To this day my brother Will still shakes his head and says that he can’t believe my friend Davey and I threw him off a cliff. “My god, Ronnie, what the hell were you thinking?” Or something to that effect is what he generally says whenever the occasion comes up. Which is a lot, believe me, because it’s a pretty good story.
We’d been playing in the backyard of a home that was being built across the street, and the landscapers had dumped all the extra dirt and sand over the edge off a precipice that dropped down to Nine Mile Creek fifty feet below. Telling him how much fun it’d be, Davey and talked five-year-old Willy into letting us lift him by the hands and feet and swing him out over the edge. It was easy to do, after all, because he was six years younger than us, not to mention that he weighed only about thirty pounds, so light I’m surprised he didn’t float away.
Well, he certainly didn’t float. He dropped like a sack of cement after I counted out, “One. Two. Three,” and then said to Davey, “Let him go.” And we did.
I still can’t believe I did that to my brother. Neither can Will, although He’s always been a good sport about it. Even that day, after I’d jumped over the edge and slid down the embankment to make sure he was okay, he said, “Wow. I felt like I was flying.” He wasn’t joking. Or even mad. Or hurt, thank god.
But I’d learned my lesson. I was his older brother and he trusted me. A year or two after the cliff incident our parents got divorced and life for us became complicated. Will and I learned to depend on each other to survive, and we continued to stay close even after he moved to Arizona when he was twenty while I stayed in Minnesota.
So when he called from his home in Lake Havasu City and said he had a favor, I was more than willing to accommodate him. “Sure. What’s up?” I asked.
“Well, you know my fortieth birthday is coming up, right?”
“Yep. Next month on the thirteenth. Why?”
“I want to celebrate it in a special way.”
“Cool. What do you have in mind?”
“Well, you know I’ve been taking sky diving lessons.”
“Yeah…?” Hmm, I felt a clutch in my gut. Where was this going?
“I’ve just passed my test so that I can do tandem jumping. I want to do my first jump without an instructor to be special. I want to do it with you. On my fortieth birthday.” There was silence on the line. Then, “Ronnie? You there?”
I’d dropped the phone. Over the years I had developed a nasty fear of heights. I’d kept it to myself so Will had no idea, but the thought of jumping out of an airplane made me nearly sick to my stomach. Add to that, skydiving while being strapped to my brother, well, let me tell you, that’s recipe for disaster. I could barely climb up to the roof of my one story home without getting nauseous. My hands began sweating and my heart started pounding, adrenaline racing through my veins. Jump out of a plane? I couldn’t do it. Not on my life, or anybody else’s life for that matter.
But then I thought, wait a minute. That was a BS way of looking at things. He was my brother, after all. Maybe I owed him something for throwing him off that cliff so many years ago.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I told him, trying (probably unsuccessfully) to keep the resignation in my voice to a minimum, “Parachute together you say?” I heard the words come out of my mouth, quivering with fear, croaking like a frog with laryngitis.
“Yep,” Will said, his excitement palpable. “It’ll be fun.”
Fun? No way, but, like I said, maybe I owed him. “Okay,” I told him, trying to catch my breath, calm my rapidly beating heart and keep the rising bile at bay, “I’ll be there.”
So I flew the redeye to Arizona that next month and on the day of Will’s fortieth birthday we went up in a single engine Cessna out of Havasu Airfield near the Colorado River, about ten miles from his home in the foothills above Lake Havasu City. Will was a jet ski racer. He was also a successful businessman who owned and operated Havasu High Speed Sports, a small company that specialized in modifying jet skis for competitive racing. Sky diving was one of many of what I’d call his extreme hobbies, mixed in with mountain climbing, white water kayaking and running triathlons. Jumping out of a plane was kid’s stuff to him.
“You’ll love it,” he told me during takeoff. “It’ll be a piece of cake.”
A piece of cake? That I didn’t know about, but I did know one thing, it’d be something. Turns out I was right. It was something, and it was way more enjoyable than a piece of cake. In three words – I loved it. We went out at thirteen thousand feet and free fell for about one minute. I thought I was going to die. I’ll be honest. I kept my eyes closed the whole time and tried to concentrate on not throwing up into my safety helmet (successfully, I might add.)
But after the chute opened, man, I’ll tell you, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before in my entire life. First off, I opened my eyes. That helped. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. We had radio communication through our helmets and Will talked to me the entire time. I don’t remember much of what he said, all I know is that the experience of floating through the air in a harness strapped to Will’s chest was unbelievably amazing. I actually felt like I was a bird. Or dreaming. I was neither and I was glad because it was real, and it was incredible.
At one point I wondered if maybe Will was paying me back for that day so long ago when me and Davey threw him off that cliff. If he was, that was just fine with me. I know I deserved it. Besides, who cared, anyway? The entire jump was thrilling.
We drifted though the sky for maybe fifteen minutes before landing. Once on the ground we got out of the harness and were gathering up the parachute when Will turned to me, grinning like there was no tomorrow. “What’d you think, big brother? Pretty awesome, right?”
I didn’t have to think. I grabbed him in a bear hug, a hug that was more than for just that moment, but also for that day on the cliff so long ago and for all the years since, and for how much he meant to me.
“It was fantastic,” I said, literally fighting back tears. “Unforgettable.”
“I glad you feel that way,” he said, smiling, hugging me back. “Maybe we could do it again. If you’re up for it that is. Believe me, it’s way better than getting thrown off a cliff.”
Yeah, I’ll bet.
I didn’t have to think. “You’re on,” I told him. “I’d jump again with you, again. Anytime.”
“Good,” he said, checking his watch. “I’ve booked us for another jump at noon.”
“Great,” I managed say. I hardly felt queasy at all.
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared in CafeLit, The Writers’ Cafe Magazine, A Million Ways, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Mused – The BellaOnline Literary Review, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal and The Drabble. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.