She lifted her head at the sound of his voice. It had been years since she had heard that sound, but she recognized it instantly. It was the voice she had carried around inside her head when she was a child, before things had changed, back when she was still happy.
His voice was clear and shrill and earnest and as lovely as it had been to her young ears. She looked around for its source, hoping to see the face that had accompanied his voice and had crowded her mind all those years ago. Her small brown eyes searched for his bright blue ones. She couldn’t find them.
But his voice kept coming. She wished she could stretch open her ears and cram them full to the brim until every intonation, every note, every whisper and every yell spilled over to drip down her neck and cover her skin. She used to swim inside his voice as a child and now, 15 years later, she still wanted to sink down deep and lie at its very bottom.
I don’t know
How this is where I came to be.
They said, “Stay away,” and now this is where I’ll linger.
I came, searching, because you would not show me plainly.
I came, hardly aware, of how bright the sky could be,
Of how solid death could be,
Of how dim and weak my life has been.
They said, “Don’t! Because…what if?” And now the what-if’s are all I see;
They’re shroud in gold, and freedom, and peace.
All the what-ifs I was made to fear
Now walk besides me hand-in-hand
Afraid of me.
He stood nervously on the ledge, his hands flung back to grip the steel railing. It was winter, and he could feel the skin on his fingers stick to the metal. But the cold didn’t matter. He had finally gathered the courage to come out here to the very edge, and all that was left was to take the final step forward. He looked down to the street below. There was no one there. It was just him and the silver light of the stars.
He inched forward so that only the soles of his bare feet remained on the cement. He leaned forward and felt his chest expand at the stretch. He squeezed his hands tighter around the railing. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, wanting to feel the cold air flow through his body and into his lungs as slowly as possible. He wanted to feel everything, for once in his life.
One more breath, he thought. One more breath, and then one last step. One more breath, and then…
“Patrick,” a woman’s voice said.
Ana walked through the revolving door out into the busy street. She was still in her hospital gown, and some people in the lobby stared as she walked out. She didn’t notice.
She paused just outside the door. The sun was bright and beating down on her head but the air was cool. The combination left her perfectly comfortable in her scant covering.
She looked up one way of the street and down the other, watching the people going by in each direction. They were choosing where to take themselves, to one way or the other. Now that she was out, she could choose, too.
She turned to walk up the street. Eventually, probably soon, someone would realize she was gone, and then word would be given to find her. But she still had some minutes to walk freely. She would give herself a full, glorious five minutes of complete freedom before she thought of what was to come next.
There is a figure lurking by the window.
There is a mist scrolling in through the cracks in the wall.
I lie down and close my eyes.
There is a shuffling coming from behind the door.
There is a banging sounding from the ceiling.
I press my hands against my ears.
I feel cold against my skin.
I feel a shadow on my lips.
I flinch and try to move away, but I’m already on my back.
One day, maybe after many years, you reach the top of the mountain and can finally rest. As you stop your running feet and wipe the sweat from your eyes, you can for the first time catch your breath. There’s no danger here. It’s just you and the cool wind, the soft grass, and nothing lurking just out of sight. You’ve reached the place you were aiming at for so long; now you can revel in the relief of having arrived.
At the top, you can look back down the hill and across the valley below where you’ve come from and from a safe distance survey all that was once a deadly threat. The rocks that tripped your step, the tangled branches that blocked your way, the wolf eyes that continually hunted you through the darkness are now blocked by the wall of time – they’re in your past, you’re in your present, and nothing can join the two.
So with the dangers far below and the instinct to flee now unneeded, you bring back your gaze from the bottom and take a look around. Below, the trees grew so closely together you had to constantly tear at branches and fight with roots to get by. At the top, there is flat, broad space. Below, the air was thick and sometimes putrid. At the top, it is fresh and gentle. Below, you had to kill other living, sprinting things for food to stay alive. At the top, fruits and vegetables naturally come up from the ground at the right time. Below, there was only wildness, peril, running, hiding, escaping. At the top, there is ordered nature, calm, steady breathing, sleep.
Here, at the top of the mountain, you can finally make your home.
One of my closest friends is going through a really great time in his life. More than great, it’s seminal for his life being just what he wants it to be in the very near future. As he’s shared with me the steps he’s worked so hard to take that are leading him to the future he wants and will soon have, I’ve been thinking about what my own life being just what I want it to be would look like.
I know I want to someday make my living as a writer. I know I want to someday find someone I love who loves me back. These are fine, perfectly normal goals. The second one is virtually universal. The first one may not be as common (and will require millions of words more to accomplish), but neither are impossible nor out of the ordinary. If 10 years from now I am a professional writer in a healthy, long-term relationship, no one will stop and stare in wonder.
These are my two goals when I am well and stable. This is what I want for my life when my thinking is clear, my mind is healthy, and my view of reality is un-skewed. This is good because it means there are attainable desires I’ve pinpointed that I can work and hope for. What’s not so good is that my thinking many times isn’t clear, my mind isn’t always healthy, and my view of reality often is skewed, as though I’m looking through a sheet of cracked glass. These two goals I have – writing and love – are my goals only when I am well, and that hasn’t usually been the norm.