Writers (in order): Lindsey Segi, Irene Tsen, Langston Wu, Binny Park, Emma Kochenderfer, Melon, Nina Li, Alyssa Tang, Mahathi, Jane Fairfax, and Eileen Hung. Editor: Ms. Ja.
If I’m to be completely honest, life has always treated me well. I have loving parents, a warm home, good education—the epitome of every Hallmark-movie childhood out of every perfect movie you’ve never seen. Got into a top college, went to law school, and became a partner at a prestigious law firm. I had it all.
Yet something was missing. Something’s been missing for my entire life, and it left me empty inside, and I suppose that’s how I found myself at the edge of the building, staring down at the tiny ant-people below me. In my right hand was a crumpled-up ball of paper, and in my left, the five-hundred-dollar champagne bottle I had been saving for three years, with the promise that I’d open it the day I finally had it all.
They say that when you hit rock bottom, the only way left to go is up. But nobody ever told me what to do when you’re at the top. Deep down, I already knew the answer. As I stared down the edge of the building, I realized the only way left to go was down.
I’d let go of fear long ago, once I found real joy in what society tells us is horrible. Not money, not status. There is no real challenge—no real victory—in either of these. The true excitement lies in the risk. You start small, with foiling a co-worker’s presentation, and go bigger from there. Dismantle a museum’s security system. Not steal—but rather vandalize its most precious artifacts. With the right education, anything is possible.
I drank deeply from the champagne bottle and set it down. I launched myself off the building.
Everything was different up here. Countless windows fled before me as I admired the view of crawling car lights, stopping and scurrying on the street below. The wind almost made me senseless on my dive towards an impending doom. Then, I flipped and saw the clear blue sky. The sun was peeking out from the summit of the building and for just a moment, I felt content. I’d never felt so high, in reality and within. I was satisfied with all that life has given me. It was time for rest. My eyes fell shut and the last chapter of my life flipped to a blank page.
Or so I thought...
A ringtone. My ringtone. The sound of my phone shot life through my body once more, and my eyes flashed open before I could get a chance to stop them. I heard it ring and vibrate in my pocket, watching everything rise up towards me. Watching the world around me until the ringing faded away and the only sound left in the world was the beat of my heart, pounding slower with every moment. As I gazed at the lights of buildings passing by me, I realized this moment was nothing I had hoped it would be. What a waste of a nice bottle of champagne. I had thought doing this, taking this risk unlike any risk I had taken before, would somehow change things. Make everything better. Maybe it wouldn’t—but now it was too late to go back.
And then it was over. Or was it really over? I could still see the lights of the buildings through my flickering vision. I could still hear the sound of my heartbeat, each slow pulse pounding my head. The feeling of impending doom weighed down my hands, arms, legs.
The lights slowed. It suddenly gnawed at me. I closed my eyes to try and stop thinking about it, but it was no use. I only made it worse. It felt like my phone was burning a hole through my pocket. Someone called me. Who was it? I needed to know who. They had felt the need to call at this hour to ruin my moment. Who? One possible name flashed in my mind. No. Who else could have called? No. Maybe there was still something left in this world for me. No—
I needed to answer.
The expected impact of concrete did not come. I heard the noise made by my body and the gigantic air cushion and felt my entire body groan. Pain shot through my hips and legs. I saw stars and my vision faded in and out. The surrounding noise of the city, combined with a few loud, concerned cries, returned eventually. I blinked.
The high I’d been chasing faded away as quickly as it had come. My body ached like it hadn’t in years, a weight settling back into my body that had been punched out the moment I threw myself into the air.
There was a familiar face blurring in and out of my vision, that almost made me question if I had really died and gone to heaven. Which made no sense, since my fall from grace had surely secured me a permanent spot in Hell. Still, the harsh lights of the city cast a halo around their dark hair like an angel. I imagined I could see the desperation in their face, because I’d always been good at seeing things I wanted to see. I recalled the sights of the city falling backwards, the night sky in motion, the stars unreachable. I thought of those old-timey plays I would get dragged to, where one always dies too soon—or too late. And yet, life was there, finished: the line was drawn, and it must all be counted for. My fingers twitched limply around my inner pocket, seeking the constant vibrations from my phone.
Passersby stopped to stare and worry, but most streamed through in the currents of their daily life, regarding me as only a minor disturbance. It made me feel as if I should be ashamed of what I did to myself—to rot in such a way.
That was when the scent of fruity floral hit my nose. Was I just imagining things at this point? There was no way that she would have come here. Not after everything that happened a few years ago. In blurred vision, I saw her silhouette and suddenly I recognized the familiar face that I’d seen earlier. My lungs desperately raised and collapsed trying to fight the death that seemed almost inevitable now.
The sound of her voice brought me a dizzying rush of realization and regret. I had made the wrong jump. Took the wrong risk. My conviction intensified along with the pain in my body. I was always good at seeing the things I wanted to see. I wanted this to be the final risk I needed. So simple—a sip of champagne, a leap. But no. There were words to be said. Amends to be made. They formed a skyscraper in my mind infinitely more terrifying than the one I was standing on minutes ago. In this moment, with nothing and everything left to lose, there was nothing I would not give to be at the top of it.
I tried to speak but the words wouldn’t form. I couldn’t move; I could barely even think. The inevitably of risk was that it didn’t always pay off, and I was paying now.