My beloved niece paid good money to jump out of a perfectly functional airplane for the express purpose of dangling in the sky attached to a stranger and an oversized nylon pillowcase.
I found out about Marie's foray into thrill-seeking when she posted a Facebook photo of her hair-raising, lip-flapping adventure. There she was — this sensible woman and loving mother who is also the closest thing to a child I will ever have — mid free-fall, sporting a big grin and giving us all two thumbs up.
"Spent this beautiful Saturday jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet," Marie wrote.
My computer screen will never be the same. I was still doing mental spit takes when I discussed Marie's crazy-making behavior with her actual mother, my big sister.
"What the heck is up with your youngest child?" I asked, shaking my head. "Is it some kind of bucket-list thing?"
Sorta. Seems Marie and a close girlfriend do something each year to stretch their boundaries. Next year it's going to be hang-gliding, Sis said.
"I have enough abandonment issues," I whined. "She's killin' me here!"
Didn't she see the 80-year-old grandmother who also decided to tandem sky dive — only to have her harness come undone? I asked. Luckily her instructor held onto the poor woman for dear life. But her shirt and her life flashed before all our eyes.
"It went viral on the Internet," I said, smugly.
Blanching, Sis said she was grateful she had not seen Tumbling Granny. And she was pretty sure Marie had not either.
I get a person wanting to challenge themselves by trying something new. And I get kicking over your traces once in a while just for grins and giggles. But I don't get why anyone feels the need to go thrill-seeking when you could end up splutted like an egg. And I sure don't get paying for the pleasure of having the peewadden scared out of you. Or me.
Granted, I have almost been blown up, drowned and a host of other near-death experiences. But that was in Gold Hill, which is very near a known vortex. Besides, I was getting paid by the Mail Tribune to cover stories involving dynamite blasts, rising rivers and the town's city council meetings.
Marie posted a post-mortem update of what was happening as she smiled for her close-up at nose-bleed altitudes.
"At this moment, I literally can't breathe," she wrote. "I loved the floating after the chute opened ... the free fall, not so much. That level of fear I do not get a thrill out of. Had no idea how quickly your teeth dry out at 120 mph ... I couldn't stop smiling if I tried ... my lips were stuck to my teeth in that position. (Insert smiley face here.)"
Turns out Marie's normally sensible side had kicked in on this adventure by scouting out the company with the safest record. (Which I am assuming also meant the highest survival rate.) And I'm happy to report her gray matter seems to have made it safely back to Mother Earth, too.
"It was the scariest yet most exciting thing I have ever done," Marie later added. "Nope, don't need to do it again though. Glad to be on the ground and back home."
I was still needing an explanation from the daredevil's lips. We played phone tag, then finally connected. Marie chortled away my chastisement, then said I'd been on her mind a lot lately. She wanted to talk to me about "something."
Tentatively, Marie began voicing concerns for my own well-being. As a social worker, she cares for elders who have no chicks of their own. Some seniors' nieces and nephews don't step up to the plate when it comes to caring for their venerable relations, Marie said.
"I want you to know I will always, always be there for you," Marie said.
Awww. Touching. Very. But also a bit disconcerting to have the tables turned. I pointed out that she was the one thumbing her nose at the Grim Reaper.
Undeterred, Marie sweetly offered "to make the tough decisions" about my end-of-life care. "Put me on your POLST form," she urged, referring to the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment form, a bright-pink, medically and legally binding piece of paper upon which one details their end-of-life wishes.
Good lord. Does she know something I don't? I hastened to remind her we are only 13 years apart. In fact, Marie and I have the same age gap as I do from her mother.
"Frankly, I plan on further cultivating my relationship with your daughter," I said, laughing.
But apparently my darling niece expects I shall shuffle off this mortal coil before 2020. With complete sincerity, Marie replied that her only child would not be of legal age for another eight whole years.
Next year's adventure is hang-gliding, huh? I can't wait to shove her off Woodrat Mountain.
Email reporter Sanne Specht at email@example.com.