Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Prologue: In which Shelley Hobson gets back to where she once belonged

I never really intended to jump. 

Still, there was something about standing on the edge of air in the blackness of night, with the rounded, yellow toes of my well-worn boots cutting out two half moons against the dimly lit alley four stories below.  

As I swayed my attention shifted, from feet to ground to air and back.  For a split second, everything seemed perfectly crystal clear.

I teetered for a moment, leaning out, then back, playing with the concept of flight, recoiling from the certainty of landing.  It was the wind that captured my fancy, as it bubbled up the loose, translucent legs of my trousers, catching my wide, wild rainbow wrap and tenting it out behind me like a hopeless parachute.  Hair aloft, glasses fogged, arms wide, embracing nothing but cool, blameless air, I wondered if maybe gravity would reverse itself just for me,  just for a moment.

But as I swayed forward, the alley below at once snapped into foreground, in sharp focus.  Laws of nature only change for pretty girls and liars. I let myself lag back, cramping into a charlie horse as my calf hyper-extended and then coiled back to catch the graveled rooftop behind me.  Grimacing, I leaned to rub the knot out of my muscle, the knife pain leaving a dull ache behind, hot and unglamorous, not at all like the wind nymph I had aspired to be.

My arms no longer full of air, I could now feel that the fog on my glasses had come from hot tears that made feverish streaks from my eyes to my chin.  I contemplated how I would probably have ping-ponged back and forth from one wall to the other on my way down anyway, significantly diminishing the display value of my corpse.  I might even have caught on a fire escape and failed to consummate the air affair altogether – how undignified to set out to kill myself and then screw it up.  Considering the lateness of the hour, it might have been hours before anyone found me at all, and I would have had to lie there, broken and suffering among the rotting banana peels and discarded liquor bottles, until the garbage men tripped over me the next morning.

For a moment I sat on the edge of the chaise in the little rooftop garden, where I often sunned myself topless.  Sunny mornings were more frequent in the hilltop microclimate of Russian Hill than they were in other San Francisco neighborhoods, and I had taken to basking there, hoping that the man of my dreams would notice me from his high rise apartment and be compelled to find me. 

The love of my short, desperate little life was gone for good now.  My special love with the pale blue eyes ringed with black.  The only thing special about me.  Together with his jet hair and Mediterranean complexion, those eyes made him look like an ice-pick killer.  He possessed an emptiness that I couldn’t explain or penetrate.  This emptiness had crept up on me slowly, stealthily.  Because of it I had come to imagine over time, gradually, that I was the empty one.

That space of emptiness was where I had been standing that night as I teetered over the Hyde Street alley, getting high on deep drags of the emptiness of air, with a long clear expanse of unknown stretching out before me, relaxed and natural, inviting me to step out into the emptiness that was me.

Maybe my life was simply about nothing, after all.  If so, maybe it hurt too much to be worth it.

I finally lay back in the chaise, just for a moment, and allowed myself to get lost in the question, how did I arrive in this place, at this time, at this Shelley that I had become?  And when had I stopped knowing which of the voices in my head I should listen to, which I should ignore?

The population was small in my little world.  My sane voices lived there. And who were any of them, really?  My best girl, once the only clear horizon on the murky sea I daily navigated, had become a distant and indecipherable whisper, a flat grey outline against the cause she had given herself up to.  And the others?  They had their own lives, their own people now.  All I had left was me, and a tenuous connection with the dull, ever present monotone of Graham, moored by the filaments of a distant childhood.

My journey to the ledge had seemed like a long one, to be sure, considering.  At 22, five years is more than twenty percent of a life.  Twenty-two down, and how many to go, I thought.  And that frame of mind was what had to go, with me the one to send it packing - this much I knew.  Or maybe I was just too much of a coward to take - that - one - last - step -

I let the breeze gently brush the hair off my forehead, ignoring the mist creeping up off the Bay that promised to penetrate my hair and frizz it out beyond all recognition.  No one would see me tonight anyway – no lights on the rooftop to illuminate me in the blackness of night – only the lights of those still awake in the windows across, above, below, studding every corner under the hooded moon, little vignettes of life evolving, revolving, some known to me, others not.  Lives lived out on top, daily commerce below – Marcel & Henri’s charcuterie; Swenson’s ice cream parlor; the Rexall with its orange plastic sign, the same one from the fifties, all shuttered in the silence of night.  All of these served as the orchestra pit in which the overture was played for the cast that lived upstairs, punctuated like clockwork by the clang of a cable car bell. And Bruno was right next door, his faintly lit upstairs window within 100 yards of the chaise I was lying on.  How the hell did I get here, to this particular corner of the universe, lying on this chaise still weak in the knees from my air dance on the ledge,  to this place in my life?  And where would I go next?  I had to find the answers to these questions before I stood up again, even if I had to camp here on the rooftop until I found them.

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