Standing There, He Stood
Suddenly I decided that I should pull my cell out of my pocket and give Julia a call just to make sure she was still there. You know, I do that quite frequently really. Give her a call on my phone, that is. When my parents gave it to me they told me it was only for emergencies and that's what I used it for, emergencies. Now and then I'd give Julia a call on my cell phone just to check that she was still there. It's not like I could walk over to her and say hello, or anything. The only way I could contact her was through my phone, since it was only for emergencies, and making sure she was still there was always an emergency in my book.
So anyway, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and pressed the little button in the corner that opens up my address book so I could call her a bit faster. It's really convenient having a programmed system like that so I don't have to dial her number each time I flip my phone open. Normally I hate calling other people, not just on my phone either because I hate using the telephone that sits on the coffee table in front of the television set downstairs, too. In fact, now that I think about it anyway, the only number that I dial frequently is Julia's. There probably isn't a single other number programmed into my address book besides her home phone number. Well, I have other emergency numbers programmed as well. You know, just in case there is a fire or I need to call an ambulance really quickly. But I've never had to use those numbers.
After I hit the send button on my phone I listened to it dial the number, staring off towards the buildings that were before me. If I hadn't been so worried about Julia I think I would have been able to really enjoy that view. It was quite beautiful really, especially the sky that hung high above. Since I grew up in the city, the buildings weren't so interesting to me. But up there, in the sky, there were clouds and birds and freedom. Freedom – which, to me, means to be free from emotional, mental, and physical constraints – is such a beautiful thing that it doesn't matter where you find it as long as you can get to it. As long as you can reach it, it doesn't matter where the hell you find it. Just reach it and all the steps you took, the pain and all of that, it won't matter.
Julia's voice spoke quietly into my ear but it was only her voicemail so I decided to hang up. She said that she wasn't there to accept the call, or something like that. I didn't even bother to leave a message because suddenly I felt overcome with sadness so I just hung up and stuffed my phone back into my pocket where it belonged. To tell you the truth, I never leave voice mails because it's just a bizarre idea to me. My psychiatrist said it had to do with something along the lines of knowing someone will listen to it afterwards. That's why I never wrote letters, too, I guess. For a while, I just stared off at the sky looking for formations in the clouds and letting my imagination wander. When I'm sad I tend to do that a lot. Now and then I'll just stare off at nothing in particular, thinking. Thinking is something everyone should do more often, in my opinion. If people would stop and think once in a while, maybe we might all find freedom.
So after a few minutes I started pacing back and forth, which is another habit that I have. Sometimes when someone steps out of the room 'just for a minute' I pace around waiting for them to come back. I just walked back and forth, shuffling my feet along the concrete below me. There wasn't much to do except walk around and watch the sky, or the ground below. While both options are fascinating, I still felt compelled to do something more productive. Reaching my hand into my pocket, I produced my phone again and tried to call up Julia once more. She answered the phone, which brought a broad smile to my face. Not a lot of things can make me smile, but that's a good thing in a strange sense. I told this to my psychiatrist once upon a time, about how Julia is the only thing real here, but he just says that I have a disorder. He said I was a schizoid or schizotypical or one of those kinds of cases. The truth is, I don't like talking to people. My parents try to talk to me, but nothing they say makes sense, and my psychiatrist is just as bad. But when I talk to Julia, it's different. And that's why I can't talk to her any more.
"Hello?" She asked in a small, quiet voice. Normally she had a cheerier voice but I guess I was interrupting her so she didn't feel much like talking. My heart sank a bit in my chest. I always feel terrible when I think I'm bothering her, which is really often. If it was switched, and she had been calling me, I would probably be happy to have a conversation with her, but the feeling isn't mutual. Sometimes, I wonder why I care so much about her, but when I hear her voice my doubt just dissolves away. I don't like bothering her, though, because unlike most people I know that she wouldn't bother anyone. If she needed something she would wait until a convenient time to go and get it. She'd work out her own schedule to fit someone else's. I wish I could do the same for her but I was so worried about her that day. The way she spoke into the receiver made me think that something was wrong with her, that I might have done something to upset her again. Something worse than the last time I had called her.
See, the last time I called Julia was earlier this morning. She got kind of scared during our conversation because I was talking to her about the meeting I held with my psychiatrist, only I didn't mention it was my shrink because she doesn't know that I need psychological help. The truth is, I don't need any help, and I told her this yesterday, but I'm not so sure she believed me. Well, yesterday when I was talking to her on the phone I told her that someone had told me that I was prone to sudden outbursts of psychosis, which isn't true at all. Why would I throw my life away like that? Julia agreed with it though, which got me thinking quite a deal. Was my doctor really right about everything? Am I, indeed, insane? I'm still not so sure.
"This is Evan. Is this Julia?" I don't know why I bothered asking since I had called her cell phone and not the main house or anything. School had just let out twenty-three minutes ago for her. I know this because I know her entire schedule, I have it memorized you see. I have her life just about memorized, with the exception of her thoughts of course. Other than that, I have everything mentally noted from when she gets up every morning at four just so she can take a shower and prepare breakfast and lunch for everyone in her family, to ten o' clock at night when she turns the lights off in her bedroom and curls up like a cat on the right corner of her bed that faces the wall so she can fall asleep.
"Hello Evan. What are you calling for? I'm fine, if that's all you wanted to know. You did call me this morning after all. I was fine then, too." For some reason she was acting really saucy that day. Maybe I really had done something to upset her, like interrupted a conversation with one of her friends. Girls usually get upset when you interrupt them and they are talking about something. Julia wasn't like that, though. Julia was always warm and caring, but that day she wasn't. She was different for some reason. Something was wrong with Julia that day. I began to panic about it but I didn't want to let her know that I was freaking out about her attitude in our conversation. Especially since we had only been on the phone for forty seconds.
"Look, Jules, are you sure that you're okay?" I half-stuttered the words. I really suck when it comes to carrying on a conversation with someone. For one, I never really know how to get the words out of my head. It isn't as simple as opening your mouth, for me. It is almost as though I have to force the words to come out. That was always a problem of mine, but I don't really feel like I have to fix it since I don't talk to many people. That's another thing, I don't like interacting with other people too much. Sometimes I would rather believe that I could imagine what they will say in response to questions I have to ask them. That way I don't have to give options – they don't have a choice about what their answers will be. Whatever I choose for them to say is what they will say. It's easier that way.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Are you okay Evan? You sound sort of stressed," when Julia spoke, I tried to imagine the expression on her face. Would she smile after saying this, or frown? Would her brow furrow, or would her face be relaxed? That's one of the reasons why I didn't like talking on the phone too much – you don't even get to see who you are talking to. For all I knew, I wasn't even talking to Julia. It could have been some stranger.
"Oh, don't worry about me, I'm alright. You know me. I'm always perfectly fine without a care in the world. That's me all right. Always happy so long as you're happy." My voice was still a bit shaky because I was a nervous wreck. Normally I wouldn't admit that to anybody, but it's the truth. Maybe it was because I kept thinking about this movie I had seen, where the main character's best friend died and it started to rain. He just so looked so alone. And I thought to myself, why does it always rain when someone important to the main character dies? Is it supposed to be symbolic or something? I had this twisted nauseous feeling that you get when you're riding up a roller coaster just before you take that first, deep dive that plummets several feet down. You haven't reached zero gravity yet but just thinking about it already makes you feel like you have to vomit. Nothing happened, but I just had this feeling.
"Say, Jules, where are you at right now?" I tried to calm myself down by staring at a cloud that was shaped like a giant ship. Maybe it's a bit childish, but I like looking at the sky and the clouds. Some of them are really neat to look at just because you can find different things. One of them looked like a ship that you buy in glass bottles at flea markets and souvenir shops. I've always wondered how they get those ships in the bottles but I've never thought to ask anybody about it. For some reason it feels like a waste to ask some body about it. Besides, I don't think anybody would care about those little ships in bottles that will never get a chance to sail.
"I'm in my apartment doing my homework. I went straight home after school like my mother told me to." That was the sort of thing she would do, too. I believed that she was telling the truth because it was easy to believe anything she told you. In fact, if she told me that I would live if I shot myself in the head I would probably go ahead and go through with it. I would go out and buy a gun and shoot myself in the head thinking that I would survive. Even if I did die after shooting myself, which I probably wouldn't since I've never heard of someone who lived after shooting himself in the head, I wouldn't hold it against Julia for telling me a lie. After all, I would be dead.
"What subject are you working on Jules?" I was always asking her that when she said she was working on her school assignments. Maybe it's because I was afraid she might stop talking to me if she got too focused on it but that's not the only reason. For some reason it was just of interest to me. Well, not always, really. If she was working on an assignment for math, for example, I wouldn't have been too interested in it. I'm not very good at math. That's the one subject that I had always struggled with before I dropped out of school. I would always listen to her talk about her assignments with mild interest though, just because she was talking about them. It was always more interesting when she was working on science or English though because her assignments were always fresh and new, filled with information.
"I'm working on my math homework, Evan. Is there something you want to talk about? You know how difficult it is to focus on math homework and talk on the phone at the same time." She said this in a very calm, sweet voice. Julia has the best voice I've ever heard. It's the sort of voice that belongs to someone who ought to be singing in front of a vast audience in a theatre for opera or something so everyone can enjoy how beautiful it is. Her voice is the best voice that I've ever heard, and even though I haven't heard her sing before I know that she is probably the best damn singer that I could ever have hoped to hear. Sometimes I wonder if she is an angel.
"I know Jules, I know. Believe me I wouldn't have called you if I didn't have something important to say because I know that you're always busy with your schoolwork and all. You know, I'm only allowed to use the phone for emergencies." I paused and licked my chapped lips and ran my long fingers through my thick hair. My voice sounded a bit raspy as though there was something caught in my throat. I coughed a bit, and looked around rather nervously. "It's just that something is wrong. Something really horrible is going to happen to you Jules. I can't tell you what it is because I don't know what it is yet and I don't want to hurt you. If I knew I think I'd tell you, honest I would, but I don't know what it is yet. I don't want to hurt you, Jules."
There was a pause after Julia listened to what I said and I could hear pencil scratching against her notebook. There were always awkward pauses in my conversations with her on the phone and no matter what I could always hear her pencil scratching numbers and letters on pieces of paper. Yesterday when I called her, I was worried about her so I gave her a call, I told her that I was going to come over and keep her safe. We were both silent for at least ten minutes just sitting there with the phone as our only means of connection between the two of us. I hadn't really gone to see her, though. I would have because I wanted to, but I couldn't.
There's something I haven't mentioned about my relationship with Julia. I met her back when we were both freshmen in high school. The days when I still had all the marbles in my head, but still had schizoid tendencies. During lunch one day, when I was sitting by myself in a secluded area on campus, Julia approached me and decided to carry on a conversation with me. It was really kind of her since I had been all by myself and, even if I didn't tell anyone, all I really wanted was someone to talk to and confide in. She saw so much beauty in the world. Everything we talked about seemed significant and wonderful, but I increasingly began to lose interest in school. This was because of the last day I went to school, you see. It started like a normal day until I waited around Julia's fourth period class so we could sit together again. Her teacher walked over to me and we had a small chat. I walked away, alone.
It was raining.
The rain sounded kind of pretty.
Misery, misery. Plop, plop.
I haven't seen her, face to face, since.
"Why do you think something is going to happen?" I knew the answer to her question right away because I had thought about it for so damn long while I stared at the clouds all morning. I had been there all morning, you see. Not just to watch the clouds but to wait for Julia to get home. Right when she left her apartment I was here waiting for her, staring off into nothingness. Staring off and thinking. My thoughts kept drifting back to that last day I spent at school and what her teacher told me. It was depressing and uplifting at the same time, something that hasn't left my head ever since it happened.
"Julia is an angel…"
"I had a dream last night." I said.
"What happened in it?" Julia hated when I talked about my dreams and I could tell because she took up this soft, almost scared voice when she spoke to me just then. The last dream I told her about ended with me sticking these metal wings into my back and I jumped off of a bridge into a pond in an attempt to fly. My back bled and the water stung upon contact. I don't have normal dreams. I have different dreams, and sometimes even scary dreams. If anyone else had to deal with my dreams I bet they would go crazy, but not me. Not me because I'm perfectly sane. I have to be sane or else I can't talk to Julia anymore. It's something that I have to learn to deal with.
"I was at that bridge again, Julia. You remember what bridge I'm talking about right? Of course you do, there aren't many bridges near the city. I took you to the bridge the day I met you and we talked there, looking over the pond. Do you remember that day Julia? When we walked through the park over the bridge?" I paused and tried to recall the details of that day. "You told me that day that you wanted to be a bird because then you would be able to fly away to freedom, right? And you jumped off, but you didn't find freedom, did you? I jumped into the water and saved you, though. We were so reckless back then."
"What happened in your dream, Evan?" She was really getting scared now and you could tell by the tone of her voice. I know that she never liked talking about that day with me because it was something that she tried to forget about. Not as much as myself, though, because I really did wish that I could forget that day. Who would want to remember something like your only friend's suicide? I mean…I even jumped into the water after her because I was so frightened for her life.
"I was there at that same bridge Jules. I was there; I remember it so very clearly. The sun was shining and my skin felt very warm. There were clouds gathering in the sky and everything was just so very beautiful." Even as I told her this I could picture the dream in my mind and the tingling sensation of standing in the warmth of the sunlight crept across my skin. I closed my eyes and soaked up all the details, greedily. "It felt really nice to be standing there overlooking that pretty pond just like we had once done. I peered down and I could see ducks swimming around, or floating around, or whatever it is that ducks do. You know what Jules? I could see you there on the other side of the pond with your cell phone in your hand pressed against your dainty, little ear. I know it was you because even from on all the way across the body of water I could hear your voice from so far away, crystal clear."
"What was I saying?" She asked. I paused and tried to think about it for a moment because I wasn't sure if I could remember everything she had been saying. Julia always spoke frequently in my dreams and she always said something meaningful. When I wake up from my dreams, I try to recall the things she had told me so I can write them down and remember them. For some reason, I think it is important that I remember everything Julia tells me. Somehow, her words will help me.
"He stood upon a ledge of a building
A hundred stories above the ground
His hands were cupped behind his back
His eyes darted around
A voice within him whispered softly
The breeze began to make him sway
Faces watched him from far below
It would all end today
His foot slowly slipped beneath him
A crack crumbled under his weight
And as the people stopped to watch
He fell down to his fate"
It took me a moment to register what I had just told her for the words had just naturally poured out of my mouth as though I was destined to tell them to her. In my mind, I could still hear her telling me those words herself in my dream. Those words meant something, but I wasn't sure what at the time. It was compelling, overwhelmingly important for me to find out. It had to have something to do with the day she disappeared, and I just knew it. That's the whole reason I called her, to tell you the truth. I just had to know, I had to. Why did she disappear like that? Why?
"Julia? Are you there, Julia?" I called out into the receiver in desperation.
"I'm still here. Evan, I don't understand what you were talking about. Why did I say those words?" She sounded shaken and confused. I felt really terrible for calling her and bothering her while she needed to work on her math homework. I always hate it when I do that; it just makes me feel so terrible. My left hand started shaking a bit so I swapped the phone to my right hand and pressed it against my ear as I tried to sort my thoughts into coherent speech. I felt so close and yet so far away from my goal, my mission of complete freedom. As long as I was still attached to Julia, I wasn't free.
"Julia…I think that I'm going to…"
"Hold on Evan, someone is on the other line. I'll get back to you in a minute, okay?" Click. She was gone, just like that. For a fraction of a second I thought about chucking my phone off of the roof and watching it fall but I was worried I might hit a little kid. As I peered over the ledge, I could see people walking and paying heed to their normal lives. There was a woman walking around with a plaid beret on her head. She was walking her dog. And there was a man carrying an attaché case on his way to work; he walked quickly with long strides as though he had somewhere important to be. They take advantage of everything they do, but they never realize it. It's almost sad, but they don't deserve the true beauty of the world anyway. They don't deserve the finer things in life like looking at the sky or talking to someone with a gorgeous voice like Julia.
Too far for me to make out his features, I saw a young man standing in the middle of the sidewalk staring up at me. Their face was blurred out and they almost seemed to mesh in with the apartment building that towered over from behind them. Yet as I watched them I wondered what they thought of me. Could they see what I was thinking just by examining my face ten stories below me? Did the boy know that I was trying to resolve a conflict that I had ignored for years? Did this boy, who was simply looking skyward, know that deep down I just longed for freedom? After a while, the boy turned around and walked down the street as though I was not up here, as though he had not seen me at all. I was just a ghost standing on the building, watching him.
I started to pace around again and decided to check the time length of our conversation. My phone had a count of seven minutes, but it seemed as though it had been hours. Finally I heard breathing coming from the other line.
"Evan? Are you there? I'm back; it was just my cousin checking up on me." I heaved a sigh of relief as Julia's voice reached my ear again. She sounded so calm and charming again and I felt like hugging her tight even if I couldn't see her.
"I'm still here Julia. But I won't always be here."
"What are you talking about?"
Every breath that I took seemed to grow sharper, every slight motion that my muscles made became more acute. This is what it had all come down to, I guess. Every single damn day of my life since my freshmen year in high school I had fallen asleep wondering, whatever happened to Julia? Every bone within my body quivered, my heart raced in anticipation. It was time that I knew, I guess. "Julia, what were you thinking about that day when you jumped off of the bridge? Why did you decide to throw everything you had away? Were you in search of freedom? Were you scared you could never find redemption? Did you hate yourself? Why Julia? Why did you throw everything you, everything we had away?"
"I was scared Evan. I was terrified and couldn't think straight, that's all. It was stupid, I know, and I hurt so many people. It's time that you forgot about it and moved on, though." My hand shook as she told me this. For a moment I worried that I might be scaring her too much by making her relive that part of her life but I felt as though it had to be done. Shrugging my right shoulder up to my ear to support my phone, I pulled a scrap piece of paper out of my pocket along with a pen. I scrawled out in illegible handwriting the words to the song I had been whistling earlier on in the day, "Living is easy with eyes closed".
"I wanted to free myself, Evan." Julia whispered. That's what I always thought she had meant to do because it is precisely what she had told me. Confirmation, I finally had confirmation that I was right.
"Did you find freedom by dieing Julia?" My voice rose and I shook from side to side, my muscles tensing. I rolled up my sleeves and let a cool gust of air pass over my arms. The scratching of pencil across paper dully called through the receiver of my phone and I waited for an answer to my question. However, the pause seemed to drag on for hours of scratching and clawing. I stuffed the piece of paper and pen into my pocket and then picked up my phone again.
It rained. Misery, misery. Plop, plop. I hadn't even noticed the clouds swarm across the sky. The sudden burst of cold air surprised me.
"Evan, I wasn't meant to die. You saved me." A smile found its way to my face as the sides of my mouth slowly curved into a tainted grimace. Jules had always said that I was her savior but she seemed to be the only one who thought so. To me, she was my savior. She was the only purpose for me to continue living. Every moment I spent alive was dedicated to making sure she was safe from the rest of the world. I wanted to be sure that no matter what, she was going to be protected from those who wanted to harm her, from those who might hurt her. That was my duty, or at least I felt like that was my duty.
But it's too late. Her mom says that I should move on.
"So, what should I do?" I ask tentatively. "Here I am, waiting in the rain. Where is the beauty in the world, Julia? Am I overlooking something? Am I missing a huge part of the big picture or skipping over some important detail? I'm lost, Jules. I'm lost here without you. You're a whole wide world away, and your mother doesn't want me talking to you because she says that I have a problem that needs to be taken care of. Everyone tells me that, Julia, and you're the only person that doesn't think so. You don't think so, right? I mean, sure I wasn't a social person, but does that make me crazy?"
"Evan, I don't understand what you are asking." Nobody ever understands what I ask of them. I always either repeat my questions over and over or thoroughly explain every miniscule detail about them. Elaborating even the simplest of questions becomes something of a burden. To tell you the truth, I had always found that to be very annoying. But I didn't mind having to explain anything to Julia. Other people weren't interested in what you were asking them, they just wanted to question the questions that you had. Julia wasn't like other people though. When she asked you a question you always felt she wanted to hear an answer to it.
"There's something I've been meaning to tell you for a long time, Julia. Your mother tells me that I'm foolish for talking to you so often and all because there isn't any reason to, and my mom tells me that I need to set up more appointments with my psychiatrist, but that stuff doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is attaining freedom. We aren't free here." My eyes closed momentarily and I took in a deep breath. "For the past few months I've been locked away Julia. I'm not right in the head anymore. There's a reason why we aren't allowed to see each other and that's because there's a whole sky separating us. But I can't live without you Julia. I need someone to catch me but there isn't anyone there. The only person that was ever there for me…isn't there.
"The world is finally going to see me – a free man. They will all see me but it will be too late for them to change anything about the ending. They will pass by me and wonder who was that boy? What was he thinking? Why did he throw his life away in such a stupid act? Why did he do this to himself? Who was that boy? Does anyone know him? They'll all get to thinking, Julia, and maybe they will change their minds about me. Maybe they will accept that I wasn't wrong about the world. You said it yourself, Jules. You wanted to be free. That's all I want, and I can't be free where I am right now."
"Evan, please, I can't hear you the line is breaking up. Evan, don't hang up. I don't care what mother says, I want to see you. We need to talk in person and work things out. Where are you right now? Evan? Are you still there? Evan?"
"You can't see me Julia, you can't see me because you aren't even here any more. I guess I always knew that deep inside. But, if that's the case, then what's to stop me from seeing you?" Slowly, I made my way over to the ledge of the apartment and stepped up onto the very ledge. The sky looked so beautiful that day. A couple of birds were perched on a streetlight not too far down the street. A couple of kids chased circles around a fire hydrant, giggling and smiling broadly at one another. Inside, I could feel my heart beating ten times faster in my chest. It was pounding against my ribs as though it wanted to break away from its skeletal jail. I too wanted to break away, but not from a cell. Not anymore. I wanted to leave the world altogether this time. Now that I had finally managed to let go of my emotional attachments to a beloved friend of mine, I decided that there was only one thing binding me down. One flaw in my freedom.
"I'll see you on the other side," I hung up the phone, which was what I should have done from the start since Julia couldn't hear me anyway. After all, the battery in my cell phone had been dead for months. I looked up at the sky one more time and drew in one final breath, and felt the light rain splatter across my face. And then I took one last step towards freedom. For a split second, I thought I might grow wings and soar but I knew this was just another fantasy that would never come true. My eyes stayed open the entire time and I watched the world collapse around me at top speed. The sky seemed to grow father and farther away from me and I could feel the world splitting apart as I grew closer and closer to the edge of the earth. Everything was falling, but I was standing still. Perfectly still, just as I always had been, and the world was slowly reeling towards me as though it were perfectly natural.
And as it fell that afternoon I could feel my heartbeat slowly quell within my chest. My ears popped violently as the wind rushed against my face and my bangs swept upwards as gravity pulled the world closer to me. As the world neared closer and closer to impact, I thought about Julia. I thought about the girl that I had called because I had been so worried about her and I wondered what she was thinking as she watched the world fall. I wondered if she considered, even for a slight moment, coming to my rescue to stop the world from smashing me to pieces. For a brief moment I considered how it would look to watch the world falling upwards towards the top of the apartment building that was across the street from Julia's. Birds took off from their perch, and the children screamed as they fell upwards towards me. In a brief flash, I saw my life pass before my eyes and as the ground hit me I came to realize that these thoughts were about to come to a stop. All of this was about to end so none of it really mattered anymore.