Free Fall

by Nina Miller

Diya adjusted her helmet and fiddled with the harness while waiting her turn to face death with a camera ready smile. The roar of the wind surrounding her dulled the internal battering of her pounding heart. Two sets of tandem jumpers ahead of her were getting into position. She was being attached securely to her partner from behind. The sudden intimacy made her feel she was part of the “mile high club” and she laughed for the first time since deciding to do this.

“There’s three, there’s four,” Randall intoned with the cadence of a man who did these jumps daily and had adrenaline for blood. “This is going to be awesome!”

She wished she could mirror his enthusiasm but her stomach dropped with each team’s launch. Isn’t this what she wanted? Suddenly the wind pushed back at her from the opening into the steady frame of her partner. Crossing herself out of habit, she got into position and jumped. She felt for the first time, from her fingers to her toes, an electricity born out of doing something entirely reckless.

This was not her first free fall. Three years ago, strapped into a different contraption, magnetic fields identified for certain what her breast had only suggested by touch. The fear that roiled inside her only intensified with the results of the biopsy. Then came the lumpectomy and the counting of lymph nodes.

“We removed four sentinel lymph nodes. They were all benign. You were lucky this was caught early and should achieve full remission,” Dr. Bass intoned with the cadence of a doctor who did this for a living and had serotonin for blood.

The chemical aftermath left her scalp barren. The scars like dried river beds made her chest a topographical map of her journey with tattoos marking the spots for targeted radiation therapy. The unexpected treasure was a newfound resilience and a taste for the unknown. First came salsa lessons, followed by boxing classes and then jet skiing on the lake. Each one had the heady rush of novelty but lacked the life ending risk she had secretly come to embrace. The rhythmic staccato of the MRI echoed in her head filling her with longing. She missed the monthly visits that now had become yearly check ins. How could a second chance at life have left her feeling so dead inside?

The parachute deployed jerking her out of her reverie and back to the stunning view of the land before her. Fields intersected by roads and rivers, the lake in the distance, and her body surrounded by open sky filled her with a sense of security and peace. They landed with a thud, gravity having won this game. The heady rush of the entire experience was a microcosm of a year spent defying cancer. She realized she no longer needed to chase death around every corner. Death will come for her, but living was about the leaps she would take.

* * *

Nina Miller is a physician, fencer, wife and mother of two. She ventured into flash fiction during the pandemic when her fencing club shuttered. A graduate of Cornell University and NYU Med, she currently resides in New York.

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