On Heights & Hunger
from Josh Andersen
. The following is an excerpt from Josh MacIvor-Andersen's memoir: On Heights & Hunger
My brother and I were always hungry for flight, each in our own way. Aaron found the trees, a consuming world of wood in which the smells never washed from the threads of his clothes, the scars piled on top of scars until his exposed flesh––forearm, hand, below the ear and above the collar––was crisscrossed with red and white carnage, overwhelmingly scar tissue.
It’s just that Aaron couldn’t fly fast enough. If you’re drawn to them, the sheer edges of life quickly lose their terror. You need bigger and more dangerous precipices.
Which is why Aaron realized that jumping out of airplanes might be the only thing to get his adrenals pumping again. He sought out a drop zone filled with kids who liked to live as hard as him. The day’s dives in that small, Georgia airport were only the start of lavish drunken parties where everyone came together and unloaded all the tension and excitement of the day, mixed up all that waning adrenaline with drugs and liquor and waited to see what would come of it. The drop zone kids became something of a family to him. After a while I never saw him on weekends because he was gone, he was flying. He would come back to work on Monday and try to explain to the crew all about the thrill and speed and freedom.
I started having dreams of my brother ascending into the clouds alongside me, caught up for the first time in the same heavenly tractor beam I felt when I was five, only to plummet back to earth, head down, quickly hitting terminal velocity. In my dreams I would reach for him as he plunged, struggle and thrash against the upward pull in order to grab him as the gap between us grew.
One weekend my brother drove to the drop zone and felt particularly immune to death. Or perhaps particularly buoyant. Flight ready. Aaron filled his car with fellow divers and drove his car so fast and so full of his friends that when he got to the end of the runway, close to the place where the planes finally heave themselves into the sky, he caught his tires in the grass and began to slide. He compensated, overcompensated, and his car began to flip with everyone inside screaming and laughing because every day they lived as if it were their last. My brother was maniacal behind the wheel. The flipping was a beautiful thing. Three times over they went, all of them panting and shouting and so in love with life that the best way they knew how to celebrate it was to tempt death as they tumbled violently through the air.
Aaron landed upright and rattled. He looked around at his friends and their eyes were giant and milky and glassy. He stumbled from the car and left it in the field at the end of the runway, bashed in and grass-stained, and he walked back to the hangar where he filled his head and heart with beer and everyone made love and passed out.
The next day the police came. They came for two reasons: one was to investigate the car crash at the end of the runway, and the other was to do their official duties in the aftermath of a skydiver who fell to his death as the sun rose. It was my brother’s friend, the best of them all. Not just at jumping, but at everything. His friend who was the kindest and most caring, who treated the kids at the drop zone like brothers and sisters. The friend with thousands of jumps, a champion in the clouds, who that morning made a rookie mistake and lost his life the second he hit trees and terra firma.
My brother woke up, realized the loss, and surrendered to the police. He cried and laughed at the same time and felt deep inside that life was nothing but scar tissue.
Because he was the only one who knew such things, it was always my brother’s drop zone duty to ascend the trees and reclaim all the canopy cutaways. Sometimes, when divers veered too far from their intended landings, there were bodies still attached, wiggling in their harnesses.
After his friend died my brother kept up his duties. Climbed high into the trees where the parachutes were snarled, carefully cutting them away. He would hang there and think of his friend sometimes, the thin cords of all those lost chutes fluttering in the breeze like corn silk, a rainbow of nylon brushing softly against his skin.
Josh MacIvor-Andersen is the author of the memoir On Heights & Hunger, and the editor of Rooted, An Anthology of Arboreal Nonfiction, both forthcoming from Outpost19. His essays, reviews, and reportage have won numerous awards and nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and can be found in journals and magazines such as Gulf Coast, Paris Review Daily, Fourth Genre, Arts and Letters and many others.
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