Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Greatest Time I Signed My Life Over, or Happy Birthday Hetch

"IT'S 2PM. LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!" was my post on D's facebook page. It's his 33rd birthday, and I've got a secret weekend planned for him.

I left work early, biked home, and we got the last of our things packed up and threw it all into my hatchback, ready for the mystery to begin. "I know what we're doing. We're going to San Jose to watch Mike Birbiglia," he said with a knowing smile. I drove past the exit for San Jose and his contemplative look reappeared.

Two hours later, we were in Capitola, CA, and D. had absolutely no idea what was happening. He said there's nothing that could really bother him, unless the surprise is some weird intervention, or I've become enmeshed in some religion and this weekend we'll be praying at the alter of whatever god/alien/mermaid I'd decided was in charge. "Is it some sort of comic book convention? Because I don't have a costume. Are....are we disc golfing? Did you somehow sneak my discs into the car without my noticing? What are we doing??" I laugh it all off, he hasn't come close, and even if he did, there was no way I was admitting to anything. The secret's not till Saturday, though, so we've got all night to wander.

Capitola is beautiful, did you know this? Some rich, sleepy suburb of Santa Cruz and Monterey. It's all perfect weather, sun dresses, and beach cruisers. I thought at any minute the Brady Bunch would go skipping by. When we got to the hotel, the concierge informed us there was a problem with the hotel somehow being overbooked (seems a wedding might have been this weekend) and we were upgraded to the best room in the house, no extra charge. The king suite. Top floor, away from other guests, balcony, fireplace, whirlpool, giant flat screen tvs, you get the picture. This place was amazing. D wasn't hungry yet, so we went to the hotel bar to get some beers, and listen in on a very drunk man's rant about the sun. "You don't get it! It's not just for tanning! This is just some minuscule star and it effects everything! Like, everything! Mars! And...and other dimensions! And you can get tan!!"
Faces on Cap'n Jack's Pirate Ship

D practiced forward rolls on the plush new carpeting on the way back to the room.

We went to dinner, walked the Santa Cruz boardwalk, played skee ball and air hockey (5-4, me, thankyouverymuch), posed for a photo booth and finished the night taking a ride on one of those Pirate Ship rides at the fair. This, alone, could have been enough for any birthday.

Today, though, we woke up, grabbed breakfast, and I continued to torment D about the surprise. "Grab some extra bananas and peanut butter. I have no idea when we'll eat again."
"What are we doing? Is this some survivalist shit you've got me into??"
"I just think rations might be a good idea."

Another beer, celebrated on the balcony, and it's time to leave the life of kings behind and hit the road again. I direct D South, on Highway 1, toward Watsonville, and it isn't until we take exit 427 toward Airport Boulevard that he takes another stab at the secret, "Is it skydiving?"
I choose not to lie so much as omit, "I told you, skydiving scares me."
"Good. 'Cause I don't think I'd be up for something like that today."
I smiled back at him, and tried to hide from him that my stomach had dropped through the bottom of the car.
Another turn onto Aviation Way, and one last one into the parking lot for the SurfCity hangar. "Hetch? It is skydiving. I'm sorry."

He took it like a champ.

We signed our lives over. Like, 10 pages of legal talk, promising that neither we, nor our loved ones left behind are allowed to sue. For anything. I initialed it all and entrusted my well-being to a 23 year old, 90 pound looking goober. A very nice, goober, though, who, through all his jokes somehow made me feel like I'd made the right decision. D seemed pretty confident, as well.

"Show me your best limbo pose, Caitlin! Now just imagine yourself doing it when you're falling at 200 mph, and you are set!" Alex tells me. Apparently, the trick to free fall is trying your best to bend backwards, like a banana. Also, scream if you feel like you can't breath. Scream if you feel like you can. It really doesn't matter. You'll probably scream at least once.

After getting into the harness, Alex and Matt, our instructors take us to the runway and have us pose next to a helicopter, then next to a plane, point at the sky! You get the picture. The plane is tiny. Just enough room for the four of us to squeeze in, very intimate. D is jumping first, so he sits right next to the doorway, in front of Matt. Our instructors spend half the time readjusting our straps and triple checking all the safety measures, and the other half making jokes. Alex notices I'm clearly the more scared one, so he spends his time shaking me, pointing out landmarks on the horizon, and trying to make me scream. I think I may have called him an asshole, in the nicest way possible.

ohhhh jeeeeezus
When I think we're at altitude, and I'm looking at Big Sur out the window, Alex tells us we're halfway to altitude. Oh yeah...we're jumping from 14,000 feet. Almost 3 miles up, ensuring a full minute of free fall. What feels like a second later, it's actually time. Matt raises the door and tells D to stick his feet out and look up. D decides to get serious, grabs my shoulder and states, "Caitlin, I love you." Then he's gone.

I have never seen anything so terrifying in my life. Until you actually witness it for yourself, how do you explain the feeling of seeing a loved one, your love, FALL OUT OF A PLANE?

I decided to have a panic attack. Suddenly, my chest was very very tight, and I was gulping air like there couldn't possibly be enough. We circled around, and I stuck my feet out of the door, like I had watched D do just moments before. I'll admit, I thought about not going through with it. Tucking my tail between my legs and admitting defeat. Then I thought about how awful it would feel, to fly back to the hangar with my instructor and feeling a disappointment that would be tangible. And I realized I'd rather jump out of a plane than deal with that.

So I did.

I could tell you how the wind screamed in my ears. How we flipped and tumbled like gymnasts through the air, because I'd assured Alex I don't get motion sick. How I knew, logically, that we were falling, but I felt remarkably still, a human cloud. And I could tell you I've never felt so alive. And it would all be true.

Alex is trying to make me wave.
A minute feels like 5 seconds and then whoosh! the parachute opens, and it's total silence. D says that was his favorite part. The wind from falling was so loud, and then nothing! Total peace. Alex let me take the controls and had me pull hard on one handle, sending us into some serious loops. I'm told it's another four or five minutes of gliding, but it felt like 10 seconds. I watched D land and jump around on the beach a hundred feet below, and then I was landing next to him, feet deep in the sand. We were hugging, high-fiving, and generally hopping around the beach, words unable to express the utter joy we felt. Take the happiest moments of your childhood, mix them with the most picturesque scenes of nature you've witnessed, and add in your deepest moments of serenity experienced, and maybe that comes close to what we felt today.

Then it was time to wait for Bo and Trish, our friends who joined in D's surprise. 20 minutes of laughter and recounting our personal experiences, and there they were. Red and white dots soaring above us. And then they landed, and we could see in their eyes the same feelings we'd been sharing. Bo hugged. Trish danced. It was a great time.

We'll be going again. Next year. Every year, I hope. 

You should come.

No comments: