Ten weeks after we lost Chris, Christopher’s interest in skydiving was flourishing. It was really quite a thing to watch. There is a class called Accelerated Free Fall, or AFF, which all skydivers must complete if they want to be able to skydive under their own direction. He breezed through it at Vance Brand, a local airfield, and favorite dropzone in the area. After he completed AFF, he jumped as often as he could, nearly every weekend.
One weekend at the beginning of October, he suggested we go indoor skydiving. I had never heard of such a thing, but I was game. October 1 we all went to SkyVenture Colorado, which is a wind tunnel near Park Meadows. Essentially, the idea is that several giant turbines attached to the building generate enough wind and focus it at a point at the bottom of a vertical wind tunnel. The resulting gale is powerful enough to simulate free fall for humans, while really being only several feet off a metal mesh net. Perfectly safe, it is a glorious experience. Just like flying without wings, and without the terror that might accompany some who don’t want to plummet to the earth for real.
We went back several times after that, mainly to learn ‘skills’. The point of an experience like this for a real skydiver is to practice skills that would actually be used in free fall. Stable belly to earth flying, turning, tracking away from other jumpers are all among beginning skills. The point for people like me is to have fun. I certainly don’t have any natural talent, but with good coaches and enough determination I figured I could make progress.
After going several times, I decided I liked it enough to join a league. ‘Tunnel time’ is charged by the minute and is so expensive I am embarrassed to mention it here. Leagues are a way for several adults to get together and purchase a whole hour to split amongst themselves, and the cost goes down substantially.
Still, grief is a real physical drag. The tunnel is nearly an hour away, and after a day of work and dealing with our children, I am wiped out. But the best thing about being in the tunnel is that I can’t think of fatigue or anything else except what I am doing and what my coach is trying to get me to do. It’s oddly restful. So off to leagues I went.
The first few visits were great. The coaches are friendly and inclusive, but it didn’t take long for me to be completely intimidated by the skill of everyone around me. Everyone else was a real skydiver, and I was just a pretender. Around the third visit, I was sitting alone on a bench when a lively, beautiful redhead bounded up the stairs.
“Hi! I’m Emily Berkelely. Are you new here?”
Good Heavens, she was talking to me.
“Umm, yes. I’m Victoria Lierheimer.”
Now, let’s hold up a minute here. Most of you know I have a speech issue. Not a ‘problem’, because it isn’t. But in high school, I definitely had a ‘problem’ , and gorgeous creatures who looked like Emily Berkelely usually never let me have any peace about it.
As we continued to chat, I learned more about Emily. She was part of that cadre of skydivers that is the most attractive. An attorney by trade, she was skilled, well-practiced, full of boundless energy and friendliness seemed to drip from her fingertips.
This type of skydiver is the best type. Rollicking, bawdy, boundary-pushing, hell-raisers, definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. The most charming thing about this group is that they invite everyone within earshot to join them. Emily was all this and more, very larger than life. She was simply enchanting, and put me at ease immediately.
She was married to a coach at the tunnel, a slight New Zealander with a dancer’s build. Kiwi Hamilton has a very calming aura of peacefulness to his coaching style, and roguishness to his flying. They complemented each other beautifully and had been christened “The Coolest Couple in Skydiving” by my league mates ages ago.
I began to look forward to my league dates, in a large part because of Emily. There were a few other women, but they were college students. The men were also a lot of fun, but so soon after losing my husband, I hadn’t a clue how to distinguish a guy who might be angling for a date from one who was simply being friendly.
Chatting with Emily was often hilarious. Once, she went into great detail about the various ‘procedures’ she had to maintain her beauty. I almost laughed myself off the chair, because that type of thing is done regularly in Evergreen, but God forbid anyone EVER says a word about it. Emily was refreshingly direct.
Once, Emily suggested a procedure to me that she was encouraging her mother to have. Really, I would love it, and here’s the doctor’s number.
Wait. Her mother? I am a mere eight years older than this gorgeous creature and I remind her of her mother? It can’t be!
I went home that night thinking about my looks. How shallow is that. Really, as long as I don’t frighten small children and puppies, I’m doing fine, right?
Perhaps not. I took a long look in the mirror. Work uniform-jeans and tennis shoes, check.Blonde hair in usual ponytail, check. No make up, (too tired) check. Whoops, baby spit- up on jeans. Whoops again, marker and crayon on shirt tail.
Finally, an honest appraisal of my face. She was right. I did look much older than I needed to. Cancer had left a mark, and I looked grief-stricken. Emily got me to thinking-
What to do? Was this necessary? Did cancer have to steal my looks, too?
I had to quit leagues for various reasons during December. One of which was taking a trip to view various East Coast colleges with the girls. During that time, because of that conversation with Emily, my girls and I had a lot of fun trying out new looks for Mom. New York is a shopping mecca, and I let myself have a little Christmas present of various other clothes besides jeans and tennis shoes. Abigail is my little fashionista and has wonderful taste. Faith reminded me of all the things about makeup I had taught her when she started growing up. During that time, Faith gave me the ultimate compliment. She said I looked ‘hot’. Heh heh, maybe there was hope.
We came back to Colorado December 23. Christopher was in the house. It was late, sometime past midnight. He helped me with my bags and told me the news.
Emily A. Berkelely, successful attorney, skydiver and wife, had passed away December 19, 2010.
Legions of friends and family were heartbroken. Kiwi Hamilton was devastated. His love for Emily was total, and his loss complete. My heart went out to all of them.
I still go to the tunnel. When I do, I look nice. (Maybe even ‘hot’, heh heh.) Nice because Emily graced that world with nice. She was nice to talk to, nice to look at, and a lift to all around her.
And to me, she was just the right nice at just the right time.
Thanks for the favor, Em, and much love too.