She jumped out the window. I told her, "I love you. Please don't." But she did it anyway. Just pushed her palms into the sill and kicked her legs outward. My best friend pushed herself out of her three story bedroom window towards the street below.
For several minutes before, I had been inching towards the window, conscious of her twitching fingers and her blank stare below. As her hand slid off the metal of the window jamb my hand-eye coordination kicked in (finally, after 22 years) and my white bony fingers fisted firmly around her wrist.
She dangled. Her feet kicked in the air for a bit. Her whole body relaxed and I held my best friend by her wrist above the street three stories below. I looked down at her and dripped my tears onto her hanging body. She stared down at the street longingly, her head cast down and not up, as one would if they wanted to come back up.
They say that adrenaline kicks in and mothers can lift cars off of babies and break concrete to get to their loved ones. Maybe in those first few seconds I was she-man with the muscles and energy to hold a girl twice my size against gravity that she wanted to take her, but then I felt my fingers cramp and her arm straining out of her shoulder socket. All this I could feel.
Her skin had always been dry. That is perhaps why I could hold on as my face dripped tears and sweat beads. There was nothing slippery about it. Heavy, but not slippery. At first my arm was bent at the elbow and my intention was to lift her up, but without her help I could barely keep her at a standstill against the brick building, and my elbow unbent and my arm strained as it straightened.
Meanwhile she did not look at me or move. She didn't make an effort to extract her arm from my fingers, but neither did she grab on with her other hand. Sometimes will actually means no movement in any direction. What effort it must have took for her to clear her mind enough to actually push off. Or what darkness.
No one came. People on the street never look up. It was only us in the building, or only me I guess.
As my arm numbed to the weight on the end of it and everything in me stopped physically hurting to accommodate it, I broke the impasse.
"I'm going to hold you here. I'm not letting go. But I'm not strong enough to lift you. So until you want to come up - and that is your only option understand - I will hold you here."
"I will not call 911 to have them use a fire ladder or ship you off to the loony bin again. I won't betray you like that. But I will not let go."
"Until you want to live, I will hold you here." She did not respond.
It took sixteen hours.
I begged her for three. I claimed I couldn't hold her any more, which is honestly how I felt about every five minutes. My motivation would renew, and she would still be there on the end of my arm. I imagined her arm ripping out of her shoulder socket. At times I imagined she was tensing her muscles to stay in my grasp, but she would always go limp again when I came to reality. I told her every memory I could recall of our five years of knowing each other, almost six. I talked about her family. I tried to shame her. I told her lies about things and dreamed about her future out loud. I tried to scare her about death.
In the fourth hour I tried silence. You have to know me, I never stop talking. I worried in those moments that I talked so much that I didn't listen. I knew she was depressed. I knew. But did I listen often enough? So I fell silent. I gave her peace. Perhaps not the kind she wanted, but silence for her to respond. She didn't.
Then I got bored. I no longer felt the strain of her limp body as an extension of mine. I was resolved to hold on, but I stopped caring about making the time shorter. She would definitely decide to live, it was only a question of when. I had caught her at 2 am. The sun was rising. We were on the west side of the building, so I couldn't see the sun, only the clouds in the west getting brighter and whitening the sky. Thankfully it was warm and calm. I prayed for zero precipitation.
I surveyed my surroundings in the room. I had half battery life in my cell phone. I had promised not to call anyone, though she didn't ask me not to. I contemplated that for a minute before deciding I could always use it later and turned it off.
My arm was bent twisted with the white part facing out, my hairs brushing against the brick. My shoulder was indented against the window sill and I sat sideways on the mini-fridge. In the mini-fridge there was tons of bottled water, bread butts from two loaves, peanut butter M&Ms, and a soggy frozen dinner stuffed in the "ice" box.
I could see her alarm clock and pulled it toward me using the cord plugged in below the refrigerator plug. It was a newer one with a CD player. I could get the radio if I wanted. I used my feet to inch out and try to pull over the comforter from the bed, unmade and half on the floor. I could just touch it with the toe of my running shoe, but I had no traction on the slippery fabric. I decided to come back to that if it started to get cold.
I was afraid to sleep. I thought my body might betray me and let her go. I thought she might claw out of my grasp if she noticed. Despite having been up from 7 am the previous day and partying for half the previous night, I wasn't tired. There is a point for me when I get past tired. Past the point where my eyelids are drooping and more into an absurd state of consciousness where everything is good and fine. Even holding her out the window was fine.
I wondered if she had tried to sleep. At least that would be something. I peeked over the window, making sure to keep most all my body weight inside the room, and moved my head at different angles to see if I could make out her face. The most I got was her ear through her hair. I went ahead and assumed she was still staring at the ground below.
I did not look at the street. I've been terrified of heights since I was a kid and I learned buildings sway on purpose. When I looked down I felt the falling sensation and imagined lots of pain. It was probably equivalent to the phantom pain in my arm I could no longer feel unless I shifted her back and forth in the air. I could probably do that to get her attention later.
There were bound to be more people around as the day went on. It was the weekend though, and most people were home for the long holiday. I realized I didn't want anyone to find us, and that was a confusing way to feel.
I took out my cell and began to play games. I got one text message, from my Dad, exclaiming about the football game in badly typed mass text. I checked my email but there were just advertisements. I looked at my bank balance and was shocked that it was so high, and then remembered my Mom transferred money from my 529 for textbooks. I played Flow until my phone was at 15%, and then I turned it off in case I needed it later when my arm fell off.
I looked over and studied the brick wall that was eating into my arm. I knew to keep her close to it, since objects attract each other. I looked for a hand hold between the bricks where the concrete had come loose. There was a brick poking out pretty far, so I jiggled it with my other hand to see if it would come loose. A piece of the corner cracked off the brick and fell. I watched it bounce along the wall and break into pieces. I started to feel nauseous. There was a space now where she could put her fingers. She wasn't wearing shoes, but maybe that would make it easier for her to connect with the brick when she decided to climb back up.
I turned my attention to the comforter inside as my stomach continued to roil. Perhaps if I twisted onto my stomach like I did when I peered down at her I could get more traction. To do that I'd have to switch which arm was holding her. I didn't want to take any chances. Instead I twisted even further back to get my arm over my head. I got a bit more length that way.
I tried it with one shoe. Then I took off my shoe and sock with my back against the fridge and window. I got the corner between my big toe and the rest of my foot pad and pulled a couple of times. It got a little closer, but then I realized my mistake. Even if I could get my shoe and sock back on, I couldn't tie the laces with one hand. I gave up on the comforter.
My nose started to run. The night before I had wiped it on my sleeve, so that was now so saturated with snot I didn't have anything to wipe it on. I just let it trickle down into my mouth and sniffed repeatedly.
I ate M&Ms and sipped water. I kept the bottle in case I needed to pee later (that would be an interesting experience). It was noon. I watched the clock for a bit, periodically checking on her to make sure she was still there since I still couldn't feel my arm. Time goes so slowly when you watch for it.
I bit the bullet and tried to sleep. I was sideways on the fridge so I just let my head rest on the sill and kept my feet jammed into the floor, one heel under the fridge for leverage. I kept my butt hanging off the fridge too. I didn't fall asleep, but I did dream.
My friend became a spider who crawled up my arm. She turned into a snake and tried to eat my wrist like one might eat a mouse. She screamed and screamed. These were good dreams. They were my body imagining her efforts. The other dreams were of a closed casket funeral, a stump at my shoulder, claw marks on the brick wall, and her eyes wide with sudden fright. In my dreams I let her go, only to find her still hanging there at the end of my arm when I opened my eyes.
I turned on the radio. Weekend radio was always top 40 stuff. I put on the country station and sang. Sarah Evans came on and I shivered while I sang out, "Just a little bit stronger!" I thought I heard her humming, but I think it was just an echo. "You get the couch back, you get the dog back, you get your best friend Jack back...that's what you get when you play a country song backwards!" I started to talk to her again, this time like normal.
"I wonder why that song never comes on the radio. Rascal Flatts is how I got into country you know. I see it isn't one of your presets so I guess you don't like it that much. Remember when we sang that Taylor Swift song all the time? You liked to make fun of it with a twang, but I liked the words."
"Maybe I'm like Atlas, you know? I've got the whole world on my back. Or who is the one who has to push the rock up the hill forever? Or the sand pile grain by grain? Maybe we'll be here for all eternity. Maybe we've always been here or we aren't here at all. Like Inception. You'll wake up in another dream as soon as I let go. But then I guess I'll be stuck. My talisman can be your wrist, which I think I'd know by heart unlike anyone else. I suppose that isn't a proper talisman."
"Maybe that's how this idea came into your head. Someone planted it there long ago. And it grew."
"You know, this is how I've always felt trying to help you. I can hold you here if I'm always vigilant, but I can't decide whether you stay or go. I'm not strong enough to help you. If you decided to help yourself, stay, put in the effort, I will be there for you the whole time."
I think that is when the fire department came. I heard the sirens. I had never looked down, so I didn't know there was a group of people watching on the street, praying with me. I heard someone unlock the door to the apartment. I yelled at them not to come in. Please not to come in. And they didn't. I whispered to myself and you, over and over again, "We can do this. We can do this. They won't know you jumped. I won't tell them, I swear. We can do this." I heard the clock tower right then too, ringing one two three four times for the Saturday service.
I stared intently at the top of her head for the first time since the initial couple of hours. I saw that her scalp was still red and that her whole arm was white. I saw goose bumps on her neck. She was alive! She was living and breathing!
Then I saw her neck twist and her cheek twitch with effort. My dead arm started to feel her shoulder tighten (for real this time). Her face slowly turned towards me. There were her eyes, wide. She was terrified of falling! I don't know when the transition happened. I didn't care. I nodded to her.
She looked at the wall for the first time. I reached my free arm down and pointed to the hole I'd made. I leaned my whole upper body out the window to reach out to her with my second hand. I squished my toes under the refrigerator and bent my knees to the corner of it. I felt it shift up slightly under me so the front end was up and the corner under the window was wedged up against the wall.
I saw the scratches where her nails dug into the wall. Her whole body was tensely swinging in towards it and reaching for me. Her knees and bare feet were scraping against the wall, sometimes making it difficult for me to hold onto her. She braced both feet against the wall and lunged up at me, catching my aching wrist. Briefly I wondered if she would try to loosen my grip, but when I reached my other arm to her she started crawling up my arms.
She would alternate fingers in the loose brick hole and try to get further up my forearm to my elbow. Every time her feet slipped she would wince and I would wince. I started to bend my arms for the first time in hours and buried them into the wall, creating instant bruises that I didn't care about. I needed to slowly move backward to help her in, to get to where she could grab the window ledge again, reversing her action fifteen and a half hours ago.
I started to lift the refrigerator with my feet so I could get them against the wall. This would leave the refrigerator on top of me, but she could grab onto that too if she needed. Eventually it fell sideways as I wiggled my feet towards the wall and tensed my back and shoulders. She helped by curling her fingers into the cracks in the brick and trying to stand sideways on the concrete between them. To those below, it probably looked like I was trying to drop her. Little did they know, right?
I don't remember letting go. I know eventually she pushed herself up on the ledge like someone getting out of a pool and stuck her knee in, leaned her body forward, and fell into me and the fridge and the room. Water got all over the floor from the melting ice box and there were peanut butter M&Ms squished under it from when the door fell open. I don't know when my hand left her wrist.
I don't know when I trusted her not to fall backwards into the abyss. I remember looking at her twisted up face as she strained against death by cracked head on the sidewalk. I remember her huge round eyes as she fell, but onto the carpet and not to the other gravity outside the window. We fell instantly asleep on our stretchers after insisting on the same ambulance. I woke up a couple times to see she was still here. Her choice, not mine.