It was summertime, but in the not-so-distant distance the Jungfrau was topped with a heavenly vanilla dressing. We’d caught the train from Paris to Bern and now we were speeding across the Swiss countryside in our tiny rental to Iseltwald. We were shooting through a dream—the most idyllic countryside any of us had ever seen. We decided that if there was a God, he was shining all his magic dust down on Switzerland, and also that there must be something incredibly profound to be said for neutrality.
There we were, on the face of the moon—a foreign landscape of preternatural beauty, and so captivated were we that our balance from time to time would fail us, and we’d fall, breathy and flushed, into our awe. I guess in all the heady romance and misty magic of the rolling Swiss mountains and turquoise lakes that interspersed them, I fell into a lobotomized dream state—and decided it would be a great idea to jump off a mountain.
I woke up in a van racing up the side of the mountain, packed against two small Asian boys and their Louis Vuitton drenched mother. I was disorientated—like a sleepwalker, I had only the vaguest memories of the events leading up to my rude awakening. In the seat in front of me my boyfriend was bantering with a loud Australian woman, and some intrepid explorer types were making noise in the front seat.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and began texting in blind panic. “Mum,” I wrote, “I’m not sure what force has come over me, but I’m going to jump off a mountain in Switzerland. If I don’t make it, tell my brothers I love them, and to stay in school. I love you so much, and I’m sorry.”
I shoved my phone back into my pocket, but pulled it back out as an afterthought—surely a Nokia from the late 1990s would do more damage to anything it hit falling from the sky than to itself. And if I lived through this, I certainly didn’t want to do it with the death of an innocent, sensible, ground-loving human on my mind. I imagined the headlines “Australian Tourist Stuck In The Past: Giant Phone Falling From The Sky Kills Gorgeous Swiss Person.”
As the van pulled up at the top of the mountain, I assessed my surroundings. If I could reach the door before anyone else, I could probably cut and run. I’m not very fast, I thought, but I bet I can get some momentum on this vertiginously sloping road. My boyfriend turned around and faced me from his seat. “Ready babe?” he asked, baring his teeth at me with a reassuring smile.
I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready as I was strapped into my harness. As they made me change out of my canvas sneakers into these weird boots that strapped onto my ankles (apparently falling canvas sneakers are a death warrant too). I wasn’t ready as I chose my tandem partner (I chose the biggest guy there was, he looked like an ethnic Vin Diesel with scars and huge muscles. He was wearing a bandana which made him look sort of bad ass, and I thought that if we fell out of the sky he’d be the most likely to do something heroic like cocoon my body in his and take the full force of impact so I could live).
I wasn’t ready as we came to the precipice. As Vin Diesel explained to me that we would run in unison to the edge of cliff and when he said jump I’d have to push off and into the air. I wasn’t ready as the giant glider was attached to us and I certainly wasn’t ready when Vin Diesel lurched forward, forcing my feet to move despite my unpreparedness. I wasn’t ready as the edge came closer—it was almost as if I was standing still and it was coming for me, a dangerous predator I couldn’t escape.
You’re John McClane, I said to myself, you’re tough as hell. You can do this. McClane did it, you reason. He jumped off the top of Nakatomi Plaza attached to nothing but a fire hose and he survived. Fuck, I thought, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. The edge was almost upon me and I began praying, desperately; dear God, please, I shrieked inside my brain, if you let me survive this, I promise I’ll be good, I’ll consider believing in you, I’ll drink less, I’ll smile more, just please, please… oh God… And then I was in the air.
I was breathless and cussing like a pirate. Vin Diesel was laughing as a deluge of dirty words gushed out of my mouth, words I didn’t even know I knew, in a creative mess of new and filthy combinations I wasn’t aware I was capable of spouting. “Stop fucking laughing you idiot,” I screamed at him, “just fucking concentrate on flying this fucking thing!”
He told me to relax and fall back into the harness, so I did. I was terrified, looking down upon Switzerland. We were gliding between the mountains now, and I felt like I was going to throw up. But slowly, I warmed to the occasion. I continued to swear, but in an all together more positive way. “Oh look!” I’d point at the lakes and canals, “that’s so fucking pretty! How fucking pretty is that?”
Vin Diesel didn’t do much else but laugh and sporadically find ways to frighten the hell out of me, like identifying a wind tunnel, aiming for it, and letting us get swept upwards in a rapidly spinning whirlwind before being tossed out at the top. I realized, then, that I was flying. This was the closest I’d ever be to being an X Man. And that was when I finally embraced it.
I asked Vin to sweep this way and that way, and he did. I was coasting above the beautiful world that I had been enveloped in only an hour before, and I felt like in that moment I wasn’t really part of that world at all. I was removed, floating above, looking down. I had escaped everything momentarily, and I was flying through a perfect sort of purgatory, as light as a feather, all of the petty, humanly detritus shedding from me as I flew.
Finally, we came down upon a field, and as my feet touched the solid ground I felt a sense of disappointment—I wanted to keep on flying. It took a moment for me to find my land legs, and as gravity slowly pulled me back to my being, I noticed that something inside me had shifted. I heard a little bird chirp in my heart, and I was glad for it to be there.