March 05, 2023
On Sunday evening, April 13, 1980 I am in a car with my mother traveling from the drop zone to the bar where skydivers gather at the end of a jump day and I am exhausted. And probably no longer in my body although I can still smell the inside of the Cessna and I'm rather pleased with myself. Mom is talking and I'm not taking much in anymore because, you know, too much too much and all that but it's been a remarkable day.
'You know, if you can jump out of a plane, you can do anything.' I want to believe this is true and I've got plenty of evidence to back it up except. Except. What if, some day, I can't find a way to muscle through something? I hadn't exactly those words yet but I had the point.
It did not take a lot to exit that plane at maybe 3,000 feet with a static line and The Lion in the door giving me a big fat kiss before I pulled myself onto the strut. I was scared shitless but doing this thing seemed inevitable. Of course I would; what else was there to do? I'd heard stories about jump masters having to peel the fingers of terrified men from a death grip just outside the door and THAT was the thing I couldn't wrap my head around because it's when you get IN the plane while the plane is ON the ground that you've made that choice.
Technically, it's when you cross the bridge over the creek onto the runway that is absolutely forbidden if you're not on the manifest and haven't got a pin-checked rig on your back. Technically.
I don't imagine I'd have felt that way if I hadn't grown up with it. So there's that. I was sixteen and one day and I'd been plucked from a room at the Philadelphia YMCA three days prior by my father who had no trouble believing his daughter had skipped town with her best friend and was well on her way to the Outer Banks. Chasing a boy, no doubt.
Life continued, not a lot changed.
Fourteen years later I've climbed a telephone pole without much difficulty until I got to the wooden disk nailed to the top. I hadn't considered that part and I didn't have a plan. The plate was wobbly, probably just a nail though the center because it turned easily AND I'd run out of rungs. From the ground:
'It's like stepping up onto a chair, Heather. Just do it.'
Now I'm on a 12"' diameter disk. Wobbling. I can't feel my fingertips.
From the ground:
'Take it all in, Heather. What do you see?'
'I see a fucking shit ton of trees.'
'Do you want to jump now? See the trapeze?'
I didn't want to jump. Ropes or no ropes, none of this seemed like a good idea EXCEPT I'd crossed that bridge on the ground so might as well just get on with it. I saw the trapeze but wasn't particularly attached to catching it. I gave it a half-assed shot, missed by a couple of feet, and came down.
And immediately wanted another turn. Not for the trapeze. Not to be on a 12" wobbly disk. For that moment at the top when you let go and step up. I wanted to do that again and I did, one high ropes course after another. Six in total, I think. But here's the thing about a ropes course and jumping out of a plane:
It's over when you're back on the ground. A finite action where you get to rest and then choose again.
Life continued and not a lot changed until I fell down. The first time I fell down I got up again. I fell down ten months later and got up again except the plate was REALLY wobbly and I didn't hear the voices from the ground. I heard wind. I got up, I got up, I got up, and I fell down one last time and didn't see the point in getting up again because the ropes were gone and the plate was gone and the rungs were rotting on their nails all the way up.
But what else are you going to do?
Not much if you've got any sense, I decided. This whole time, from mid-August 2020 to now, I've been moving forward, away from the void. I'm getting somewhere but not with anything much resembling elation. Dogged persistence, maybe. I'm not without vision; I can see my future. I can see the future I want and the future, or lack thereof, I'll have if I shoot and miss. Slowly, slowly.
Back up to summer, 1980 and I've decided to stop climbing out on the strut. I'm going to exit from a crouch and tumble and arch hard and pull when my altimeter says it's time. Somebody tells me I've been making night jumps.
Your eyes are closed when you exit.
Really. Your eyes are closed, every time.
Four days ago it happened again. Finally. I had a strawman plan and not much else but the appointment was made and not showing up was inconceivable. Not even a possibility tucked like an ace up one sleeve.
It was a forty minute drive from Hinesburg to Lincoln and I was making another night jump and here's one more thing: there is no way in hell I could have been breathing crouched in the open door of the Cessna, no way in hell I'd have been breathing at the top of the pole, and I surely was not breathing on VT 116. I couldn't feel my fingertips. I told myself to get on with it. Not much else to do, eh? Eh.
I made it to Lincoln. I got out of the car. I wandered around until I found them, tucked into the main house in front of the wood burning stove, and I said:
'Damn. I am not in my body but I sure am glad to be here.'
'Can you sit for a minute? Would you like some tea?'
'Yes I can and no thank you but here's what's going on (so you won't worry and won't make me go home and let me please just get on with it).'
I talked about the last five years. I said I'd lost everything, OK, not everything because I'm still here but close enough. I've raised three kids and they're all grown now and it's time to move on.
The builder took me through the house and I remember a couple of things which means my eyes were more or less open, right? I remember wondering why or how any one person would or could have that many instruments and I remember the recording studio and the sound booth and suddenly it all made sense. I recall that an awful lot of work was still in progress and that made sense. He'd been working on this place forever, finding one project after another, and he wasn't in any danger of running out of ideas. He could stop at any time but I don't think he can. It's like reading a really good book, you finish up and have to find another right away.
He took me through the two story little house (I think if it's more than 350 sq feet, it can't be a tiny house but it was close). Post and beam and plants and a stove and a micro kitchen and the tiniest sink in the bathroom and a clawfoot tub, and all that raw, wonderful wood. Later we wandered back to his house and he showed me small sketches on graph paper because he'd been thinking about this all week. And listening. We agreed that 350 sq feet was too small and thought about what might work and it bears mentioning that this guy tried very hard to talk himself out of this project but in three hours he went from, I'm not sure I can do that to, I guess I could bring on a younger builder to do the framing to, really, you can have anything you want. I went home and passed out. Mostly.
Put a pin in that.
I had an appointment to look at some violins because the time has come to put my daughter's instrument back into her hands. She's been awfully polite about this but enough is enough. I have a budget but I AM A FRAUD and wonder if I'm even going to make it into the shop and I know I'm not breathing but I've already crossed the bridge. When I arrive they are gathered in a room, just the two of them, messing about with multiple instruments and I wonder where I can sit quietly to wait and will they still have time for me?
The room is for me. Really? No shit. The room and the instruments are for me. I repeat the budget and she nods and asks if I'd like to warm up and I have my daughter's fiddle but I say:
'I'm as warm as I'm going to get and I am SO bad at this so please forgive me.'
She smiles. It can't possibly be that bad. Oh yes it can and I am a fraud and do you suppose she's really going to let me touch those instruments? She does and I do and forty-five minutes later I have selected a chunk of my future. I know I can ask to take it home and change my mind but I don't. I've played four or five separate fiddles but I keep going back to the second instrument and eventually ask how much it's going to hurt.
Not too bad and well within range and I actually ask her, quietly with my head down,
'May I have this?'
She smiles and says, yes, and I pay for it and the new case and the new shoulder rest and I leave the store.
I got home and passed out. I think this is what happens if you stay out of your body too long. I think it eats up the body's reserves.
I took it out of the case yesterday and gave myself permission to irritate the shit out of my neighbors and played without a mute.
I still suck. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I still suck but damn, this thing has an incredible sound and I know some things I didn't know earlier in my life.
I get back in my body when I play this thing. I might not suck as much as I think and someday I might decide that I honestly do not suck. I get back in my body and one other thing, this fiddle is a connection to the world around me. If I stopped playing I could still hang out with these people except I might not. I wouldn't have what I'd consider a compelling reason to step out of my self-imposed isolation.
I can see the bridge from here. I can't feel my fingers just now, but I can see the bridge and
"my god, it's full of stars..."