EDGEWALKING

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There was the time I thought about killing myself just because it would be so wonderful to never again feel such pain. If the pain hadn’t stopped I might’ve done something foolish. But it stopped, or more accurately, I stopped it. I picked up a guitar and wept with it and when the last chord chimed I was past it.

But later on, when I was really alone and lonely and felt like I had nowhere to turn and nothing to do and nobody to blame but myself, I didn’t think about killing myself. I just stopped caring about myself. And I think that was more dangerous than just wanting to stop the pain.

It wasn’t pain any more but the numbness that sets in after the pain. Numbness going round in meaningless circuits within meaningless routines and there was no longer anything to affirm my life, to remind me I existed. The world didn’t care – the world never cared, never cares, but now I was always having my nose rubbed in it – so I didn’t care neither.

When the program director of CKDU called me to do an all-night fill-in show – this was after I’d dropped my music show but I was still ghosting around the station some, I was still doing the ecology show then – I was into it. But I was ghostly at the station, memories of everyone I ever did a show with all scattered and gone away now, and doing the show just reminded me of it. So I didn’t care about the music any more because who was listening? So I stepped out into the hall for a smoke and like a fool let the door lock behind me.

There was no way back in – the door was left locked at night for security. I knew the windows in the studio were locked, but I decided to try getting back in anyway. The windows in the Student Union Building were tall, modern, sealed, but along the bottom were long, rectangular windows mounted in aluminum frames that you opened with a rotating handle. They swung on a couple of smooth hinges and you could just slip your body through when the window was cranked all the way. So I got one open out in the fourth floor smoking lounge – the main stairwell – that let me out onto a cool crunch tar roof. And I went along and tested the windows – there was the studio lit by bright red and green buttons on the board and glowing meter windows and intimate low late-night DJ lighting and the LP spinning on the turntable and I couldn’t get in. And a little further along, the first office window I came to – closed and locked tight. I was out of luck, I’d have to call the program director in the middle of the night …

Only, I still had another option. A fairly wide ledge ran out past the edge of the roof, followed the jut of the building where the rest of the offices were, came to a corner and went around. I could step on out there. I didn’t care. So I did. Four floors up – now I knew I was alive all right. Now, I knew I was breathing. Now I had suddenly arrived at the present moment, working every fibre and cell of my being and being in every fibre and cell of my body and moving smoothly, fluidly, sinuously along the solid, matt, granite slab ledge toward the next office window. It wasn’t hard. There were architectural intrusions along my path, flanges separating one room from the next, I had to slip round each such barrier where the ledge was much narrower, much less safe-seeming, but it was a firm grip and a whisk and I was safe again, safe and bending slightly at the knees and investigating the next window … the next window … is locked.

There’s a slight breeze, cool September late summer night air. The trees across the street in front of Domus susurrus, there’s not a sign of life anywhere at this time of night on campus. Stars in the sky.

I have one more throw of the dice. Around the corner and a little farther along the ledge is the program director’s office. If I can’t open that window then I’ll have to give up, turn around and go back. But now that I’ve come this far I might as well go all the way … I edge around the corner, cheek intimate with the darkened glass. Now I’m directly over the street, glimpse the sidewalk I’ve ambled along time and again. The door below that opens to let the next late-night DJ in when you press a button in the studio. Again, concentrate, concentrate … moving gracefully along the ledge in inches, breathing, being … and here is the office, and here is the window, and the window … is open!

In an instant I’ve crouched down on the ledge and slid my body slowly into the slot, hands carefully exploring the darkened office space beyond. It’s a cinch. I walk on my hands down to the floor and the rest of my body follows with a slither and a thud. And I am feeling joy. I twinkle my way through the small office and open the door into the main office, then hustle down the long hallway to the on-air studio and the long track I’d picked for my smoke break hasn’t even finished yet. No, I hadn’t even missed the mix, the transition from one track to the next.

I told the program director about this misadventure next time I saw him, thinking he might find it as amusing as I did. He didn’t. He never asked me to do another all-night radio show again.

I should’ve known. I’d already toyed with this bored indifference to death on the cliffs of Cape Split, high above the crash of the Bay of Fundy surf. The night before, just as dusk fell, we’d found a fallen fish – dropped from a careless hunting bird’s beak, a beautiful, fresh, silver fish lay on the green green grass. One of the people I was camping with fried it up in butter on a small frying pan over an open fire. The fresh air and the climb and the ambiguities of our relationships – I’d necked with one of the young women the night before, in the same careless way I’d braved the ledges of the Student Union Building. I’d hurt her somehow with my indifference.

So the next morning, finding myself alone again – the others were off together, exploring – I wandered along the edge of the cliff, where the turf ended abruptly and naked rock showed and descended steeply. A fog bank had come into the bay and so the cape seemed to be floating like the prow of a great ship cleaving a vast white sea. I saw something sparkling in the sunlight and I slipped my way down the rocks, farther, farther, discovering bits of quartz embedded in the rock and trying to dislodge a chunk with my fingers. I bloodied one finger in the attempt, then finally pried a small nugget of crystal out and toyed with it as I sat, legs dangling over the white void. I felt gravity nailing me tight to the rock below me. The closer you are to the edge, the more aware you become of things like that. Then I saw my shadow, cast on the white cloud below, and the shadow of my head had a rainbow halo.

Just then two of my companions came along and saw me, and I saw the girl draw a sharp breath when she saw me sitting on the edge of the cliff like that. The guy came over and crouched near me, friendly-like, but I could sense that he was acting on her fear and he was there to look after me, maybe catch me if I might slip. I grinned up at him knowingly, showed him the quartz crystal, then pointed downward at our shadows, and the three glowing halos that floated round their heads.

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