APRIL 28th 2016
Last week was an amazing week. The kind of week that you wish would repeat itself ‘Groundhog Day style’ for eternity. My writing was clear and noteworthy. My crowdfunding campaign had momentum and excitement. I spent an amazing weekend exploring Portland with my guy. I was feeling pretty damn proud of myself.
Then, Monday morning, I didn’t want to wake up.
I’m not a ‘Monday blues’ kind of person. I’ve worked with plenty of people that don’t do Mondays, and I’ve never understood the routine. Monday, for me, is no different than any other day; a sequence of random events that I am constantly trying to categorize. My mind is mushy when it comes to details, like, clocks and calendars. I have a reminder in my calendar for April 21st that says, “This is your sister’s fucking birthday. Don’t forget your sister’s fucking birthday.”
It’s not that I don’t remember that the 21st is her birthday. It’s been her birthday for 45 years, and for added remember-ability it’s only 9 days away from my birthday. My problem is that I rarely remember what day today is. I can write fifteen checks in a day and still have to look up the date every time. I experience Mondays, but only now and then do they land on a Monday.
This week, Monday stretched into Tuesday. I wrote in garbled sentences that didn’t connect to anything, kind of like when I have one too many cups of coffee and over the next few hours words dribble from my mouth like drool. I was embarrassed to read what I had written, and wished for a bonfire to throw the composition book into.
I am a storyteller. Until Monday, I thought that was the job I wanted. Until Monday, my stories were something I told, not something I lived.
On Tuesday, I attempted to continue the story I had begun last week. The story of purpose. The story of movement forward. But I was having a Wile E. Coyote kind of day. My movement from last week sent me sailing over the rim of the canyon. My world suddenly changed and my old story could not save me from falling. I floated over the rift in my narrative, desperately pretending I still walked on solid ground.
I woke up Wednesday and it was still Monday. I was worried. The kind of worry that sits inside my brain when my sleep is disrupted at 2 in the morning. At first I worry that I am awake and that it will make me groggy in the morning. Then I worry about being worried and my mind spins around and around yelling at itself to stop thinking so that I can relax and go to sleep. It is the kind of worrying that obsesses about being obsessed.
Last year, when I was living a less than fulfilling life, I got used to having lots of Mondays. At it’s worst, Monday happened four out of seven days every week. But I was really living my life now, wasn’t I? I had made choices. Choices that revolutionized my world and would bring me to happiness, right? For fuck’s sake, I leapt out on faith so that the world could catch me. I was supposed to be in the free-fall of my life, and that was supposed to be fun, right?
In my twenty’s I was a boaster. I boasted that I could do anything and everything daring. I talked about white water rafting and mountain climbing and sky diving. My parents decided to buy me a tandem sky-dive for my birthday, or maybe Christmas, I don’t remember which… my mind is mushy about those things, right? One of my childhood besties was so excited about it that she bought a jump for herself so that we could jump together. We made the appointment, set the date. It was going to be spectacular.
My bestie jumped first. She was lifted into the sky in an airplane that reminded me of those old aluminum canoes. It only fit the pilot, co-pilot, and one jumper with her tandem jumper synched tightly to her back. I followed the plane’s rising circles until it was just a sparkle of sunlight off its metallic sides. Then I watched the space where it disappeared from sight. A black dot appeared in the blue sky and grew bigger. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing until the parachute opened. As my bestie drifted lazily down, I felt my stomach turn over.
When she was near the ground she braced herself for the impact. Her feet slid out from under her and she landed on her ass. That made me feel better. I was feeling entirely unsure about the jump, but I knew I could stick the landing. Hadn’t I been a competitive gymnast when I was seven? Sticking the landing is what I did.
And then it was my turn, and I was rising up in my aluminum air-canoe and my tandem guy was reminding me about free fall position. “Balance through your belly button,” he said over and over. I smiled because, well, I really didn’t want to admit after years of boasting, and months of expecting, and weeks of rallying, that I didn’t actually want to do this. Underneath all my boasting was the conviction that if I did this I was going to die. We reached 10,000 feet and the tandem guy opened the side door. I looked down. Clouds floated between me and the blur of green and brown and blue that was the ground.
My body said, “last chance to choose not to die,” and I jumped anyway.
My body is kind to me. When my 18-month-old son was in surgery, being cut in half to remove his cancerous kidney, I was going insane from the stress; and my brain gave me an out. It sent me the image of my dead ancestors standing behind me, telling me that they would make sure my son was safe. It was vivid. It was a lifesaver to a mother being driven to the edge of madness. For the rest of his surgery I felt peaceful. Years later, in the days after my son died, my body flooded with drunken euphoria so that I wouldn’t break from the newness of grief. My body knows when enough is enough, and it gives me a shortcut to OK when everything is not OK. My mind is really good at building make-shift bridges over the rifts in my narrative.
When I jumped from that airplane knowing full well I was committing suicide, my body reached up into my brain and wiped it’s motherboard clean. I blacked out.
When I came to, I was upside down and the horizon was spinning around me. My first awareness of my body was when I realized that something behind me was flailing wildly. My brain slowly rebooted, and pieces of my existence fell back into place. I was in the air. I was falling. The flailing behind me was a person. The person behind me was trying to get us flipped over. Then suddenly the world was upright again, and free fall slowed as the parachute opened. Parachuting after that was peaceful, even dreamy, and I nailed the landing.
But I walked away from that experiencing knowing that I was not a candidate for free fall. I can do bicycle touring. In fact, I prefer weighing my bicycle down with 50 pounds of gear, and moving at the slow and methodical pace of 10MPH. The slower, the better. In the big up&overs of my rides, I prefer the climb up instead of the exhilarating overs and down.
But I made a mistake when I leapt out on faith for this ride. In my boasting that I could cycle 12,000 miles, I forgot that the leap of faith at the beginning would take me through free fall first.
And Monday morning my body decided to black out my brain in order to cope.
By Wednesday, I was beginning to rebuild my narrative. My story of seeking kindness and outer-connectedness stitched itself back into my thoughts, and I began to feel human again.
I know that once I’m on the road I will find my pace, watching the weather, and gazing at the next 500 miles on the maps, and finding beautiful people to share stories with.
There will be new rifts in my narrative on the road ahead. I already know that the hardest part about this entire thing, for me, is asking people to join and support me along the way, and then asking again, and again. I knew long ago that would be my biggest challenge. It’s because the person who boasted herself into a suicide parachute jump is still the same person I am today. When I think about how many people I have to ask for donations from in order to achieve my financial goals, and how many people I will be telling my story to along the way, my first instinct is to pretend that I can do it all on my own, that I don’t need to ask. But I am tired of building bridges only to myself. I would rather learn how to build bridges that connect me to you. And for that, I have to trust my world, and leap into free fall.