The house had been getting smaller and smaller for the past ten years. When my father smashed a heavy bottle of wine on my mother's head, the living room shrank by about ten percent. When my mother went mad and smashed all the windows and nearly reduced herself to a five-foot-six pile of scarlet ribbons, the stove was suddenly two feet too close to the refrigerator. When I was eighteen and my twelve-year-old brother murdered the both of them, the whole structure felt like the skeleton of a rodent. And I was left all alone, a stupid, pathetic, terrified mouse, trying too hard to hide from the world inside my own skeleton.
Today, at exactly 1:24 AM, something snaps and I can't breathe. I am twenty-two years old, still living in the same grim house, morbid history and all, and it is still shrinking as threateningly as ever. I hate this twilight existence and I hate the miasma of death that weighs down the air in this house. Without warning, I am attacked by intense fear and panic, and I run out the door to escape it all. I run and I run and I don't stop until I lose myself in the middle of the highway to nowhere -- and there is a girl sitting in the center of the road, basked in incandescent traffic-light red, trying to smoke her life away three inches at a time.
She looks up and sees me. "My name is Elon," she says. "It means loved by God." She laughs harshly at this.
I sit down next to her and we compare our miserable lives, juxtaposing them like two sketches that are so embarrassingly ugly that we have no choice but to chuckle as we show them to each other. As if to say, ha, I'm so bad at this, isn't it funny. As if we're not mired in misery and lying desperately to ourselves to create a pretense of normality. While we talk -- and how easy it is to talk with someone who has attempted suicide even more times than I have! -- cars zip by with their drivers honking irritably, but we ignore them. We are perpetually in danger of being run over, but we don't care. That's the one benefit there is in being depressed: At a certain point, you just don't care anymore. You are not afraid of anything because fear is, essentially, an instinctive unwillingness to die. And when you're sunk this far in pain and desolation, you realize how silly and useless this instinct is, and you find the power to discard it.
"Life," says Elon, "is clearly no Waterlily Pond. Our world is no idyllic little Mont Sainte-Victoire. I wish it were. I look at these works of art all the time, you know? Beautiful scenes of inspiration and light... I wish I could be there, in those paintings. I try to hide in them. But life doesn't work that way. It is O'Keeffe's Radiator Building; it is Matta's Untitled; it is Picasso's Guernica. It is" -- and she unexpectedly bursts into tears -- "so fucking cold and stark and ugly and terrifying, and there's only one visible exit sign to guide us out." Above us, the traffic light turns from yellow to red like an omen. She looks up, the same thought occurring to her. Then she looks to her left, at some ambiguous point in the gloomy patch of night off the road.
"You know, if you keep walking that way, you'll reach the end of a cliff," she tells me.
I reply, "Oh yeah? How high is it?"
"Pretty fuckin' high," she answers. A tiny smile somehow forges its way through the mess of tears on her face.
In tacit agreement, we walk together off the road and through the sparse cypress trees. Sure enough, after only a little while (or it could have been half an eternity), the grass and the dirt stop abruptly. There is nothing before us except for a vast expanse of dry autumn air. The ground, hidden by darkness, is only a vague, indefinite presence that is some vague, indefinite distance below us; up here, it feels like we could jump and fall forever through an abyss that is halfway between life and death. Between two almost equally loathsome extremes.
Elon says, "I used to be a swimmer. Would you believe that?" Giggling, she poses for a swan dive. And she leaps off her imaginary springboard, plunging into the unfathomable depths. I listen for the sound of her body hitting the ground, but I don't hear anything. Maybe it's farther away than I thought... or maybe it's not there at all. You really can't tell from here.
I decide to follow suit. I figure if I have to pick between the only two choices I have, then I might as well go with the lesser of two evils. My life has been so wretchedly replete with anguish and loneliness and despair that I can't imagine how death could be any worse. So I jump.
And then I remember, a split second too late, that I am petrified of heights.