From The Mag

How Melissa Found Her Wings: A Love Story

Written by Moe Viletto

Online Reprint

Originally printed in issue #110 (February 2019) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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More of Moe’s Monday Memoirs.

It was a perfect day to throw oneself at the earth in July 2014 at my home drop zone, Skydive Pennsylvania. I could hear the drone of the King Air high above, busy hurling tandems. I, on the other hand, was in the parking lot tending to my brand-new Kia Soul. Seats and belts, airbags, spare tire and other interior bits and pieces were strung about in the grass. Also scattered around were nuts, bolts, aluminum angle, carpet, adhesive, plywood and a healthy assortment of tools.

A petite young gal with an appropriate name, Melissa Petitto, approached. She was parked next to me. I could see that new-jumper glow oozing from her being. I guessed she had just landed from a tandem. The glow soon faded to an expression of jaw-dropping shock when she saw this mad man with his new car’s interior strewn about the yard.

She couldn’t help but ask, “What in the world are you doing to your brand-new car?”

After a short introduction, I told her I was gutting out the interior to convert it into a Moe-bile home.

I gave her a brief rundown of how I lived in a VW Beetle for eight seasons and a Honda Civic for three years. I told her that I fell in love with skydiving in 1971 and it had consumed me to the point that I adjusted my priorities and didn’t want to waste money on a house, along with all the headaches. Most of my dollars went into skydiving in one way, shape or form and it was good to be Moe-bile and not so permanently anchored.

“You must have just made a tandem?” I queried. Her glow came back. She lit back up with a full-face smile and told me how she was awaiting her CAT B AFF jump.

Many jumps after Melissa’s Cat B.

I asked, “So, what brought you here to jump from a perfectly good airplane?”

She told me how she and her boyfriend Gabe met in college and planned to graduate, become school teachers and move to Thailand to teach underprivileged children.

Pretty big dreams for college kids, I thought. We all get asked what we want to “be” when we grow up. Common answers are a fireman, a nurse, President, a trucker, a race car driver, a ball player, Miss America, a teacher, a doctor and other dreams. As kids we don’t know what we want to “be.”

Melissa continued her story; she and Gabe, in their last year of school, were going through a tedious eight-month application process to teach abroad. During this process they were saving money to move to Thailand without being sure they would be accepted. Melissa and Gabe agreed if they were not placed into the program, they would use their savings to get their skydiving licenses.

After eight months of writing essays and sending in paperwork, Melissa and Gabe were accepted into the program to teach at a school in Chiang Mai. They enthusiastically accepted and celebrated the adventure to come.

Plans radically changed one week later. Out of the blue, Gabriel came down with an illness. The definition of health and vitality at the age of 25, Gabriel died from cardiac arrest unexpectedly.

Melissa’s world fell apart. She could not move away from her family to Thailand during this time, and knew what she had to do. Ten days after Gabe died, Melissa sat in her first AFF class at Skydive Pennsylvania.

Which leads to our story, as I met Melissa waiting for her CAT B jump, contemplating continuing with jumping, contemplating life.

I told Melissa, “You should continue the AFF course. Skydiving forces you to be focused in the moment. There is no time to think about anything else.

“We have a very tight knit community. A family if you will. We have doctors, riggers, lawyers, truckers, electricians, wealthy folks and not-so, plumbers, bricklayers, chefs, mechanics, clerks, hairdressers, yoga instructors, packers and on and on, all the way down to crack whores if you want ‘em. You name it. We have friends who die in our sport, as well as the norm. Car wrecks, heart attacks, disease, old age, cancer. Ya know, normal stuff. C’mon back. We will help you heal.”

Well, that season Melissa completed the AFF course. Her Thailand money paid for her license and all of her gear. She found a family outside of her bloodline. Her family eventually came to the drop zone and connected with our community as well.

As Melissa found her love for flying, she also found True Love in a good friend of mine, Andy Kenny. I watched over the months that turned to years as Andy took her under his wing and taught her about wingsuit flying and BASE jumping. This was a proud moment for me as I mentored Andy and now he was passing it on.

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She currently has around 450 wingsuit jumps and 52 BASE jumps. I bought her first wingsuit. The BASE trips and flights I have made with her and Andy were and are nothin’ but grins. The two of them are as inseparable in the sky as they are on the ground. When planning dive flows everyone at our home DZ automatically gives Melissa the closest slot to Andy. They no longer aim for the target when they land, they aim to land next to each other. If one lands off, so does the other. They tag team pack jobs and manifesting and their flow is incessantly one. Andy is just as vital to skydiving (and life) to Melissa as her parachute. And vice versa. True soulmates.

Melissa did follow through and become a teacher. She is already influencing her kids by showing them jump videos and bringing in her wingsuit for show and tell. One day, one of her kids showed up wearing a flying squirrel T- shirt, and her desk usually has a stack of drawings from 6-year-olds of parachutes and planes.

Andy and Melissa have honored me by asking me to marry them this summer in the Italian Alps … And BASE jumping after! How could I not?

In the Alps where Andy and Melissa will soon be married … by me!

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