I think it was the light rain on my face which helped me swim back up into consciousness, that and the hot, moist breath in my face smelling like rotting meat and poo. Granted, I didn’t make those connections at the time, but having to explain myself later, however, it became clearer. Common sense, reasonability and hindsight always come too late to save me from being another example of a cautionary tale, and of course, the subsequent trip to the ER.
The day started out well, as I got to sleep in late. For an undergraduate that can be anything between 10am to 3pm, depending on what year of a Minor in Alcohol Abuse you are pursuing. I was a junior and a classic underachiever, so I was up at the crack of 10am rummaging through my refrigerator trying to find something that was not a condiment or a successful science experiment for breakfast. I found bread that was stale and stiff from spending time in the block of ice, known as a freezer to my landlord, then added some no-name peanut butter. Viola! Coffee would have to wait: that required a level of cooking I could not commit to in addition to a dairy product, which was more elusive as Sasquatch. Though with my dating record I would have to say that Sasquatch would have been more likely for me to find than the occurrence of any milk or cream nestled in my refrigerator.
Part of the foodless state of my life was due to lack of funds; I was waiting for a check. I was working two jobs and going to school full-time, so money was as tight as a corset on Kim Kardashian. In trying to save money, my roommate and I worked our way through most of the Fine Foods Supermarket’s no-name products, which turned out to be only a few edible items: No-name beer, not bad, no-name cottage cheese, nasty on its own but ok as an ingredient for a no-name, no-frills lasagna-esque type of food. The no-name hot dogs were not even the consistency of meat but rather a slick paste in a thin plastic sleeve. They were not only inedible, they had a creep factor of ten if you used them to sculpt phallic symbols and leave them near the apartment mailboxes as a statement. This was especially true if you chose to mount them on a large paperclip so they can stand on their own. Hey, boredom has many colors, and it turns out one is a fleshy pasty bad Band-Aid color.
Being poor makes you resourceful and creative and it turns out produces some very bad hair days. If quality/ edible food was not at the top of my list, you can imagine what grooming much less fashion was. Some months earlier I subjected myself to a mall-perm, which took me from what was then hot-roller-land of waves that lasted 10 seconds to a blonde Weird Al Yankovick. Not only is that not a good look on Al, it was hideous on a tall, gangly young woman who hoped to go on a date sometime in the next 2 years. At 6’ 1” I was awkward and a little top heavy, and I had no idea of what to do with the miles of real estate God had provided me. I couldn’t dress it or style it, much less walk and chew gum at the same time. Adding a blond frizzy mop just put all need for any birth control on hold for a long time.
My frizz had calmed some in the subsequent months, though coming home from the beauty parlor that first day and standing under the shower for an hour combing a bottle of conditioner through my hair started that slow process. Now with the option to cut a chunk of bad hair off I was hyper- focused like a dog when you eat a sandwich in front of it. This check was slated for food shopping, a lunch out and a cheap haircut, which for me spelled flying into a brave new life with extra lemon scent!
At the appointed hour the mail truck chugged into our complex and set upon its daily rounds. I waited, thinking about my new life, new frontiers that would be open to me with my new hair, and eating a hot dog that snapped. These were deep thoughts with rich context of how happy, beautiful, and satiated I would become by that very evening. Sometimes you don’t really know how thirsty you are until you can see the frosty glass full of beer, that was what seeing the mail truck did. The means were close at hand created a deeper desire for more and new now. When the truck chugged out, I jiggled the doorknob open and bolted to the mailboxes, praying the whole way across the gravel parking lot. A “please let there be a check” mantra played in my head with each loping step of my size 11 sneaker. Taking the mail key and springing the lock to see not only an envelope but the correct envelope made my heart soar. The world was my oyster and I was going to deep fry it, smother it with tartar sauce and look good doing it!
I returned to my humble abode to grab my shopping list and purse to pursue my dreams. I tossed the dish smeared with peanut butter in the sink, grabbed my stuff and headed out again, my body humming with purpose. I jiggled the door knob and yanked on the door all the while plotting my route. The door did not give. It did not jiggle or open. It was locked. Locked up, frozen, the side numbs, the handle, the lock, all stuck. I pulled, prodded, pushed, cajoled, cursed and did anything I could think of to get the door to open. It did not. I called the landlord, my roommate, anyone to spring me from my prison. I spent close to an hour with screw drivers, plyers, nail files and anything I could think of to unstick the lock and knob. Frustration was high to say the least. I was manic. There may or may not have been some foaming at the mouth.
I worked on the front door frantically then paced between the door and our balcony. I could see the outside; I could walk onto to the balcony and taste the crisp fall air on my tongue. I had left messages for everyone I could think of at this point. I was feeling like my chest would explode with each message I left. I remember coming to a stop at the railing on the balcony and looking out onto the green grass of the complex’s green lawn. It didn’t really look that far down, only one story high. I looked down at the possibility of an outdoor escape option with each pacing stint between working on the door and the railing. After the first hour had passed I started to lean over the railing thinking the jump through. The facts were: I was one story up, true, afraid of heights, yes, and there being probability of wetting myself on the jump, definitely. I looked at the possibility of hanging with my spaghetti-string arms from the balcony deck but frowned as directly underneath me was the wrought iron railing for the downstairs apartment entrance and cement. Those were disfiguring things as opposed to the soft green grass just a few feet out and down. So the escape would have to be a jump not a dangle, my tiny brain crunched. Oh man did it crunch all these pieces of very flawed data.
Finally, after almost 2 hours, no call backs and a fit of frustration at the door, I stalked to the balcony and screwed up my courage. I needed to face my fear of heights; I wanted to push through this boundary that was holding me back. I deserved my day of beauty, a nice lunch, and my wonderful new life and would not crumple in the face of fear. I reasoned with myself that this was only a 12-15 foot drop, big deal. I added to that notion that my height will take up at least 6 feet of that 12-15 trying to smooth out the edges of my jagged logic. Now looking back, this thought process was not jagged but rather bad, as I was jumping, not dropping, down to the ground. So, take a giant girl and fling her off a balcony: that was what was going on here and it does not take a genius to figure out no good can come of that. Clearly that was not me.
Blinded by angst and deafened from the shear racket of my internal critic’s and the ongoing debate, I stepped to the outside of the railing. Though the view is only a few inches in distance apart, in the mind’s eye however, from the inside of a balcony railing to the outside, sees the distance as miles apart. First off, there is a more significant breeze out there, which was curious. And then of course there is that stomach-dropping view of nothing in front of you. One might think that would sober me up to the fact this might be a bad move. The drive to push through the boundary and face my fear regardless of what my amygdala lizard brain was screaming was what finally won. I took a deep breath and said “what the hell” and jumped out towards what I hoped to be a soft lawn.
What I did not know at the time of my leap and had not paid attention to while standing on the outside of the railing was the soft sprinklings of light rain. Rain makes grass slick, not soft. So on landing my three feet of leg promptly slid out from underneath me and I landed hard, very HARD on my tail bone. This landing knocked the breath from my body, I saw stars and it left me dazed and in a world of pain sprawled on my back. Oxygen was slow to come back into my lungs, I don’t blame it. I was not quite all the way conscious, just hovering. It was like my spirit left my body as it deemed I was a crazy person and it was “not going back in there.” Then at once my breath came flooding back into my body and I felt the rain. Suddenly this scrunched up face with foul smelling breath was inches from my nose.
I was startled when it spoke as I begun to recognize that the scrunched up face was a dog, and they at best are reticent to speak much less be so articulate.
“Are you okay?” the dog said. I was somewhat touched by its concern.
There seemed to be a very large blobby thing moving about over the dog’s shoulder but if the dog wasn’t worried I shouldn’t be I thought.
“Where did you come from?” the dog spoke again and the blobby thing leaned closer.
I couldn’t speak yet, so I pointed to the balcony which I knew to be generally in a upward direction from where I was sprawled like a scarecrow after Halloween night.
I could see the dog now had a girl, not a blobby thing, and she looked horrified at my gesture. She chimed in, a little judgy, “You jumped from the balcony?”
“Yes,” I finally managed to croak and started to really assess my mess now that I was coming all the way back into full consciousness. With that return to the here and now came humiliation, excruciating pain and the need to flee in the fastest, safest manner. Though the dog and the girl were making sounds of wanting to help me, I just wanted to be back in my apartment and die a quiet dignified death alone. No chatty dogs.
I told the helpful, albeit nosey duo I was fine and slowly through the force of humiliation rolled on to all fours. I then managed to stand and slowly hobble up the hill to the front of the apartment complex and my door. I let myself in, as now the door seemed fine and tears of pain streamed down my face as I grabbed the phone and dialed away. I called all the same people I had earlier, now leaving messages again that I had hurt myself, huh… maybe badly, with little to no detail. The ugly details came out later, first in telling the doctor at the ER and as a result of the copious amount of meds that loosened my tongue, later everyone else.
My brother-in-law ferried me to the ER, eventually being the first responder. Promptly on our return to my apartment he dragged my mattress to the living room floor where I would live for the next 2 weeks while recovering from a sprained back and a massive muscle knot. Before departing he went back to his truck to get his tape measure. He leaned his bulk over the balcony railing and dropped the end over to get the exact measurement. It was 13 feet and 2 inches. He said he was on his way to go play golf and wanted to make sure he told the story with the full detail of my crazy and was gone, just like my dignity.
I am a good deal older now, and a counselor. With age comes a small amount of wisdom and what I know now looking back at this debacle is that sometimes we are scared because we are pushing through a limiting belief or an old psychological boundary. We are facing a fear. That process is uncomfortable, and to face our fears and push through is important for growth. Other times those boundaries are not psychological boundaries as much as physical ones and those boundaries are called railings. Those boundaries are for keeping us safe from doing dumb-ass shit like jumping off buildings for a new haircut and a nice lunch.