Rule #2: Arch.
Rule #3: Feet up for landing.
For a day all about the sky, it was perfect. No clouds smudged the blue bowl above Harvey Field. I sat in the insistent sun waiting for our flight, half an ear on the parachute packers' profane banter, half an eye on the kid riding a ripstick in effortless ovals. A pack of Gonzaga almost-grads suited up, selfied, and disappeared into a chittering prop plane, to come floating down ten minutes later. I closed my eyes in the sun and the smell of diesel, not quite dozing. I wasn't nervous at all.
Finally, three hours after we'd left the house for the drive to Snohomish, two hours after we'd watched the brief, encouraging safety video ("Smile! Breathe through your teeth during freefall. Keep your arms out of the way until your tandem instructor taps you. Maintain the hands-out-feet-up arch until the chute opens. Hold your feet up as you land; your instructor's legs must touch the ground first. And have fun!"), it was our turn to suit up. Finally, I was percolating with excitement.
The flight suit was too big, the harness was unexpectedly tight around my thighs, and I'm desperately glad there are no photos of the red-and-black padded helmet (which I'm sure we wore to keep us from smacking our heads into our instructors' teeth in a moment of panic, and to keep long hair out of their faces during freefall). Didn't matter. I followed my admirably tattooed tandem instructor across the grass, onto the plane, into the sky.
The plane leapt off the ground. It felt as if we were climbing straight into the sun, Rainier and Mt. Baker gleaming white and the Sound speckled with the dark outlines of ferries and container ships, the spikes of Seattle towers hazed with distance. I couldn't take my eyes away. Bruce had to tap me to get my attention; we held hands for a moment, grinned at one another. But I wanted to see the world fall away as we rose.
So loud, the engines, and the helmet made me deaf. Extravagantly mustached Jake tightened my harness and connected it to his, joking that I'd have to change my Facebook status to say I had a new BFF. Suddenly it seemed like a lot to remember, to scoot toward the door, to put my heels on the bottom of the plane as we sat in the door, 1, 2, 3 and we'll go. But then three solo divers opened the door and dove, the first stepping into the air feet first --- step, then gone! - and the other two together, and I applauded them, laughed. It was astonishing, the wonderful fearlessness of them.
Then Jake was scooting us forward, into the door, and the wind tore my legs sideways. How to keep them on the belly of the plane? Cold, and suddenly the sky was very big. 1, 2, 3! I could feel Jake push us out, and for a moment there was nothing: no sound, no wind, nothing but feeling myself falling, plummeting like a tossed stone toward the hungry green ground.
For . . . maybe three seconds? . . . I was more terrified than I have ever been in my life. You feel the fall, the vast nothing beneath you.
Then you reach maximum velocity, and the wind rises up to hold you. Then, falling was a miracle, air pounding against your arched body like an invisible waterfall, loud as a train. We turned (Jake turned; I was luggage) one way and the other, the circle of the horizon revolving around us river-fields-mountains-Sound-trees. I couldn't speak, or hear. I grinned, breathed though my teeth.
Did the chute make a noise? Seems like it should have, like I remember a whoosh, a crack!, but I'm not sure. A giant hand plucked my body out of the wind, tug! And then everything was silent, and the beauty of the world needles through your eyes, burrows beneath your skin. River. Fields. Mountains. Sound. Trees. Farm equipment white-shrouded hayrolls stacks of lumber boats cars houses treestreestrees twisting river. Jake made tight turns one way, the other, and I couldn't stop laughing.
Feet up for landing.
And now I don't know which I'll go back for: the three seconds of fear or the next fifty of exhilaration.