I’m going to marry this man! I thought about thirty minutes into our dinner at El Compesino’s. We had dispensed with the small talk, gotten through the “getting to know you” questions and I’d already learned that he loved to backpack, ride a bike, travel–all the things I’d always wanted in man. In college, I’d made a check list of the qualities I was looking for in a husband. All my girlfriends had told me that I was being a bit too picky; I couldn’t possibly know what qualities I’d disqualified that might compliment mine in ways I couldn’t imagine. But I knew. I’d made that list after a significant breakup with boyfriend with the directive to to help guide me in my future choices. It helped me define what qualities I thought were most important to me in mate–separate the minor from the major. As I sat at that booth talking to Mike, I saw the list in my head and as he revealed more of himself, huge check marks materialized next to every item. Oh my God, I thought excitedly, the man from my list really exists!
“You’ve been sky-diving?” I mused, impressed.
Mike nodded. “Three times.”
“I’ve always wanted to go sky-diving,” I said. I was convinced I wanted to try sky-diving after my first ride on the Demon Drop at a Cedar Point–a vertical roller coaster that dropped you straight down from a 131 feet, allowing you to experience free fall for a few seconds. I’d been deathly afraid of the ride until my best friend Melissa made me go on it with her, and then after that it was my favorite ride in the park. I figured if I enjoyed that thrill, I’d probably enjoy a longer free fall from a greater height. A few times in college, some friends and I had talked about going through a sky-diving course at a drop zone that wasn’t far from the school, but the plans had never actually materialized, probably partially due to lack of funds since we were poor college students. The idea had been pushed off to a corner of my mind where all the things I’d like to do before I died lived.
“The drop zone I’ve jumped at is just over near Parkman,” Mike said, referring to the very same drop zone my college friends and I had toyed with visiting. “We should go there next so you can watch the jumpers and decide if it’s something you’d want to do.”
By the time we left the restaurant, the date was going quite well–comfortably so. Some of my nervousness had dropped off and we were easily chatting back and forth, probing thirstily for more information about each other. Nothing is more exciting than those first hours of discovering a new person, someone who hasn’t heard your stories and knows nothing about you and likewise, listening to new stories you haven’t heard. The mystery begins to unravel like opening a present on Christmas morning. It’s even more thrilling when what you find inside the beautiful wrapped gift is even better than what you asked for.
My radio was playing softly in the background of our conversation as I drove my old Honda Civic to the drop zone. Mike had already marveled that I drove a stick shift–he did too!–and was, as men most often are, impressed that I know how to drive stick. I had the station tuned to some alternative station that we weren’t paying much attention to. Suddenly, Mike stopped mid-sentence and reached for the volume dial.
“Oh! I love this song!” he exclaimed, turning up the volume. “It reminds of me Europe.”
It was “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head from the musical Chess. I’d never heard the song before, but ever since that moment, it has become a theme in the soundtrack of my life that reminds me of that first date with Mike. I jokingly call it “our song,” despite the fact there is nothing at all romantic about it. In fact, the song is laden with tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo–mostly of the homosexual and transsexual variety. Mike knew all the lyrics and was merrily singing them as he performed exaggerated dance moves in the passenger seat. “The queens we use would not excite you,” he quoted theatrically with a glint in his eye. His performance, to me, represented a comfort with his own sexuality and bespoke of an open-minded attitude towards LGBT issues. I know it was just a song–and one that was making fun of the seedy underside of an Asian city–but it represented, quite accurately I would learn, a socially liberal attitude. Another check mark to add to an important item on my list.
Besides, he looked so cute as he playfully moved and sang, almost as if making fun of himself as he did so. He was obviously very confident and comfortable with himself (I, for one, would not have offered to subject him to my singing voice quite yet). I liked that he could cut loose a little, be goofy, even though I was still restraining myself somewhat.
When we arrived at the drop zone, I was immediately under-impressed by the complete casualness of the setting. From the road, it looked like any other farm house on a nondescript road in rural Geauga County. A small hanger, which one might mistake as a barn at first glance, and a large white house were the only two structures beside a large grassy field from which planes were taking off. There were a lot of people milling around, chatting and hanging out, including a group of Amish sitting beneath a tree picnicking. It was not quite what I imagined a drop zone to look like. I imagined it to look more like an airport–busy, professional, by-the-book.
Mike animately began explaining in detail each stage of the jump as someone parachuting by static line (a line that automatically deploys the parachute of a student jumper) would experience. We watched as a group of student jumpers cram into a little Cessna and the wobbly little plane took off from a landing strip cut through the grass of what looked like any old country field.
“Look. Grab. Look. Pull. Pull,” Mike explained, demonstrating the maneuver of checking for the handles to a main parachute’s cut-away and the reserve parachute, and then pulling the cut-away and deploying the reserve in an emergency. “That’s the mantra you will remember after the course.”
We sat down on the porch of the house overlooking the air field which was where the planes took off and the jumpers landed. We watched the Cessna packed with students making circles around the air field, gaining the altitude necessary to deploy the static line jumpers. Mike chattered beside me, describing how he felt in those moments while the plane climbed before he made his first jump. I could imagine it felt similar to the Demon Drop car ascending the tower to its final destination while my brain screamed, I want off of this thing!! His description of moving his body out the door to grab the strut of the Cessna’s wing reminded me of those seconds the Demon Drop car would sit above the track before it dropped, the whole world laying below you, no turning back. I could almost imagine the moment of letting go of the strut–of flying, falling, floating–and the shocking seconds that seemed to stretch to hours before the parachute deployed.
The jumpers were released from the plane, one by one. Tiny parachutes sprouted from barely perceptible little dots in the sky. I had to squint against the sunlight to watch them as they wafted down under canopy, directed over a radio–which we could all hear through the speakers on the house–by a man standing in the middle of the field watching each jumper. Being under canopy was apparently the most relaxing part of the process of jumping. Like flying, Mike told me. Goosebumps formed on my flesh at the thought of it. I couldn’t imagine anything more thrilling, more adventurous, than jumping out of an airplane. I knew right then that I wanted to do it. That I would do it.
I relayed my inspired thoughts to Mike who only smiled knowingly and patted my back. He had no response. He knew because he’d felt it too. The calling to an overwhelmingly frightening challenge. We understood in each other that yearning to break all molds of conventionality, to do those things most people would fear to contemplate. We shared that lust for experiencing every moment to the fullest, to try everything once and to never hold ourselves back. We had the very spirit of life in our veins.
We stayed at the drop zone for several hours, watching student jumpers and professionals alike. I marveled at the way the professionals made tight, quick turns that seemed to swing their bodies sideways. They came down under canopy much quicker than the students, their turns executed frequently to increase speed. They landed on their feet while the students were taught to force a tumble upon landing. They made jumping and handling the parachute easy and effortless. It was thrilling to watch. I wanted to be like them.
Meanwhile, I kept wishing for Mike to make some sort of move on me. I thought he was interested by the way our conversation was going, but he wasn’t trying to do anything I’d expect, like grab my hand to hold it or touch me in some lingering way that indicated he craved the contact I was starting to desire. Was he just humoring me? I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. I was too timid to make the moves myself, though I did occasionally bump his arm with my shoulder or “accidentally” touch his hand when we walked side-by-side. He just wasn’t picking up on my subtle attempts at flirtation. Or maybe he wasn’t interested.
Finally, he reached out out and massaged my shoulders, his manner casual as if he were doing me a small favor. I tried to hide just how much I enjoyed that physical connection, fearing he perhaps saw the move as more platonic than I wanted to interpret it. His hands were gentle, but firm, as he actually worked from my shoulders a few knots of tension that had formed throughout the course of this date.
“Well,” he said at last as the sun was starting to lower in the sky and the number of planes taking off began to decrease. “What do you want to do next?”
(Oh my, welcome to post 500!! I’ve been writing away at this blog for over three years and now, at last, we come to post 500 with the continuing saga of my first date with Mike. My, how that seems singularly appropriate being that I started this blog as a concept to discuss how cycling helped guide me through the journey of grief. However, this blog has become so much more to me. Even if no one else ever read it, I would be fulfilled in knowing that I have some place to go to express myself where maybe, just maybe, my voice is heard…)