by Jennifer Michelle
Standing at the door, keys in hand, on the edge of leaving behind this house, this life, these people, these mistakes, I stop. It’s a widely known and ultimately indisputable fact that when one comes to an edge, no matter how steep that edge may or may not be, one must stop. One will always stop. Is this instinct? I don’t know. I don’t stop for long enough to figure that out.
But I do stop, and I stop long enough to ponder exactly what stepping over that edge—that edge that’s barely an inch off the sidewalk in front of my door—will mean, and what this decision will bring in its wake. Happiness, or depression? Relief, or regret? A learned lesson, or success? I stop long enough to wonder all of these things, and to remind myself that wondering does little good, and that the only true way to get the answers to all these questions is to actually step over the edge.
But is that a good idea? I’m a big believer in good ideas, although I can’t say I’m not a believer in bad ones. I know they’re out there. I’m quite familiar with them. And it’s those memories, that experience with bad ideas, that makes me hesitate another second, listening intently to the breathing of those standing behind me, all of whom are waiting to see if I’ll step. If I’ll fall. What do they want? They haven’t told me. Do they want me to leave, or do they want me to stay? Are they, like me, conflicted and unsure of which they’d prefer? Leaving could mean the end of everything I’ve ever known, but then again, staying could mean the end of the everything I’ve never experienced. So staying and leaving, I decide, are both equally dangerous. So what I do? What happens next? Do I step over the edge, and out the door? And once I do, once my foot moves and gravity brings it down onto the sidewalk with an ear-shattering smack, do I get to look back? If I wanted to, after I stepped, could I come back? Or will the world outside my door swallow me up and never again release me?
That thought hurts, and I can’t help flinching back a little. Away from the edge. Everyone behinds me notices the movement, but none of them comment on it, and it’s their silence, I think, that sparks a sense of anger and hopelessness and fear in me. I only have two choices here, right? Go or don’t go. Jump or don’t jump. Leave or stay. Take the risk or play it safe. Easy. Fifty-fifty decision. As simple as yes or no.
Then why have I been standing, I realize, right on the edge of our doorframe for the last minute and a half? If this decision is so easy to make, why is it taking me so long to make it, and why do I feel like all the strings of fate that are tied to me are straining, and ripping me apart, in all different directions? Why isn’t there just one string, tugging me in the single direction of my destiny? Why isn’t there some outside, unforeseen force telling me whether I should stay or go?
Because, I realize, even if there were a force like that, presenting a clear and impossible-to-ignore answer to my dilemma, I’d still have a choice to make. Trust the force, or don’t trust the force? Trust the force, or trust myself? Is there even a force, or is that just in my head? I think it’s safe to assume my head doesn’t make any sense, even without a force in it. My head doesn’t even know whether or not it can manage to step outside of my own front door, even though I’ve done it a thousand times before. I don’t seem able to do it now. I can’t leave, but I can’t stay.
A small whimper escapes my lips as I realize that I truly am defeated by my indecision, and doomed to balance precariously on the edge of my doorframe until the end of time, unable to stomach tipping in either direction for even a second, because each direction has an equal pull on me. I’ll never tip. I am locked in place, and it seems unlikely that anything on Earth could shift me.
And that’s when mom finally moves. She comes forward, and smiles at me, brushing her fingers against my cheek before stepping out of the door, and off the edge herself. It looks so easy. But of course, for her, it is easy. She’s not leaving, not really. She’s straying, but strays always come home in the end. I’m no stray. I have a destination. I have two, and I can’t get to or leave either one of them.
My dad walks out the door next, giving my shoulder a slight shake that threatens to spill me onto the sidewalk before my sister pulls me back and gives me a quick hug. She dances out to the car, and I stand there, still frozen, keys digging an imprint into my palm, still frightened, still totally and completely unsure….
The ending to the story is this: I made a decision, and that decision led to a life filled with both happiness, and depression, relief, and regret, learned lesson and success stories. One of the success stories was making the decision to either leave or stay. One of the learned lessons was that, whether leaving would’ve yielded a happier, better life than staying, or vice versa, the worst life would’ve resulted from standing there, on the edge, at the door, forever frozen, and never moving. In between decisions, and in between worlds. I can’t think of a worse way to live.
I have no idea how to write. It’s amazingly wonderful that I’ve made it this far.
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