The sprawling city shifted under my feet, jolting me out of my half-trance. I scoffed at the ambulance just beyond the edges of my dangling toes, slightly annoyed by the interruption but grateful for the escape from my mind palace. I had wandered too far again, lost in what had been, what could be and what is. I had built a house of glass with these three walls. As the sunset each day, I walked up the stairs onto my roof and allowed myself to slip into the glass house. For the next few hours, I would play my favourite sport of taking a sledgehammer to these walls.
Build, break, rebuild, break, cry, rebuild…
break, cry, break, break, break…
break, scream, claw, fight, rebuild, break break break break break break…
The sharp wailing of the siren had now crawled its way into the back of my skull. It slowly dulled like the ambient oscillations of rotor wash to a helicopter pilot, washing the texture of tone in and out of my mind with every flip of the pitch.
Tonight, my routine was disrupted by some poor fucker who probably bit the dust. I relit the cancer stick lodged between my fingers, accidentally burning my thumb with the lighter. Who cares, came a voice from the glass house. The world’s ending anyway. I looked down onto the street, only for the asphalt abyss to stare back at me. I cared about burning myself on the finger. I cared about the fall. I just didn’t care about dying.
My nerves rolled up in a ball by the time the roller coaster was at the top of the tracks. The rails creaked under the weight of the cart. With every groan, I felt myself give in to the idea that this might be “it.” My dad reassured me that the ride was completely safe. I had convinced myself of that as well. But I wasn’t exactly feeling safe as I wiped my tears on the sleeve of my oversized Winnie hoodie. My cynicism would be justified years later when the park got shut down for its lack of safety measures. I looked down onto the pier at the ant-like humans looking up at us. Amused, safe on the ground. The cart came to a halt at the top. Time stopped flowing.
This was my dad’s way of making me feel better the week after our house burned down. As if all the amusement parks in the world could rinse away the terror I felt as my mom shook me awake and carried me through the burning curtains. She would carry the scars from the third-degree burns on her body like a badge of honour for years afterwards. Every time I saw the uneven colour of grafted skin peeking out from under her sleeve, all I felt was guilt and shame.
If only I had blown out that damn candle in the hallway before I went to bed. It was the third night in a row that we had city-wide power outages and I wasn’t going to risk apparitions in the dark finally getting to me. Little did I know that this one damn candle would initiate the financial turmoil that would plague my parents for decades afterwards. I now know that missing mortgage payments on a new house is infinitely scarier than things that go bump in the night.
I’ll take my chances in a knife fight with Freddy Krueger next time.
“You ever see that show where the CIA guy pretends to be a piping engineer and then has to sit through a technical interview?” I asked, grinning off to the side of the road.
The trees moved side to side as we passed by, waving hello, or goodbye. Maybe both?
“Yes, but would you shut up if I said no?” Matt groaned.
“Nah, but anyways, so this guy, right? ? He goes to his interview and obviously he doesn’t know anything about the piping industry, he’s just regurgitating information he read in his file. But he’s trying to go to Iran…”
“Why?” Matt asked. His eyes squinted to see past the drizzle that formed into a sheet on his windshield.
“To do CIA shit,” I dismissed with arms in the air. “So he goes to this piping industry thing and completely steamrolls himself because they’re asking him questions on the fly. But the people hiring him don’t even care about that. They’re angrier about the fact that he’s what? 10 mins late and a weird dude, unlike the other dude who came early who they were going to hire.”
“And he feels like garbage because of everything that he’s worked on to prepare himself for this, and they didn’t even care that he failed the technical part of the interview. It didn’t even matter, they just wanted him to fit into this box of what appears to be good, not everything that he could do that would be good. Not that he prepared for that anyway, but still,” I stared out again.
“So he didn’t go to Iran to do CIA shit?” he grumbled.
“Oh, he did,” I chuckled.
“How?” Matt asked.
“He pushed the guy they hired in front of a bus.” I laughed.
“This is why I don’t bring you along on road trips,” Matt yelled with his fists comically swinging through the air.
“Hey, I finally have my life together. Give me a break.”
I’m not sure if this is when it happened. It would be pretty damn ironic if it was so. Maybe it happened the very next second, maybe it happened hours later. I didn’t even see what made Matt swerve across the road like that into the ditch. Didn’t see the windshield shatter, or feel my foot buckle from the impact.
I did see the red and blue glow through my cracked glasses, rain and dirt smudged across the lens. I feel like I was in my glass house again. I felt the walls close in just a little more.
I was on so much oxy that my friends joked I could be shot and still not feel a thing. But tolerance for benzos builds a lot faster than your ability to cope with the death of a friend and the omnipresent pain radiating from your ankle.
It was simple in my head. I felt pain, my doctor filled a prescription and on my way I went, popping pills like tic-tacs. Thousands of miles away from any parental supervision, my newly-adult mind exploded with possibilities that I was too high to realize.
Instead, it made me forget. It made me forget my failed career as a varsity athlete and my falling grades, the slow drain on my bank account, and the fact that there was an impermeable fog between me and my friends and family. It made me forget that I was scared.
I looked back at the red “Emergency Exit” that I had used to come up the fire escape. The sign scurried in the breeze, the white-on-red letters dancing, mocking, taunting.
I took one last look at the sign and walked back to my empty apartment. “If it all goes to shit, I’ll always have an Emergency Exit,” I mumbled to no one.
Recklessness is chronic, but a disdain for life is terminal. I tested myself with as many reckless sports as I could find, only to realize that I enjoyed them a just little too much. But as I dug boots into the bindings of my snowboard and started down at the snowcap curving down in the steep abyss, I only felt panic- soft, white, icy, clear, damn. Then I fell through the air, the metal edges of my snowboard cutting through the fresh snow with a satisfying zip, carving each turn with precision. “Just another day in the mountain,” I told myself.
But it wasn’t just another day in the mountain. For one, I was trying my first double black run. While green or blue runs are usually mellow and honestly nothing to be scared of beyond your ass hurting from catching an edge, the double black runs are the steepest and highest slopes on the mountain. At this level of steepness, it felt like I was just on a straight drop down below into the trees and rocks littered across the expanse. Secondly, with the previous image of the abyss still fresh in my head, halfway down the mountain, the snow clouds rolled in, bringing in the dreaded whiteout with them. I could barely see a foot or two below me. But that was ok. I was gliding through the snow, connected to the air, confident, fearless.
Then, I remembered- the trees.
A second passed,
I woke up to a cold caress on my cheek, melting away just as soon as it had landed on my face. As my eyes fluttered awake, that familiar bitter taste of metal coated my tongue. Numb yet anticipating pain, I groaned in the cold tree well in which I had landed. I was buried in a goddamn tree well. Perfect. My legs didn’t move despite all the cursing I managed to do with a bloodied mouth.
I felt my body shut down in the cold, snow reaching inside my coverall to burn my skin. I shuddered, perhaps because of the cold, but definitely because of fear. Despite all the fantasies of death and all those hours daydreaming about the beyond, I felt a strange tendril of fear rise through my body, choking my breath, numbing my skin, and closing my eyes.
The next time I opened my eyes, I was being dragged on a rescue stretcher by a man in his mid-thirties in a ski patrol jacket and a wide grin on his face.
“Awake, are we?” he beamed.
“Barely,” I mumbled.
“Good thing someone saw you go into that well and called us,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ll write them a Christmas card. How long till we get down?”
“Soon,” he said, trailing off.
My eyes fluttered shut again. Maybe it was the concussion or the possible hypothermia, but as we rounded a corner on the snowy mountains, I swear I saw a red sign beaming Emergency Exit right at me.
I smiled this time.
SAMIUL SAMIN is a fourth-year Professional Writing program student who works as a journalist and sacrifices his social life to music composition. In between doomscrolling on Twitter, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, snowboarding, and catching up on his reading list, Samiul cherishes the avant-garde in both music and writing.