They say the night before skydiving is the most nerve-wracking when there’s immense anxiety to be dealt with. I thought that was true, but I’m not sure now that I am sitting in front of a small door on the side of an airplane flying 13,000 feet above, being transported to our jump zone. The roaring noise makes me deaf. The wind pushes against my face forcing away any words.
I’m scared of heights, and I feel sick to my stomach. A tingling sensation travels from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. It’s as if I’m going to freeze. The fear of the unknown seems imminently dangerous. I try to put myself into a flow state. Everything outside of me is zoned out. I just need to focus on me and the next movement, doing exactly what my guide tells me to. I must tackle my biggest fear. Prove that I am courageous.
We’re getting ready to jump. My guide (Jessie) maneuvers us to the edge of the door. My feet are dangling. I can’t look out. It’s better to keep my eyes closed. I hear Jessie say, “Ready? Let’s go!” Suddenly, I’m falling into space. As we plunge, I scream, but no sounds come out. I’m gasping for breath—one breath after another. I hear a voice counting in my head: one, two, three, four, five. The fear should fade if I can live through the first 10 seconds.
Strong winds press me from all directions. The skin on my face ripples rapidly without stopping. Finally, I open my eyes. It’s unbelievable! My body floats amidst an endless sky, sunshine, and feathery clouds. A magnificent view all around! The ground beneath me resembles puzzle pieces glued together in colorful green and brown hues. Like a bird, I glide freely in the sky, and the parachute opens atop us. I try to seize the moment and relax the best I know how.
“Woohoo!” I can hear Jessie’s voice behind me. He’s laughing, and I laugh along with him. I yell, letting go of the heaviness in my chest. “It’s beautiful! I love it!”
When I decided to parachute jump, it was a way to deal with the pain and sorrow of losing the man who fell out of love with me. After two decades of marriage, how does anyone leave everything behind? People say they knew we wouldn’t last—a Hmong woman like me with a white man. Of course, our breakup had nothing to do with his skin color, despite the rumors. The first six months after he left, I was a wreck. At some point, I had to get myself back up. Skydiving was my answer to push the limits of my fear—to breathe courage back into my aching soul and find the strength to start over.
My thoughts are interrupted when Jessie shouts, “Do you like it or what?!”He’s recording us on his cell phone while I don’t dare remove my hands from holding the belts that buckle me securely to the parachute.
In the sky, it looks and feels different than on the ground. At this moment, I am forced to recognize I am alive. I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner. This is truly a hundred times better than riding roller coasters, a million times better than reading self-help books cooped up in my apartment.
It’s only been a few minutes, and already, Jessie lets me know: “Get ready for landing, Joy. This is it.” Now we’re descending. Fast. The ground beneath me looks more and more like dirt, a familiar sight indeed. Jessie holds on to me tightly to ensure I don’t fall flat on my face. The parachute loses traction, deflating on top of us when our feet touch the ground.
“Your hair smells nice. What is it?” I think he’s flirting with me. I can’t be sure. I say, “It’s Matrix. Not the movie.The shampoo.”
Standing across from each other, he stares into my eyes, and I into his. My heart skips a beat, drowning in those bright ocean-blue eyes of his. “That was fun. It wasn’t so terrifying, was it?” His smile—a knock on my heart. And those perfectly white teeth; how easily I could have fallen in love with his teeth. That’s just me, always moving too fast.
I answer him, trying not to blush. “No, I guess not.”
“Will you do it again? With me?” His words are obviously teasing me now.
“Of course! Maybe on my birthday.”
“When’s your birthday?”
“A few weeks ago.”
I can tell Jessie has more on his mind, but I walk away, ending the conversation abruptly. I imagine how wonderful it would be to fall in love again. But I must admit, it is exhilarating to be free and independent of a man’s companionship. My fears and worries about being alone, traveling solo, dining as a single person in restaurants, and thinking that I might be bored in my own company are all demystified. I like this newfound freedom of doing what I wish to do at any given moment without consulting a partner. It’s important to take it slow. There’s no need to grow relationships instantaneously with every person I encounter.
In facing my deepest fears, I have found courage. Let this courage blossom evermore before an end comes. I will jump again, in this and everything else, for I know nothing is as fearful as my mind would have me believe.
SOUA LEE identifies as Hmong American. She started writing in the third grade when she enrolled in school for the first time coming over from the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, Thailand, as a refugee of war. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in social work, and a doctorate in education. She is the author of The Fifth Wife: A Memoir of Hope, Love, and Faith.