It is perhaps presumptuous of me to say that you know me best of all. It is, I know, because to the best of my knowledge, you don’t even know my name.
There is a man, his name is Timothy. He is striding too quickly toward a small plane on a tarmac. Watching him you think he's wearing lifts in his shoes, but the careful observer can see it's a subtle dance;
startle, flinch, jab, jab. Must not stop, must not stop
Timothy catches himself holding his breath, casting glances as if someone will steal his air, should he let it go. He wrings the visions from his mind, presses his shadow-grey eyes shut so tight that tears run like wine.
A name is an important thing to know. It is a record of your life, but I unquestionably dismiss your oversight because you know my soul. And I, beautiful Emily, I will never forget your life.
must not fear, must not fear.
The doctors call it "multiple neuroses". Timothy knows it's much more specific than that. They have names.
He remembers his father, looking on as the medical attendant held him down. The doctor in the long white coat who sounded like James Earl Jones attempting reason;
"Son, I'm not going to touch you, I'd just like to speak with you for a moment".
no, no, the silence warns...doctors, he thinks with exaggerated maturity, are the keepers of...and he stops himself, for he cannot even breathe the thought. He eyes the white coat with suspicion, as though demons are concealed within, like the children in the skirt of Mother Marzipan. There he lies, writhing, fighting to live, yet failing miserably. And father let slip an undistinguished sound, final and profane.
You first found the bookstore in the fall. I remember because you looked as though you were the wind in corporeal form, leaves tiptoeing at your feet, your hair a spectacularly glorious disaster. Until you, these ghost-grey eyes of mine had seen only shadows, ones which I never thought I could describe to you, lest I should impart even a hint of their darkness on your simple radiance.
Timothy is almost running now. Today is the day he will silence them. Today he will prove them wrong. His father, his never-friends, the doctors. They never saw the beautiful soul beneath the spectre. They saw only the nervous man, avoiding your eyes, one hand always on the wall…if they saw anything at all. The small strip of road lays just ahead and on either side, the soft face of earth beams heavenward. The grass with innocent grace postures welcome, never fearing, simply living.
He crushes it beneath his feet, just to hear if it will cry out, like his soul.
It laughs as it dies.
You read to the room that day, original works, poetry soaked with dire profundity, spilled with ease. You spoke secrets to my soul. You called life beautiful which made me think I must not know what beautiful meant, because I certainly would never had associated it with this colorless purgatory in which I am held. Never, until you. You taught me, Emily.
Twin engines whir with expectancy, the proud chariot of the conquering hero. It has taken years to achieve this day. Years of pummeling weakness with bloodied knuckles, years of shattered mirrors, struck with loathing and the fear of finding nothing staring back. Years of silence, of counting the deadbolt clicks, 11 times a charm. He allows the fellow who greets him to check his gear. Despite the insurgence to the contrary, he steadies his hand, silences the roar. He has never come this close.
I’ve never introduced myself to you, Em, they won’t let me, because you like the light and the middle of the room and you let everyone look at you, as they should, because …
The stars think you make night beautiful
And I’m sure you’ve never locked you door eleven times in a row. I’m sure you’ve never put all the clocks in your house in a safe because the sound of time slipping away from you made you cry… I know because…
You are timeless
the fellow looks up from finishing with the metal clips and harnesses.
"What…um, I…I didn‘t quite...?"
The voice is covered with rust, empty like the plaintive whisper of the condemned.
"When you've had your fill of the fall, mate, just pull the cord."
With ultimate disinterest the fellow evaluates Timothy's face. He does not know. Timothy rubs a thumb over the unfeeling metal clip, glancing back at the safety of the hangar. Without a word he turns and mounts his chariot.
I don’t imagine you ever even noticed me. I stay near Poe and Kafka, where the damp cools my fever and I imagine that I am safely lost. You made me want to be found. Yet I knew that the guardians between my world and yours were perhaps too great an obstacle. Most of the staff at our little store, they never came near me, after a time, because it disturbs the shadows, and the ripples make me dizzy, like vertigo. I would give anything for a cure. A cure, so that I could at last be something to you other than a wraith which haunts you when you aren’t looking.
He climbs like icarus into the sky. He imagines the ground and the reward for this bought courage. He imagines his father's face, surprised and then proud. "My boy" Father will say, assuming a long absent look of parental possession. He imagines that the ocean will at last be benevolent, the smell of the rose sweeter than the sting of the thorns, gravity will promise to hold on…and Emily will write poems for his courage.
A voice over the intercom crackles to life. "A minute thirty to the spot, all whuffos out the way and divers in position" There were bets on Timothy. He knew, because he'd heard the whispers in class the time he cried when they tried to show him how the harness worked. He had covered his head, and sunk into the corner, kicking away the restraints as though they were the arms of death. They thought he was a whuffo, someone who watches the divers jump and hollers after them "whuffo you jump out of them planes?". Timothy places himself last in line and watches his jump-mates take their leave of the plane with casual abandon. As he approaches his turn, the man in front of him pushes up his sleeve, and sets his altimeter.
"Memento mori" is tatooed on the inside of the man's arm.
"Remember that you must die"
Timothy tears his gaze from the mortal stain, he lifts his eyes to meet the wordless stare . This man, he knows. Timothy's hand flutters delicately, almost imperceptibly, a gesture of helplessness, a cry for understanding. Without a word, the man jumps and Timothy is left standing at the door watching the man fly. His fading laugh mocks the tears on Timothy's face, which flee the terror of his soul, and escape into the wind rushing by.
Jump! Jump! They dare him, as if to say "Check-mate"
One day, you came in surrounded by stillness . You read to me, that day, just to me. The sound of your heart breaking left me shattered. You never cried a tear, and I think to myself that it was because I kept them from you, jealously, letting them spill over my face instead. That day I knew I loved you.
He sees himself in bitter retrospect now; A shattered shell of a man, hugging the walls, ducking from daylight. He tastes the stale death, like rotten fruit, of untold perfect conversations that never even made it to hello. He sees the girl he loved, whose name he knew, whose eyes never mirrored a heart’s recognition for him. He sees his father's shamed face. All because he was afraid, afraid of everything and he does not know why. A hundred views, forfeit, a thousand names he never learned, and all the lives he never felt, for the sake of this violent binding choir, resonating behind his eyes and in his ears, draining the color from life. The pictures in his head flash faster, the choir pitches with ecstatic zeal. With desperate conviction he whispers...
I am not lost
Then he is weightless, falling faster, faster than life. They can't touch him. He looks below him and sees the trees, awash like how laughter would look if it were colors and shapes. The ground wants him now, and he is not afraid of her sweet face, beaming heavenward, up at him. He is not afraid of this flight…he is galvanized to life, because he has, he knows, overcome. He determines that when his feet touch the ground he will walk over bridges and visit the Empire State Building, all the way to the top. And he will tell Emily his name. He grips the rip cord, delirious with the taste of this bright life which he now owns.
My gratitude and my heart you have always had. Maybe someday soon I can introduce myself and the record of your life will include me.
Remember that you must die
Remember that you are ours
Remember that we too, can fly
They catch him trying to escape, and join him in mid air, as he reaches terminal velocity. His madness breaks open. His eyes burn as the ground rushes at him and his altimeter intones a warning.
Pull the cord, dying is worse than living
the wind steals his hoarse yell
You are still afraid of what was in the white coat.
For my father, for her
You’ll never escape, we will always remind you
He thinks of her and he now understands that life is not to be feared…
"You were wrong about me. I’ll show you. I am not afraid to die"
He stays his hand, laughing like the grass.