Life as an Extreme Sport

Angels on High

A single building-shaking rumble is all it takes to flood memories, of watermelons and lemonade and the everpresent scent of Banana Boat sunscreen. Flipflops and heat, the lazy dog days of summer spent lounging in the shade made by cooling towers on the top of the NEC building. Of wiping off sticky hands and reaching up to touch planes so massive and imposing by contrast to the smallness of child fingers. Being placed into the pilot seat and sitting there, surrounded by the unlucky ones who didn’t know those flying, and dreaming. Looking out that window and seeing possibilities and futures.

And of wanting so very, very badly to be in the sky. I would stand in awe of the massive planes and their arial ballets, thet swooshes and zooms and magnificence, and my body would wake up from the heat and laziness and I would feel so, so alive. Reaching up in vain effort to touch the planes as they came so close to the roof I could see inside, wave to those upside down friends. For so many years, I was convinced I’d break into Top Gun, and I’d become one of the first top female fighter pilots in the country. Dad slowly talked me out of enlisting; he knew it would be a bad fit for me, but the sound still brings that longing to be in the air, moving at such speeds, the only thing between me and the sky a bit of metal and plastic.

To this day, when I hear them, I jump up and run outside and I search and search until I see their sleek form shoot across the sky. Today, I saw them doing something I’ve never seen before (plane at an incline yet flying foward, not in the direction of its nose), and I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared, and found myself once again reaching out, trying to capture a bit of their essence as they blew by. Later on campus, I stood spinning in the quad as they flew over UW time and again.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to reconcile the fact that the planes themselves are machines of war, that they’re being used to kill people. But I can’t shake the nostalgia and awe, and longing to be in the sky. Give me an airshow every day of the year, if it means those planes will only be used to show off the skill of the pilots and the grace of the engineers.