|THERE ARE THREE KINDS of jumps a novice sky diver can make: tandem, AFF, or static line. In a tandem jump, after just 20 minutes of training, you leap from the plane with the instructor attached to you piggyback style. You get a 20-second free fall before the instructor pulls the rip cord and guides you safely to earth. "AFF" stands for "accelerated free fall." In this jump, following six hours of training, you leap from the plane with two instructors, one on either side of you, and have a 45-second free fall, but this time you get to pull your own rip cord and steer your own chute. The static-line jump is what you see in the old WWII movies. Upon completing four hours of training, you jump from the plane alone and get to steer all alone, but your chute is automatically pulled when you leave the aircraft. No free fall, but no hand-holding.
We chose the static-line option. Following the hangar drills, we practiced jumping out of a stationary plane, then practiced landing and rolling, and then it was time to go up.
By mutual agreement we would jump in birth order: Mark, Steve, Dan, Chris. As any family psychologist will proclaim, our character is preordained by birth order—the oldest are overachievers, middle children are mediators, youngest children artistic. Perhaps in the beginning, but once we've been adults longer than we were children, the world has kicked us all in the nuts so many times that each of us has hopefully learned how to be all these things. We learn how to walk in our brothers' shoes. Thereafter the hierarchy collapses, demolishing childhood prejudices. The oldest no longer believe the youngest had it easy; the youngest no longer believe the oldest had it easy. The middle children no longer look up or down to see themselves; they look inside. This is when you start to see what it really means to be a sibling, years and years late, like all understanding.
We were jumping in birth order only as a nod to our past, to tradition, to a time when we were lined up and our heights cascaded and our hopes swam upstream. Because there were other sky divers, veterans jumping from higher altitudes, we would go up in pairs—Steve and I first, then Dan and Chris, just like old times. The jump master would leap directly after each pair.
Steve and I suited up, tugged on our helmets, and soberly went through the check drills while Dan and Chris made fun of us. That's the job of a brother—to never let you forget who you are or where you came from. The helmets are mounted with radios. After our chutes opened, we would be guided into the drop zone by Woodford, standing with his own radio on the ground. We were to follow his directions precisely and with alacrity.
"You got that?" said Woodford, his voice crackling through our earpieces. "You listen to me and do exactly what I say."