It wasn’t until my husband got some good practice (and more time) that it felt possible to ask Tony if he dared to jump. For the first time, he seemed to consider the question seriously. We discussed it, and he agreed to try.
“No,” he said.
“You don’t have to do it unless you want to. If you want to, you can. But
just know that it’s not worth it if you don’t.”
“You’re being nice to me. For once.”
“Yes. I am.”
And just like that, he jumped. We watched the Cessna climb out of the cloudless blue of the sky, and Tony asked me if I was scared. I was.
I’m not a fear monger — but in this case, at least, fear isn’t the problem.
Tony is an experienced skydiver and a seasoned pilot. He’s done a lot of
countless vertical flights over New Mexico and Utah and Colorado and Idaho and
Kansas. And he’s been in a half dozen aircraft crashes.
None of them were fatal. But he got stuck on a wingtip in a single-engine
Cessna in a high winds. He was scared. He took a beating and came back. It’s
been over two years.
So we thought, let’s face it. Flying is dangerous. But we decided to push the risk
We were on our way home from a church event in Denver when Tony pointed to the blue column of clouds beneath the blue sky. It was, he
said, our destination. “I want to jump out of this.”
I was, in a word, horrified. I didn’t want him to. But not only did we see how he looked at those clouds
and said, “I want to jump out of this,” we saw how he looked at the plane
flying over Colorado and said, “I want to jump out of this.” We watched him climb in, grab the seatbelt and then hold on and watch the Cessna
roll into the cloud. I said to my husband, “Get out of here.”
I tried to stop him by grabbing his arm and telling him not to get into the plane.
He shook me off and jumped out himself. He grabbed his parachute and looked
at me. “I want to have the first wings-up.”
I wanted to scream. I said: “Get off. GET OFF THE PLANE.”
“I want to,” he said. “You said not to.”
But he got into the plane and waited until I was sitting back, in the middle, behind the window, holding the safety rope, waiting with fear written across my face, to see the aircraft begin to rise.
The first wings-up wasn’t that scary: just the sound of the motors, the
thump and rattle of the airframe, and the hum of the engines. It was the
flight over Denver that was a shock.
I was standing on the curb in the parking lot of the church when I first saw
the plane. I looked up and saw Tony hanging in the window, looking down at
Then I saw a small figure in the window, jumping out. I screamed. I ran over so that there was no way he could have seen me at the time. I ran and pushed past a parking sign and turned and saw Tony.
We were standing on the curb and he stepped into the street.
He just looked at me and smiled and said, “See, I’m cool. I’m cool.”
I looked at him the way most people looked at a guy on a bike and thought
“dude, you better get your act together.”
He didn’t seem to care. He kept looking at me the way people looked at a woman in a kitchen and think
He didn’t care when I told him he had to leave the plane sooner to get out of the
winds. He just said “Ok.”
He landed without a scratch and climbed in without a complaint. I got on the phone and told my parents
the good news.
“It has to be done,” said my father. “No question about it.”
“You can’t take chances with someone your own age. You have to let your
child experience everything you did when you were young so that he will be
strong in life. You have to do this for him.”
I have a problem with the idea that people my age shouldn’t jump out of airplanes.
They know how to fly them, and I do too. I know the mechanics of climbing into an
airplane and sitting down in the pilot’s seat. I have done it twice. Once
at age 18 when Tony was my boyfriend’s junior, and once at age 18 when Tony
was my boyfriend’s senior. And I have done it twice with Tony
The first few weeks were spent talking about it. We talked about the risks, and
the consequences. We talked about the possible consequences down to the
We talked about what he would do if something went wrong. “I want you to
be prepared,” I said.
We talked about how much we liked each other and how much we wanted to be
together. We talked about what he might get up to back at home, and what I would do,
if something happens to him, in case I can reach him.
In a weird way, it made me feel better. It made me feel like the person I was with
wasn’t just in the world, but with me, here in the world. That Tony was just
me, now. As a new person.
The second time,
he was five years into his teenage years. Five years of school full of people
he could kill. Five years of growing up. Five years of knowing he had one
great chance to kill.
He talked about it all the time.
At some point, I realized he was going to do it. He was going to get out,
because life was a risk that you took or you didn’t take. You took it because there
was a reason for taking it. You didn’t take it because life was a risk. A lot of the
time, there was no reason for being alive.
It was the first time I remember him not caring about anything that was bad
about it. He was not worried about death. He was thrilled with being alive.
He was thrilled with life. He was thrilled with death and everything that went
along with it.
The first time, he wanted to get as high as he could before he left the