begin.
The last time I was on this continent, I never budged from overdrive. Everything was new; everything was at once terrifying and bones-on-fire sweet. I found a new life here without even looking for it, and every moment burned another bridge to the life I'd had before.
It's different now.
I knew it would be; there was no replicating that first few months in the bower of southern Africa. That moment was pinned to the change it engendered, and that change was so complete and universal that it seems now to be someone else's story.
This time, I still take enormous pleasure in sitting silently in a restaurant, reveling in the earthy sensuousness of Afrikaans' earthy rasps and trilling r's. I still check the gas gauge before driving through townships. I still find myself marveling at the salty practicality of the wheat-haired descendants of the first pioneers, their offhand economy of expression a Rubik's cube in my hands. And I will never, never tire of the expanse of mama Africa under my feet, always tempting me onward with the promise of another heartstring plucked.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
The heavens are murky with a roiling morass, dragging a grey crayon sideways across the valley landscape, shading the gaps a dull flannel, daubing out the sun. Through my sleet-spackled goggles, the trees and snow have lost all color. Gravity lasciviously sucking my skis, I lurch into an Ansel Adams landscape.
I become black-and-white.
I remember pieces of that day. I recall twisting her flaxen hair though two fingers, feeling the warmth at the scalp fade into the winter-cold of the cabin with each stroke. For weeks, she had been a plaything -- a curvy, porcelain creature with a rapier wit and a smile I haven't thought to question, easily returned to the dollhouse when I wished it. At that moment, the snow was deep outside and the crown of her head was tucked under my collarbone, ear pressed to my heart.
I remember hoping she wasn't listening too closely.
I see the space between the trees just as I'm about to shoot past and, a cursory over-shoulder glance confirming my isolation, I cut hard to the left and dive in. This path was fraught with logs and boulders the last time I noticed it; now, a crushing press of snow has elbowed down through the evergreen canopy to submerge the roots in a thick, white marsh.
But for the heavy flakes beating a swift stacatto on my goggles, the silence is oppressive. My tracks are soundless beneath me, and my breath is subsumed in snowfall. Each bucking bump feels as though it's wrenching me from the greedy earth, a quagmire of cold that wants desperately to gather me in.
I remember pieces of that night. I remember his arm under mine, deftly negotiating us both over the sheet of ice glassing over a wide Cambridge street. I remember whiskey on my lips, then reckless words on my lips, then skin on my lips. I remember standing at a window afterwards, unable to sleep, watching flurries of snow chase each other across the river, twisting an engagement ring aimlessly on a finger.
I remember seeing flaxen hair spread across a pillow, and he's there, and the snow is deep outside, and it's his dollhouse now.
I remember numbness.
I break from the trees at full throttle and see the clotted, hulking snowdrift half a moment too late to dodge it completely. One tip daggers into a protuberance as the opposite pole catches my falling body in an awkward half-twist. I hear fleshy sounds echo through my ribcage from my shoulder.
Stunned, I slide silently onto my back and let the hungry snowfall slide flurried fingers under my clothes.
I never saw it coming.