from the book "The House of Lost Spirits"
My first thought turns to the ceiling fan in my bedroom. Not for sentimental reasons, but mainly because of my mother’s belief in the right to privacy. Since reaching the age when one prefers to dress alone in front of a mirror, the room has been my private property. The thought of using the fan is rejected for fear that the plaster ceiling might collapse and fall because of the combined weight.
The idea of using the ceiling hook flashed through my mind during dinner a few months earlier. Such thoughts are always my escape when my surroundings have nothing better to offer. As I don’t want to join in the boring small talk my parents try to keep going, I let my thoughts wander to where I feel at ease. I begin thinking of dead film stars, then move on to dead musicians, and from there land straight on the consoling thought of dead authors.
Death is something beautiful to think about when life is depressing enough. I was close to moving on to dead poets when I noticed the large pot plant on a hook hanging down from the ceiling in the corner of the living room, close to the big window that faces the back yard. That pot is heavy but is safely anchored in the ceiling.
Safety, strange as it sounds, is an essential element because I want to avoid any risk of injury. All I need is to land up a cripple or spend the rest of my life like a vegetable. Of course, my mother will be fine with that. She will probably write a series of articles about “Coping with a Disabled Child.” Everything with my mother ends up being about “Coping Together” with problems. That is the title of her regular column as a famous expert family psychologist.
If asked, I’d say that my mother is much better at writing than she is at clinical psychology. In fact, those who know my family well will conclude that we are a tight group of three people, whose genetic relationship doesn’t force us to communicate with one another. But, of course, no one asks me.
I can’t even remember when last my mother met with patients. That’s the hard and tiring side of the profession. She spends most of her time at interviews on the radio, has a regular show on the local station, and writes unbearable columns in a stupid women’s magazine only read by bored women waiting in line for a hairdo. Sadly, also by all my classmates, who find them amusing. Especially that column about “Coping with a Rejected Child.” For a whole month, they wouldn’t stop quoting sentences from that column whenever I entered the classroom or passed them in the hallways.
Sometimes, I love imagining that school is a gigantic hothouse and that all the kids are pot plants. That way, I can get through whole days without having to relate to anyone. After all, only crazy people talk to plants. Besides the practical aspect of this method, it is also somewhat comforting, since pot plants, unlike humans, help balance Earth’s climate and don’t waste oxygen. Anyway, I think the world would be a much better place if people busied themselves with photo-synthesis. If you study their hair, the comparison to a pot plant can even be amusing. My science teacher, for example, could be a beautiful aloe vera.
About a week after that supper, when the idea of the ceiling hook in the living room fired my imagination, I went to Home Center to find out the weight of a clay pot. Yes, the plant hanging in our living room probably came from some smart luxury designer store, but I assumed that the weight would be more or less the same. The salesman in his red overalls was not really in tune with the slogan “Ask Me” painted on his back and regarded my questions as a tiresome nuisance.
“The height, width, and depth are noted here. There’s nothing about the weight.”
“So, can you weigh it?” I ask, noting the measurements on my cell phone so that I could work out the volume of the earth in the pot later. The weight of the plant seemed unimportant to me. The salesman complained.
“How do you want me to weigh it? Why does it matter to you?”
I decided to turn the salesman into a potted plant (his hair reminded me of the fronds of a fiddlehead fern), and not waste any more time or words on him. Sometimes, I find the need to explain myself both tiring and pointless. Instead, I turned to the bathroom department, where I found a scale. When I returned with it to the furious salesman in the gardening section, he got even angrier.
“Shouldn’t you be in school or somewhere like that?”
Instead of answering, because only crazy people answer fiddlehead ferns, I moved away to the building materials department and bought a two-meter length of rope.
It wasn’t a snap decision. It had been cooking in my head for a long time, but I understand that thoughts are like pasta—when overcooked, it ends up in a mess. It may be edible and tolerable, but it leaves one feeling that things should be different.
There’s no point in trying to understand why I am choosing to do this at midday on Thursday. Honestly, there is no particular reason, not yesterday, and not today. The date has no significance, and this is an excellent place to point out that I am absolutely opposed to symbolism, which people use in a pathetic attempt to give meaning to meaningless events. If an old man is run over by a bus when he crosses the road, then the fact that the old man has been a bus driver for thirty years doesn’t make his death any less coincidental. Death is merely insignificant. If you think of the fact that every five seconds, nine people die all over the world, then death is even dull, like a word you repeat too many times. It becomes meaningless, and when you roll it around in your mouth, it is like chewing sand. I have never tried to chew sand (look up the entry in the “Coping Together” column on the Pica Syndrome), but if you can imagine the sensation, that is more or less what it feels like.
In the end, everything comes down to a question of circumstance and interests. Who is the most popular girl in the class? Whose place on the bench is kept for them during school break? Who is invited to parties? Who is fashionable and cool? Who will occupy a smart interior designed suite in an office tower in the financial center, and who will spend their life sorting cans of preserves in a poor canning plant in some small-town industrial area? The answers to these questions are the arbitrary consequences of circumstances.
I have learned from being overly observant of the world around me that the right people don’t always get to where they need to go. Many times, the most repulsive people are the ones who win fame and bring no benefit to humanity, and I have no ability to control that. The person who coined the phrase, “life is what we make of it,” didn’t understand what it means to be sixteen years old and on the compromised and less attractive side of social Darwinism.
So, in the final analysis, perhaps these are the circumstances that have chosen the most important date of my life. The cancellation of the double science class with Ms. Aloe Vera, the last lesson of the day, means that I get home at one o’clock in the middle of the day. The icebox, the only exciting thing in our house, has nothing appetizing to offer, and the only movies on television at this hour are the kind that makes me want to imagine that all actors are potted plants. Even the National Geographic cable channel is showing something about cacti. I drop the remote on the sofa in desperation, look up, and there it is. The ceiling hook, that according to all my calculations, can easily sustain my weight, which is not much more than that of a pot, as revealed in my mother’s column, “Coping Together with Eating Disorders.”
Removing the plant pot from its place turns out to be more difficult than I could have supposed. I have to drag the coffee table from the center of the living room and place a chair on it, and even then, I am not tall enough. Then I replace the chair with one of the tall metal stools in the kitchen, even though it is less stable. When I stand on it cautiously, I notice the scratches its legs leave on the glossy coffee table. A funny thought runs through my mind; my mother will kill me when she sees what I have done to her precious furniture. The pot plant is heavy, and my forearms tremble from the effort of taking it down. When the metal chain that holds the pot is finally free of the hook, I momentarily lose my balance. I hurriedly steady myself on the stool, but the pot slips out of my grasp and smashes noisily on the floor. Clay shards, ivy leaves, and lumps of black soil spread out on the shiny coffee table and the Persian carpet. I push aside thoughts of my mother’s reaction, who, on a calm day, could have an attack of hysteria on discovering that Alina, the housemaid, overlooked a spot of dust on the wooden frame of one of the reproductions she buys. Well, not exactly buys, but rather pays an interior decorator, who purchases the “right” reproduced works of art.
I take a deep breath and carefully get off the stool. The rope is in my bag, where it has been patiently awaiting its hour of glory ever since I bought it. I can tie the noose with my eyes shut, but in spite of tying it innumerable times, my hands are shaking. It’s not fear, it’s the adrenaline. Funny how planning to kill oneself can suddenly make one feel alive. For sure, living on the edge is thrilling.
I tie the rope and fasten the knot firmly around the ceiling hook, then I replace the stool with the chair so that my head is exactly at the height of the loop. My heart is pounding wildly, and I can feel the blood coursing down a vein in my neck. My hands are slick with sweat that is also flowing down my back. I take a deep breath to still the trembling in my hands. My mother is going to make a feast of the tragedy like she always celebrates every human disaster that comes her way. She delights in suffering.
My father will likely sigh with relief, as he always does, on being released from having to deal with me. At school, they will probably bring in a counselor, who will, of course, remind everyone that she is always available to offer her support and that every problem has a solution; life will go on and follow its inevitable course.
I put my head into the noose and shut my eyes. The rough rope scratches my neck, and my pulse thumps in my ears. A question bubbles up and fills my head—why am I doing this? The answer comes immediately. Why not?
Am I having fun? No. This world is depressing.
Can we expect some improvement? I saw Al Gore’s film on global warming. Things are going to get a lot worse.
Am I needed here? The fact that mankind has existed for millions of years without my presence proves that it can certainly continue just fine without it.
Is something holding me back? Technically speaking —nothing.
Now, all I have to do is kick the chair. The rope will tighten itself and strangle me. If I’m lucky, the pressure will break my neck and it will all be over even faster. But since when has luck worked for me?
Suddenly, I become aware of what I am wearing. I open my eyes in fright and stare at my black jeans. They are rather new and very black. My large sweater and shoes are also black. It’s not that I have any particular thing about black. I don’t have that kind of depression. When I feel important to myself, I prefer to believe that my depression is something much more profound and internal, without some vague symbolism of color. I never pay attention to the clothes I pull out of my closet, and my disinterest in clothes drives my mother crazy.
“What kind of girl doesn’t like to buy clothes?” she rants and rages to my father every time I turn down her offer to go shopping with me. But my father shrugs behind his financial newspaper and remarks that her love of shopping is enough for both of us. Most of the clothes in my closet are indeed black, but that is because I don’t like to see myself in any other color. All at once, it seems a little too dramatic—black clothes, the smashed pot, the large window. As if I am trying to make an impression. I am not. I really am not. I don’t want to impress, shock, or even fulfill some caprice. Even if it’s what my parents think, I don’t want them to believe that I am trying to send some message. If there is any message, it’s that there isn’t one. I wonder what Virginia Wolf would say of this paradox, and now I realize that I have again put my head into the loop that will take me straight to the dead poets, and I focus on the task I have begun. But my clothes are still bothering me.
I debate changing and wearing one of my gray or blue sweaters and my old jeans until I realize how ridiculous it is. Standing on the chair, my head in a hangman’s noose, all I am thinking about is what I should be wearing as if that makes a difference. Of all thoughts my brain could come up with, that’s the one that arises a second before I am about to part with this world forever.
What is more miserable than that? Yet, I cannot ignore the fact that what I am wearing bothers me, that it even matters to me. The smashed pot matters to me, as do the scratches on the table. I care about the reaction of my parents. Then, I realize that I am going to ruin it, that I can’t go through with what I have been planning for so long. I can deal with the ramifications of the broken plant pot and my awful weakness, and that even though nothing is worth anything, the miserable nobody I am does still care.
I let out a long breath that I now realize I have been holding back, and I feel encouraged by the fact that real miserable nobodies—and I have come up against many of them—don’t really recognize how ineffective they are. So, perhaps I’m not so badly off. I grab the noose on both sides of my head to get my chin out of it, and then it happens. The chair slips on the smooth surface of the shiny coffee table and I feel my legs drop. I try to grab the back of the chair and feel my body swinging back and forth.
They say that at such moments, a person sees his whole life passing before his eyes like a movie, but all I can see is a whirl of colors that are the Persian carpet and the flowerpot shards, and then nothing.
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