"But for the Breeze"
Like Clark Kent, I knew I had powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal boys. Even so, I probably shouldn’t have climbed that tree by myself.
The bigger boys could climb it using the boards nailed into an almost-ladder, but I usually used the elevator Robby had made. Granted, it was pretty low-tech -- just a rope tied to a board, tossed over a branch -- but it worked. I'd hang on while two guys on the ground pulled the rope to yank me up. Sometimes they would lower me real fast, too, almost like falling. God help me, I loved that. When we weren't around, we would tie the rope to a spike driven into the tree near the roots, to prevent interlopers.
I looked at that almost-ladder, and figured I was big enough.
Bark scraped my knuckles while I Tarzaned my way up the tree. Using those cockeyed boards wasn't so hard after all -- I had powers and abilities.
Once up, though, getting over to the treehouse was a different matter altogether. The older boys could balance along the gnarled branch but I had to sit and scooch backward, legs dangling in the breeze.
It took deep breaths and hard swallows, heart pounding like rabid hooves, but I made it. I stood and thrust both hands above my head. Invincible!
This was my first time up here all alone. I looked over the edge and caught my breath. The ground lay a hundred feet below me. A thousand! I whooped. I was near grown up! The world lay at my feet.
A squirrel scolded me. I barked back at him, laughing.
I danced, leaped, sang the Superman theme song. A gust of wind blew back my hair. So windy up here almost in the clouds! The squirrels fell silent; nothing else stirred except the breeze.
That damn breeze.
Turns out the wind missed the memo about my invincibility. A fat-handed gust shoved me backwards. My foot caught that one loose board, the sky spun, and I went over the edge.
Adrenaline exploded. My lizard brain kicked in; my arms windmilled. Every appendage flailed, reaching for something, anything to break the fall.
A miracle occurred. My left hand touched a board. Robby's elevator. I managed to grab it. My body twisted beneath me, a pendulum without a clock
Dangling from one hand, I couldn’t hold on for long – even at 9, I knew my limitations – but I didn’t know how to get my other hand up so I could pull myself back onto the treehouse.
I kicked my legs. My right hand almost reached the board. I kicked again, and again, swinging until my other hand – fingernails, really – caught the board.
I let out a long breath. I was secure, for the moment.
And also too weak to pull myself up.
I called for help. The breeze chuckled.
What to do? Think, think. There was no one around. I would just have to hang on until someone found me. Conserve my energy and hang on. I could do this.
Someone would come by soon.
I yelled. No one came.
Time did what it does, but slowly. Splinters, shards of glass, fire ants dug into my fingers.
I yelled some more, but that took energy.
Cramps crawled up my forearms, my shoulders screamed. Razors sliced my muscles one by one; lava burnt my neck. Still, I knew I could hang on. I just had to concentrate, to believe.
How long had I hung there? Hours, for sure. Had the sun already set and rose again? I couldn’t remember.
My hands were agony. So was my everything else. Still, I knew I could do it.
Hours later, maybe days later, still hanging on, I tried to flex one hand, which had cramped into a claw. Maybe if I hung from one hand for a while, and then switched hands, it would offer some relief.
If I could only rest for a bit, then I could keep hanging on, no matter how long it took. I. Could. Do. This.
Until I couldn't, and I fell.
I broke a bunch of stuff, my sacro-this and meta-that. Patella, fabella, tomato, tomahto. I missed most of the rest of that school year.
I still walk with a limp.
By the time I could go out of the house again, that treehouse was long gone. I never knew who took it down.
Don't blame yourself, they said. Accidents happen, they said. Blah blah not your fault blah blah just a kid. Blah.
And now, so many years later, does anyone even remember that treehouse?
I stare at the paper in front of me.
Here’s the thing, though. Did I actually slip? Did my hands and muscles give out, burned to utter exhaustion? Or -- and this seems increasingly likely as the years pass -- did I simply give up?
I stare at the paper in front of me.
But for the breeze, how different would everything be? How different had I fought a little harder, hung on a little longer?
I stare at the paper in front of me. Hospice Informed Consent For Self-Admission. I just need to sign it.
I pick up the pen. I tap it against my chin. I pick up the paper in front of me.
I crumple it up and throw it away.
Ted Larsen is a playwright, composer, actor and (in his so-called real life) an information systems project manager. Born and bred in Ohio, he's proud to call Cleveland home.