Infinity + One
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“Can I call someone for you?” he tried again when I didn’t answer. I shook my head but I still didn’t look at him. I kept my face forward, looking into the fog. I liked the white nothingness. It soothed me. I wanted to get closer to it. That’s why I’d climbed the railing in the first place.
“Look, kid. I can’t just leave you here.” No ‘r’ again. I was fascinated by his accent, but I still wished he would give up and go away.
“I’m not a kid. So you can leave me here.” I spoke for the first time, noticing how my ‘r’ rang out in defiance, just like my words.
I felt his eyes on my face. I turned and looked at him then. Really looked at him. He wore a knit cap pulled low on his forehead and around his ears the way I did. It was cold out. I’d stolen mine from my security detail, along with a huge hooded sweatshirt someone had left in my dressing room. His cap looked natural on him. He hadn’t stolen his, I was sure. Shaggy blond hair peeked out beneath the cap, but his eyebrows were thick and almost as dark as the knit of his hat—black slashes above eyes of an undecipherable color. In the foggy darkness everything was just different shades of grey. His gaze was steady, and his mouth pursed slightly as if I’d surprised him. It seems we’d both been wrong. I wasn’t a kid and he wasn’t an older man. He was maybe a few years older than I was, if that.
“No, I guess you aren’t,” he said, his startled gaze flickering to my chest as if to verify that I was, indeed, female. I raised one eyebrow and lifted my chin, demanding that he lift his gaze in return. He did, almost immediately, and he spoke again, his voice measured, his tone mild.
“The odds are, if you fall, you’ll die. Falling might feel good. But landing won’t. Landing will feel like shit. And if you don’t die, you’ll wish you had, and you’ll wish you’d never let go in the first place. And you’ll cry out for help. But then it will be too late, because I’m not jumping in after you, Texas.”
“I don’t remember asking you to, Boston,” I shot back wearily, not correcting him on my origins. Everybody with a drawl must be from Texas, apparently.
His eyes rested briefly on my boots and then slid up to mine, calculating. “You and I both know you aren’t gonna do it. Cut the drama, climb down, and I’ll take you wherever you wanna go.”
It was the wrong thing to say. I felt the fury fill my empty gut and roar up my throat like flames in an elevator shaft. The tears started streaming down my cheeks, my body’s natural, protective, response to the inferno raging in my chest. I was exhausted. Completely spent. Emotionally and physically done. I was tired of being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and who to do it with. I was tired of never making any decisions for myself. So then and there, I made a big one. His words cemented my resolve. And I saw the moment when he knew it. His mouth moved around a silent curse and his eyes widened.
I leaned into the fog and let go.
WHEN MY TWIN sister died, death became very real. It was something I thought about almost constantly. And because she was there, wherever dead people are, and because I loved her more than I loved anyone on Earth, part of me wanted to be there too. And so I started to consider my own death, to contemplate it, to wonder. I didn’t just suddenly want to die. It’s not something that happens suddenly. It starts as a thought that flickers in the darkest recesses of your brain for a second, like a birthday candle just before it’s extinguished. But death is a trick candle. The kind that you rub out only to have it flame up again. And again. And each time it flickers back to life, it lingers a little longer and glows a little brighter. The light seems almost warm. Friendly. It doesn’t feel like it’s something that will burn you.
Eventually, the flickering thought becomes an option, and the option becomes detailed and precise, with a plan A and a plan B. And sometimes a C and D. And before you know it, you start to say goodbye in little ways. “Maybe this should be my last cup of coffee. The last time I tie these shoes, the last time I pet my cat. The last time I sing this song.” And there is relief with each “last”—like checking chores off a long, burdensome list. Then the little candles in your head become burning bridges. People who want to die burn bridges right and left. They burn bridges, and then they jump off of them.
That night, I had kicked everyone out of my designated dressing room. I made them all leave. I smiled and spoke softly. I didn’t scream or cry or have a diva moment. I never did. That was Gran’s job. I just asked for a few moments by myself. It was the last night of the tour and everyone would want to celebrate. I’d sung at Madison Square Garden the night before and Gran was in heaven. Tonight we were at another “garden” arena—TD Gardens, they called it. I knew I should be thrilled. But I wasn’t. I felt hollowed out like a big, empty watermelon. Daddy used to cut off the top and eat watermelon like ice cream, spoonful by spoonful, until it was just an empty gourd. Then he’d put the top back on so it looked brand new. More than once Mama had taken his name in vain when she discovered that the insides had been scraped clean.