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Coming Down

July 16, 2011

A bright orange thumbnail appears over Zephyrhills, sailing toward earth, until it takes the shape of a parachute.

From the sky, Randy Swallows sees the world as small and distant. He doesn’t think about Iraq, or the friends he lost, or how it felt to kill. He feels released from the anxieties that bombard his dreams and scatter his thoughts.

The air is fresh and cool, and he breathes it deep, because his life depends on his ability to focus and relax. He could take a bad turn and crash. But he is a pilot, he tells himself, and his body is the control surface, and his mind is on a clear and predetermined path.

He jumps 40 times a month, paying for it with checks from the military, which considers him completely disabled. Only some of his injuries are physical; the rest are invisible.

For every 10 troops who go to Iraq or Afghanistan, one or two return with post-traumatic stress disorder, as Swallows did six years ago.

Over and over, he jumps out of planes, in search of firm ground.

He has come to believe that his feet will find the grass, and that his canopy will collapse behind him, and that he will be okay

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