Panic is quicker than reason.
I release a sigh of exasperation and turn my gaze downward. I've been staring at the slowly-descending rungs of a ladder for what feels like a kilometer. Eventually, though, the ladder ends and the danger begins.
Concerned with my physical safety, I look down at my hands to ensure three constant points of contact with the structure.
Unconcerned with my mental safety, I look down at the ground, fully aware that my inability to accurately judge height will cause panic.
While maintaining a low center of gravity, I panic.
Christ, this thing is tall. I move my right hand forward onto the slightly domed cap of the white petroleum storage tank. This thing is taller than I expected when I first saw it. I throw my left hand out as far as it will go, fingers extended for maximum traction. This thing is taller than it looked from the ground. I cautiously slide my stomach onto the bulk of the white petroleum storage tank, taking all my weight off the ladder's top rung. This thing is even taller than it felt when I was climbing it.
I know my perception of distance when looking down is laughably incorrect, but I still adjust my position from three points of contact to four. I am no longer atop the white petroleum storage tank so much as around it. And as I reflect on why I climbed the ladder in the first place, I realize I am accomplishing nothing. I am not fearlessly ascending the city's highest summit, but rather making an unnecessary ass of myself in full public view. With new fortitude I steadily raise myself to two feet, the way I was born to stand.
I release a sigh of fulfillment and turn my gaze to the left. From what I now estimate to be realistically ten meters above the ground, I can see clearly across the weed-choked field to the dirt road where I parked my car minutes before. My Walkman is sunbathing, headphone cables snaking randomly across the passenger seat. My cell phone is hibernating in the center console. A cool breeze probably floats in through the windows, which I left completely rolled down.
A stupid risk. I quickly scan the dirt road in each direction. An unnecessary risk. The road is empty for a kilometer to the left and empty for a kilometer to the right. An unproductive risk. Even though I would see someone raiding my car, I wouldn't be able to run a hundred meters in time to stop them. I am the very model of a modern theft victim. And there was a point in my life when I would be bothered enough by this to hastily turn back and cross the river again to secure my valuables, but I resolutely decide that it isn't now. My Walkman looks happy the way it is. My phone looks happy the way it is. And I feel happy the way I am.
I release a sigh of indifference and turn my gaze to the right. A pickup truck drives by on the closest thing to a major road this city has. A junk truck, full of scrap metal, with haggard sheets of plywood extending the walls of its bed a good meter upward to hold it all. I feel a splinter of anxiety, realizing that I'm flagrantly trespassing on the energy company's equipment. And that my black suit jacket cuts a sharp silhouette against the white petroleum storage tank. And that the white petroleum storage tank is the tallest structure in view. And that it's surrounded on all sides by a hundred meters of flat open field.
And then the splinter turns into a flesh wound, my car's parked too close and I think Alec left a cigarette on the dashboard and I'm seventeen and the windows are rolled down and jail sucks and God damn it all to hell. But at the same time, I realize there is no reason to care. Collecting scrap metal and respecting trespass laws are two concepts that cannot coexist within the same mind. And the truck's three hundred meters away. And it drove out of sight four full minutes ago.
I release a sigh of relief and turn my gaze ahead, toward the white vastness standing proudly beneath me. I lift a baseball-sized chunk of anthracite a centimeter from the white petroleum storage tank's slightly domed cap and bring it down with savage force on what I'm pretty sure is A36 air-hardening structural carbon steel. The sound thus created is similar to the sound made by the world's last embers of love dying slowly in the dank bowels of an abandoned coal mine.
It isn't a sound I necessarily expect to hear, but I didn't start the day with many preconceived notions about what white petroleum storage tanks sounded like when struck by baseball-sized chunks of anthracite.
I scrawl "BROOKS WAS HERE" on the white petroleum storage tank and briskly descend the ladder, a wide slice of the idyllic countryside burned thoroughly into my mind's eye for future poetic reference. And a narrow slice of anxiety burned thoroughly out.