Alone and Falling, Halfway Around the World
By Kelly Seal
I stood on the edge of the cliff, peering down thousands of feet below to the tiny green spot where I was supposed to land.
Paragliding in New Zealand seemed like a great idea from the confines of my small, dark apartment in Los Angeles. Single woman scene: I’d just been dumped by a pretty cool guy for reasons that weren’t made clear to me. I was frustrated with dating, and this was the last straw in a series of romantic misadventures. I wanted to run as far away as possible from my real life. In a moment somewhere between hope and despair, I bought my plane ticket to New Zealand. I didn’t care about going halfway around the world alone, or about falling through the air attached to a flimsy parachute.
My friends expressed concern and when I said I was going alone, they looked at me with pity. “Why would you want to go by yourself?” they asked, looking at me like I was some kind of mental patient. I began to doubt my decision. Was I romanticizing the idea of being an intrepid solo world traveler?
And standing on the edge of the mountain just made me feel stupid.
My guide was a 22-year old who had probably just smoked his last paycheck. He asked me if I was scared as we careened up a tiny dirt road in his rickety jeep. I wondered if he meant the paragliding or his driving. I shook my head and stared at the road ahead, gripping the dashboard. When we reached the top, he handed me a jumpsuit meant for a man three times my size. Surely this suit would prevent me from plunging to my death should my stoned guide be unable to navigate the winds. It was like a second parachute.
He looked at me with his bloodshot eyes. “I’ll count to three, then you run as fast as you can towards the edge of the cliff. There’ll be resistance from your parachute, like you’re dragging a pile of bricks.”
I nodded my head, unsure how I would gracefully glide through the air like the pictures in the brochure if I ran off the side of a mountain with what felt like 200 pounds strapped to me. My heart beat faster.
Maybe it’s not such a bad way to die, I told myself, breathing faster.
“ONE TWO THREE!” he blurted. I stood still, my frozen feet planted on the ground. This would be harder than I thought. “Just kidding,” he laughed. “I didn’t hook you in yet!”
As he fastened us together with metal clips, a sudden gust of wind knocked both of us off balance. I took a deep breath.
“Ok, we’re ready!” he shouted from behind me. He counted to three again, and inexplicably, I ran towards the cliff as fast as my body would go. I didn’t think about what would happen next. I just wanted to run, to soar down the mountain.
We plummeted for a brief moment, quickly and forcefully. Then suddenly the parachute caught the wind. It was in this moment of suspension and freefall that I strangely felt the most relief. “What do you think?” my guide shouted into my ear. “We hit nice wind today.”
“This is amazing!” I shouted back, feeling my mouth pull back into a wide smile. Despite being completely at its mercy, I felt a rush of warmth in the cold wind. This was what it feels like to lose control, to be completely free.
I realized in that moment, thousands of miles from my home and thousands of feet in the air, that my fear often held me hostage. It kept me waiting on the top of a mountain with a pile of bricks strapped to my back. I was caught up in the desolation of my dating life, waiting for just the right guy to appear, fearing it would never happen. But when I let it go, I could run toward the cliff’s edge. I could experience the thrill of the fall.
And it was worth it.
Kelly is an entertainment publicist and writer living in Los Angeles. She is working on embracing her single, carefree lifestyle with the help of many, many bad dates. You can visit her blog “Notes from the Dating Trenches”, at www.kellyseal.com.