I like to sit on the edge of high up places and look out.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to jump.
I’m not ready to die, and I know I can’t fly. Not yet.
When you look out at the world and you can’t see the ground, even though it is solid under you, you really experience the landscape. You feel its vast openness and its wild untamed nature. For once the air is as important to you as the earth, and the totality of everything is right there.
You know that feeling inside when you’re much too high? Your stomach swoops and your heart beats insistently and your head feels like it belongs to someone else. You are just a little out of control but very, very alive, and at least half of you is screaming, “Make it stop! Go somewhere safer!” but the other half of you ignores it, and the tension is exquisite.
That feeling keeps pulling me back to the edge.
I work at a tennis racquet factory. It’s not an exciting job, but I have been there long enough to be moved into the quality control room. It’s much better than last year’s job applying the paint and lacquer finish. That required wearing a mask all day, and I still went home smelling of chemicals. All day long, I test a random sampling of racquets, putting them in machines, applying pressure, taking measurements. It’s repetitive. I have a lot of time to think about the balance of strength and flexibility.
When I was six years old, my grandfather died. I had never met him because on the day my mother married my father, my grandfather said he would never see her again. He was a man who always kept his word, my mother said. That is the only thing I knew about him.
She took me to his funeral. My father refused to go. “He wouldn’t have gone to mine,” he said. But she said nothing can ever make you stop being family, so we went.
I remember that everyone there was very old, and I felt shy and wouldn’t leave my mother’s side. I don’t remember the service, but afterwards we went to the highest point in the city to release his ashes into the wind. My mother, as my grandfather’s only child, went right up to the edge to open the velvet box. I was afraid of heights, but I was more afraid of the crowd of wrinkled faces, so I went with her. I watched the ashes blow out over the city. For one second, closer to the edge than I’d ever been before, I felt what they must feel, drifting without any anchor, for one hour completely free from the earth before returning to it forever.
My mother looked beautiful in her black dress, standing there at the edge. She stood very straight as she accepted the condolences of my grandfather’s friends. Her eyes were sad, but she did not cry. I was proud that she was my mother.
Later, as everyone was loading into cars to return home and go on living, I heard two old men talking. The one said that he had been in the air force with my grandfather during the war. They had jumped out of airplanes, parachuting behind enemy lines.
“This was a fitting end, then,” his friend said.
“No,” he answered. “He always hated jumps. Said man was never meant to fly.”
My mother took my hand. I couldn’t tell if she had heard or not. I looked at her as she sat next to me in the back seat of the car. I wondered if releasing his ashes from up high was her idea.
I never asked, but I hope it was.
I’ve been seeking out edges ever since.
In the tennis racquet factory, there is a door that very few people know about. It leads to a long set of stairs and eventually out onto the roof. No doubt there is a rule against going through that door, but no one has ever stopped me. I take my lunch up to the flat roof and sit on the edge, letting my legs dangle as I eat my cheese sandwich. There is nothing between me and the wind. My crumbs blow away, going where I can’t yet go.
Sometimes when I’ve finished eating I call my mother. She and my father have opened a restaurant, and she seldom leaves the kitchen before dark. It is hard work, but they are happy. This is their dream, something they have made together. Something that won’t grow up and move into an apartment as I have done.
We don’t say much on the phone, but I know she hears the wind rushing past the receiver. She doesn’t mention it. She speaks of ordinary things like menus and the price of fresh fish. I wonder if she knows that it is her voice as much as the cement I sit on that tethers me to the earth.
I’ve never asked, but I hope she does.