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Waiting for Death
The truth is, none of it was my idea. The whole reason why I had to go to therapy in the first place was because my mom is one of those very paranoid people who takes an umbrella to work with her if the sky is looking even the slightest bit cloudy. Half of the time I forget an umbrella even when it is raining. Anyway, I had been going for a couple of weeks now, on account of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That’s the term used to explain the fact that I wash my hair three times, count the words I say, and constantly add up the numbers on a digital clock. I didn’t mind it so much all the time--the therapy, I mean--only the waiting room was the worst. If I could just go in, talk to my therapist, and leave, then I wouldn’t complain nearly as much. It’s just the waiting room, mainly. I swear, if you weren’t insane or depressed or messed up in any way and went into that waiting room, you could be all of those things by the time you left. All you had to do was just sit in there.
The elevator ride up to my therapist’s suite was about a thirty-second one. Which doesn’t sound like a long time, but it is when you’re terrified of elevators. Even more than the waiting room, I hated that elevator. It was a small one, a green-carpeted and gold-rimmed box with wood paneling on the two sides and a giant mirror stretched across the back wall. So you could fix your hair before your therapy appointment, ha ha. The air inside was about ten degrees cooler than the sticky summer air but ten times as stuffy. I don’t know how that works. I just seems like if your in such a small place like that, it doesn’t matter how cold the air is, it’s still stuffy no matter what.
There’s one elevator ride in particular that I remember. The one that made me want to take the stairs from that day on. The doors had just slid closed, locking in place, and I soon felt the small lurch before the elevator began to slide stealthily and sickeningly upwards, like syrup that’s been left in the fridge too long or a roller coaster climbing upwards, its tired chugs muffled against a backdrop of nervous laughs and premature screams.
It felt sort of like all of the air was being sucked out of the elevator with a vacuum. Then, I don’t really know why, but I started thinking about what would happen if the elevator just fell. I mean, if it just broke off from the cables or whatever that pull it up, and it just plunged down the elevator shaft until it hit the concrete. If the syrup was put in the microwave or the roller coaster broke. I wondered if I would fly up and hit the roof during the fall, or if I would just collapse to the green carpet in a few panicked seconds before I collided with the ground.
I wasn’t quite sure how I would die.
Would the force of the impact break my neck? Or would I bash my head so hard against the floor that it knocked me out dead? I imagined the elevator slowly stopping in between floors, pausing for a few slow seconds the way that those Tower of Terror kind of rides at Disneyland and stuff do, right before they let you drop into a perpetual fall. It would probably let out a low groan before it gave way, and then I would grow sick with the realization of what was happening, facing death only a few hundred feet away. I would turn towards the mirror, looking at myself, watching my facial expression as I waited for death, watching my mouth twist into a horrified grimace and my eyes glaze over with fear.
I wondered what that would be like, waiting for death.
Would I have time to cry? Or time to scream? Or maybe I would start laughing. Or singing. Or jumping up and down. Or making funny faces. Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I would just throw my hands up in the air and shriek, a passenger in a roller coaster car sailing down, down, down while a pop flashed in my eyes as a picture was taken. My hair would be flying upwards, my hands grasping the safety bar, my mouth stretched wide in suspense.
For some reason, I started thinking about my house, which sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, pushed far back from the curb by a thick blanket of grass and a long set of flagstone steps. The best part of that house wasn’t even an actual part of the house, but it was the view from my bedroom window when it was raining. My bedroom window looked down at the street, and one day when it was pouring down in buckets, my mom and I opened up my blinds and sat on the edge of my bed and watched the water beat down. She had just gotten home from work and was damp from the rain, her sweater and jeans clinging to her skin and her mascara the slightest bit smeared.
“I thought you had an umbrella...” I mumbled, flicking my tongue over the fronts of my teeth nervously, how I always do. The thought of my mom not being prepared for the rain scared me, the way watching myself in the elevator mirror as I fell to my death did.
I heard my mom suck in a deep breath of air beside me, both of us staring straight ahead in front of us and watching the same scene. “I did,” she said slowly, after a long pause. I turned to look at her. “I just didn’t feel like using it,” she quipped, an audible change in her voice. Her tone was light, her words weightless, a playful smile dancing across her mouth and eyes.
It’s funny, sometimes when it’s raining so hard, you can’t even see the rain. I mean, you can see the rain, but you can’t always see the raindrops.
“Mom,” I said, my voice sounding small and permeable against the background of swift rainfall, a steady set of thumps simultaneously hammering against the ground, “how many raindrops are out there, you think?”
“Look at the street,” my mom said, leaning in close to my ear and gesturing down to the dark circle of pavement below us. Her hair brushed against my cheek, the wet strands tickling my warm skin. She smelled like a mixture of rain and red wine. It’s weird how rain doesn’t smell like water, but it is water. Rain just smells sort of like Earth and water and air all combined; the elements of the atmosphere stirred together like ingredients in a recipe. “If you stare straight at the sky, it’s hard to tell. But if you look at the ground, you can see all of them.”
She was right, of course. She always is. The drops were splattering against the ground, like a million marbles dropped onto a wood floor, each one a little needlepoint puncturing the wet earth beneath it. I lifted my eyes to the air again, watching as the raindrops slurred back together in one sheet of icy water. The sheet of water and the bag of marbles didn’t even look like the same rain. I mean they were the same rain, but it looked like two separate things.
It’s sort of like when my little sister, Hallie, and I used to spend a lazy Saturday morning going around to different rooms in the house, laying on our backs and kicking our feet up in the air. From there we’d pretend the ceiling was our floor, and that everything in our world was upside-down. This one time a while ago, Hallie and I situated ourselves face up on the tiled kitchen floor, knees bent, arms folded behind our heads. As if we were tanning on the beach.
“We would eat breakfast over there,” Hallie said, pointing to a portion of the ceiling that jutted out lower than the rest.
“How would you make breakfast?” I asked. “The stove would be on the ceiling.” For me, this game had started to lose its charm.
Hallie was silent for a minute. “I would crack eggs onto a plate and hold them up to the stove,” she said finally, stubborn and persistent. She wanted to make it as real for me as it was for her. “They’d cook that way, right? And then I’d bring them over there---we could use that as a table.”
I wanted to believe her; I really did. The thought of cooking eggs upside-down seemed beautiful. But my logic was laughing at my imagination, pointing its finger jeeringly and holding one hand over its stomach and rolling on the floor, sadistically cackling at the naivety of my desires.
The thoughts in my head were cut off by the ping of the opening elevator doors, and I stepped outside, finding myself oddly reluctant to leave the box-like contraption. It seemed sort of like a haven now---a cave or a nitch or one of those forts that I used to build with my little brother in the living room, using pillows and blankets and chairs while my mother cooked her French toast in the adjoining kitchen and the sound of my dad yelling for my dog, Elvis, to “fetch, boy!” drifted in from the open side door and my sister ran around, pretending to be a horse and jumping over obstacles like brooms and pillows that she had set up to be a jumper’s course, imagining herself a professional rider in the Grand Prix. It just seemed safe.
But I couldn’t go back. I still had that waiting room to look forward to. Whenever I get around to appreciating something, it seems like I always have the next thing to dread.