George Carlin once said “I ain’t scared of heights; I am scared of falling from heights.” This was probably very true for Carlin. There once was a picture in Life magazine of a young woman who had jumped from a window high in a building and had landed on top of a car. The car had bent, folding around her body like a warm blanket as she lay there with a calm, restful expression on her face and her arms folded. She looked asleep, not dead. He had thought it was very ironic that this picture a woman serenely entering death was published in a magazine called Life.
He remembered that picture as he started to climb the steps of City Hall. There were twenty nine floors to climb and it would take awhile. He had planned this intentionally to give him plenty of thinking time on his way to the open observation deck at the top of the cold cement building. The building was built during the great depression to create jobs for those who needed to work to survive. It was a living building, built by living souls who would live to see it completed and see the country out of economic despair. The building had outlived those lives that had given it life, and would continue to live for many years to come.
He came to a landing with a door that had a black number eight painted on it and sat down to rest for a moment. Yes, this building was still alive. One word popped into his mind. “Entropy” he thought. Carlin had also spoke about entropy and how entropy insured the end of every living thing. This included buildings, because they were alive as much as anything else. Living things die at the hands of living things. Buildings die by the hands of living humans, or insects, or bacteria. Eventually, he thought, this building would come crashing down and die one way or the other. People were the same way. If it wasn’t for other living things, we would have to live forever. People kill people. Cancer kills people. Germs kill people. Sometimes, people kill themselves like the lady in Life magazine. Everything comes to an end. The only thing left to chance is how that end will come. This building in which he sat on that landing would probably die at the hands of a demolition team to make room for a new living City Hall off in the future.
He pulled himself up and gazed at the stairs that rose before him. The thought entered his mind that if he was going to turn back, this would be a good place to do so. Then he slowly raised his foot and placed it on the next step and began to climb upwards once again. A picture of the tower on the quad at the University of Texas popped into his head. That was a pretty tall building but he wasn’t sure how tall. It was high enough for a man to walk up to the top carrying guns and munitions then still have the strength to let out his anger at the world on all those people walking the streets. Must not have been as tall as City Hall because he would be too tired to lift a sniper rifle up and take careful aim. He eventually died at the height of his life by the hands of police officers. Everything, everyone dies eventually.
Once, when he was a little boy, the family had taken a trip to Colorado. The family wanted to climb the Seven Falls but he was too scared to. He was too scared of falling from that height. That same vacation they had gone to the Garden of the Gods where he had climbed up on a rock called Steamboat Rock. Once he got to the top of the rock he looked around and noticed how high he was from the ground. It scared him so bad he became sick vomiting off the edge of the rock down to the ground below. It could have been him taking that trip instead of his vomit. People were always trying to get him to go up onto high places; not understanding his fear, which he thought was a rational fear. He had taken a trip to St. Louis and found him at that stainless steel monstrosity that they call The Arch. If ever fear of heights was to be rationalized, it was fear of going to the top of that arch. Thankfully, his niece had an aversion to heights as well, so he volunteered to stay on the ground with her while all the others took that suicidal chance by going to the top. Even though everyone made it back to ground level ok, he was not ashamed or did not think himself wrong for making the decision he had made on that day.
His thinking stopped for a moment as he looked at the black number twenty painted on the door. Just nine more floors to go and he would be at a height no one thought him capable of achieving. He would show them that even though he did have this fear of heights, he could do it if he put his mind to it. Right now he was 20 stories up from the ground and though there were no windows in this stairwell, he could feel his stomach starting to tell him he was pretty high up in the air, so he sat to rest once again.
He felt tired as he sat on the landing facing the door with the big black twenty painted on it. His knees were aching and his feet were tired and sore. Even his mind was showing signs of exhaustion. He had been thinking and talking to himself the whole time he had been climbing the stairs. He wondered what time it was. He had not worn his watch on this day because he did not want to break. Someone might want it later on. He had no means of identification on his body at all. No one would know who he was when they found him. He would be like the lady in Life, anonymous and at rest finally. He needed the rest so bad. It wasn’t rest for his legs or his back or his feet that he needed but rather rest for his mind and his soul. Life had worn him out.
The only way to get to that restful stage was to get up and do some more climbing of stairs. As he began once again placing each foot on its own step, one after the other he began to see visions in his mind. First there was a vision of the restful lady in Life with the car blanketing her in warmth and care. He saw the visions of people falling from the upper floors of the World Trade Center, escaping the hell of the jet fuel to the peacefulness of a New York street. While those people knew what the end of the fall would be, they at least had the sensation of floating in air, the wind on their faces, the coolness of the air compared to the heat inside the building and then the suddenly rested for all time. This was what he was waiting for. He wanted that sudden peace that would let his soul finally rest. The troubles of the office would melt away. His wife would at last have a break from his eccentricities. No one would be pointing their finger at him when anything went wrong again. His therapist could stop losing patience with him as she tried to explain proper thinking that he could never understand. At last the world would be a better place and he would be the one making it better.
Suddenly he was face to face with another door. The black letters on this door did not have a number painted on it. Instead it had two words printed on its face. “EXIT” and “ROOF”. This was it. This was what the whole day had been leading up to. Actually when he thought of it, this point in time had been approaching for two years. He took a deep breath and placed his hand on the bar that would open the door. He searched his mind on what his feelings were at this moment. He was not afraid. He was not nervous or anxious. He was peaceful and ready and so he exhaled and pushed on the door bar.
The door opened and he felt a strong breeze slam into his face. It was a nice cool air and the air forced itself into his nostrils and filled his lungs with fresh oxygen. He opened the door a little more and looked out at the horizon and saw nothing. He was on top of the tallest point in the city. Slowly he placed one foot outside the door. He shuffled his other foot to the edge of the door. He felt his hands sweating on the bar of the door and he noticed that his grip was so tight he could feel his hands starting to cramp. He looked down at his hands and noticed that his knuckles were white from the death grip he had on the bar. He tried to let go of the bar and walk out onto the walkway that was surrounded by that short wall. This was going to be easy he thought. All he had to do was let go of that door and walk over to the wall and climb up on it but his hands would not release the bar. He tried to mentally force those hands loose but they would not. He was stuck on top of his world and had no place to go.
He sighed and felt his heart pounding in his chest. He realized that suddenly he could not breathe. He pulled his feet back behind the door and released the grip on the door and fell with his back to the wall of the stairwell. He felt the tears start to run down his cheeks and he realized he had failed at something else once again. His whole life had been one failure after another and this was the worst failure he had endured.
He sat for about an hour thinking about his failure and what it meant for his remaining time on earth. This failure did not mean anything good as far as he could detect. His life was now over but he had to continue making his way through life everyday once again.
As he descended the stairs, he felt a certain jealousy towards the woman in Life magazine snuggled up on top of that car, resting so peacefully.