I had broken up with a girlfriend of two years recently, and got a text from a friend of two decades. Wanna go skydiving on Wednesday? it said. I don’t think I was afraid, in fact, I thought that the experience would be defining. I said sure before I could think otherwise.
That morning came and for the most part I was relaxed. Sure, I had looked up videos of people skydiving and how high up the initial jump was but skydiving selfies were quickly becoming a thing on Facebook at the time and I figured, if they can survive it, so can I.
My friend and some younger members of his family made the drive there. I can only remember some of the music selections of the drive, but they were all classics. “Free Fallin,” “I Believe I Can Fly,” “Fly Like An Eagle,” and the song that played in the beginning of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers movie (the one with Ivan Ooze) where the team went skydiving with modified snowboards distracted our eminent jettisons from a perfectly working airplane with beautiful 90s nostalgia.
I was very relaxed on the way up. It wasn’t until the hatch door flew open and cold air rushed into the airplane that reality hit me. My tandem jumper and I had an interesting conversation.
“Dude, don’t look down.” (If there was any sentence that forces you to look down…)
“So I guess this is what Jersey looks like from 10,000 feet up, huh?”
“Hey man, I can’t hear you, but wanna do something crazy?”
I didn’t have time to respond before we did about 10 flips out of the plane before stabilizing and free-falling until we hit about 120 mph.
He pulled the parachute cord, showed me some tricks that had me hallucinate Death in the distance, and we eventually landed.
That was a beautifully crisp fall morning. My friends and I got pancakes at a diner after. I resumed school two days later and continued to struggle with that breakup for another six months.
“Five hours ago we graduated high school,” a friend spoke out loud while gazing off of some boat we were cruising on. This was our school’s gift to us (that we — that our parents — paid for), a cruise in some New Jersey harbor where you could vaguely make out the New York City skyline.
“And tonight is one of the last nights we’re going to see half of these people ever again,” I said.
“Isn’t that weird?”
“Most of these people are the characters we’ve known since starting school. Now they’re all disappearing. A couple hundred lives that all have dreams and loves that we will never know. After tonight, a large percentage of everyone we have ever known will cease to exist, at least in our lives.”
I took a minute to ponder this. A sound that can only be described as a banshee’s shriek emanated from inside the boat. There was a dance floor inside, and some girl was apparently letting two guys grind on her from each side.
“…Want to go check out the poker table?” my friend asked.
Music enjoys a particularly far-reaching influence in my life. It has since I was about 7 or 8 years old, when I was first able to really remember artists and song names. My mind does this apparently common thing where I connect every song I enjoy to a powerful experience when that song happened to be playing.
The entire Now That’s What I Call Music! 2 CD maps out most of my love life and extracurricular activities from the 4th grade. “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals was my jam on a sunny Friday afternoon bus ride back from school under azure skies on a warm October day the week before Halloween when my only piece of homework for the weekend was an English assignment on how to correctly use commas because if you didn’t all of your writing would be run-on sentences.
I imagined my crush at the time singing Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake” to me at that year’s variety show, confessing her love for me and my wristwatch that could take very crappy black and white digital pictures.
I didn’t understand half of R. Kelly’s “When A Woman’s Fed Up,” but I didn’t need to in order to feel the mood of the song, and so Mr. Kelly became a go-to when I was told I had to hang out with an annoying friend from school because my mother was going to see his mother.
When I hear these songs, I remember all of my life’s circumstances from that time — my age, the weather, and everything that was happening in my life — perfectly. These songs take the place of the time capsules that my class never got to bury like all the other kids did.
A couple months ago, I played a song off that NOW album for my sister as I drove her to work. In the middle of the song, while my mind showered me with memories, my sister broke the non-silence with a question.
“Can I pick the next song?”
As I look over these experiences, ones that have more color and meaning to me than words will allow, I find that you can’t connect them. I mean, you can, if you really try. Find some theme and use it to link the stories together.
The problem is, you can’t do that. Much like every other event in my life, and yours, for that matter, these experiences are only blips of existence, and nothing more. You can assign meaning for them yourself, but that idea will ultimately mean nothing to anyone else.
Sometimes life is not deep at all. Maybe all of the time life is not deep at all. Maybe our experiences don’t have meaning — they’re just raw experience and that’s all life really is.
Is our existence a string of meaningless happenstance? I don’t know, but as long as I can assign memories to Britney Spears pop hits, I’ll be happy.