How Skydiving Changed My Life | Continuing His Story

Jennifer Smith

Pipe smoke chases the lines of a story I’ve heard before.

The 82nd Airborne Division readies to strike in July, 1943, with grandpa taking lead as Jump Commander of the first American Special Forces Unit. He hooks men to static lines and orders their leap into somber Sicilian night skies. The grenades the jumpers held, he adds, were similar in weight to the full can of Hawaiian Punch I sip as an intrigued child, listening. Fruit juicy red mingles with the bite of pipe tobacco every time he tells this story— seeds of a reflective bouquet I carry years later onto the Cessna 208 Caravan at Skydive Moab in Utah.

I wonder if Grandpa’s heart spiked similarly to this post-ground-school anxiety creeping beetles through my stomach. “Relax,” I tell myself. “It’s in your blood. You’re an Airborne legend’s granddaughter, for Christ’s sake!”

Automatic activation device on. Pilot chute cocked and closing pin smiling. Three-ring assemblies stacked like snowmen. Altimeter on. Helmet snug. Good-luck fist bumps, and I’m loaded onto the plane, and my instructor, Dustin, leans forward.

    “Decision altitude?”

    “2,500 feet.”

    “And if there’s no parachute overhead by 1,000 feet?”

    “I’m dead.”

Reassuring instructor s**t.

Yesterday, after ground school and a few beers, I had listened as veterans joked. If his reserve fails, Damion wants to dive headfirst and be crushed like a Keystone can. Ash plans to strip naked and feel air rattle her piercings; maybe shock her fundamentalist grandparents out of their graves when her demon dragon tat is found.

The plane continues to climb in its zig-zag pattern to 2.5 miles above the planet. More interrogation: Pointer finger: “Pull.” Loose hand: “Relax.” And so on.

Instructor Dustin slides his fingers over my palm before delivering another fist bump. “You ready to skydive?” I nod and feign confidence. The red and then green lights drill my pupils.

 “It’s go time.”

I cling to the bar like it’s the edge of a boiling pot, and then with one step, I’m a leaf. I’m skydiving. 

My first breath, and I’m face-flopping like a dog out of a car window, the horizon shifting while I’m 120 miles per hour toward the earth. Wave off, 4,500 feet, pull! Death cheated.

Grandpa’s ghost dips his brush in Hawaiian Punch red and paints clouds of pink smoke for me. He wipes away my fear with wind and whispers, “Not so bad for a girl.”

The first time I saw my parachute bloom, I saw my grandpa and I met myself.

Jennifer Smith | A-109720
Draper, Utah

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