I heard some sad news a few days ago and I got to thinking of a guy who was a big part of my life in my younger days. I laughed a lot with this friend of mine and I truly enjoyed being around him. He had a way of pushing you to do things that you might not, at first thought, want to even try. I still can’t believe that he got me to go parachuting. I was fine until I got in the damn plane.
Kenny practically stormed the plane and I laughed at him thinking that if he wanted to go first, that was just fine with me. I hung back and made sure I was one of the last to get on the plane – I was in no hurry to leave a perfectly good aircraft. My logic was pretty sound until I took my seat on the floor, legs out for the person in front of me to sit between, and they were the only thing between me and the open door.
I took a quick look out the window and learned a very valuable lesson in perspective. Ever stand under a bridge and think, that’s not so high. Then, on the bridge looking down you’re amazed at how high it is. That was exactly what I experienced on that little plane. I’d seen small aircraft flying around Toronto all the time and they didn’t look so high. They were a lot higher than I ever imagined. I mentally tried to blow up Kenney’s head but I wouldn’t even know if I’d succeeded since he was at the very back of the plane, ten people away from me. I was sure I heard him laugh though.
The plane dipped sideways and me and my fifty pound chute slid against the side, my face an inch from the window. The instructor motioned for jumper one, the guy sitting in front of me, to get set. He scrambled to the door and the plane turned again, the guy leaned out the door then the instructor yelled, “Go.” Static line or not, this guy fell away from that plane like he was Superman – faster than a speeding bullet. He was there, then he was gone.
Jumper number two did the same, then the instructor motioned to me. I hated and loved Kenny at that exact moment. He’d gotten me to do something that wasn’t remotely on my list of things to do. My heart was trying to burst through my chest, the straps holding the chute on me and my emergency parachute. I tasted bile or maybe blood since I was gnawing on my lip like it was chewing tobacco.
I waddled into position at the door and as the plane arced left to get back to the jump zone, my mind went over every detail I’d learned that day and it stopped dead on one thing - my only real fear was getting my chute caught on the tail of the plane. I even said so during the slide presentation that morning – the one that was to help us understand what might go wrong and how to handle it.
“Nothing to worry about,” the instructor said. “I’ve never seen it happen.”
Four slides later the voice on the tape said that if your chute gets caught on the tail of the plane, not to worry. Skilled pilots will still be able to land the plane and you’ll only have a few bumps and bruises to show for it. I turned to Kenny and apparently I’d still not mastered shooting lasers from my eyes. My expression only made him laugh louder and stall the presentation.
I was hanging out of the door, my fingers gripping its lip to the point where I was sure they’d find metal under my fingernails when I splatted against the ground. I saw a light turn green and the instructor yelled at me. Using the lip on the door, I pulled myself back so I could get more momentum reducing the risk of getting snagged on the tail.
The instructor must have thought I was freezing, because he put his hands on the bottom of my vintage parachute and hoisted me through the door.
I flipped and screamed and yelled and then opened my eyes (as you can tell, my training really sank in) to see the plane disappear. Sounds came out of my throat that I didn’t think I could make. The chute whipped by my left hip and as a drowning man will clutch at anything, I grabbed for it. I quickly realized my mistake and let it go.
I felt a massive jolt and I swung back and forth a few times. I looked up and saw the ground. I looked down and saw the chute. My mind couldn’t process this information fast enough and sent my hand to my emergency chute. But, before I pulled it, I realized that I wasn’t falling – it felt like I was floating. I looked down again and saw that my feet were tangled in my risers (those straps that go from all the chute cords to your shoulders). I slowly untangled my feet and my body snapped upright.
It was, and still is, one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. The soft orange glow of the setting sun shrouded by slight strips of black cloud bathed the earth in the sweetest colour of light I’ve ever seen. I forgot every bad thing that had happened and floated for what felt like an hour.
When I was safely on the ground I found Kenny and we hugged, laughing and smiling. It was a journey that I will never forget and it will forever be linked to my friend Kenny. There are other memories, too, that help keep Kenny in my thoughts every so often.
So, do we really disconnect from people? No. Once in our lives, always in our lives.
Safe journey Ken Montgomery, and thanks for being my friend.