I can’t imagine that it is a universal experience to stare down at your proverbial feet and find that the very tips of your shoes extend over a gulf that has no discernable bottom.
And I can’t imagine that many, looking down, don’t feel the pull of the fall- to allow the force of your own descent to cradle you.
Perhaps you fall face first, wanting a last glimpse of solidity, a final reminder that you are nothing but meat casually animated by an accident of ancient chemistry.
Or perhaps you turn around to survey the life behind you, a reminder that there’s really very little that ties you to the elevation you’ve grown so accustomed to.
Perhaps it’s exhilarating, perhaps it’s terrifying, but there’s no returning. Any regrets you might have are finally rendered futile. Your loves as well. There is only the friction of speed and then terminal velocity. You might be free or maybe you’re tragic but the only thing that can really be said is that you’re over.
This doesn’t have to be a discussion of suicide, though it is that. But it could also be an analogy for the tremendous moments that every life involves, those points from which there is no return.
I think there is an outcome to the analogy that we rarely entertain in which a leap is made and there is no bottom. We don’t hit water at such a speed that it may as well be concrete or scatter ourselves on rocks once obscured by distance. We are certainly not held and cradled by a loving god. We just keep falling, past bathtubs in which prospectors scrub themselves clean and farmers wrestle with broken tractors. Roots, dinosaur bones, treasures that would make you a millionaire had you not left everything behind, you pass them all as you explore the degrees of freedom of effortless flight.
Another iteration of this scenario is that you jump and you scarcely fall. Maybe four feet down there is another precipice. After a period of exclamatory leaps your knees are skinned and your palms are bloody and down is still the only direction that makes sense.
I don’t know where I fall in these scenarios. I’m alive, so clearly I never really embraced the art of falling. I know some people who have and their loved ones would probably be unhappy with my admiration for the finality of their departure. So I don’t say in mixed company that I think there’s something truly brave about a willing departure from a state of existence that most of us cling to desperately.
And I hope against hope that I didn’t leap into a descent that has no end. I’ve met some of those and they are sad creatures. They summon images of sickbeds bathed in grey and late night parking lot scuffles- estranged children, marriages that keep happening and keep failing. Smoking indoors, falling asleep in an armchair with the television on, some pills and some beers arrayed around their body as it refuses to die.
Perhaps it is the last of these that is the closest parallel to my own life. At some point in the last ten years I ran towards an obvious precipice and leapt without looking down. I spread my arms like they were wings. They never materialized.
After an endless moment I met ground again, grit and blood in my mouth, my knees skinned, the wind knocked out of me. Hurt, but a million miles from dead. The thing that felt like a final decisive choice turned into a new sort of unfreedom.
Perhaps this is the fate of all things that live. Perhaps some of us see this and some of us don’t. I wish I didn’t.
I’ve probably been sick all my life. My brain has never truly accepted the world, feeling that it was either very much more or very much less than it claimed to be. The failure to confirm either suspicion drives me to rage or despondence or both depending on the day.
I thought that I glimpsed something in the populist spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous, a glimmer of the vastness of things in the sadness of drunks who no longer drank. It was an easy place to land really. Despite any failings it may have it remains one of the oldest existing non-hierarchical mutual aid societies created by caucasians. But people drift away from things. They jump again and ignore the hard ground ten feet below.
My next leap was onto and into the glorious figure of who I wanted to be. He was standing. I fell face first behind him. I was beaten up at this point. My split lip had never healed. There was still gravel in there. I had sand in my eyes. But I could see him. He was brave and free and believed in himself to a degree that was hard to bear but he looked like such a comfortable vessel that I stepped right in, hoping that he could find his way down.
He didn’t. He just jumped. It was an interesting leap. He ate an ounce of mushrooms, smoked three spliffs, fell asleep after smoking a bowl of changa and upon waking took flight again. He landed in a suburban household that looked remarkably like my childhood home. People that looked just like my parents were there, but if they were my parents then how in the world did they get so old?
We had landed on a couch. Just to be sure of its solidity we lay there for quite some time. When it was time to leap again it was September of 2016. I knew this because everyone was talking about the presidential election, and since my life was spent in the downwardly mobile middle class white enclaves of New York I was reminded many times of the ill-placed resentments of the East Coast cracker.
The next time we jumped it was out of the way of the impending co-homicide that my father and I had been planning, unbeknownst to either of us. I landed in Vermont. There was no distinguishing me from myself anymore. The shock of hitting ground two times had smashed us into one thing. Terrified me lived in terrifying me, locked in a stalemate of superimposition until one died and the other was tasked with lugging around the dead one’s spirit.
There have been no further leaps. I feel done with jumping. I know it hurts. I circle the precipice and hoist the corpse of my other self, but then he twitches and cries out weakly, reminding me that he is not dead yet. I hate him. I love him. I am him and I am not.
In the next month it is very likely that I will undergo Electroconvulsive Therapy. This seems like the last leap before the final plummet and this is the most frightening thing about it.
I don’t fear memory loss or brain damage. The idea of seizing on a hospital bed with electrodes pressed against my mind doesn’t begin to encompass the terror of realizing that there is nothing left after this. Instead of the basement of the river valley that I have been throwing myself into for so many years, finally reaching bottom and following the water to the sea, I will be confronted with the option that was there all along, a final hopeless plunge into unknowable nothingness.
I want to live. I want to die. I have to hold both these truths in tension and learn to exist within the liminal space. Jump? Or don’t?