Pushcart 2013: Sarah Deming, “Skydive” (Non-Fiction) from Threepenny Review, Fall 2011

“When you are in free fall, ” Utah warned me, “you may feel like you can’t breathe. You can. Just close your eyes and smile.”

Like many unadventurous people, I’ve always harbored this secret wish to go skydiving. Not for the thrill – that’s the downside – but for the sensation of flight. From Deming’s report, there’s not much of that. There’s a moment of terror right after hitting the air (“like an orgasm, only bad”) and a wind-tunnel effect, and of course there’s the experienced jumper strapped to your back. Maybe hang-gliding would work better.

I did not remember to close my eyes and smile. Luckily, like an orgasm, this was brief.
I breathed.

But that doesn’t mean this essay didn’t work for me.

First, consider her reason for doing the jump: she was about to donate one of her kidneys to her mother, and skydiving – along with hockey, football, and rodeo – was on the list of things a person with one kidney should not do. So she put them on her “Two Kidney Bucket List” of things to do before the surgery. She played a little loose with the details: hockey was covered by a survey of her brother’s hockey-related video games, football was checked off by lunch with former NFL player Everson Walls, who donated a kidney to former teammate Ron Springs (who, sadly, later died). The rodeo was experienced on a mechanical bull in a New York bar.

That left skydiving. And a woman afraid of heights.

He pointed to trees.
“Beautiful!”
He pointed to fields.
“Look!”
He pointed to trees.
“Skydive!” he cried.

Turns out, heights weren’t an issue: at 13,000 feet, depth perception doesn’t work very well. I’m surprised to hear that; I would think it would work well enough for phobic purposes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short (5 pages; go ahead, read it, it’s available online) account of Deming’s experience. If I’m to be consistent, I must apply the “look outward as much as inward” principle I picked up from a tweet by Roxane Gay. Of course, the whole idea of a woman donating her kidney to her mother, to obviate dialysis, is gripping, and the idea of a bucket list for the procedure adds a little twist. Then there’s the inevitable life advice from a skydive, some of which I’ve quoted in this post, because what else is life but a dive? And what is freefall if not voluntarily offloading the body’s natural redundancy?

The only way I knew how fast we’d been falling was by how fast we stopped.

Mostly, though, it was just a great story at every level. And sometimes, that’s enough.

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