It’s an age-old story: Boy is out having a blast; a young lady (many years younger) tickles his fancy and—wouldn’t you know it—they’re married.
Marriage was pretty easy, but then came the daughters. I still remember boohoo crying when my oldest daughter was born. For the next one, I was experienced. She came into this world with us beaming big smiles. But you find out quickly that raising a family, especially for a guy who marries late, is hard. Worst of all, you don’t get any instructions. Now in skydiving, you can refer to the Skydiver’s Information Manual. But there is no Raising Your Daughters Information Manual. And man, was I failing. One day I came home from work, and they’re gone. Worst day of my life. Valentine’s Day, to boot.
The picture is of a painting titled “A Shared Experience.” My father painted it. We talked about the painting a lot. We’ve all been there: dark forest, light at the end of the tunnel and we’re focused on reaching that goal. At that time, I set a goal: We will be reunited. It will be better. Now, the steps to achieve that and the timeframe were both undetermined, but the goal was set. The one thing I didn’t need at this time was a distraction and the one thing I did need was a distraction. As the old saying goes, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
Here in Tampa on summer Thursdays is sailing night at the Davis Island Yacht Club. It’s where my wife and I met and it’s where I had friends willing to be a reasonable distraction. I ended up on someone else’s boat with a very interesting crowd. While we sailed, I heard the owner and his girlfriend talking about jumping out of planes, an activity I had partaken in many years before in a summer class called AM490 Basic Freefall Parachuting, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs. I always wanted to try it again but had avoided it.
My concern was safety. How safe was a civilian drop zone? So, I began asking questions, showing interest, and soon I was being coaxed and invited to come out and try it. But I still wasn’t sure. I told them I had jumped and all I needed was a ’chute and an open door. I was soon being told about tandems, AFF, coach jumps and so on. But I insisted: “All I need is gear and an open door.” I was annoying, on purpose. Eventually, there was a finger pointing in my face and a stern reply, “If you come to our drop zone, you’re going to have a guy strapped to your back!” So, I was convinced: Safety is first and foremost.
The next Saturday, I showed up, paid my $180 for a tandem, paid for a video and sat down waiting for my turn. Boredom is a funny animal, because as I sat and watched TV, all of my recollections of being in the air drifted back, and fear was gripping me. I remember thinking, “The only open door I need right now leads to the parking lot and maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t notice me leaving; to hell with the $180.”
The ride up was scary: I knew what was coming. When we stepped in the door, the training took over. Ready, set, go. It was amazing! I still watch the video. I’m screaming and yelling expletives with the biggest smile on my face. And the video shows a perfect standup landing.
The mysterious ways continued. They were jamming that day, and I had to wait for my video. Then, the DVD I received was corrupted, so I had to wait some more. I walked up to the DZO and asked, “How much for a second jump?” Reply: “$160 on the same day.” I said, “I’ve only got $120.” Answer: “Suit up.” Later, the DZO said he’d seen my look before, and he knew he’d make that $40 back. He was right.
COVID is our darkness now, with all of us focused on reaching the end and basking in the light. And in the light there’s a field with PT-6s whining while happy people pack into Otters and Caravans and CASAs and (if you’re lucky) a Caribou. And they are all delivering us to the Promised Land: 12,500 feet.
Skydiving helped me along the path to my personal light. I never lost focus of the goal. After seven months, my wife and I were back together. Perfect? Far from it. But each day we traveled toward the light. After 130 jumps; meeting many a friend who invited me into their family; dreaming of being in the sky (I’m many years idle); replaying as many jumps as I can remember; daily working to be a better person, father, husband (and mostly failing); and years of toil, we’re still together … and happy, at that. Now, how many people can actually say, “Skydiving saved my marriage”? Man, I love being unique.
Pete Rogas | B-33316