She tells me she’s having a recurring dream about giving birth. She physically feels the contractions and the pain, pushing and breathing and yelling until she hears his first cries.
When she wakes, the sobs start low and growly. The dream vision of the birth is like the Big Bang, an explosion in her chest with the compressed mass of the human condition, pushing out and out. She gave birth, and she couldn’t protect him. Her son is dead.
Eight months later, Eric’s mother and I drive out to the skydiving club.
She rummages in her bag and gives me a slightly worn picture of him as a young boy to carry with me in my wingsuit pocket. At 19 years old in a collared button down shirt, he’s still scrawny, a gleam in his eye. He was 44 when he died, with the same smile.
She puts her hands on my shoulders and her forehead against mine (I am thinking: just like he used to do). She says, “He was my son. He came from my womb. His life started with me, and it ends with you.”
I walk to the plane with the handmade red pouch strapped to my left wrist. At boarding point, I sit with my head down. This is a solo mission. I look up once, opening my eyes to a view of our friend Raymond’s pants leg as he stands near me protectively. The embroidery reads, “Martin’s Funerals! 011-672-8104”. New sponsor. I start to crack, giggling hysterically.
On board, I sit near the pilot, close my eyes, breathe, and focus. I feel Eric’s presence. He is smiling, with a student. He is kissing me in the door.
Tears mark minutes until we get to altitude. I grab my soul and throw it over the threshold, then chase it out. The plane dives away and I begin to glide. The air feels dense. Everything is slow. He is off my left wingtip, he is underneath me, he is the air and the sky and the planet below.
I open my parachute and then the little pouch, feeling the rough ash with chunks of bone between my fingers. This magical dust. So many late night conversations, our deep trust, the way we rolled over together while sleeping, all condensed in the palm of my hand.
Pieces of him stream out to my left side, riding the relative wind.
I land where his blood marked the grass. Edith holds me and moans, “my baby, my baby”. I can’t tell if she is talking to me.
The sun is bright, the earth red, the breeze soft, the sky brilliant blue, the birds alive, the grass still growing. Everything in vivid color, heavy and bright, bleeding with his memory.
I eat a banana, give our long-time packer a hug as he hands me my neatly closed container with the suit unzipped and ready to wear, and do what will come to define me. I give Edith a kiss on the cheek and get ready for the next jump.