I watched my husband’s death on livestream. A minute before impact, he held the camera at arm’s length, waved, and stuck out his tongue. He flipped the bird.
“Today you fly with me.” He fastened the GoPro back on his head, facing the valley floor, spread out below him in miniature. Then he jumped.
What pisses me off most now is the indignity of it. The accident just sitting out there for all the world to see. Leif’s easy way of being, refuted by the universe, like a slap in the face. My embarrassment, among other things, won’t allow the wound to heal. It’s not the death he deserved. Or maybe – and this stings the most – maybe it is.
What pissed me off at the time was how difficult the video was to take down. I sat in front of the screen, saying nothing. I could only see what the camera saw: trees fast approaching, then the view of a far-off field. I could only hear what the camera heard: moaning. Cowbells, faint and cheerful in the distance. I could only sit before the screen, placing my hands on the edges, willing it to suck me inside. Wombat was on the phone with facebook, screaming himself into a whisper. He hadn’t yet realized the number was only robotic, leading nowhere.
“We’re gonna sue the fuck out of you motherfuckers,” he shouted. “Put someone on here who – hello?”
Refresh. Refresh. I memorized his dying breaths.
Many skyscrapers have locked doors or security at the top, a logistical nightmare for BASE jumpers. It’s thus common practice to find a building under construction from which to jump; there’s not much infrastructure to prevent this, nor is the sport widespread enough to warrant it.
I met Leif in the waiting area at Equinox headquarters. The room boasted one full wall of windows, floor-to-ceiling: the desert on a platter. The rocks outside stood dramatic and amorphous and orange, the sky so blank blue that my eyes hallucinated clouds where none existed. A woman sat typing at the main desk where I’d signed in. Visitor List: Equinox Wilderness Therapy Center.
Wilderness therapy wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to be part of a search-and-rescue crew more than anything, and that would first require my wilderness EMT, which I didn’t have enough money for. In the meantime, I took the interview with Equinox, tipped off by a friend who was going into social work. I borrowed her car and drove to southern Utah with $37 cash and a drawstring bag that included two pairs of underwear, an extra shirt, and two paperback books.
I had brought one of these to the waiting room, but I couldn’t concentrate. The view was too vast, and the pressure of the interview too great. I had been assured that the turnover rate in this field was high, that they were always looking. But I didn’t know what kind of field therapist I would be. My own angsty teen years were not so far behind me that I wasn’t dreading the idea of working with troubled youths a little. Then again, if I didn’t get this job, I didn’t know what I would do instead. The schedule was enticing: eight days on, six days off to do whatever I wanted. I could volunteer with the local search-and-rescue, save for my WEMT course. My suburban upbringing repelled me like water surrounding a bead of oil, pushing the small orb of my being as far out as it could go.
Leif came in about twenty minutes after me, walking in the unfettered manner of a young man for whom nothing had ever gone very wrong. He was tall and large-framed, but so thin as to seem concave. “Leif Neilson, here for an interview. Did they ask for me yet?”
“Take a seat,” the receptionist said. “They’ll call when they want you.”
He sat directly across from me. He looked at me until I looked back. His dainty nose was sprinkled with the blotches that come from years of harsh sun; he wore Birkenstocks and climbing pants with a fleece hoodie.
There was nothing to immediately suggest that one day he would die with a GoPro strapped to his head.
“You here for the therapist interview?”
“I got lost,” he said, smiling.
“How? There’s nothing else around here.” The building was isolated but for a gas station in one direction and a Church of Latter-Day Saints in the other.
“My phone died before I made that last turn,” he said. “I drove down from Salt Lake overnight. Had to pull over and plug it into the solar charger, let it reboot – you know. Then I fell asleep for a little while I was waiting.”
“It’s hot as hell out there right now.”
“I live in my van,” he said. “The bed is pretty comfy when you crack the windows.” I stared at him; he smiled. “You look like you’re thinking, What a weirdo.”
“I am.” I was. This was before all the #vanlife stuff, before “I live in my van” was a viable lifestyle option. I waited for him to offer me drugs, but he didn’t. He stuck out his hand.
“What’s that, short for Theodore?”
“Theodora.” My face burned, but his laugh was kind. We smiled at each other for a long moment. Then they called me into the back.
We were both offered a “tryout week,” after which, if we didn’t totally fuck up or have a mental breakdown, we would be hired.
We learned that week that Equinox was like a cult. To be a part of the cult, you had to be resilient, rugged, and infinitely patient. The company took troubled teens all over the deserts of Utah. We were to run into the roiling heat after them when they tried to run away. We were to lose toenails carrying forty-pound packs. We were to start campfires and rituals in which we appropriated Native American ceremonies and gave the kids badges for things like sharing their feelings and contributing to the chore chart.
The staff all communicated via walkie-talkie, with the effect that I didn’t learn anyone else’s real name. My handle was Sharkbitch. “Cause you’re a badass!” our supervisor, Wombat, said. I couldn’t tell if he was making fun of me or not. Leif’s handle was Easy Money. “You got that smooth-talking vibe.” We didn’t question him; we were both too flattered.
That first week was a group of boys, all white, aged twelve to fourteen: rowdy, testing their boundaries, awed by the desert. In group that night after dinner, they admitted one by one that they had never gone camping, not even for one night.
After they were asleep in their tents, the staff members stayed up to prep for breakfast. Bonesaw, a young Mormon who’d just gotten married, was the most senior staff member on shift. I suspected her handle was a joke. Wombat, a muscled, bearded guy from Vermont, was second in command.
“So, where’s everybody from?” Bonesaw asked.
“Northern California,” said Nightcrawler. He was fidgety, looked barely out of high school and made too much eye contact with everyone.
“Canada,” Leif said.
“Colorado,” I said. I didn’t mention I had only gone to school there.
“Rad, rad,” Wombat said. “It’s great to have new faces. Can’t wait to get to know you all better. I usually get some climbing in over at Indian Creek on the off shifts,” he said. “Y’all are always welcome to join.” We nodded. I wasn’t much of a climber – however, I had determined to accept every offer to do something social. I stared out at the silhouettes of the rocks. I wondered if I could cut it.
The next day, the boys fought amongst themselves, probing for the weakest link. Wombat had undermined the no-swearing rule by naming me Sharkbitch the day before; the boys called each other “ass-lickers” and “faggots” the whole three hours it took us to make breakfast and pack up camp. We chastised them uneasily, in lukewarm tones. At some point, Bonesaw pulled us aside.
“You have to show them you’re serious,” she said. “Consequences and rewards.” We nodded, saddled our packs, and trudged on. My muscles burned, and so did my skin. One boy, an overweight twelve-year-old from the sprawling edges of LA, sat down in the dirt after our first mile, and refused to get up for over an hour. Sweating under our broad-rimmed hats, it seemed cruel to make him get up again, but eventually he did.
The boys were as brutal to each other as the terrain was. “Why did fatty get to take a break?”
“You all got to take a break,” Bonesaw said. She informed the boys that we would make the miles we’d planned that day, even if it meant not stopping for lunch. That made them all march. They were all afraid of her, so we scrutinized her tactics with interest.
We had a “sharps bag,” for knives, scissors and the like, but it didn’t matter. At lunchtime they started giving each other stick-n-poke tattoos with cactus needles. We confiscated the ink, narrow vials one boy had pulled from black ink pens and stashed in his underwear. But later that night, we did the same to each other.
Leif gave me total freedom with his tattoo. “Anything,” he said. “Well… not a penis. Or any genitalia.”
“That’s too intricate, anyway,” I said. I made an exclamation point on his big toe.
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know. Perpetual surprise.”
“Wonderment.” Leif ran his thumb over the exclamation point. He began to give Nightcrawler a stick-figure centipede on his ankle.
“That’s not a nightcrawler, man!” he shouted when he saw what was happening. “That’s a fuckin’ millipede or something.”
“What’s a nightcrawler then?”
“It’s a worm, dude.” Nightcrawler looked angry and for a moment, I thought he might punch Leif.
“You wanted a worm?”
“I like to fish.”
“Well, it’s too late,” Leif said. Nightcrawler allowed him to finish the drawing for consistency’s sake. Then Leif took up another cylinder of ink and a new cactus spine, and I offered my foot. Numbness overtook the area. When he was finished, a lopsided spiral graced my toe, looping oblong like a question mark.
“It’s the Spiral Jetty,” he explained. “It’s a sculpture on the shore of Salt Lake.”
“Like a downward spiral?”
“Maybe it’s an upward spiral,” he said. “Maybe it’s expanding. Up and out.”
He stayed up with me on the night shift. No one tried to escape that night, which was lucky because we wouldn’t have noticed. Though it was summer, the desert air turned crisp and cold. We sat in foldable camp chairs, stoking the fire and adding logs, listening to the pops of vaporized wood. Leif told me that he had grown up in British Columbia, fly fishing and skiing and other expensive things those kinds of families do. He’d also started college in Colorado, but dropped out soon after, graduating instead to fishing and rock climbing, heli-skiing and skydiving. From there, the most logical extension was BASE jumping.
“BASE,” he said, raising his eyebrows, “is a religion.” I waited for him to laugh, but he didn’t. He pulled out his phone and pointed it towards me, scrolling through photos of rocky cliffs, aerial shots, selfies with a parachute on. “It’s basically skydiving. You’re just jumping off of things instead of an airplane.”
“Things like what?” I’d gone skydiving once before, for my twenty-first birthday. I hadn’t been afraid beforehand, but found myself on edge in the plane, just before the jump. Those moments of anticipation made the adrenaline release like nothing I’d ever experienced. Intoxicating.
“Buildings. Big cliffs, bridges, radio towers… whatever’s tall enough.”
I remembered that my skydive had been from 12,500 feet. “How tall is tall enough?”
Leif smiled. “That’s kind of the point.”
He scooted his chair a little closer to mine. The fire was dying. He put his arm around my shoulder and I turned to look at him. When we kissed, it felt a little like those moments just after the jump.
Some BASE jumpers never pull the cord deploying their parachute. They miscalculate the length of the fall, or simply freeze. Sometimes, the parachute simply doesn’t deploy.
About 38% of BASE jumping fatalities occur as the result of a no-pull.
Leif was never interested in these statistics, and in the beginning, neither was I. They were a way of boxing us in, convincing us to be more like the rest of the world, which we weren’t. We were special, free and angry and full of wonderment.
I moved my few belongings into his van, a white 1996 Dodge he’d built out with a platform storage bedframe and solar panels. There was no reason to wait. Why should I pay for an apartment or a van of my own when we spent every minute together? I had never been so happy. In retrospect, maybe it was the proximity to his brazenness and vitality that I mistook for my own.
He took me skydiving first. I needed to get more comfortable moving through the air before even thinking about BASE, Leif explained. “Way more comfortable.” Each jump was a sort of rebirth: the fear and shaking, the rush of adrenaline, the omnipotence as I gazed over the fields and mountains in ordered little pockets on the earth. Leif took pictures of everything. We went back again and again in between shifts. There was intimacy in the belly of a plane.
In the van, we cooked on a two-burner, just like we did at work. I strung Christmas lights around the inside, fashioned a spice rack for the side door out of a shower hanger, and began experimenting with various curries. We parked near coffee shops and libraries for WiFi. Leif had a large space heater hooked up inside, but it was dangerous to leave it on overnight. We woke at 3 AM shivering, clutching each other beneath the down quilt.
I spent my money on jumps just as fast as it came in. I supposed I would save up and get my WEMT eventually. Leif never spoke of an alternate plan. I assumed this was because he enjoyed our work more than I did, didn’t see the need for anything else.
“What do you want to do after you stop jumping?” I asked once, a few months after moving into the van. Coffee diffused in our little French press; the entire cab smelled of fresh brew, turmeric, and stale clothing.
“Why would I have to stop jumping?” He seemed genuinely confused, scratching the pale stubble on his jaw as he pushed the plunger down. Looking at him, it was hard to imagine his solid, capable body ever breaking down; though it was inevitable, I could see why it hadn’t occurred to him.
“Isn’t there kind of a life expectancy on extreme sports careers?”
He smiled and shrugged. “If there is, I don’t want to live through it.”
Leif connected with the kids on the job in a way that I didn’t. In order to be sent to us at all, most of these teens had enjoyed a level of financial security that was foreign to me. I didn’t feel I was helping them much. I tried reading The Monkey Wrench Gang aloud to them after dinner, confident that the illegal antics would pull them in, but they were more interested in rehashing stories of what got them sent to “boot camp,” as they called it, in the first place. Leif easily broke into these conversations, probably in part due to his maleness. His go-to was showing them his incredibly popular Instagram account, filled with high-resolution pictures from the top of things he had jumped off of, or shots of him from above by drone.
“Holy shit, dude.”
“That’s so sick.”
“You can learn to jump, too,” Leif promised. “Anyone can do it.”
When we drove out to the field, he would point out a certain radio antenna to each new group. “I jump off there all the time.”
“Liar!” the kids invariably screamed. Then he’d show them the video footage. He often live-streamed directly to Facebook, and the kids watched these over and over again on his phone.
Bonesaw disapproved of Leif, I could see. She watched him intently when he held group therapy sessions, fiddling with the wedding band on her finger. After one shift, she wrote him up for leaving a small group with only one supervisor when he’d gone to fetch more water from a stockpile at base camp.
Wombat pulled him aside back at the Equinox office. “That was fucked up, man,” he said in a low voice. “I talked to Mark about it.” Mark was our administrative supervisor, one level from the very top.
Leif didn’t care. “It’s chill,” he said. “I broke protocol.”
“Yeah, so they wouldn’t get dehydrated,” I broke in. “She didn’t need to write you up.”
Wombat nodded. “Sharkbitch is right.” Leif shrugged, unbothered. It was all peripheral to him. Soon after that, his Instagram led to a sponsorship from Red Bull. His following grew tenfold. There was money to be made.
Most of his followers were fans. But there was also an oddly visceral reaction from the general public in response to other people putting themselves in mortal danger. We couldn’t understand it at the time. People posted hateful messages below Leif’s pictures, or DM’d him directly. U desrve to die u fcking idiot.
Wombat and Nightcrawler started joining us on our skydiving sessions after climbing season ended. We did multiple jumps each off-shift. All our money went into the jumps. I got my skydiving A license, then B. The motions of my gear check burned into my muscle memory. I learned when to deploy my parachute, and what to do if it didn’t deploy. I learned how to fall, angling my body through the air like a seal through arctic waters, fluid and controlled in each movement. Some nights as I fell asleep, I found myself mimicking those freefall motions, twisting against the imaginary wind.
About 30% of fatalities from BASE are categorized as body strikes. These occur when the jumper comes in contact with something on the way down, usually a cliff. These are not to be confused with canopy strikes – trees, electrical wires, manmade structures.
There is the lowest chance of a body strike when jumping from a bridge or other span.
Perrine Bridge: Twin Falls, Idaho. Jumping was and still is legal there, right above the Snake River. It was May, nearly two years after we’d been hired. We’d pulled a double shift in order to get two weeks off. The site of Leif’s first BASE jump was about to be mine, too.
“Relax,” Leif said. “You know how to do this.”
I did know. I tried not to listen to the churning in my gut. Fear is good, I told myself. It keeps you sharp. We performed our checks, straddled the railing and carefully arranged ourselves on the other side, facing out. I forced a smile. The air was cold, but I barely felt it. You are Sharkbitch, I told myself. You are a badass.
“I’m right here,” Leif said. Carefully, we joined hands. Leif counted to three. Then we flung ourselves into the void.
Everything in the human body screams out against this motion; the mind’s control over the body never seems so tenuous, so conditional. As if the body could mutiny at any moment. Time slows. The shock of the jump spreads through the bloodstream.
But the skydiving training had done its work, and muscle memory prevailed. We held hands for a second or two, starfished in the air, and then broke away, each on a parallel trajectory down to the river valley below. The water zoomed towards us, the trees on the shore closer than they ever were when we jumped from the planes. Terrified, I deployed. My relief when the parachute billowed open had never been so palpable. Adrenaline coursed through me, pulsing with its own life. I looked back for Leif, who had deployed later and was drifting only slightly above the riverbank, a hundred yards behind me.
“Woooooooh!” His scream was faint, nearly absorbed by the vastness.
“Woooooooh!” I screamed back.
Bonesaw got promoted to field supervisor, and switched Leif to the alternate shift. We assumed it was to separate him from me, Wombat and Nightcrawler. Leif confronted her in her Equinox office. We could hear the back and forth from the hallway outside, voices rising in pitch and volume. Then he appeared, slamming the door behind him. He shook his head.
“I’m not doing it,” he said. “I’m staying on this fucking shift.”
But Bonesaw had gotten to Mark, who fired Leif the next day via email. Among the reasons he cited were insubordination, inappropriate social media contact with students, and unprofessional demeanor. Leif called to plead his case, but fell quiet as Mark delineated his reasoning. Leif hung up without a word.
“I don’t care,” he said. “Fuckers.” But his work visa was no longer valid, and after some research, he flew to his parents’ to avoid “accruing unlawful presence.” He got a job at the gear shop in his hometown, restocking ski helmets and ice axes. After a few weeks of that, he asked me to marry him via Skype.
“Theo, I don’t know what else we can do,” he said. His voice was clear but his face was warped by the connection. “I have to wait six months for a tourist visa.”
“You’ve already been there for a month,” I said.
“Gee, I miss you too.”
“Of course I miss you.” It was almost debilitating, but I didn’t want to say that out loud. His pixelated face made it worse. “That’s not a good enough reason to get married.”
“It won’t be a big deal. Nothing will change.”
“It just seems so…uncool,” I said, after a silence. I’d thought about marriage in the abstract, about my future family unit, as something far-off, something future me would take care of. These were the prodigal years, the ones I was supposed to look back on.
“Obviously,” Leif said. “What’s less obvious is that getting married is a countercultural move now. No one will expect it.”
“Everyone expects it. It’s a heteronormative institution, not an act of protest.”
“Unless you’re marrying an illegal alien!” he shouted. “C’mon, it’ll be fun. Our new radio names can be Mr. and Mrs. Sharkbitch.”
I studied the pixels of his face for a moment. “You don’t really want to do this,” I said. “I’m just… mediocre. Convenient.” I was surprising myself. Until that call, I hadn’t given it a thought, and now here I was holding out for a down-on-one-knee kind of thing. But Leif never missed a beat.
“You are stunning, and fucking inconvenient,” he said. “You think it’s easy being with somebody who’s so much smarter and better-looking than me? It’s a constant struggle.”
I smiled. I couldn’t help myself. “Really? You think I’m inconvenient?”
“Totally. You’re the absolute worst.”
Twin Falls, Idaho. Perrine Bridge. It was a predictable spot, Leif contended.
“God forbid you do a predictable thing,” I laughed.
I was wearing an off-white dress that I’d bought secondhand in Moab; Leif wore his nicest climbing pants and a white linen shirt. We were married in the middle of the bridge by a justice of the peace, shouting over the cars whirring past. Leif posted Wombat and Nightcrawler stood witness. The pictures Leif shared of us kissing on the bridge got more likes than anything he’d ever posted before.
After our kiss, I traded my dress for spandex. We suited up, straddled the railing and held hands, then leapt. We grinned at each other through our goggles before letting go and drifting into our own airstreams, propelled by wind and chance.
The learning curve for BASE is steep and unforgiving. Cliffs are the least forgiving category, statistically speaking.
What you want is to fly; what the earth wants is to bring you back.
It was on a cliff jump that Nightcrawler had his accident. The four of us stood atop Glacier Point as dusk set in, tourists long gone, the park rangers done for the day.
It’s illegal to jump in Yosemite, but that never stopped us; it just made conditions riskier. Visibility was not at its height. Perhaps there was a rock at the very edge, or maybe the lip just crumbled a bit from his weight. Whatever the reason, Nightcrawler slipped as he jumped, failing to gain much clearance as he plunged into the void, his head whipping violently into a granite ledge.
“Fuck,” Leif said. The three of us jostled forward to watch the descent. It seemed that we watched for a very long time. Nightcrawler wobbled through the air, off-balance, struggling in the way of an injured animal, a bait fish on a lure.
A second later, we saw the pop of color we’d been waiting for: he had deployed his chute. I burst into tears.
“Oh, thank god,” Wombat said.
“I’ll go next,” said Leif. “See if he’s okay.” He began to prepare his parachute.
“You are not seriously jumping right now.” I couldn’t imagine going after what we’d just witnessed.
“Theo. We need to see if he’s okay. Hiking down would take hours.” I nodded. Leif quickly performed his chute checks and jumped. Wombat followed, shrugging.
Hiking down did take hours. I regretted it about twenty minutes in, but I kept on and eventually found where we had parked the van. It was pitch black by then; my headlamp illuminated a faint circle. No one was there. I walked on, searching for reception until a barrage of texts pummeled my screen.
“We r at Mammoth Hosp,” Leif wrote. Then: “Tests coming. Will keep u posted.”
Nightcrawler turned out to have a concussion, along with whiplash and two dislocated vertebrae. He was lucky. He was alive.
“You have to get back out there,” Leif said. “Otherwise you’ll never jump again.” He was serene, somehow, in a way that didn’t seem forced. Nightcrawler was still in the hospital, though according to Leif, he was ready to try again as soon as he was discharged. I suited up again just a couple of days later with Leif and Wombat.
Yosemite was Leif’s favorite spot. I loved it, too: august beauty in every direction, imposing granite slabs peppered with tiny climbers, the stark ridgelines propping up miniscule day hikers in baseball caps. The total stillness of the rocks at night, jutting austere into the sky.
Yes, I loved this place – but, I realized, I didn’t want to jump. As we stood on the edge of the wall, I started to shake. My bowels were quaking, my stomach queasy. After a few minutes, I leaned over and vomited into the brush. My eyes watered, head hanging between my knees. “I can’t do this,” I said.
“Yes, you can,” Leif said. “Just send it. Don’t overthink.”
“Maybe I have the flu.”
“Do you really think you have the flu?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
He held my eyes for a long moment, and I saw something like tenderness. Then he turned back to his gear. He didn’t move towards me or speak again as he performed his checks. When the two of them jumped without me, I knew that I had lost something important. But I also felt relief.
The next week, Leif left for “Bridge Day,” in New River Gorge, West Virginia. It was a sponsored event, easy money. I gave up my plane ticket and spent the rest of my off-shift curled up in the fetal position in the van, trying to read. Wombat called a few times to see where I was parked, but I didn’t answer. I was vomiting a lot, into a bucket I emptied out and washed in gas station bathrooms.
What would I do now? My relationship with Leif was a vortex, eddying and spiraling, battering me around. I could barely remember what had come before. I had about as much control in the jetstream of Leif’s desires as Leif himself did: that was to say, very little.
When Leif came home, I broke the news. “I’m done,” I said. “I’m not jumping any more.” Saying it aloud gave voice to something. My bones had absorbed the brutal closeness of the danger we constantly invited. I no longer wanted this.
My relief settled in even as I read the disappointment in his face. “It’s okay,” he said, trying to mean it.
After I peed on the stick in a drugstore bathroom, I came back to the van and showed Leif the little red lines.
“What do you want to do?” His inflection gave away nothing. I raised my eyebrows.
“Well, we can’t keep it,” I said. “Obviously.”
For once, he didn’t have a quick retort. He stared out the window of the van as people came and went. I set the pregnancy test on the dashboard. Finally, he looked back at me. “We can’t?”
“We live in a van,” I said.
“We don’t have to live in a van.”
I was silent.
“We can live wherever we want.”
“Leif,” I said. “Anything could happen to you. Then where would I be?”
He shook his head. “I’m careful, you know that.”
“Promise?” I wanted to hear him say it.
“Promise.” We sat perfectly still for a few long minutes. I had thought the promise would make me feel better, but it held no weight. I wouldn’t call it a premonition. It was more self-preservation. We were married, we were pregnant, but it all felt precarious and subject to change. And I had a feeling that with Leif, it always would.
“I’m going to make an appointment,” I said. “I can’t handle this right now.”
“Theo, please,” he said. “Just think about it.”
“I don’t need to.”
A week later, he left for his first sponsored international jump. I drove him to the airport at sunrise, in silence. My fears had wormed their way between us, stopping us from talking about the important things. Leif was unbuckled before I even parked next to the curb. He was like a child when he saw the airport, all teeth ear-to-ear. Energy radiated from him. “What do you want me to bring you back?”
I thought for a moment. “Wooden clogs. Those little clogs they dance with in Denmark.”
“I’m going to Italy,” he laughed.
“It’s all the same in Europe,” I protested. “I bet they sell wooden clogs somewhere in Rome.”
“You got it.” He kissed the top of my head. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” I smiled.
He jostled out the door and pulled his bags out of the back of the van. I watched his skinny frame wrestle into the pack with all his gear, sling another duffel bag over one shoulder, and tote it all through the automatic doors, not looking back.
Wombat came over to watch the jump with me, leeching internet from the parking lot of a Salt Lake Starbucks. It was the middle of the night for us, but the video occurs in the early morning hours, the Dolomites a distracting backdrop for the event. We could see that over 70,000 people were out there, the same as us, staring at a screen just to watch him fly.
Fuck, Leif said, followed by those sickening whumping noises through the trees. Wombat gripped my hand until I yelped. He made phone call after phone call while I sat in front of the screen, just listening to Leif breathe. It took thirty-six hours for the video to be removed.
Click. A 2007 study says, “BASE jumping appears to hold a five- to eightfold increased risk of injury or death compared with that of skydiving.”
Click. “Today you fly with me.” He fastens the GoPro back on his head, facing out. The valley, spread out below, waiting. He jumps.
I didn’t cancel the appointment. Rather, I let it pass, waiting until the last possible minute to decide. What I’d feared had already occurred, and so I didn’t fear it any more. I decided I wanted this after all: this one eternal part of him.
A few months later, I finally put the money down on a WEMT course. It was the only thing I could think of that I wanted, the only thing that would be worth spending Leif’s easy money on. Jumping was over for me. I had circled all the way back to where I’d started.
About a week before the course began, I drove the van up to the north shore of Salt Lake on a whim. Out in the middle of nowhere, barreling down deserted roads and following my GPS, I found it. The salt was so white in the midday sun it was almost blinding, the water lapping it a pale shell pink. I walked slowly down from the parking lot, cradling my slight belly, and carefully hopped along the rocks, all the way around, and then around again, winding in on myself, until I stopped in the very middle of the Spiral Jetty. I kicked off my sandals and shuffled slowly down from the spiral to the water’s edge. The baked, crystalized salt stabbed the soles of my swollen feet as I trudged on. The sculpture is sometimes visible and sometimes submerged, depending upon the water level of the Great Salt Lake, my phone informed me.
I dipped my toes into the water, staring at the tiny, fading Spiral Jetty tattooed on my left foot. Salt clung to my skin in a sheen as I lifted my foot from the water and sunk it back in. I sat, letting the water sting each pore of my skin. I wiggled my toes. As I stared, I could see that the spiral was expanding, moving upward and beyond itself, up and out.
Marina Clementi received her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh and BA from the University of Chicago. She lives in Pittsburgh.
by Marina Clementi
Honorable Mention, Howard Frank Mosher Prize for Short Fiction