When I was a kid people didn’t die, they just became invisible and didn’t answer the phone.
One of those disappearances for me was my friend Haven Story. He’s a little different, though, because after a couple of decades, I still believe he lost his phone and will return my calls when he finds it.
This scenario was always more likely because he appeared to be indestructible, like he had been gifted with nine lives.
You pretty much could always count on updates about him getting to you before he did. I heard one time when he was in New York City, he hitched a ride with the trash truck to get to his next party.
One night in the late ’60s or early ’70s, we were at a party that was wrapping up somewhere around three or four in the morning when he made a troubling but carefully considered announcement:
“I think we have run out of thrills!”
He looked around and put his smoking cigar into an empty beer bottle as he reached for a phonebook.
“But I have an idea! We’ve got to go skydiving — right now!”
About an hour away in Orange, Massachusetts, there was a skydiving operation that would open for the day somewhere around 10 o’clock in the morning.
Without hesitation, we piled into the car, drove into the night, parked in the parking lot, and slept for a few hours. We were there when it opened.
There were four of us who sat in the classroom as they explained what we would do and what would happen. The instructor laid out a parachute and packed it so it would open when the ripcord was pulled. We were also given an emergency parachute which we were told we should “punch, pull and flap like a towel to catch the air as we were falling.”
Haven was always animated in whatever he was doing. He had an endless sense of humor as he engaged with the world. He used his hands to express the enormity of his thoughts.
Wide-eyed with excitement, he was ready to jump. He wanted to be at the head of the line and first to jump as we entered the plane.
The plane was a big cargo transport plane with enough room for about 20 jumpers. We sat on benches with our ripcords buckled to the plane above our heads.
Our target was a huge sandbox 3,000 feet below. After calculating the wind speed, the plane circled so that when we jumped the wind would generally take us in the direction of the sandbox. Then we were instructed: “Jump now!”
The instructor was on the ground with a walkie-talkie. He could give us instructions after the chute opened so that we could guide ourselves with his help to our “tuck and roll,” which minimized the impact of our landing.
Haven went first out the door with an unabashed scream of joy into the free fall until his shoot opened and he reached up to the toggles to navigate his way down.
I, a little more reluctantly, jumped next and fell into the tumult of wind until my chute opened, I reached up and grabbed my toggles, and found myself involuntarily swinging my feet far above the ground, observing the earth and its fields, rooftops, and intersecting highways before focusing on the upcoming sand landing.
It was an overwhelming moment. A mix of fear and exhilaration.
I saw Haven land and tuck and roll and stand up immediately and start jumping up and down as I stretched my feet out and prepared to land.
Haven ran to meet me with his chute dragging behind him. His eyes wide his arms flailing around him. He grabbed me and said “Let’s do it again! Let’s do it again! Woooooooooow! Let’s do it again!”
We really couldn’t say no. The four of us jumped three more times that day.
I miss Haven.
I think I’ll try him on the phone one more time.