I'm in dire need if your assistance. You see, the air outside the 23rd floor of the Royal Hotel is thin, and the view of the street below makes my head whirl and my stomach churn. I'm not a man of heights, and yet I find myself here, hanging between earth and sky, heaven and hell, my feet cemented in place. Sure, I could turn back to the room, shut the glass door behind me and pull a champagne bottle from the mini bar; but short-term solutions are illusions made for fools. And while I have been a fool myself before- only a fool would think he has never done so- today I don't intend to err. Today I make a decision of greater consequence than any decision I've ever made, and I shall make only the right one.
You may be very different than I. You may be happily married with half a dozen children frolicking in your back lawn, bathing in the pool you bought for them and basking in the sun whose warmth they owe to you. You may be an old widow with a lifetime of memories and a gradually receding will to live. Or perhaps you're an abominable misanthrope with no friends and no regrets; be the case what it may, you're alive, as am I, and therefore are in a position to advise me. I need it from you because there's nobody else on this earth of which I can ask it. And you mustn't deny me, as one day you may find yourself in my shoes- you will see that they aren't as different from yours as you believe- in which case your only comfort will be found in the willingness of a perfect stranger. Today that stranger- my stranger- happens to be you. And so you see that it's in our best mutual interest that you comply with my request so that the impartial winds of karma blow your way when your time of plight has arrived.
The railing of the balcony is still cold in my palms though I've been grasping it for a while now. My knees are weak, and that enigmatic, treacherous call from the street below of the kind one might experience when standing before a deep pit is overbearing. I have the sharp, unshakable feeling that if I were to release the railing I would topple over and find my ignoble death. There is a faint but steady and increasing pain in my right thigh, and since it's the kind of pain that can't be gotten rid of I shift my weight to my left leg. My heart is pounding quite violently, and with every beat I can feel a distinct pain in my forehead. I put my hand to it and feel an unshapely bulge on it. I try to brush it off but to no avail; it only increases the pain. It must be a minor bruise that I hadn't been aware of incurring in the throes of inviting death.
I'm well dressed with an elegant blue blazer over a button-down white shirt, blue pants and grey shoes. It seems this should be a fine fit for either decision I make. Only now I realize that there's quite an unsightly speck of dirt at the front of my right shoe. What a cursed blemish on such a fine, smooth, practically new shoe! You'd think that under the circumstances such a negligent nuisance would escape me, but it's in fact just as aggravating as it would be if I were on my way to a big business meeting. I strengthen the grip of my left hand on the railing and consolidate my left foot on the brick floor, bend my right knee and bring my right foot up. Then I brush my right hand fingers across the shoes but the mischievous speck refuses to clear the way. Suddenly it becomes the center of my attention and the roar of the engines below is forgotten. I wet the tip of my index and middle fingers and rub it off clean. What a relief! For a moment I'm lighted from the burden, then the greater one weighs down upon me again.
Next to me on the balcony is the table with two tall empty glasses on it. The two glasses that had each been filled and drained three times last night before we made love and went to sleep. We made love right there on the balcony, indifferent to the possibility that the neighbors could step outside at any moment and see us. We used to have cold whiskey and hot love making; last night the wine was tepid and the love making cold. There is no taste I despise more than that of wine, and yet by some esoteric force I couldn't refuse it. I remember it vividly, perhaps more vividly than any other part of the act, that as our moans blended in the open air my thoughts wandered to this moment now. As we both approached our climax my desire to be here, not there, intensified and my realization of the terrible act we were committing settled deeper. The terrible act of a man making love to his beautiful fiancée.
And now I'm here and she is gone so the act needn't go on. I despise her. I despise myself. I despise the time we’re together. I despise all time and all things. As for her, I believe her feelings toward me are mixed. It's surprising how quickly and frequently love and hate can alternate in a woman's heart. Regarding herself she's of the opinion that she is the queen of the world, or at least deserves to be. It's her smugness, I think, that I detest most of all. I wish I could see some pain in her eyes. Regret. Apology. If not of her own accord than at least in response to mine. Surely my artless eyes don't hide the fact that these emotions are brewing inside me, try though I may to have it differently. And yet hers are dull, opaque, impassive. The mere image of them in my mind sends shivers down my curved spine.
But let's not pin it all on her. A demon never strikes alone, and the assault against me seems to have been preplanned, well-coordinated, and the target of many resources invested by the devil himself. There are my parents, there was my brother, may the little transgressor rest in peace, there's my boss, and then there are those two evil men. It was a joint strike that would bring down the best of us, which by the way is a category from which I don't exclude myself. If you think that I'm a weak man than your sense of judgment is far less honed than I should hope for as my final advisor. Does a weak man willfully bear the torment of standing before an 80-meter vertical fall to the heart of a bustling street on a balmy day? Does he confess his intentions to a stranger and seek advice on a matter most men don't dare ponder alone? Lastly, what weak man has ever confronted a horrendous truth and been prepared to take due measures to redress it? No, weakness is as strange to me as cowardice to a mighty lion. And yet I'm merely a man, and in the workings of the enormous universe I'm but a tiny blot, more trifling still than the speck of dirt on my shoe. And perhaps, like that speck of dirt, I'm a nuisance of which the universe will soon dispose.
There are many culprits in my plight, me being the least of which, and their incriminating stories shall be laid bare before you, one by one, until you have reached a verdict. A just verdict in the form of your precious advice on whether or not I shall cross the railing of the 23rd floor balcony and implement the only solution I believe exists to the atrocities committed against me.
Let me introduce myself. Briskly, as the passage of time isn't in our benefit, and as every word minced only prolongs my suffering.
Since my final days in my mother's womb I've been called Clancy. Clancy Stuttworth. Not too long ago I've celebrated the turn of my 36th year; a happy day that was, and something of a watermark in my life. I'm a happy man at heart, more optimistic than any man I know and just as appreciative of my lot as the scriptures instruct us to be. Today I'm a miserable wretch. I've been anguished, betrayed, ridiculed, and condemned to the point where no afflicted soul should ever be taken. I've been victimized through no fault of my own, and must now avail of my own sense of justice to atone for the sins of others. Is it even possible for one to atone for the sins of others? But while I rightfully protest, I don't flinch; I will do all that's required of me.
As for my physical appearance, there isn't much you need to know. I've already described my clothing, which today is rather in keep with my preferred style. I'm normally a man of moderation and rarely reach out to the extreme, and my wardrobe can bear proof of it. As a side note let me add that, rummage however much you like, you will never find a leather item of clothing in my closet, as I find it extreme to use the skin of another animal to cover my own body. You see, I've always taken good care of my body, even as those of my friends began to deteriorate with age; and what kind of person takes care of his own body while ravaging the bodies of other animals? At the end of the day we're all animals, are we not? To my mind, extremity begins not where one has strayed from what's common and accepted by society, but when reason or conscience are stretched to their limits. It's for this same reason that what awaits beyond the balcony railing isn't as extreme as you might think.
On the same note, my body is also fairly moderate in appearance. My height is slightly above average, my weight slightly below. My hair is average, my eyes, my nose, my ears; all absolutely commonplace. The less detail you have the better since, like I've already pointed out, any man could one day find himself in my position and therefore my own particular quirks are immaterial for our considerations. So imagine yourself in my place, if you like; my suffering and hopes of relief as your own.
I'm a logical man who rarely acts on a spur of the moment, as my current deliberations with you indicate. I'm very patient and am quite conscious and considerate of my environment, at least whenever my environment deserves consideration. A bad man will not see my kind side, for while I hold myself to higher standards than I do others, I'm never lenient to anyone who engages in purposeful wrongdoing. From my own misdeeds I make a point of learning, though I don't presume to be entirely successful in that area. All men attempt never to repeat a mistake made, but what man alive could possibly live up to it?
Now that you have an inkling of who I really am, let's move on to the engagement that occupies the majority of my time- my job. I haven't always been successful in my various lines of work though I'm a man of many talents. Challenge me to a ball game; test my vocabulary; set the board for a game of chess and I will do well in all without taking pride in it (the latter being another talent, and perhaps among the rarest these days). But I have no kind of knack or proclivity for committing myself to a single cause or occupation. I'd rather go wide than deep, which was my primary bane as a junior tennis player and the source of my profound distaste for my former profession as a lawyer. My timely transfer four years ago to the field of business consultancy hasn't completely stamped out my dislike for having a full-time job whose real fruits are reaped largely by others, but has at least sweetened the pill. Life is a compromise, and every compromise must have a bitter side; I live at peace with this compromise I've made.
So I'm not a one-job-man, which as you know may well hold a man back from achieving seniority, rank, and the comfort that comes after many years of hard, monotonous work; in my case I managed to circumvent this obstacle, and a testament to my success is my nametag which somehow finds itself under the table with the wine glasses. "Clancy Stuttworth, Partner." A fine feat, and that my colleagues attribute it to my fawning on the senior partners I find petty and envious. In any case, this transience of mine doesn't hold true when it comes to affairs of the heart. Lila, my fiancée, has been my sweetheart from the moment I laid eyes on her almost ten years ago. She hadn’t known it for the first two or so, but a shared moment of vulnerability and pint of beer on campus had brought us together and made me believe happiness would never evade me again. I hadn’t been a very happy man before I had her heart; from then until very recently I was just about as happy as a man can be with an ordinary earthly life. Today my fists are clenched around the railing of my 23rd floor balcony and the closest thing to happiness seems to be the roar of the street below.
I've always seen in Lila a fine woman, perhaps one of the finest I know. Her beauty had been admired, at times to a disturbing extent, by men of all ages long before I came along. She's a gentle woman but one that's neither reliant upon nor unreasonably demanding of anyone else, least of all her partner. On the other hand she wears her heart on her sleeve and rarely bottles in her emotions, especially positive ones. Her presence is welcome in almost any room, and is deeply craved in many bedrooms. She's one year my junior and by far the person closest to me in this world. I suppose it's only natural that my life has largely centered on her for the past ten years. Until recently I was convinced that the same could be said of her, but now I feel there is no room for certainty around her. There is little room for any certainty in this world, in fact. Take it from a man who's seen his world collapse on top of him; who's undergone a transformation from profound happiness to irreparable misery, all in a matter of weeks. I find that the most valuable advice comes from the most miserable of men, don't you agree? And if that's the case consider my words golden and let them sink in deep, for you would find no man more miserable than I if you were to scour the earth ten times over.
Why is it that the joys of this world are so fleeting and fickle while its sorrows are deep-set and trenchant? It's almost as if we are all gamblers, fooled and lulled into a deceptive sense of elation by temporary winnings, only to find ourselves with an empty wallet and a heart torn with regret at the end of the day. It seems I'm a compulsive gambler then (I've already stated that I'm possessed of no ordinary optimism). But I've been disillusioned and am now prepared to check out. One must have chips if he is to stay in the game, but my wallet is empty of money, my heart bereft of hope. All I wish is to exit the casino, and what wiser decision could be made by a gambler?
I only wish I could believe that she, too, was affected. That perhaps there was some shade of pain and remorse buried under that beautiful façade of perfect tanned skin and impenetrable green eyes. That she was sufficiently affected as to make amends as I intend to do- no, I'm not so presumptuous- but that my love for her wasn't in vain and hers for me not completely sham. But perhaps the stars have so aligned that even such a humble wish shan't be granted to me. No, the love of my life hasn't been moved by my devastation or by her own significant role in bringing it about. Rather, she's planning her better, brighter future without me, as though I'd never been part of her soul; as though I'd never been at all. And here's the worst part of it all: in her betrayal she might find true happiness and complete impunity. So terrible is my curse that my principal tormenter will be rewarded, not punished, for the injustice she's done me.
The sun is high in the sky now and she sheds a resplendent golden light and soothing warmth on everything below, but she is treacherous for soon she will set and leave us all shivering in the dark. I don't fare well with heights, in the dark, or when the air is cold, and yet all three will be my lot if we don't make our decision readily. And yet she, the queen of the sky, isn't half the traitor as is the queen of the land.
It began around two months ago, if my memory doesn't betray me (though I find it difficult to commit my trust to anything these days). Those were golden days, when there was nothing impure about the love between a man and a woman. Alas, fake gold is often cheaper than dull metal, and certainly much less reliable. Our wedding was only two months away, and we'd both recovered completely from the misfortune that had befallen us toward the end of our first trip abroad as a couple. We spent a wonderful two weeks on the magnificent beaches of Mexico before climbing the mountains with a rented car that served us loyally. There was indeed an unfortunate end to it, but what it was exactly I don't recall at the moment, nor does it bear any significance to our considerations. I do vividly recall the breathtaking scenery and the wild nights, but why torment myself with memories of what was and has been lost! In any case Lila came back from Mexico a changed woman, and not in a good way. For me it was an anti-climactic end to an unforgettable experience, but not one that deserves dawdling on. On her it took a much greater toll in the form of a long, strenuous recovery process. Undoubtedly she felt a measure of guilt for the harm and stress she'd inflicted upon us (despite the fogginess of my memory I had a distinct feeling that she'd been at fault for the painful occurrence. But I forgave her at some point). They say only he who knows his past may fully live in the present; but in fact the past is only important insofar as it bears a direct effect on the present. I refuse to ascribe the collapse of our relationship to the events in Mexico, and therefore it is of no significance.
For the sake of clarity allow me to be more precise and trace the beginning of the breakdown to one stormy evening just like any other, only slightly more tiresome than usual. You see, even when love is at its finest it can't overcome the inherent dullness that underlies the daily routine of a modern life. Anything, when prolonged, repeated, and generally made up of unchanging elements will provoke disinterest and boredom at a certain point; certainly, then, life. We were both home, and for lack of a better alternative were watching a certain movie that consisted of a haphazard jumble of cars, crashes and blood. At some point I remember feeling not bored but anguished, and for some reason that I can't currently recall I entered our bedroom and began to sift through a rickety drawer that I never used to open. It was filled with junk that had accumulated over years, and was so badly out of use that opening it required the investment of no small effort and produced quite a disturbing creak. There was nothing remotely of value in the crammed space, but one single cause of great alarm. Lila had just entered the room, apparently repelled by the movie as well, when my eyes fell upon it. I'd never used any illegal substances before, but on several occasions had had the misfortune of being in their presence. I won't deny that the effect I witnessed them having on others were at times intriguing, but never, even in my bleakest days, had my will power failed. It would've taken a catastrophe of monumental dimensions for my resistance to waver. At any rate, the content of the little airtight plastic bag was unmistakable: white powder and a glass pipe that, when combined and lighted, created a potent drug that preyed on weak souls and distorted the brightest minds. How silly do our brains operate, tempting us to consume the very things that will lead to their destruction! But then nations often express the same kind of self-destructive behavioral pattern; even our entire species has fallen victim to such folly, so why not a lone individual mind?
I remember my hand shaking at the thought of what I might discover as I picked up the bag and showed it to my unsuspecting fiancée.
"What is this?" I muttered glumly.
"Why are you asking me? That's you're drawer", she replied, at first oblivious of the gravity of the situation. When I appraise her behavior in hindsight I realize what I refused to see then: her surprise was affected and there was an uncharacteristic defensiveness about her. She was never very good at dissembling her emotions; how could I have missed it? When she came close enough to make out the contents of the bag her jaw dropped (too quickly!).
"Heroin", I confirmed, nodding solemnly. I tried not to be too accusative but I suppose it would've been impossible to conceal my instinctive suspicions. It was as though there was no conceivable alternative.
"How did it… You don't think that I-?" Lila began, now clearly more outraged and astonished by my implicit insinuation than by the existence of the bag.
I can't attest today to the duration of my ensuing silence, but I recall lucidly that it was unbearable to Lila. There must've been some added external factors that had led me to be so conclusive regarding her culpability for the presence of the drug, but there are none I can name at the moment. In any case my suspicion was well placed, though never- not until this very day in which I relate the history to you- outspoken. But I've always been a man of trust, and to my then beloved fiancée's straightforward denial I couldn't remain indifferent. I believed her, in behavior and in heart, and ransacked my mind for the next possible culprit. And that was when I realized for the first time the possibility that I would never have thought feasible, that was worse still than the first, and that now took priority as the virtually obvious solution.
"Has anyone been in our house lately?" I asked bluntly.
"You mean besides your uncultured friends? Someone who had access to your drawers without us knowing it?" She said with a cynical chuckle.
"I mean anyone I don't know of", I insisted without the slightest hint of amusement. I remember every word and expression from the discourse that followed, as it was the first time in ten years that either of us doubted the fidelity of the other. It was the first time there'd been a sign that warranted it.
"What do you mean by that?" Lisa demanded, now on the offensive. The best defense! "How do I know it's not yours?"
"You know full well that this isn't mine. If it were, why in God's name would I bring it up? I'd have to be mentally ill to do such a senseless thing. My question was quite self-explanatory, and you haven't answered it yet."
"Are you accusing me of cheating on you?"
"What's your answer?"
But there was no answer. Until this very day I haven't received a straightforward answer. She stormed out of the room, leaving me with the bag of heroin in my hand and an intense mix of rage and concern in my heart. For weeks the matter wasn't broached again, but a pall of betrayal was hanging over the house. There couldn't be a bag filled with illegal drugs in our bedroom without either of us having a clue as to its origin. One of us was betraying the other. The narrow breach in our relationship eventually bridged like a tear in the skin whose two opposite edges reach over to cover and heal it, but unlike the naïve Lila I didn't let my guard down. She was apparently convinced that the bag had been hidden there by a particular friend of mine, a certain Jason Friggs, for whom she had very little respect. But she didn't know that he hadn't visited the house in months, and that in fact we'd been estranged due to her well-founded dislike for him. Yes, I know that friends mustn't be abandoned, not even in the name of love. But being the pragmatist that I am, and knowing that neither I nor Jason would be harmed by the breaking apart of our shallow friendship, I'd let him go without qualms.
It was perfectly clear to me that the bag hadn't been stashed there by any member of my party, so to speak. And since all of Lila's friends and our mutual acquaintances were too puritan to even smoke a cigarette, there was no ground for suspecting them. This left very few options on the table, and I watched them all carefully. Two weeks went by in which Lila seemed to have come to complete peace with the appearance of illicit substances in our bedroom, which in itself struck me as fairly alarming. I, on the other hand, remained constantly on the qui vive, not so much for another appearance of drugs as for any abnormal behavior on her part. It was the kind of fixation that sinks into your bones, swallows you and supersedes all else until it's been resolved; but how could it not be? Only if you have loved another with the same immaculateness as I have Lila can you comprehend the urgency of my state of mind. I knew even then that her love for me wasn't the same unadulterated, pure one I had for her, and it's for that reason alone that she remained so calm. And then it happened again.
For what reason I was going through the bottom drawer of her wardrobe I can't say for there now seems to have been no rational cause to do so, but God only knows what would've come of me if I hadn't! You see, in this particular drawer Lila kept her worst, or least liked, shoes. All women have at least ten pairs of shoes in their house, most own at least twenty. Lila owned thirty-odd pairs, and they only seemed to be stacking up as the years went by. Unfortunately she had trouble parting with old shoes or ones that she'd lost taste for, so she kept them in the wardrobe classified according to certain criteria that no man would understand. The bottom drawer held shoes that she hadn't worn in years and that I could swear on my love for her she would never wear again. So you can see why it strikes me as odd that I should even set my mind on such an insignificant part of the room, let alone go through it. Perhaps it was my detective instincts that guided me (and which were becoming sharper by the day); I experienced an egregious mingle of satisfaction and revulsion at the little plastic bag I found inside. Satisfaction at having outsmarted her, and revulsion at the realization of my worst fears.
She'd learned her lesson and warned her secret lover of my suspicion, but it never occurred to either of them that I was still suspicious and would be so bold as to go through her things. But what does a man not do in the name of love! Or, for that matter, for the sake of his pride! As I scrutinized the cursed bag I realized, to my ghastly astonishment, that it was the same bag I'd found the first time. Not similar, not identical; the exact same specimen! I could tell by two distinctive tears on both sides and a very particular accumulation of dirt right over the seal. Hardly could two different bags bear these two very unique trademarks- it had to be the same one. I tried to recall what I'd done with the first one, or rather how I'd disposed of it, and remembered burying it deep in the garbage can outside so it couldn't be found even by a desperate drifter sifting through the trash. And yet there it was, back in our bedroom. So indelibly potent was the effect of such a small bag that contained but a pinch of white powder on me, as is the minute sting of a bee to a man allergic to bees, that I can almost taste the drug in my lungs. I can feel the pungent smell of the fumes and sense my whole being transforming. But how could I know? Perhaps this is merely a perception produced by my senses to that thing which I so despise yet is a stranger to me. The eyes of a blind man can't see the color blue, but perhaps he has his own inferred perception of it.
I wanted to scream, to tear down the entire bedroom, to bore a hole in the earth, which I believed was possible through the sheer force of the distress that flooded me. I also wanted to throw the bag in her face- in her beautiful, innocent face- and squeeze the last bit of regret and apology from her. You must understand that it wasn't for my own sake but for the sake of our love that these urges burned inside me. She had despoiled our love by yielding to her ignominious desires, and repenting for despoiling something so precious must come at a cost.
But I've already stated that I'm a pragmatist, and every pragmatist should recognize the rareness of occasions in which the full extent of one's preferences is realized. That evening in our bedroom was no exception to this rule, and I knew it wasn't yet time for me to attain closure. Rather, a subtle move was in order which, though not without deep displeasure, I was prepared to make.
If you were ever to come across a man who was compelled to plot against the woman he loves, you would do well to bow your head and extend to him every ounce of sympathy your heart can muster. If that pitiful man plots as a countermeasure to his sweetheart's having plotted against him, and even more so if his sweetheart is an angel turned demon, your sympathy will fall far short and only God's sympathy can avail to piece such a shattered heart back together.
But I was that man who'd fallen in love with an angel and was now being betrayed by a demon, and God never extended his sympathy to me. And since your sympathy, for which I'm eternally grateful for in case you offer it, won't suffice, you can see why it's left for me to decide my fate with the measures at my disposal.
The sun is beginning to creep toward the cluster of tall buildings in the horizon, and a breeze is blowing from the open south. Goosebumps cover my skin (I've already mentioned that I don't like the cold)- but why, skin? Why do you mind the cold? And why, muscles, do you vibrate? And hairs, what's the point of standing erect? You will all be dead and functionless soon, so you'd do better to relax and accept it.
Soon the sun will try to sneak away behind the tall buildings without our noticing in the same way Lila had been trying to have her way without my finding out. But just as surely as I will call the sun on its abandonment when the time comes, so did my investigative work bear fruit and expose my fiancée's cunning, unscrupulous scheme. Let's jump forward from the night when I discovered the bag of heroin in Lila's wardrobe one week to one sunny afternoon in which an early breakthrough at work allowed me to take an early leave. It wasn't usual that I left the office when the sun was still out, but I seized this rare opportunity with both hands and drove straight home carrying a bag filled with anticipation and anxiety on my back. It was the perfect opportunity- not to plan for Lila's 35th birthday, which was to take place two days later, but to surprise her off guard at home and perhaps see with my eyes what my heart knew to be true.
Being an accomplished interior designer Lila was often home at the time of day in which I returned, but that day wasn't one of those cases. The garage was empty and the entrance door was locked. My heartbeat slowed when I realized nothing dramatic was going to happen, but I resolved to make the most out of the opportunity. I set about searching the house for any clues that would otherwise be difficult to find in light of scarcity of time I had at home alone, including and especially any little airtight bags. I hadn't gone far, though, before the doorbell rang. At the door was our next door neighbor, the gorgeous Paige Stevens. Our relations with Paige were never very warm as she was a blatantly discourteous neighbor that seemed, as do so many people these days, not to comprehend the benefits of having a friend live in the house next door. Lila was particularly not fond of her, I suspect due to the kind of envy that's not uncommon between pretty girls. She spoke harshly of her at times, while I usually thought there was hardly any reason to do so. Paige was discourteous and uncivil, and seldom gave ground in an argument, but due to her own dislike for us we didn't come in contact often. Lila sometimes claimed that Paige flirted with me only to annoy her, which I always countered by stating my sincere belief that no actions of an even slightly flirtatious nature had ever been made. But then being a man my perception of such things was so obtuse that I didn't have complete trust in my own judgment.
In light of my current position I confess to you something I've never confessed to anyone and in fact have never quite acknowledged myself. It used to be an inviolate secret but once I've told you you may do with it as you wish, as soon my secrets will all be worthless and of interest to no one. My confession is that every time Lila rebuked Paige for her behavior toward me (never to her face) I became fascinated and a large part of me wished she was right. You see, I stand by my claim that my heart isn't transient in the objects of its investment and I've never even considered the possibility of cheating on Lila or leaving her, but this unmanly trait doesn't exempt me from other masculine characteristics. An unattainable beautiful woman, though she may be brusque and caustic (some would say especially if she's of that kind), whose intentions are unclear and alleged to be impure, will always attract my attention and my desire. Like every man (but not contrary to, and perhaps even less so than, women), there's a base, impulsive, immoral part in me. The difference between good men and bad ones is the consequence not of the identity and characteristics of that dark side, but of one's ability to suppress it. Fortunately, I've always been quite skilled in suppressing mine, and yet every time Lila spoke of Paige the dark Clancy seemed to come to life like a lion stirring in its cage at the sight of a helpless zebra beyond the bars.
I was surprised to find Paige at our door, as was she to find me home alone. It's much less surprising that she'd come to ask for a favor, and that I obliged willingly, suddenly forgetting the original purpose of my early arrival.
"Where's your pretty woman?" She asked with suspicious blue eyes that wandered around the living room, as though expecting Lila to be there waiting in ambush. When she spun her head from left to right following an unexplained noise coming from the kitchen a long string of her curly brown hair brushed against my nose, sending a seductive fragrance my way. I was much taller and more robust than she, and her figure was so fragile that sometimes it seemed about to break, and yet here she was in my own living room and she could say or do anything she liked while I had the liberty only to respond to her. She had me captivated, and I remember sensing a tingle of amazement run through my body at the realization that if she were an ounce bolder than she really was she could send her soft hand with its long, polished nails to my face and assert her control over me. But no such thing happened and I managed to contain my fiery attraction, which had all but melted my resistance (or at least so I thought, but one must bear in mind again her intrinsic advantage as a woman in perceiving underlying emotions).
"She's still at work", I muttered, thinking: 'Ask me anything about my fiancée, and I will tell you her darkest secrets.' I had a strange feeling of being in the power of another, but even more strangely there was something familiar about it. And this mysterious familiarity wasn't rooted in my relationship with Lila since, as most men are ready to declare but few actually practice, there was no hierarchy between us and I was as much in her power as she was in mine. But not so with Paige. The beautiful, audacious, impertinent, milky-skinned Paige had me wrapped around her long, elegant fingers.
Where had I met this sense of utter subordination before? It was something recent and very powerful, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it, and I couldn't ponder it long as Paige's dominant voice soon rang again.
"And she's not afraid to leave you home alone like this?" She asked coquettishly. I noticed that her eyes had a unique grayish hue, which seemed to come alive to make her even more seductive.
I can't remember my response to this, but it was surely awkward and insignificant. Enough so to make my visitor chuckle triumphantly and leave. I watched her go, listening fixatedly to her heels clicking away on the pavement as though to a religious sermon. With the recent unfortunate developments with Lila, I believe it's understandable that my attraction to Paige augmented, however one's heart's desires, if not acted upon, constitute no breach in the bond of trust between man and woman. How many men had Lila taken a liking to? If that number is but a hundredth of the number of men that must've lusted for her over the years, then God knows there was nothing inappropriate about the fluttering of my heart (as if, if it were inappropriate, there would be anything in my power to do to restrain it).
I don't recall the details of Paige's request (you may've noticed by now that my memory functions as that of a man twice my age; for the sake of fairness it should be mentioned that it's much more blurry regarding affairs that took place in recent months compared to earlier ones), but I clearly remember that it required of me to handle several things at home before joining her next door. My business at home, whatever it was, was completed without delay, but when I reached her house something stopped me from knocking on the door. For some reason I felt the urge to go around the house and look inside through the back window- but how did I know?- and I followed it. Paige's house, like ours, was a small single-floor flat with a tiny back yard to which the bedroom window opened. This was the window I was drawn to, and when I reached it I saw that the curtains were drawn almost all the way but there remained a tiny gap between the edge of the fabric and the windowsill. This narrow space was precisely what I'd hoped for. I slowly inched toward it until my right eye poked its way into the gap and peered into the bedroom. Even through the closed window and without taking advantage of the position of the curtains one could imagine the cause of the repeated noises muffled but not muted by the glass and concrete, but with eyesight one procured a full graphic account.
There was such fiery heat in the bedroom that I could almost feel it seeping out through the tiny cracks between the closed window and its frame. The bed was pressed against the wall to the left so that there was an unblocked diagonal line of sight from the gap and the side of the bed. My right eye fixed on that line of sight and watched in fascination. The impeccable Paige, stripped nude and all the more beautiful for it, was on her back, moving in waves to and fro along with the rest of the bed. Her eyes were closed and an occasional moan escaped her, each time emerging in a different pitch and form; the fiery sensations were in control of her the way she'd been in control of me minutes earlier. On top of her was a man I'd never seen before. They were both under the covers so all I could make out from him was his long brown hair and a general profile view of his face. He had a small round nose and by the light brown color of his skin I guessed that he was of Latin origin. They were moving in perfect harmony together, and yet there was nothing planned or molded about their motion, like the waves of the sea that blend into the water but are never quite the same and can never be predicted. The sea is filled with life, and even its water seems to come alive with the force of the wind; the bedroom was filled with such passion that even the bed and the covers and the closets seethed with the passion of the lust that wreathed the two lovers. I stared at the mesmerizing scene and wondered if I'd ever had such passion with my Lila. Alas, I wasn't half as passionate as the man in Paige's bed, and what he had inside him I could never bring out from myself. I was too deeply embroiled in the frenzy to notice the man turn his head toward the window. It was an entirely inexplicable thing to do in his condition, but he seemed somehow intent on staring at the window rather than at the beautiful woman writhing nude underneath him. It was almost as if- but there was no way- something told him I was spying on them. His eyes met my right one and for a long moment we scrutinized each other. Seeing his face I suddenly realized that he wasn't in fact a complete stranger and there was something chillingly familiar about him. What it was precisely I knew not then and still fail to understand now, but there was something intensely, intimately familiar that we shared in those gripping moments. His eyes were dark and he wore a dark expression, as though reflecting that he was committing an act of not only passion but evil. And though I'm clueless as to what part of it was evil, I had an odd sensation that I was somehow also taking part in it. I still shudder when I think of that inscrutable glance, never knowing quite what to make of it.
What I remember most clearly about the mystery man was, first, the strange tattoo on his forehead whose exact outline I couldn't make out. But a tattoo on the forehead- how uncommon, and yet it too tingled me as eerily reminiscent of something quite personal. The second and last picture that emerges lucidly in my mind about him was the expression on his face. You would expect a man in his position to be taken aback, infuriated, perhaps to feel violated for being caught in such intimate circumstances. Surely if I were in his position and a strange man was spying on my while making love to Lila I would act quickly and emphatically. Perhaps violently. But the man with the tattoo showed no semblance of being disturbed by my misconduct. He stared at me first blankly, then, without disturbing what he was doing so Paige didn't even notice, a sinister smile curved his lips. In that smile, too, there was something familiar but more than anything it was terrifying. That was the point when I couldn't bear to look anymore- not for fear of any retribution from the man or from Paige, but out of fear of that odd smile and inscrutable calmness.
I never entered Paige's house and she didn't come to call on me again. I rushed directly home and never let the thoughts out of my head. The next day things were busy at the office but, fighting the workload and my reluctance to face the demons that seemed to be haunting me at home in those days, I left early again, wondering what surprise awaited me this time. There was still some hope in me that I'd only been imagining things and cooking up my own baseless conspiracy theories. I hoped that by some unexpected miracle I would return and everything would be as it'd been. But to my great dismay, this childish wistfulness vanished when the house loomed into view.
Someone was leaving the house; due to her shoulder-length hair I thought it was Lila at first, but the combination of the direction of her progress- toward Paige's house- and the fast and rough gait indicated plainly that it wasn’t. It didn't look like any of her friends, and when I focused on the wide shoulders I realized that it was a man. I was never a jealous boyfriend and under ordinary circumstances wouldn't be disconcerted by this (and if I were I'd simply ask Lila about it), but in the current situation surely you can appreciate the rush of anxiety that came over me. Instead of pulling up to the house I sped ahead with the conspicuous intention of overtaking the man and investigating him. He had a severe limp in his right leg which slowed him down significantly so that despite the short distance to Paige's house I could overtake him before he turned away from the street. I slowed down as I rolled up beside him, and by a very common coincidence his identity dawned on me just as I got a clear view of his face and saw it with my very eyes.
It was the man from Paige's bedroom. I rolled down the passenger window and called out to him, but he didn't stop.
"Hey buddy! I want to ask you something. Hey!" I tried to sound as amiable as possible (and therefore to conceal my true feelings) but he'd already turned away from the sidewalk and was marching up the short brick path that led to Paige's house. And then I saw it. A little plastic bag dangling from his right hand, which swung naturally with his light step. He wasn't in the least bothered or in any way taken out of his composed mindset by my persistence and exigency, and he didn't even attempt to conceal the bag. I studied it closely through the opening of the passenger window, taking in the fine details that I had by then become something of an expert in recognizing. It was all there: the white powder, the glass pipe, the tears on the sides and the brown patch of grime that had already become an integral part of the bag just over the seal. There was no mistaking it: here was the man who'd brought the bag to our house. He was the man whose presence Lila had attempted to conceal, and with all likelihood one under whose spell she'd fallen just like Paige had done. One couldn't blame her for having poor taste, as even I in those moments of distress admired this mystery man's cool determination, not to mention his remarkable presence in Paige's bedroom, but as far as loyalty went she was a witch. But could I already confront her with the whole truth, or was it better to obtain some last touches on the whole picture and face her in full force? The former was perhaps the wiser choice, but- and I say this with great abashment which I mightn't have been willing to bear if I weren't at death's door- there was something fearful about the mystery man that I was afraid to face alone. It's a cowardly and somewhat childish reason, I'm fully aware of it, but it's embedded in my past and as such isn't changeable and best acknowledged.
I hurried home and with the least accusative demeanor I could assume confronted Lila with my findings. I expected her to resort to some less accepting measure than a full confession, but was astonished by her audacity. Without reservation or any sign of remorse she denied the whole thing.
"Who was the man that just left here?" I asked pointedly. If not loyal, my fiancée was at the very least a reasonable and realistic woman, and she must've realized I'd seen him leave. It was therefore completely insensible for her to raise any kind of doubt on this particular point. But she wasn't herself and claimed without flinching, blinking or stuttering that no man had been in the house that day. I was speechless, and she seemed to be on the verge of it as well. How does one cope with such a sudden, blatant, overwhelming transformation in a loved one? And what words does one use to convince another of what he already knows to be true? Lila couldn't have been such a plausible liar; somehow she seemed to believe in her impossible position. I didn't attempt to dissuade her, perhaps for fear of failing and being influenced by her conviction to doubt myself. Instead I grabbed her by the arm and, against her mild resistance, pulled her to Paige's house.
"Are you crazy? Why are we going to see her?" She protested, emphasizing the 'her' contemptuously. I was again confounded by the pliability with which she allowed me to lead her. If she knew she was going to be exposed, which I intended to happen, she should've struggled much more tenaciously. But other than the displeasure of meeting Paige she seemed to have no objection to it. I knocked on the door and waited impatiently. Soon there was a click on the inside and the door opened.
"Hello, neighbors; how lovely to see you", she said sarcastically. She was beautiful as always, but far less discontent to see us than usual.
"Who's the man in your house?" I demanded frantically.
Paige screwed her eyes at me and said nothing.
"I saw him walking to your house five minutes ago. Where is he?" I insisted.
Paige chuckled, thoroughly entertained. "If you want me to help you fool your little lady, we should go over it first."
Now I felt my blood start to boil. My blood normally has an exceedingly high boiling temperature, but something had heated it out of control. I attributed the inner frenzy that took over me to the jarring circumstances such as I'd never been exposed to before. I don't think I've ever felt my emotions so pure and overwhelming as they were in those moments.
"Nobody has been here in the last few days", Paige continued. Then, with a sly smile that accentuated her normal unique trait of tantalizing wickedness, she added: "except you." She had an obvious purpose in saying this, and her purpose was served when Lila eyed me suspiciously.
"Why were you here?" She asked.
"I wasn't", I bellowed, feeling my eyes flaming at the beautiful woman at the door. The volatile urge inside me was growing to such intensity that I felt my hands might at any moment shoot forward at Paige and strangle her until no heinous word could leave her lips again. But Paige didn't recognize my newfound explosiveness and knowing me for the harmless man I normally was she didn't show any signs of fear or retreat.
"Oh, right, you didn't want her to know. Well if I were you I wouldn't either", she said, still striking like a snake with venom glands that never depleted. She kept her eyes on Lila's, regaling at every twitch and squint that reflected Lila's distress. For a moment I took pity on my afflicted fiancée and for these lies that evidently hurt her as much as they would if they were true; then the urge in me took over again and I remembered that the seeds of this terrible scene had been sown by her. She who plays with fire will be burned; she who purposefully lights one where it shouldn't be lit deserves no sympathy when she is burnt. At this point my target wasn't to justify myself to Lila but to prove in a way that not even the two female foxes could dispute that I was in the right. And while I'm on the opposing side of the everlasting controversy of whether the end justifies the means, the demon the girls had unleashed in me wasn't. To me the only thing that mattered was that I achieved my purpose; an improper mean to that end didn't exist. And so I implemented the most moderate course of action that would guarantee the achievement of my purpose: rather than strangle Paige as I craved to do, I simply forced my way through her into the house. She was so light and I so doggedly determined that it felt I'd pushed her out of the way without even touching her.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing!" She called, fumes coming out of her mouth along with the words.
"Clancy!" Lila blurted out in astonishment. But I couldn't be stopped.
"Where is he?" I demanded menacingly. "Crackhead! Where are you?" I bellowed. But as Paige spouted more words of harsh admonition I scoured all three rooms of the house and turned up empty. Could he be hiding somewhere? No, I was convinced the man I'd seen would never hide from me even if I was carrying a weapon. If anything he would strike back; even in my current condition his bark was surely louder and more intimidating than mine. There was nobody in the house. When I stepped into the bedroom I noticed that the curtains of the opposite window were fully drawn. In fact they went well past the windowsill on both ends so that it would've been impossible to obtain a view of anything in the room. So he'd learned his lesson from the first time. I remember looking at the bed with its yellow covers and fancy headboard and being aroused by the thought that that's where the wave of passion had erupted from. Paige followed me into her bedroom, still ranting. Then she pressed herself against my back and whispered into my ear:
"So that's why you're here. You just want to get into my bedroom again. Next time do it right and maybe you'll get lucky. Now get out." Her whisper, as unique to her as her voice or her face, titillated me. Once again I seemed to fall under her spell and obediently left her house. I assumed she'd used the word 'again' to imply that she knew I'd spied on them from outside; how she knew she could master my rage with that sensual whisper was beyond me. But questions weren't asked and the door was shut behind Lila and me. Lila marched ahead of me and hurried home, never allowing me to overtake her, as women tend to do to express their displeasure with a man.
"He was here, I know it", I called after her, still holding on to some feeble hopes of extracting a confession from her. "And I saw him taking the plastic bag with the drugs. The same one he hides in our bedroom. Do you hear me? I don't need your confession, as I've seen it with my own eyes. If I ever catch him again I'll shove that whole bag up his nose."
This threat finally got hold of Lila's attention, and she came to a halt and turned to face me. There were tears in her eyes and her brows were curved downwards on the outside like a child's. Once again I found myself struggling between my instinctive empathy for this woman who for ten years had been more precious to me than anything else and my overbearing grudge against her deception. How does one fare with the sight of a face that embodies simultaneously those things that are for him the best and the worst in the world? It was impossible to fare with then, and it is the same now.
One would think that from such a low things could only improve, but it's not the case when the low isn't a coincidence but the result of conscious, purposeful actions. That onetime low became our ordinary condition, and there was nothing to be done (at least on my part) to bring the light back to where it'd once shone. How can a victim mollify the severity of the perpetrator's crime? But allow me to correct myself: the low we'd plunged to didn't quite become our standard. There came a slight dip that took us even lower. It happened about a week after the last harrowing events described above and only two weeks or so before this very day. You see, like all men, I'm typically slow to perceive aesthetic differences in my surroundings, including those in the woman I love. One mustn't resent this phenomenon, as we, men, were born this way and carry this handicap as one of our many inborn flaws. But as part of my continuing mistrust in my fiancée my eyes, ears and nose sharpened as if of their own accord in search of the next sign of betrayal. It was, I believe, my body's method of defending itself against an emotional threat whose consequences could be greater than any physical blow. It was by virtue of this heightened state of all my senses that I picked up on a small detail (some would say a blatant monstrosity) that would otherwise have evaded me (and had perhaps done so for who knows how long): Lila's bare left hand fourth finger. The finger that used to, and was still supposed to, be wearing the engagement ring I'd slipped onto her finger sixth month earlier. I assure you that it was a beautiful ring that she couldn't have been reluctant to be seen wearing, and even if she was its symbolic value alone should've warranted never removing it.
"Why aren't you wearing the ring?" I said on the bitter evening in which I'd first realized it. She'd removed the ring! It took me a few moments to comprehend the implications of it. She was telling the world: I will not marry him!
"What ring?" She asked, squinting with about as perplexed an expression as is humanly possible. But I wasn't the gullible man I'd used to be, a change I owed to her.
"The ring", I repeated in a rasp, wondering if the finality of her action was indeed as unquestionable as I thought it was. It took her a while to follow my thoughts (or to come up with an answer).
"Oh, the ring you bought. I keep it for special occasions. Why do you suddenly ask?" She wondered. But how could she be so foolish? It was so unlike her to act rashly, and yet here she'd admitted it: she'd taken it off. Have you ever heard of a woman that keeps her engagement ring locked in a drawer, saving it for special occasions? That would defy the very purpose of an engagement ring, would it not?
I was too weak to push on any further. Lacking the fire I'd had when pursuing the man with the tattoo on his forehead, I simply turned from her and left.
From then until now nothing has changed on my part. Lila seems to have forgiven herself and moved on, believing our love is strong enough to prevail. I believe it's hanging by a thread, like an old man clinging to life with the constant aid of manmade machines, never to be weaned. Such a life is an artificial one prolonged for no other reason than the lack of the courage needed to terminate it and cope with death. Our love is the same, artificially held together when it's not meant to survive and causing more pain than pleasure. It's not real love, and any love that isn't real is far worse than no love at all. Not only my love but my life is the old man's life, but I don't fear to face death.
I hope sincerely that the light in which you see me has changed since I first called out for your help. I don't presume to have convinced you already to support my intention of ending my life, but perhaps that I'm a profoundly afflicted, unfortunate man who has suffered more than his fair share and is entitled to greater sympathy than the next man. That certain measures that you would find extreme for yourself aren't so for me and may even be requisite in order to cure my despair.
But perhaps this isn't yet the time to ask you to revise your views. If I'm disagreeably persistent it's surely the lawyerly side of me speaking, and as a lawyer is by nature disagreeable to many surely you can bear with me with just an ounce more of patience. For you will presently learn that my troubles with Lila, excruciating though they were (and are), weren't the first to be unjustly cast upon me, nor were they the only ones that could tear a healthy heart apart. In fact, I'm quite certain that few (if any) are the men alive who've been subjected to the kind of combined injustices you will soon learn I've undergone. Let us go on, then.
It wasn't two months before my affairs with Lila began to deteriorate that my younger brother, Ross, met his terrible fate.
Ross was three years younger than I, though judging by his strong penchant for mischief one would think him to be half my age. In my heart there resides nothing but love for him and profound grief for his fate, but these shouldn't change my observation of the objective fact that he was a boy who'd misused his fine abilities and ample resources. He was never as talented as I was and was never previewed to have the bright future which acquaintances of the family liked to ascribe to me. (Which one of us will have turned out to be the more miserable it remains to be seen). He had decent potential but zero motivation and was easily distracted from the more important things in life by whimsical desires and the promise of momentary pleasures. He had many friends, mostly temporary, and a certain personal charm that allowed him to often get his way with the girls. He tortured his body with a constant flow of poisonous materials, which despite his frequent attempts at working out and growing out of his lanky figure and weak stature prevented his body from developing. And still he was quite a handsome guy with fair hair and expressive features. With just a glance at his dark eyes you could guess his mood and the amount of festivities he'd had lately (the two were usually closely linked). He dressed well and more often than not looked at his best. He mingled well and could choose which social circle to integrate with, but he usually chose unwisely and got involved with many questionable characters. We didn't know what he did in his spare time (which was most of his time), but it was almost a certainty that he engaged in unlawful activities. His future was so thickly wreathed in the smoke of the substances he smoked that nobody, least of all he, could at any time whatsoever tell you where he would be or what he would be doing the following month.
But there was one thing that weighed against all his flaws and some would say outweighed them. It's not uncommon for the youngest sibling to receive the greater part of his parents' affection and attention; I believe this holds true even more when he's in need of such special consideration due to lack of independence and poor choice-making. Little does it matter if an older sibling is neglected and almost openly shown to be the least favorite as long as he's trusted to cope well with the unfair treatment. Indeed anyone who'd ever visited the family from the time we were children until Ross's untimely death knew that he was the preferred son. If there is a certain total amount of love that parents can give their children (it's claimed that a mother's love knows no bounds, but if that's the case, why not love both her sons limitlessly?), then Ross received two thirds of the love, I the remaining third. This isn't to say that either mother or father had ever neglected me or shown me any less care than a son is due, but that they knew as well as I that Ross's shadow constantly hung over me. It became an element of reality, as natural and unchangeable as my own shadow following me.
This was all very well; a very natural setting in which I was assigned the least favorable position, but there was one additional element that rendered it far more upsetting than it ought to have been: the person who was most conscious and supportive of the discrimination between us was Ross. He enjoyed his favorable treatment and used it to his benefit whenever a dispute arose between us in which parental intervention could be effective. He never hesitated to admit that mother and father's preference for him was based on no logical reasons and was even unjustified, and still he would proudly and aggressively take advantage of it whenever the chance loomed. Never hesitate to seize an opportunity, he used to say. A man with a God-given talent doesn't search for a reason to use or develop that talent though he doesn't deserve it any more than anyone else; in the same way he made the most of his own talent for winning our parents' greater consideration. Not once in my memory had I prevailed in an argument or struggle between us in which mom or dad had intervened. You can imagine how frustrating this can be for a child. Children have trouble making concessions even in order to serve justice; let alone when they support injustice against them. Things were no better when puberty had struck, in which period friends often seemed like foes. The hate I sometimes harbored toward Ross and my parents in my teenage years due to what I used to call their conspiracy against me was deeper than any dislike I'd ever felt toward anyone. One would think that such petty rivalries and unhealthy ill-will be allayed and forgotten by the onset of adulthood, but this perceived rule, if correct for most families, didn't apply to ours. I see things through a clearer lens now than I did fifteen, twenty or thirty years ago. But through this clarity I realize the objective damage my brother's conduct, and my parents' pampering of him, did to our family. Yes, I was perhaps the principal victim, but it was to his detriment as well. And since parents live vicariously through their children more than they live on their own, undoubtedly they suffered greatly for it too. I suspected that everyone knew it and there was no dispute about these grave consequences, and yet nothing was ever done to change it. Nothing, until that cold rainy night in which the vicious cycle was severed in what must've been just about the only way it could happen.
It shouldn't come as a total surprise if you've been at all attentive until this point, that my memory of that night is quite a blur. Just as one's vision would be impaired by the large, heavy raindrops that plummeted thickly to the ground, so is my memory obfuscated by- well, I should be a happy man if I knew the cause for the weakening of my once knife-sharp memory. But in any case nothing of importance evades me.
It was a late evening hour in which mother and father had already turned in after an especially unsettling day that had taken its toll on all of us but my brother. It was something about my suspicion that he was spending time with certain questionable fellows who were known in our neighborhood to be selective about the laws they respected. Surely you can understand my concerns in the matter: admittedly a man shouldn't be judged by the actions of his cohorts, but I was convinced that once Ross got involved with such characters the way to unbridled delinquency wouldn't be long. The conclusion of the argument was, of course, that he shouldn't be criticized for his choice of friends and for his belief in people's (specifically his lawbreaking friends') ability to change. An additional resolution was that I was unsatisfied with my own social condition and therefore chose to attack my brother's out of envy for his social finesse. Shortly after the matter had been settled to the satisfaction of everyone but me, mother and father went to bed while I went out to calm myself. I ended up taking a drive that led me to some place I've no recollection of whatsoever. My mind must've still been occupied with the frustrating dispute and my brother's complacent denial of my claims; in any case I returned to the house with the intention of picking up some things mother had left for me and, preferably without meeting any of the three before I left, most of all my brother, drive home to my fiancée. In my fury before that I must've left the door unlocked, as it stood ajar when I returned though there was nobody outside or even downstairs. The bedrooms were located on the second floor, and the complete darkness in the house implied that all had gone to bed.
Turning the doorstep light on, I noticed the sign of boot marks on the floor leading to the stairway. Oddly the marks seemed to match those of the soles of my boots, though I'd only returned and gone no further than a couple of steps inside. I immediately got the distinct terrifying sense that there was someone in the house who shouldn’t be. A thief? It wouldn't be such a terrible thing, as there was nothing in the house remotely worthy of being stolen. I carefully clicked the door closed to keep out the sound of the waning downpour, and listened closely. The wooden floor in the whole house was old so that every step created a croaking sound that could easily be heard in the quiet of night. But other than the soft pattering of the rain still audible from outside everything was perfectly silent. I was frightened and puzzled at the same time, sensing something bad was happening that I couldn't understand. Then I thought of the possibility that it was a thief after all that'd simply walked in through the unlocked door and, having heard me come in, was now waiting for a chance to leave. But if it was a thief, what was I to do? The course of action that appealed to me most at the moment, though it was certainly not the bravest one, was to take my things and bolt at once. The thief would make off with whatever it was he could find (if anything) and there would be peace again. I wasn't far from putting that trail of thought into practice but another, far more disconcerting possibility suddenly introduced itself.
How would a random thief know that today of all days the entrance door had been left unlocked? And even if he did, why would he even risk entering such a shoddy house as the one my parents had been living in for four decades? A quick glance at the crumbling bricks on the outside would suffice to turn away any thief in search of a more promising target. It was therefore highly unlikely that a thief was the source of my distress. But perhaps a man of more evil intentions. A man who was familiar with the household, and who would have reason to keep watch over the house and wait for the right opportunity to strike. One of Ross's friends whose interests would be served by harming him. A personal vendetta; a competitor of some sort; a man with a warped sense of judgment and little fear of the law; it could be any of a number of reasons. Perhaps the right reaction would've been to raise a racket, wake up the others and perhaps deter the invader from implementing his malevolent intentions, but there seemed to be something wrong in breaking the silence so violently. So instead I tiptoed up the stairway, pretending that my feet were light enough on the wood that I wouldn't be heard when in fact any person who was half awake anywhere in the house should've easily realized that someone was marching up the stairs. I skipped the middle stair that ever since our childhood had been a problem stair that screamed every time it was stepped on as though it were a living being. But though I'd followed this ritual hundreds of times in the past, my boots were wet and my body was tense and I slipped, grabbing the handrail to keep from tumbling down the entire stairway. I wasn't hurt but had created such a raucous that I was surprised it hadn't awakened anyone. I waited for a reaction from the invader, which I was sure was on the way, but the stillness and silence remained intact. I realized as I waited, crouching under the handrail with a good view of the two bedrooms upstairs, that my heart was pounding almost as loudly as the croaking noises of the stairs. I waited until waiting became less bearable than proceeding, at which point I continued to climb the stairs with particular attention to the impairments of my condition. Finally I reached the second floor, and at this point any additional step forward was like pushing against a giant wall that wanted to keep me away and should more recognizably be known as my fear. I slowly forced myself forward against the wall and passed the first room to the right of the stairs, which was mother and father's bedroom. At this time when my body was in need of a tremendous amount of oxygen I stared with bated breath inside the dark room in which the only sign of life was my father's soft snoring. The light from downstairs was almost completely blocked by the stairway and by the first floor ceiling, and the second floor was pitch-black. But my eyes had accustomed to the darkness and I could just make out the contours of two bodies under the covers. All was well, as expected, in the first room. Then I tottered toward the second room, an excruciating yet precious three meters beyond the first. As I neared my brother's bedroom I could sense- what gave it away I can't say to this very day- a hostile presence. Like a dog that picks up on a scent of an invisible object, I seemed to detect a terrible malevolence just beyond the wall. I was at once pushed back by sheer fear so strong I shook from fingertip to toe, and lured to the source of the impending violence by some inexorable urge to watch it take place. I stopped midway between the bedrooms, torn between the two opposing vectors, but then thought with despise that I was about to risk my life due to my brother's continuing misconduct. Rather than convince me to turn back and leave my brother to meet his fate on his own, it urged me on so I could be there when justice came to him. I made one last step that brought me in front of the doorway to his bedroom, and I froze.
Just a few meters in front of me was the unmistakable contour of a man standing with his back to me. I could make out nothing of his physique, nor did I wish to, nor was there any indication of his intent regarding my brother. But it was clear that my assumption was correct, and that the invader was there for my brother. My brother was lying in bed motionlessly, thereby negating the possibility of there being a discussion taking place. His arms were held forward in the general direction of my brother, which could only mean that…
I was still wrapping my mind around the scene when it went blank again. A hideous bang erupted, blaring so heavily that its source couldn't be traced. I remember wishing it was the sound of a massive thunder, which was rather compatible with the strengthening rain, while I knew it was something entirely different. I knew it not because of the different pitch of the noise, nor due to the revitalizing of the invader but because I felt my brother was dead. Still frozen in place, I watched the invader turn around and walk past me without taking note of my existence. He almost bumped into me in the doorway but still acted as though there was no one there. Only when I turned to watch him leave did he acknowledge my presence with a simple warning glance that I thought also sent a smug message of superiority. 'I shot your brother right in front of your eyes and you did nothing to stop me. And now I will escape and never be found', he seemed to say. How I obtained such a detailed perception of that fleeting glance remains unanswered when there was almost nothing else I noticed about him. But when I saw that glance, just before he climbed down the first stair, I decided to go after him. Not to attend my brother (who as I've already professed I knew was dead) or to flee to safety, but to follow an armed killer as he made his way out of the house (but not out of our lives). You may call me a fool for so doing, but I prefer to deem it brave. A brave man going after his brother's cold-blooded killer.
"Hey!" I called (avoiding awaking my parents was suddenly at a very low priority), and I began to race after the invader. He didn't seem to be in a hurry and made his way calmly down the stairs. His impassivity was chilling, but he seemed completely invulnerable. But he was hampered by a weak right leg that he might or might not have hurt climbing up the stairs before I'd arrived, and when he tried to leap over the problem middle step his right leg fumbled and he went tumbling down the remaining ten steps that led to the floor with a sickening thump. An ordinary man should've been significantly impeded by such a harsh fall, if not seriously wounded, but my brother's killer got back to his feet at once, the fall's only effect on him appearing to be a significant expediting of his escape. My descending of the stairs was far slower and more calculated, which allowed me to avoid having the same hard landing (which would've had an entirely different effect on me) but set me well behind the man I was chasing. Just before reaching the door my right foot bumped against some nondescript object on the floor, which flew out the door from the impact of my swift step. In the dim lighting outside I realized that this was the invader's gun, which he'd evidently dropped in his fall and not bothered to pick up. It seemed like an obvious error on his part, and I didn't hesitate to take it in my hands and point it outside in his direction. I'd never been more appreciative of the shooting practices father had given Ross and I in those early days when we would still spend time together out in the wild.
The rain, as though having intervened in his favor, was now pelting more violently than before so that his figure was almost impossible to follow. But even now when his gun was in my hands he continued his slow, unsophisticated departure so that a single sighting of him gave me a few seconds' window in which to take aim and fire.
Something told me that if I didn't get him now he would never be held responsible for Ross's murder. There was something irremediably evil in him that only his complete destruction could repair. I waited for his silhouette to appear through the raindrops, and once it did I fired as many shots as I was allowed before there were no more bullets left to fire. I didn’t keep count of the shots but I felt I'd aimed well and must've hit him at least once. I dropped the gun to the ground and stared far into the horizon, hoping never to catch sight of my target moving. For a moment there was only the rain and the games the drops played with the light, mocking my gullible eyes. I can still feel the surge of joy that began to rise within me as my hopes of having killed him began to consolidate, but it all crumbled at one miserable sighting of the dark figure, now well out in the distance, moving with the same calm and unbothered determination as before. It was like a ghostly apparition, incapable of being altered in any way. My shots may as well have gone right through him and disappeared into the darkness.
When I went back inside the house was in chaos. Mother and father had found the body of their dead son in his bed and were leaning over him with such despair as I wouldn't wish upon even the man who'd killed him. They say there's nothing more tragic than a mother who's lost her child, but there is of course. The thing most tragic on this planet, I resolved as I stood at the doorway to the bedroom staring inside, is a mother who has lost her favorite child. For a single selfish moment before calling the police (my parents had been too devastated in expressing their grief to Ross's corpse that no call had been placed) I wondered if, were it my corpse lying lifeless and not my brother's, would it provoke the same level of despondency.
It wasn't long before cops and medics swarmed the house, bringing in with them piles of mud and practically flooding the entrance. I've not lived through a longer night, and yet when it was finally over we all wished it were dark again. I suppose the sunlight and generally the change in the stage of day bestowed a certain disillusioning finality to the events and to the gravity of what had been lost. The police never found the shooter, after investigations of my brother's disreputable connections turned up no solid suspicions. No fingerprints could be found on the gun but mine (which led me to believe that perhaps the shooter hadn't been as remiss as I thought by leaving it behind), and my suggestion that the boot prints on the first floor be scrutinized was rendered invalid by the creation of the dozens of prints that could no longer be identified separately.
And so my brother died right before my eyes in the hands of a man who would never pay for his crime. I'd failed not only to punish him but to stop him in the first place- after all I was there for minutes before the metal bullet that took Ross's life was discharged. Mother and father were never the same again, and neither was that house that was filled with so many magical memories. Only one thing didn't change after that fateful night: I still wasn't the favorite son.
Life is a gift. With the first breath of air we draw we are already indebted for receiving a wonderful privilege bestowed upon us through no virtue of our own, at least not in this life. Whether you believe in God, karma, in nothing at all or in everything together, you can surely recognize that you have been brought to life in exchange for no sacrifice or compensation on your part and may therefore be considered an investment. How you can repay it is open for interpretation. A Christian might claim you must worship God; a Buddhist that you must reduce the suffering of others. But all should agree that whatever the means you choose to repay your debt with, it must be founded upon a deep appreciation of your gift. I'm the last to contend this and the first to condemn any person who fails to show gratitude for anything that warrants it (if this weren't true I couldn’t presume to be an optimist, which I've professed to be and still do). I believe it's perfectly natural to do so, and it's one of the poor outcomes of the complexities of modern human life that some people have lost the ability for it though it's inherent in us all. But absolute laws exist only in civilization and not in nature, and thus don't extend to this requirement to express gratitude.
Fifteen years ago I lost quite a foolish bet to a group of friends. This loss entailed a month's work milking cows at a local dairy farm. It was the first time I'd come in contact with live dairy cows, and it was as repugnant as what we'd expected when setting the terms of the bet. But what I wasn't prepared to handle was the cows' misery. They were caged for the vast majority of their lives and were milked quite violently several times a day. It became evident to me after a few days that this caused them not only physical pain but tremendous emotional distress. They suffered greatly through every second of their miserable existence and their only chance of relief was when their produce decreased to a certain cutoff point that rendered them no more profitable for milking, at which point they were carried off the farm to a slaughterhouse. And if normally a mother should be able to find comfort for all the woes of the world in simple motherhood, for the cows the prospect of giving birth was perhaps the most terrible of all. You see, several hours after the dairy cows gave birth to their calves the latter would be taken away from them so they wouldn't consume from the milk their mothers produced for them. Mother and baby would never be reunited again, and I doubt a human mother's pain from being separated from her baby could be any more intense than that of the cows. Motherhood was no relief but the worst part of their hopeless lives. One would think that cows are dumb animals that have no self-consciousness and no ability to grasp the concept of their being a future that will eventually become the present. But while I'm no expert on the field and haven't a clue as to how they compare with other animals, I can say with complete certainty that they were very well aware of what they were going through and of the future that awaited them. Nature had designed them with a strong survival instinct, but they knew that their survival would only bring them endless pain. It took me about two weeks to first witness the solution a few of them came up with for their unimaginable plight.
All the cows were kept in a large shed in small spaces in which they had to carry out all their daily functions (mostly giving milk). They were crowded there by the hundreds, each held in her place by having her head wedged in between two vertical bars that held her by the neck. How the people get the cow's head through the narrow gap between the bars is beyond me, but it's all but impossible to get it back out without making some special maneuvers facilitated by the capable hands of someone who knows what they're doing. So the cows are stuck there, head between the bars, their bodies heavy and weakened by the accelerated production of milk. They are almost completely immobile, and they are released only to give birth and to be slaughtered (as mentioned, the first may very well be the one more dreaded by them). Most cows simply accepted their bleak fates and, having been confronted with the futility of resistance, went through the repeated cycle of suffering without any or with very little protest. It was a rather reasonable reaction, though very disheartening to see. One's heart always goes out to the underdog, to the oppressed and afflicted, to find light where there is only darkness (as was, literally, the case in the shed), but for the cows the darkness seemed to stretch on indefinitely. They knew it. They knew it through their own daily experience, through their witnessing of all the other cows in the shed, and not least of all through the abuse they suffered at the hands of the only beings they were allowed contact with (me and my colleagues). So a few of them would, without warning, occasionally turn to their last resort in an attempt to put an end to their suffering. A last resort must never be turned to lightly, but one must not be afraid to turn to it when the time is right. The cows' last resort was to force their head back out between the vertical bars. As mentioned before, this was an almost impossible thing to do without considerable outside help; but the cows were willing to make a great sacrifice to accomplish it. When one doesn't value one's life, a whole new range of possibilities is unfolded. This was precisely the case of our cows: for hours they would use the weight of their enormous bodies to force their heads to squeeze in a space that was narrower than the full width of their skulls. This was done not without the infliction of a great amount of pain, but what is a few hours' intense physical pain compared with a lifetime of gradual bodily and spiritual breakdown!
We called those bold cows that made these attempts 'Suicides', as they always entailed one of two consequences: either the cows were caught on time and forced to cease, or they would make it through the bars at the cost of severe head injuries that would require us to send them directly to slaughter. Could they anticipate these inevitable outcomes? Perhaps; especially the ones who'd witnessed others go through the process. But even if they didn't, there was nothing worse for them than to stay alive in the conditions they were being held. So they found relief in death.
What is better, life or death? It's of course a very popular answer, though only for those who haven't been subjected to more than a certain measure of suffering and hopelessness, that life is always the better of the two. They are the ones who appreciate life (or dread death), and on their side is the very obvious and always valid argument that life will always be followed by death, so why give up the first?
But what happens when every moment of one's life is beset with such suffering as can't be escaped or borne, and when respite can only be found in death? When the termination of the suffering is equivalent to the termination of life? Every bad thing comes to an end, but sometimes that end is death. Sometimes one's suffering is so great, and the hope of it ever coming to an end and giving way to some measure of joy so slim, that it becomes a mathematical error to choose life.
Do you think that you have never made such choices? We all have, we all do, and we all will whenever the circumstances so ask of us. How many times have you been in a tough spot and wished that time passed and the hardship be over with? How often do people bear through an entire week of hard work, wishing only for the arrival of the weekend? Anyone who has undergone a serious injury or the loss of a close one should know the feeling of wishing a significant amount of time to pass until relief can finally be found. Then why stop at a week, a month, or a few years? When life itself is the source of one's suffering, and respite can only be reasonably found in death, why not wish for it?
Only a fool doesn't do all in his power to fulfill his own wishes. What point was there for the cows in the farm to keep living? What's the point of me doing so?
Don't cry for me just yet. Or if you are the cynical kind with a heart callous to the pain of others, hold your tirade; for my streak of misery hasn't yet been fully unraveled. In fact, by the time the most ancient of my misfortunes described above took place I was already victim of a particular injustice, which for others would alone constitute sufficient cause for significant distress. To me it eventually became the least of my worries, but you won't comprehend the full gravity of my plight until you've become thoroughly familiar with it.
Let me take you directly to the eye of the storm without loitering on the accumulation of the clouds or the early forecasts. It was a balmy day with perfectly clear skies and a great sense of celebration in the air. Yes, I used to have such days; not very long ago I was as jolly and bouncy as any man you've ever known. And I ask myself today, is that terrific sunny day the one that marked the transformation from dream life to the 23rd floor balcony? It all began when the boss, Mr. Croningen (a fine man of Dutch origin), called me into his spacious corner office. It was an event which had created a great buzz in the office for weeks prior to that crucial day, and whose significance everyone knew: I was about to be made partner. And while it's not an entirely uncanny thing for a man my age to be promoted to partnership, it was certainly a cause for celebration and for ample murmuring behind my back everywhere I turned. It was no small token of recognition from my superiors and no small source of honor for a man who'd started his career at the firm just four years earlier. And so with a bloated chest and glossy eyes I made my way to the office, believing it was the last time I was crossing the halls as a senior consultant. I was still using my cane at the time to support my injured right leg, but I was walking more proudly with the cane than I'd seen any man in the office with healthy legs do. I relished every single one of the dozens of envious glances cast at me by my colleagues; it was such an uplifting sensation that I made an intentional detour to prolong these moments of glory. But my celebration was premature.
I realized that something was amiss as soon as I entered the room, at which point I saw another man in Mr. Croningen's office, sitting in one of the two chairs located across the table from him. He'd been there a while by the looks of it, and his poised demeanor and complacent eyes suggested that he knew something I didn't. This was no ordinary man. It was a colleague who'd joined the firm several weeks earlier and from the very start had been in very close terms with the boss. Nobody knew anything about him, and it almost seemed as though I was the only one who was curious, let alone disturbed, by his presence. He was a real mystery, and yet the boss took a special liking to him, insofar as I suspected they were somehow related. The new guy fawned on Mr. Croningen constantly and acted with such subservience around him that I was often sickened by the sight of the both of them interacting. I blame it on Mr. Croningen as well: it takes two to tango, and it takes two to sustain a pathetic relationship of kowtowing. And my colleagues blamed me for being a suck up! But what did they know?
I exchanged glances with the mystery man; mine, antagonistic yet apprehensive; his, smug and scornful. He was a fairly handsome man and now that I had the opportunity to scrutinize him from up close I realized that he somewhat resembled me. But if our resemblance would've been thought to put to rest some of the animosity and ill-will between us, then the contrary was the case: as our perception and acknowledgment of one another deepened, so did my realization that here was a man that could bring about my downfall. There was nothing particular about him that engendered this ominous feeling in me but merely his presence there, the mystery that wreathed him, and his smug, haughty, self-satisfied expression that on the one hand reminded me of myself and on the other was something I could never replicate. I hadn't the ability to stare at a virtual stranger with such authority and condescension.
It wasn't long before it became clear that his condescension was well-earned. For ten minutes Mr. Croningen went on and on about how big an asset I was at the firm and how bright a future awaited me if I only kept going the way I was. He was so profuse and emphatic in his flattery that I lost him early on, becoming aware of the pleasure the mystery man seemed to be deriving from these meaningless words. It was no longer a surprise when the boss adopted an entirely different, thoroughly apologetic tone and declared that he'd called me in so I could be the first to hear that my promotion to partner would have to wait in light of the mystery man's nomination to the current opening.
"But rest assured", Mr. Croningen added in the way by which employers commonly and vainly attempt to compose their employees after crushing their legitimate hopes due to the requirements of the system, personal favoritism, or any other unjust factor, "that you are next in line. I see great things in you, Clancy."
It happens all the time, doesn't it? That one believes he is on the sure path to achieving his dream job, and in his heart knows that he deserves it more than anyone else, but some external factor suddenly derails his plans and frustrates his hopes. It's even not terribly rare that he loses out to his nemesis, who isn't half as deserving as he but has some underhanded, discreet and unfair advantage that tips the scales in his favor. Indeed, it's known to happen to many a misfortunate individual. And I scorn as much as you he who allows an individual blow such as this, painful and derogatory though it may be, to knock the wind of his sails. Just as you do, I see the many wonders of life and its many aspects from which we can derive happiness, and therefore that one aspect should go awry is no reason to soil the entire set. Indeed, suicide hadn't once crossed my mind as a solution in those days, even as days in the office became unbearable. But disappointment and frustration at the injustice done to me and animosity toward the mystery man who'd stolen my promotion consumed me, and I began to malinger at work. My passion for accomplishment and hunger for personal development disappeared, and I was left coming up with creative ways to hamper the firm's progress without risking my job. For a couple of weeks this went on, in which people seemed to be chattering liberally about the change in my performance but never offered a word of consolation or support against the wrong I'd been done. It's not that it would've comforted me if they had, but I would expect such superficial proffers of sympathy should be extended. In fact some of them, misinformed that they were, still congratulated me for the promotion. Though an honest mistake in all cases, this certainly did nothing to improve my state of mind or sweeten my bitterness. As for the mystery man, he was like a peacock, flaunting his feathers before anyone who cared to look. We still never exchanged a word, though on occasion he would burst into my office, shoot me a teasing glance that seemed to serve for nothing other than feed his bloated ego, and disappeared to God-knows-where. I sometimes uttered a word challenging his intrusions and bordering on insolence, but even then I would receive no response. Needless to say, in those rare occasions when I mustered the courage to pay him a visit in his plush office, at least twice the size of mine, I received a much more tolerant welcome. He was as thoroughly aware as I of the wave of frustration that washed over me every time we met, and he was greatly pleased to watch it. As before, nobody really knew him. He was never spoken of even following his surprising promotion (of course I never broached him as a topic of conversation, for to do so would only prove my preoccupation with him). It was almost as though he didn't really exist!
When Mr. Croningen called me into his office for what's known as a progress report meeting (though normally such meetings were held after an employee has had a change of position or of responsibilities), mystery man was already there, seated in his usual chair, in his usual self-assured air, and fully conscious of what was about to be said. My walk through the halls, still aided by my cane, wasn't done with my chin high and my step light as in the previous time I'd been called in, but with diffident shyness and not a single superfluous step.
What took place in the boss's office that afternoon wasn't a progress report but a warning of sorts. I was first confronted with the decline in my performance and my failure to live up to the high expectations of me. This was of course no news for me, and I wasn't surprised that the boss thought it wise to deal with it in a private but decisive manner. What did surprise me was his harsh, abrasive manner. He spoke as though there was no conceivable reason for my slackening and as if my weakening performance somehow reflected on his decision-making. It was almost as if he'd done me a favor and somehow placed great trust in me and was now questioning my worthiness of it. There was no sympathy for my frustration, no understanding of my disappointment. It was terribly unlike Mr. Croningen to be so obtuse and insensitive, but there was no two ways about it: he couldn't see his part in the deterioration of my work efficiency.
"Does this have anything to do with your accident?" He asked toward the end of his upbraiding; a question I couldn't bring myself to answer. The nerve of that man! First to give what was duly mine to another on invalid grounds, now to accuse me of taking it to heart and pinning it on some arbitrary impairment that I wasn't strong enough to cope with. I had half a mind to recriminate, call his unjust favoritism for what it was and quit on the spot, but it turned out that even in those moments of heated agitation I was bound by the same limits of reason and self-restraint that I never overstepped. I accepted Mr. Croningen's admonition and the mystery man's silent conceit and tottered back to my office with my head down and the signs of misery beginning to show. My life was still worth living and celebrating in those days- I would give anything to go back to that time if I could change what would happen later- but every day of the week for more than half my waking hours I was a miserable man.
Musings on the Living Dead
I believe I've thus summed up the brunt of my suffering and the injustices that have caused it. Perhaps, though, I haven't sufficiently emphasized its finality, so let's take a broader view of my condition before you, the jury, go out for deliberations.
My brother is dead. He was murdered in cold blood before my eyes, and I was the only one who could've saved him but was never really given an honest opportunity to do so. Forget saving him; I couldn't even get his murderer. If anything, I'd covered his tracks and facilitated his evasion of justice. This was my contribution to my little brother's death. In my parent's eyes I was always the second best child, and even now when he's gone I receive less attention that him.
My fiancée, the love of my life and the center of my existence, is disloyal to me. Her love for me is questionable, and any trace of fidelity is long gone. Whatever we may have one day- even if by some uncanny measure we could bury the deep cleft that has been forged between us- it will never match what we used to have. Our love may flower one day and outshine what most couples have, but it shall always stand in the dark shadow of her betrayal. One who's had a taste of perfection will never settle for something good. Scold me as much as you like for it; it is but human nature, and I'm no more- no less, I must insist against any evil thoughts that may have slithered into your mind- than a human being. Whatever our present holds, the devastation of our past will always hang over it and act as a thorn lodged at the center of my heart, never allowing me to be in peace or overcome the pain, and impossible to be extracted. Our future is the combination of our past and our present; for me there can be only suffering.
At work the rapport I used to have with my boss, the respect of my colleagues (or whatever respect they used to have for me), and my passion to make the best of myself have all vanished. I despise my job. I may quit, switch jobs, ask to clear the air with the boss; whatever I do, however, shall not change the fact that I've been wronged, crossed, and repaid for my commitment with disrespect.
Above all, I've simply been victimized. I'm victim of my family, my sweetheart, my workplace; of everything of meaning in my life. You might say that I'm a victim of the world. A rape or violent crime victim is entitled to wish for vengeance and receive justice; surely a man who's had everything taken away from him is entitled to as much. I'm fully entitled to seek vengeance, and even more so to bring about justice. And what better way to do so than to put an end to my life? It's perhaps the only thing I can do to hurt Lila and hold her accountable for her actions. And if not to hurt her (how can a man for whom she has no true feelings hurt her?), then at least to humiliate her before the wedding. It's the only way to make my parents understand the fallacy of their attitude. It's the only way to teach the boss a lesson and bring out the iniquity of favoritism at the workplace. It's the only way to stop my suffering and stand up to the injustices of the world. Yes, that's right: to jump off the balcony wouldn't, as many might claim, be an act of submission or capitulation; on the contrary, it is the ultimate act of reprisal, or self-sacrifice to prove a point and of the demonstration of the courage required to take matters into one's own hands.
The question of legality doesn't concern me, and it shouldn't have any different an effect on you (suicide, as you may already know, is generally illegal). The law is a framework that lays down general rules that ordinary people in ordinary circumstances ought to follow if we are to coexist in a complex society. It doesn't reflect the morals of every specific case; how could it? A legislator would have to be mad to invest any resources in regulating the desired behavior for a man in my condition. How many men have been before where I'm? How many will there be? Much less than many, surely.
As for the pain I will cause others, it has already been illustrated that those who are truly close to me, or who might sense they've had a part in my death, deserve to hurt. Anyone who will be truly affected by my death will be given a lesson to learn from and a stroke of justice following their own misdeeds. This brings us to another misconception, whereby there is an element of cowardice in taking one's own life. Cowardice! To make the ultimate sacrifice, to willfully bring oneself to undergo a vertical 80-meter fall and crash against a concrete floor with nobody to hold your hand or comfort you. To face the greatest instinctive human fear- death- in the eye, embrace it rather than flee it as a coward would do (and as we're programmed to do) and accept it. To go against nature and against the most intrinsic dogmas of society as a lone rogue who's willing to give away his most precious asset in the name of a worthy cause. How many people would be capable of it? Would you? Is that cowardice? I think not!
Life is a gift. I don't go back on my consent to this well-known axiom. But what does one do when he is given a poor gift that is intended as an insult, or perhaps comes with good intentions but would be harmful if used as designated? Should you use it as intended, suffering the negative consequences, only to appease the gift-giver? Does one's respect and sense of gratitude for a vase gifted require him to put it on display at the head of the living room table? Certainly a more prudent action such as replacing it for a more suitable gift or simply storing it away until it becomes useful would be far more productive and entirely acceptable. Well, my gift has come to the point where it causes far, far more grief and suffering than joy. Add up the chances of my life one day being worth living to the few positive aspects of my present life, and they would be far outweighed by my current suffering. What sense, then, is there in holding on to this accursed gift?
It’s often thought, especially by those who have yet to truly come face to face with death, that death and particularly suicide create something terrible that shouldn't exist and give up on something filled with boundless good. This is of course a gross misconception, as life and death are forever bound to coexist- never simultaneously but nonetheless inevitably and without exception. Once we're born we are given not only life but death as well, and it remains only a question of the balance between the two: when will life end and death kick in? My jumping off the balcony, then, wouldn't change the course of events entirely or introduce an external factor to the natural and immutable equation; it'd merely induce a change in timing. And though it's true that life should be valued higher than death, if only due to its evanescence, when life becomes a harrowing burden to the point where one wishes it to end, what point is there in prolonging it? No sane man would choose a long life of misery over a short one of relative happiness, and being no different in that respect I would be foolish not to alter the timing in my benefit; in the benefit of making my life a better one.
We are all the living dead, in a way. We are all alive at this moment but just the same will one day be dead, some of us sooner than others. The carrier of an incurable disease is just as sure to die as a newborn child with perfect genes and a wealthy family. You are just as much a living dead person as am I. It's not a question of life or death, but merely that of timing. And then what's so terrible about tampering with the natural timing supposedly designated for us by some superior force or simply according to the interaction of any number of factors that affect us? And anyway, is there any such thing as a natural timing, or are we actually referring to the timing in case we do everything within our power to prolong life and delay death?
Do you scorn every man who smokes a cigarette? Any teenager who engages in binge drinking? A regular practitioner of extreme sports? Do you reprimand yourself for speeding on the way to work? How rare is your consumption of steaks, pizza, hamburgers, dairy products? Can you count the times you've given up a much needed physical workout for lazing about in front of the television screen? You see, we all constantly make decisions that alter the balance of time between life and death, or in other words ones that shorten life and expedite death. We do so not in the name of some noble cause or great necessity, but for simple, fleeting pleasures. We willfully and daily follow courses of action that exchange our longevity for sensual indulgence, doing better at work or simply out of boredom. If life itself, not its content, was really as sacred as we sometimes proclaim it to be, then none of the above life-shortening actions would be tolerable, let alone customary. In reality, our own balance between life and death is ours to manipulate and control as we please, conditional upon nature's consent.
And I? It's true thatI intend to take an action that will shift my balance much more significantly than any action stated above, but the reason that drives me to do it is far superior to the reason that drives you to shift your own balance every day. I don’t crave momentary pleasure or immediate gratification; I crave to end a suffering that has become unbearable, like the terminally ill patient who wishes to be taken off the machines. My craving his even stronger, perhaps, as my pain isn't merely physical, but resides at the very core of my being, and we all know that emotional pain can reach far greater heights (thereby plunging a man into far deeper abysses) than physical pain.
I crave to redress injustice. I crave to reshape things that have been violently warped and twisted by my close ones; perhaps by some powerful force of the universe gone astray. I crave peace. I crave a life that will have been worth living. Can there be a better, more justified cause for one to invite death?
There is a very rampant misconception that has somehow taken a deep root in our culture though it has very little merit, which misconception states that committing suicide is a selfish act. By ending his life, they say, John Doe escapes harsh reality without giving due consideration to the pain their death will inflict upon his close ones. But do they ever stop to think of the hypocrisy of these so-called 'close ones'? This fallacious theory proposes that John Doe should keep living if only to prevent bringing tragedy to the hearts of those who will mourn his death. But if in fact those who will mourn really care about him, then shouldn't they be equally concerned about his suffering? The golden rule states that if you love someone you ought to wish only the best for them. Well, if John Doe has a life riddled with tragedies and fraught with emotional torment insofar as to bring him to the point of complete despair- in other words, if he is I, and the best for him is death- shouldn't anyone who loves him be relieved by his death? In other words, when a loved one is suffering greatly and indefinitely, you ought to mourn their suffering at least with the same intensity as you would mourn their painless death. Let me tell you what I think of the lie regarding the selfishness of suicide (and in this sense the opinion of a man on the brink of death should be accorded much greater credit than that of one whose death is located in some hazy indefinable place in the future): quite ironically, it demonstrates the selfishness of the 'close ones', who very likely know no pain, or at least none so strong it can consume a man. They act under the guise of love, but what they truly care about is keeping their own conscience clean. Our John Doe can suffer, can collapse under the anguish of life with every breath he takes, but as long as he's alive, nobody will be expected to hurt his pain. Certainly, nobody will be expected to grieve the years of happiness he's lost and the many wonders of life which have passed him by. We have this silly voice in our minds that tells us that as long as the ones we love are still with us in the sense that they share the life we share, we are at liberty to continue pursuing our own happiness and not go too far out of our way out of concern for them. But when death strikes, the rules of the game are different. The occurrence of death requires us to give full consideration to what has been lost and to mourn it. But do we really mourn the loss of the dead or our own loss? If the former was the case then the death of a terminally ill or one who's lived a life of constant sadness and despair should spur happiness and relief in the peace that the deceased has finally been granted. But reality doesn't tally with this condition, of course. In reality most people name the worst moments of their lives as the deaths of their close ones. Is this, as some people believe, really the result of empathy for the dead? Or is it the purely selfish act of grieving one's own loss? When I jump off this balcony, will Lila cry for the great prospects I will have missed out on, from the promises and joys that I will never experience, or will her tears express her own pain at never enjoying my presence again (if that)?
No, suicide isn't an act of selfishness. It's an act that ignores the selfishness of others and takes advantage of one's right to affect one's destiny to the full extent. Similarly, to stay alive when life is filled with torment is not a considerate act but more than anything a sin against oneself. I love myself, therefore I wish to pursue that course of action which will maximize my happiness or in my case minimize my suffering. There is only one thing I can do to fulfill such a wish, and it is the very one for which I seek your concurrence.
I fear death. How can one not fear the greatest mystery of life? I don't know where I'll be headed, how long I will be there, or who or what will receive me. I don't even know who or what I'll be. Frankly, I can't be certain that death will be better than life, but I'm willing to take the chance. You see, as much as death is to be feared by anyone alive, my fear of life is much the more intense. I fear backing down and perpetuating my suffering; I fear balking at this opportunity for relief and the pain I would undergo before mustering up the courage to obtain another. If death is a mystery, then life is a terrible certainty, and there is no shame in fearing what is terrible.
You must understand and appreciate that I didn't come to the decision to step out to this balcony lightly. It was no whim or momentary weakness (or weakness at all for that matter) that made me hold the railing, stare down at the street 80 meters below and already be on my way there in my thoughts. I have deliberated at length before consulting you and have weighed and been affected by a wide range of factors, fear being one of them. I have presented you my case; the time, effort, and emotional turbulence required of me to make up that case were substantial and added no small a burden to my already burdened condition. It is following this considerable investment, the exhaustion of my faculties and an intense emotional effort that death has been chosen and fear of it has been maintained.
And yet there is one thing which I fear more than life, and immeasurably more than death: that she should find me in this position. Lila will be back from work soon, wearing her usual smiley façade and acting as though the positive in our lives exceeds the negative. Her job is the reason for our being here, on such a high floor with such a fine view at such a fitting place to end it all. If not for our little excursion I would've had to find a different mode of setting my plan in motion, and I believe none would be as freeing and tempting as the current one. Why, you might ask, should I fear such a turn of events (that she should discover me here) when moments later I could lay whatever emotions her return might stir in me to rest? On an intuitive level I might agree with you, especially if I wasn't in the position and having the aspiration I am, but now that I'm wiser I believe there's no reason to expect me to be any more impervious to fear than you. After all, whatever stirs fear in a man is temporary, more often than not short-lasting but in any case always finite, bound to end and go away. Why, then, not fear- be terrified- of facing the person most responsible for your taking your life in your final moments? You haven't committed suicide before (I have neither, of course, but since I'm in the process of it, allow me to assume standing on higher ground in this respect) and therefore you don't know this, but taking your life is just about the most intimate, personal thing a man can do in this life. It's an admission, a confronting of your greatest hurdles, a cry for relief, a final farewell, a protest against injustice, and in my case an expression of vengeance and hate, all bundled together in a single act. Indeed, an act of suicide can't be complete or proper when it isn't done in private. Just imagine: how terrible would it be if she were to come into the room and search for me, finally to find me outside, pondering, craving; it would never cross her mind what was dominating mine. She would come outside and try to hug me; to pull me back into this world. I doubt I would have the courage to slip out of her grasp and jump. It would be a magnificent display and the perfect act of reprisal, but it would miss a significant part of the essence of my intentions. No; I mustn't let it happen.
The sun hides perfectly now, leaving no trace of her presence, and the perfect darkness is lit only by the streetlights from below, the buildings in the distance and the stars high above. It's almost as if she's sending me the message: don't let yourself be seen. I shiver constantly now, unable to shake off not only the falling temperature but a disturbing sense that the 80-meter fall is now far longer, deeper and more ominous than before. There is something about that black vertical space separating me from the street, nothing but a few thin metal rods buffering between us, protecting me from it (or perhaps standing in my way). There is something about the stars glinting and the moon in a faded crescent, resplendent and full of grandeur but unreachable to us, the living dead; but who knows, perhaps the dead can touch them? I've had these thoughts before, and oddly it feels as though I'd been at the same place as I am now, yet I assure you I've never been in this room, in this hotel, in this city even. I was here and yet I wasn't. Then, as now, there was the smell of wine in the air (I didn't realize it before but suddenly it seems the pungent, sweet yet mildly alcoholic scent fills the balcony), tempting yet forbidding. A streak of pain suddenly shoots through my right leg as though it has an unexpected recollection of some painful event; my forehead itches maddeningly. I scratch it too hard, made anxious by the sudden changes, and there is blood on my fingertips. There is some meaning to all this that I simply can't get my head around.
Below, the alley is quiet but the main street to the left which is easily visible is even more bustling than before. People, cars, lights; a constant whir produced by everything together, each individual element contributing its small part that becomes indistinguishable in the resulting blend. They don't know what is brewing 80 meters above them, nor would they care if they did. What is the suffering of a stranger to them? They don't care now, but just wait for a man to fling himself down from the 23rd floor balcony and there will be complete pandemonium. The selfishness! I think about the alley now, peaceful and uneventful, and about what it would look like in just a few minutes if I were to do what is to be done without delay; this evokes a chilling recollection of the cliff. The cliff in Mexico on the night of our accident, which one moment was a divine haven from the waves beating against the rocky shore, and the next was wreathed in havoc. One moment there was only sand and rock and water and air so fresh it seemed to belong to a different, better place than our world; the next it was twisted metal, shattered glass, spilled blood and broken bones, and finally the lights and racket of the rescue teams.
My shivers aggravate and now the whole railing is shaking with me. It seems soon the entire balcony will convulse- but why do I indulge these evil memories? There's nothing in them for me but more suffering and more injustice. To be driven off the cliff like that, thrown nearly to my death and worse, to my sweetheart's death! How can any decent man make sense of such cruelty, let alone accept it? The memories come back to me now, blurry flashes of consciousness in which the mind barely maintains a grasp at reality but emotions burst out. The pain, the helplessness, the sight of Lila's ravaged body beside me. The cold water spraying at us in complete darkness, ten times as dark as the alley below. That's why I hate the cold and the dark. It didn't always use to be that way; I used to be a winter person. I realize now that those hours hanging between life and death with no real sign that I was in fact still part of this world but the heavenly stars above embedded in my subconscious memory a violent aversion to the cold and the dark. It's the same with the wine. Yes, I used to savor wine, even the simple kinds that most men of my stature don't deign to bring anywhere near their palates. But the wine that night… we'd had some, and I remember getting a strong, sweet whiff of it in the moments that preceded our fall. And now that scent will be forever connected in my mind with that horror (if I ever meet that scent again).
And then there's the balcony. 23 floors, 80 meters, straight down to the concrete road. What was it like then? A single cliff, perhaps 20 meters above the sea, the face as precipitous as the face of this building leading straight to the rocky shore. I see it now in my mind's eye- I haven't seen this image since it happened- the tires screeching against the poorly paved path, the rear swinging at the turn and suddenly us falling. We flipped once or twice in midair, then crashed on the sand. It was too quick to think but not too quick for a horrible sensation to make the stomach churn, so deeply set that neither words nor anything short of a near-death experience could illustrate. I twitch now and feel my stomach twist at the mere thought of it. Why, then, does the edge of the balcony call me so irresistibly? When I look down over the railing my head spins with my usual fear of heights but at the same time I have an urge to step beyond it and recreate what happened in Mexico. And yet I feel that more than any of the other catastrophes, Mexico was the catalyst of my misery; so why recreate it? There are two voices in me pulling hard in opposite directions. But let's not attach undue importance to this voice or that urge, for as I've explained my being here is supported by reason and is entirely sensible.
Now I think it's time for you to pass down your judgment. After you've heard my story, felt my pain and understood the reasons behind my intentions, I entrust you with putting your best judgment into practice and giving me a recommendation about my fate. I must urge and instruct you beforehand, though, that you don't base your recommendation upon your own view of suicide or your own perception of how you would deal with multiple tragedies in your life. Base it upon how you think it suitable for a man like me to deal with the kind of pain I've been afflicted with, whose views of the alternatives are what they are. I ask you to determine whether you find it justifiable for me to jump off the balcony now, on this cold evening, with my leg wobbling and my forehead bleeding; with a torn heart and a crushed ego; with no prospects of a brighter future and the load of the past crushing my shoulders; with no will to live and a fair propensity to die; a man wronged by those and that which he once believed could never wrong him. How do you find, I ask, regarding me and my position, not you in yours, you in mine or me in yours? It may be very possible for you to believe (or to think you know, but let me assure you that you don't know it until you've faced it) that nothing in the world would ever drive you to take your own life, and still state that, having heard my case, it's the right choice for me.
What say you? Be quick, for my fiancée and the bane of my existence is already running late and will no doubt be back within minutes. And by the time she opens the door I wish to no longer be standing out here. By that time I'll either be seated in front of the television repressing my regret at my cowardliness, or lying prostrate on the street with a disfigured, demolished body but a freed soul. Be decisive as well, as my decision must be final. Procrastination isn't an option; if ever I'll jump off the balcony it must be now. Never will I have a better case than I do today, and the moment I set foot back in the room I may as well renounce my intentions for good. I won't run away from making the decision; it's now or never. Either I take my life tonight, flying over the railing with a weightless soul (I wonder if I might be so light, freed from the hefty burdens that weigh down on me at present, that I won't fall and will simply glide through the air like a bird), or I let God or nature or the external circumstances take their course.
I don't ask for explanations or a thread of logic. I ask only for your answer- a simple yes or no- and I will be on my way. What's the matter? Have you never had the life of a man in your hands? Well neither have I, and yet now we're both in a position to rewrite fate. But wait- there's a noise coming from the door. Is this it; has the moment come? It's funny how we toy with heavy decisions we're hesitant to make until the least opportune moment, when we are forced to terminate our dawdling, isn't it? Well, my friend, it's time for us to terminate our dawdling, as now the door is opening and marching inside is the (still) beautiful Lila. She doesn't see me at first, as it isn't the most natural thing for someone walking into a hotel room to stare outside through the glass doors of the little balcony. There should be nothing of interest there. I turn away and stare beyond the balcony again, and currently I hear her calling me.
"Clancy? Baby?" She calls searchingly, yet to have spotted me.
At this point I must apologize to you swiftly for the time, effort and forbearance I've asked of you: your advice is no longer of use to me. You see, even if you were to give it to me at once in its final form I would have no time to consider it and revise my own resolution accordingly. I must make my move before she finishes scouring the bedroom and the kitchen and realizes where I am. You may say anything you wish or urge me to overturn my decision, but you won't avail of it. I would prefer you didn't, as it would only make things harder for me, but I can't deny you the choice just like you can't deny me from following the course of action upon which I've set my mind.
Lila keeps calling my name, now with something of a reproachful undertone, but her voice soon fades away in my mind as I climb over the railing. Suddenly the noises from the street seem to arise from within my head, and the soft howl of the wind grows ten times in volume. I'm on the outer side of the railing, finding scant footing on the very edge of the balcony so that my body is slanting outward, held in place by my arms. If I let go of my tight grip of the railing with either hand I would fall; in a sense I'm no longer on the balcony and am rather hanging by a thread that will soon break over an 80-meter fall. This is it: these are the final moments of my life. What does a man do to lament these moments, or as in my case to celebrate them? Never mind, my reward shall be more than sufficient in the act itself and its immediate consequences. Even now as I draw my last breaths I feel lighter than before. My heart no longer stings and I'm slightly hopeful of the future. So this is what it feels to be at peace- I'd forgotten completely. This- these moments now- are sufficient reward for my decision, even if I'm headed to an eternity of damnation. For I've escaped, finally, the scourge of earthly damnation that has been following me relentlessly.
'Don't look down', I think to myself, but even as I do so my head turns downward, looking through my outstretched arms at the route I'm about to pass through. I'm not free of fear or anxiety, but neither am I denied a wonderful sense of adventure. An 80-meter freefall in which I need not worry about such trifles as safety, landing, or the moment after; what can be more exciting?
I bring my head back up and begin to release my grip of the railing. Just then I receive some esoteric signal to sneak a glance into the room and I realize that she's spotted me. She's staring at me in astonishment, speechless and unable to move. She knows what I'm about to do and she can't contain it. But can she really be so surprised? After everything she's done; after everything I've been through, is it really so unpredictable that this is the choice I make? How I pity people who will only see the world through their own eyes and never be able to break free from their biases! I don't take my eyes off hers as I release completely and push my feet back so I fall legs-first.
What's happened? Not only am I still alive, but I haven't fallen. Something has snagged on the edge of the balcony and is holding me hanging just beneath it. A sleeve, perhaps? But the surface of the balcony was quite smooth and I don't remember there being anything to snag onto. I look up and realize that indeed my sleeves are pressed perfectly lightly on my arms with no pressure to indicate they've caught onto something. No, I'm being held not by a mistaken reaction between fabric and cement, but by my own fingers. It's as if my body and I are two separate entities now, and the former seems still to adhere to the naïve belief that life must be clung to at all costs. I can feel a certain pressure and pain along the tips of my ten fingers, but it's as if my sentience and control of them have been reduced considerably.
So now I'm dangling from the floor of the balcony, arms stretched and fingers gradually giving way to the slippery floor. Now I ask myself, if they- my fingers- are so intent about preserving this body, why not wrap themselves around the base of the railing and obtain a far stronger and more sustainable grasp at life? Perhaps they, too, realize that their instinctive urge to survive has been undermined by the almost equally powerful urge to avoid suffering. I think I hear footsteps on the balcony and the sound of a woman sobbing. They are the sobs of the guilty one who's finally been punished for her sins. Perhaps this is why I've held on- to get at least a fleeting, savory taste of the just effects of my decision. I wonder whether she'll have the courage to look down and see that I'm still there, but at this point it really makes no difference. My neck hurts from being craned so I let it fall back to a level position.
The floor underneath our room doesn't have a balcony, and I'm facing a window so clear at the frontier of contrast between darkness and light so that I see a clear reflection of my grotesque self in it. A man clinging by the skin of his teeth to dear life when all he wants is for it to be over with (precisely that, not death, is what I wish for; death is merely a tool). But as my observation of the reflection of this man deepens I ask myself if this is really me. The man in the reflection has strange eyes with pupils that seem unusually small, and yet my eyes have never been so conspicuous. He has fairly long hair, and yet- since when do I grow my hair that long? And that smile- a dark, sinister, complacent smile; surely it doesn't belong to me! Finally and perhaps most disturbingly, the man whose reflection is projected to me on the spotless 22nd floor window has a deep, unsightly scar at the very center of his forehead, as though it were a badly botched tattoo…
Do you remember the peace that washed over me moments ago? Well, it vanishes now instantly, making room for utter consternation as the identity of the man in the window dawns on me. It's the man who on his last night of his excursion to Mexico with his future wife lost his self control and almost lost everything he had. It began when he snuck one too many glasses of wine at the unusually festive hotel bar. From there the way to the room of the beautiful Mexican girl who'd been staring at him half the night was short and free of guilt. Then more wine and a promise to his fiancée that he wouldn't drive that night. He was so convincing that he believed himself, as though having already forgotten his recent duplicity in the act of betrayal. He was a very trustworthy man in a very untrustworthy condition. Or perhaps a more accurate account would describe him as a trustworthy man whose untrustworthy side (which any person, trustworthy or otherwise, carries inside) was unleashed for the first time.
When she didn't see he had one last glass- or was it two? Three?- before they left. This time he promised her that he was perfectly sober and capable of driving. She, intoxicated not with alcohol but with love, believed him again; so strong was her need to trust him that she manipulated her own better judgment to satisfy it. So he drove them up the winding, rugged, potholed road. He did well in the first half an hour or so despite the absence of streetlights and his blurred vision, but then came the bend to the left. The bend that he didn't notice on time and before which he refused to slow down as she urged him to do. The street, half-paved at this point, was still wet from the evening's downpour, which weakened the wheels' grip of the concrete; the alcohol particles, now thick in his blood stream, weakened his grip of reality. Perhaps he still could've made the bend and kept them safe, but then came the truck. A giant monster, rumbling down the narrow path, warning him with an earsplitting squeal that must've shaken the cliff all the way down to its base. He got a glimpse of the frantic driver, a local man with long smooth hair and a conspicuous small round nose: this was the man who'd thrown them off the road and brought them to the brink of death. That face would haunt the man's dreams for many nights after that, more as that of a ghost than that of the truck driver who'd caused the accident. But wait! The truck driver, the man with the long hair and the round nose, wasn't at fault. He'd stayed in his lane, kept to the right and even swerved farther away from their car to avoid impact. The fault for the terrible tragedy was imputable to one man only, though he was obstinately reluctant to acknowledge it: the man from the reflection in the window. It was because of his reckless driving (which was due to his compromised mental condition, which, in turn, was in large part due to his deceitfulness) that he dove with his fiancée off the cliff and crashed into the dark shore. Around them the sea was turbulent, but the shore was peaceful until they landed on it. They were dead first. Dead… How could anyone survive such a fall? Then they were alive, barely, but trapped inside the burning car. Then they were out on the sand, trying to escape the blood that followed them everywhere and advanced faster than their pitiful crawling. He also had to escape his self-abhorrence for what he'd done, which he managed to do quite facilely by blocking his memory of it. Then they were rescued with just enough sap of life in each of their bodies to sustain them; the man had nearly lost his right leg but would recover rather quickly, while his fiancée nearly lost a finger that would heal and an engagement ring that would never be found except by the fortunate creatures of the sea.
It was an uncanny night for the man, in which he'd nearly lost his life and brought about the death of the love of his life, but also in which he'd managed to fulfill his desires, defy fate and still come out nearly intact. He'd cheated on his fiancée with a beautiful, exotic woman, kept her undivided trust in him, drunk to his heart's content, driven off a cliff, and a couple of weeks later recovered almost completely both physically and emotionally. She, on the other hand, struggled for months with the injuries (though they were lighter than his), the trauma, and death. He'd accomplished the impossible, even the doctors said it, and became a better man. A man that could fulfill the unattainable aspirations and desires of the man he used to be.
That man is me. But he's not just me.
He's the man who got the promotion at work. Clancy Stuttworth, partner as of a few months ago.
He's the man who used heroin, feeding on his perceived imperviousness to things that might bring down ordinary men.
He's the man who killed his own brother because he thought it no longer appropriate for him to be ranked second best by his own parents.
He's the man who cheated on Lila with the luscious Paige.
He's the man who's staring back at me from the window, the one on whose vicious face there now spreads a smug smile that disparages my terrible dismay. That smug smile is mine, and I'm the perpetrator of all those terrible things.
It all makes sense now; a much clearer sense than before. It was the only way I could cope with the guilt. I needed someone to blame, and at the same time I didn't want to give up on the pleasures I'd derived from having unharnessed myself, so I unwittingly created another me. A bold, unbridled me who would get anything he wanted without facing the consequences. But it turns out that very seldom in this world can we commit an act whose consequences will not affect us. In a very twisted way, I've been facing the consequences of my actions all along, but only now do I come to realize it. I realize that I've been done no injustice. On the contrary; it is I who has inflicted injustice upon others, I who has incurred upon himself colossal tragedy. And so it appears that the brunt of my arguments in favor of committing suicide is invalid. It appears the misconception I've been operating under has gravely distorted my judgment and my viewpoint of the way things stand. But where does this lead me? Am I to return to the balcony; return to this life? My hands are too tired; I have perhaps a few seconds remaining in which to try and grab the railing and call for Lila's help. My dear, dear Lila. How I love her, and how in my tainted heart I've hated her! You may say what you wish and judge me as you see fit; it's all in vain, for no judgment or ill-will can compare to the hatred I have for myself. No man has ever hated as direly; I know this because hatred more intense than the one I feel now can't exist. The devil himself would cower at the hideous sight of me, I'm sure.
What is the remedy for my true ailment? For doing all the things I've done and bringing myself to the point where I must discover who I am while dangling from the 23rd floor balcony, on my way to my own willfully initiated death? It was all my doing; none of the fault lies with anyone else. Not with fate, not with karma or God. This man in the window with his evil smile and enormous power for destruction- I've created him.
There's no need to take revenge. No need to punish. No need to demand justice for my victimizers, for I have only one victimizer, and his name is Clancy. But do I not deserve justice against him? Against the heinous, miserable Clancy?
Justice is blind, and she can't distinguish one victimizer from another. Therefore I deserve to be punished. I cast one last hateful glance at the window and my hands slip from the smooth floor of the balcony.
I fall. I hit the concrete. I die.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 13.02.2014
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