Saturday, February 21, 2009
Father's Day, 2008
The man waits for his parents in his ninth floor apartment which overlooks his city's museum and part of its largest park, long a source of pride. The day is bright, clear, a perfect June day that carries no hint of the Mid Atlantic state mugginess that will stifle the city in the weeks to come and now, at five in the afternoon, the sun hovering high in the dry sky, visible through the open glass door leading to the man's balcony, is still a welcome presence.
The man is young, in his early 20s, and in turmoil. A month ago he received his B.A. and he has been waiting ever since to hear back from the graduate school that he wants most—more than anything, ever—to enter. He learned Friday that he had not and now, this day, this Sunday, he must face his parents and tell them. His parents emigrated to America and he is their great hope to assume powerful positions in this beacon of meritocracy. They worked so hard at jobs beneath them to enable him to study long hours from childhood to his last year of college without having to sacrifice study time to perform similar menial labor.
And for nothing! the man thinks. His admission to the school that would have made so much of a difference has been declined! You're not good enough. There is no alternative plan acceptable to him or his parents. There was only this, and he has failed.
It is five minutes after five. His phone rings. The building his parents have paid so much money for him to live in is a good one. It has a front desk and the halls are clean, light bulbs are replaced, the plumbing system maintained and reliable.
It is the front desk, telling him his parents are here. He tells the clerk to admit them.
The man waits. His heart pounds. They are having dinner not to celebrate so much this bizarre American holiday, which he has heard was invented as a way to spur department store sales long ago but what his parents think is the man's good news.
He hears his parents' voices through the door. The sounds of the simple doorknob mechanism. A click. The door opens. His parents begin to enter. The man stands in the narrow living room, watching them. They are nicely dressed, his father in a tie, his mother wearing a dress. They smile when they see him.
The man turns away from them, a clumsy pivot, and runs. It takes only a few steps and just three seconds pass until he is at the railing of the balcony. He sees his hands as he vaults over it, a graceful move he does without thinking. He falls. Every sense is magnified. He sees each leaf in the tree across the driveway. He feels the air buffeting his body with more and more force as his speed increases. He notices there are differences in how it feels against his clothes and his exposed skin. His parents' shrieks are muffled, barely escaping the carpeted interior, but he hears the sound of car tires, children shouting as they play a block away, a car door being slammed shut. These sounds start below him rising as he falls, gaining presence as they near his plane.
It lasts seconds. When his head is as far from the ground as it would be were he standing—too short a time for any real processing—something seems as natural as it does wrong.
He lands on concrete. Bones shatter, internal organs rupture. His brain is severed from its stem, rendering the other damage and attendant furious nerve endings mute. His heart, pierced by knives of broken ribs, shivers for a moment, and stops.
The building is near a police station and a car is dispatched in minutes. An officer does a quick check, makes a call, and covers the body with a sheet. The officer knows by the way the body has fallen several feet from the building that it was likely a jump, not a fall, and takes comfort knowing that the dead man, just a boy, really, at least for a moment, wished to die. Still, thinks the officer, who is no stranger to what he's seeing, Who would want to die on a beautiful day like this?
At twenty after five the Complete and Total Loser is returning to his apartment from work and he sees the sheet-covered body. The sheet is white. It is marked by blood, a growing stain of about a square foot. He is astonished by what a vibrant, cheerful shade of red it is. That color will haunt him for months. Years.