The Jump Rope theorem

"What do we do now?"

"Wait."

"Yes, but while waiting."

"What about hanging ourselves?"

--From act one of Waiting for Godot

Chapter One

I'm an expert at hanging myself.

No, really.

It's harder than it looks.

So this is what you're thinking--you stand on a stool. You've got your rope ready, you fit it around your neck. Then you fly. Jump. Whatever. It's simple, easy as pie, easy as dying.

Wrong. Dead wrong. Have you ever tried it? Well?

Let me tell you a few things. Hanging yourself is all about conviction. If you've got a single doubt in your head--if you're standing on that stool in your faded sneakers and thinking, man, I wonder what's going to be on TV tonight--then it's no cigar. You'll step down, hide the rope, and go to dinner with a slightly goofy smile on your face. Your friends don't suspect, either you don't have any or they don't give a damn. Or you don't give a damn, in which case you wouldn't be at the dinner, you'd be hanging a few feet below your rafters with your eyes bugging out and your feet kicking that rapid, desperate tempo.

That's the fun part. That's when you feel like maybe, just maybe, you're alive. After that, well. The after-that depends on a lot of things, big things; cosmic things that maybe on a fateful day your horoscope might have hinted at, or your ancient grandma who claimed to see spirits, or the longest line on your preferred hand. Things like how you behave towards other people, or maybe how many times you wash your hands a day. How many times you actually stopped to smell those stupid roses. And sometimes, for certain people, the after-that depends on the before-that. Not just before you flew off that stool. Before you were born. Before you were you, and you were someone else, who did other things, walked another way, saw other sights, and knew other people. People who were your before-then friends. Your before-then lovers. People who maybe you know now.

You see…once in your eternity, one of your before-thens will have been the most important life you'll ever live. Whether you do something amazing, or are something amazing, or you sacrifice yourself for the person who you'll always love the most, out of all the lovers in your other lives…whether it's deathly exciting or desperate or whatever, that life will embody the epitome of yourself. And even though you won't remember it..or maybe haven't lived it yet…its echoes will spiral into your other lives. And so will its consequences.

Of course, when you're standing on the stool, you don't know all that. You're not thinking about the before-then. All you're thinking about is the now. And then you're not thinking about anything, not for awhile, at least. I guess if you're lucky you'll wake up to white feathers and the soothing cords of harps.

I wouldn't know anything about that.

You see…I really screwed up the last time around.

I was part Asian, but had red hair. (I always have red hair, regardless of my nationality, and always the same shade of green eyes, though my face will shift along with handedness, height, and voice, but details like that are getting ahead of myself.) Lived in an upscale apartment for most of that life. A virtuoso, you know? Locked away with my music, pouring my soul into the notes because I liked the fact that finally I was born with a talent that I could express myself through. My favorite color was glass, so my walls were windows through which I'd stare at the sky and pretend I was sitting on a clock tower, all the while composing nifty scores in my head. My parents didn't know where I was…I always push them away, and half the time I'm an orphan anyway. In any case…it was sunset. The walls were this nostalgic orangey reddish color, I had a white sleeveless shirt on. It was the day.

I never really know the day I'm going to kill myself, but I've learned to recognize the feel of those days. They're normally in August. Occasionally it happens on New Year's. Once it was St. Patrick's day. I always wake with the same unsettled feeling. I always feel bored throughout the day.

The sunsets of those days are always that nostalgic orangey reddish color.

Other than that, anything could happen; the only really certain thing about them is that I'll kill myself before the sun rises again.

I had a concert to go to that night. I think it was my own. I didn't care so much and I don't remember now.

The light was blinding me. It wasn't very bright. I opened one of the windows; watching the dying sun warm my skin, admiring the shade of light. I was crying; my exposure to music had made me more sensitive, more delicate to my own situation. I had hoped that one of them would have remembered me, through that music. After all--I'd made it onto the radio the week before. The whole world had heard my essence, and my address. What I was hoping for didn't happen, though, and it was one of those days.

My name was Adrien, Adrien Sparks. I committed it to memory, and flexed my legs.

It took a spectacular leap, to jump over that window ledge and out into the gap between apartment buildings.

As I was going over, I heard the door open. And the last thing I saw as Adrien Sparks, Adrien Sparks who wasn't wondering what was on TV that night, or whether or not his concert would have gone well, was a panting young man with blonde hair hearkening to Norse ancestors and blue eyes that I've never managed to forget, calling his name.

This life I've had no such luck. I missed my fateful encounter, the one life where I managed to make him remember me.

And now? We'll, I'm in my basement, standing on my stool. It didn't work out this time, and last time I fucked it up.

Tuesday I went to see a fortune teller, an old, wrinkled remnant of her gypsy ancestry spouting magic at the carnival for just under a dollar, who told me I'd kill myself today, and the sky's reddish orange, so who am I to argue?

"Hello?"

…that's unfortunate. I don't like traumatizing people, not since I saw the look on his face during that fantastic spiral towards the pavement. A shadow clouded those eyes, his mouth was half open and then he was biting his lip; biting it hard. I spent most of this life wondering how he got by after that…what he must have thought about me…whether he followed my mad, driven descent. But that last is only my pathetic ego. He wasn't one for melodrama, or silly stunts. He was stronger than all that, always.

"Alex?"

So I stretch. I double-check the rope; no one likes to screw up a hanging, and even an expert needs to review his handiwork. I'm excited. I want out of this life.

This life. Ha. Ha!

"Do you know what's on TV tonight?"

The voice is my roommate again. He paints with coffee or something; I don't really pay attention, but he's rarely around at night. The tentative sound is sand-papery, cautious, and floating from the door I can't see, running down the dark flight of stairs, where it turns a corner and hits me in the face.

What is on TV tonight?

…shit.

At this point, I walk up the stairs. I'm dragging my feet, and I give my meddling, no-good roommate a glare. I hope my deliberate walk scares him.

He's standing in his jammies, at least I hope that's what they are.

He's got this spiky brown hair going on, and a destitute look that certainly wasn't bought. He has no reason to be asking me questions when I'm in the middle of flying. The guy's got no idea what he's done.

Yeah. I'm pissed off. I write it on my face; dragging it over the signs that say I was trying to kill myself.

"Why would you need to know something like that?" I ask. I've got my arms crossed, my toes tapping an irritated rhythm. They should be swinging right now. The guy gives me this look. Bastard.

"Look, I know we didn't get along very well these…uh…three years. But I thought maybe we could hang out tonight. You were the only person who'd let me room with you…normally people don't like all my shit all over the place, you know? So I guess I want to thank you."

He's got a stupid smile on his face. I have no idea what he's talking about.

"All your shit?" I repeat dumbly. I look at the ceiling; maybe I can ditch him and kill myself today after all…

"Alex? You know, most people won't put up with the scrolls of paper everywhere, with the smell of rotting coffee, covering every inch of floor and wall. But I mean, you barely noticed. You did me a good favor."

I sniff and become vaguely aware of an odor. To be straight with you--I'd forgotten all that stuff. The unimportant stuff, like the state of the apartment.

And my name.

I lean against the door. I'm getting weary. I want to go to bed, go to bed forever before waking up as something else and finally continuing my search…

"So, I mean, I'll miss you, man."

He'll miss me. That's a first. But.

"How'd you know I'm killing myself?"

He stares at me and I count the seconds until his jaw closes again. "Uh…ha! You had me going there, man. You're a strange guy, ya know that? Anyway, as you probably know from the racket I made all day, I'll be going in a short while. I got myself a nice teaching job, bout an hour away…the commute doesn't make sense, ya know?"

He's shaky. I take off my angry face; things are looking up. When he's gone I can get it over and done with.

Then he leans forward conspiratorially. I want to lean away from his filthy work shirt; he smells like spoiled coffee grounds and turpentine. It's harsh on my nose.

I sneeze on him.

He pretends not to notice.

Ah, roommates.

"I thought you should know a little bit about him. I don't know much, we only met once--over coffee--ha, you get it?"

I don't. On more than one level.

"He's somewhat younger than us. Seems like a nice guy."

He claps me on the back and gets this guilty look on his face like he expects me to collapse at his touch, like I'm his great aunt or something.

"So, you're leaving. Right?" I squint. There's a lamp standing next to the door. I think he took the shade off, I don't know; but it's brighter than I'm used to. I throw the lamp a dirty look.

"Unless you wanted to hang…but it seems like you don't….so! Good luck with, er, whatever it is you do…"

I want to hang, all right.

He's got his coffee-stained hand hovering in the air between us now. I treat it like the sneeze and pretend the overture doesn't exist.

I nod, and he seems to accept this as a good bye, since he slowly turns and backs out of the room, to the front door. He's got these big doe eyes, I notice. Maybe that's why I put him up, three years past…I can't remember how I met him, but if I know myself, that was probably it. He shuts the door; he doesn't bother wasting the effort to lock it. Neither do I.

I can hear his tires squealing into the nearly-night, my tangerine sky is fading and I'm relieved that I won't miss my deadline. I imagine his car cutting through the shit from the gutter. There's something desperate in the sound of scattering gravel.

And then he's gone.

Suh-weet.

I'm breathless as I take the cluttered basement steps eight at a time. My ankles protest against the rough treatment when my feet slap the concrete; I can't remember the last time I moved so fast. I definitely didn't spend much of this life on things like going to the gym.

And you guessed it; I don't care--I'm around the corner and on the stool and

There is a knocking on the door. Another interruption, of all things.

I flex my legs.

And I can hear footsteps above my head, echoing solidly through the thin floor boards.

I'm poised to jump when it occurs to me that those aren't the footsteps of my roommate. This person is wearing boots.

The noose is right in front of me. It swings, drifting ever-so-slightly. It's been waiting for me for this whole worthless life. A life not worth my time or interest.

The next one will be better.

Whoever the hell decided to take a stroll through my apartment paces through the living room.

This is more than distraction; now I'm almost curious. The stool makes this god-awful creaking sound when I shift and slowly step down. The pacing above me stops for three full seconds.

Is it the new roommate? I wonder. Their pacing picks up again; he's getting closer to the door leading to the basement.

There's one last creak through the ceiling and then

it's no good.

I break away from the noose, spinning on my heel, pull myself around the banister and drag myself up the steps.

It doesn't even occur to me that I should maybe wait a moment before pushing open the door. Fear isn't something I generally have on my mind. Ever.

For example, I wasn't afraid when, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a shadow moving too fast to be anything but a person. As the lamp stand came down with a wooshing sound seconds after, knocking me out right after contact, the only thing I felt was annoyed.