Every step that I took was met with the rattle of the aspirin inside the bottle which was inside my front left pocket. In my front right pocket was a single razor with a piece of athletic tape over the blade. It seemed impractical to take such caution when my intentions were to peel back the tape, swallow the entire bottle of aspirin to thin my blood and drive that razor right down Main Street. I hoped that the skin on my arms and the earth around me would stain red, telling my story of pain, torment and indifference. maybe if we didn’t call him names like orphan or mistake, he would still be alive, the people would say when I’m gone.
When one determines to commit, different scenarios play on the real of your consciousness. What if I kiss the girl? What if I kissed the boy? What if my mother didn’t struggle with the choice: her bouncing blue eyed baby boy or heroin? Nothing in this world I feared more than the voice inside my own head, for he was more vicious than the people who had pushed me to this... Whatever this was.
As I pushed my way through a bombardment of blackberry bushes, a thorn caught my skin and tore it open. It bled enough to be wiped away twice without returning, but it still frightened me. Not the pain but the color. Crimson would become the most beautiful symbolic color in this entire forest. More beautiful than the green of the leaves the blue of the berries and the purple of the lavender which grew wild around these parts, chasing away the scent of sodden, stodgy earth making it redolent.
I wrote my exodus 73 times.. I couldn’t get the words out of my head and put down onto paper. It was like my body was protesting; I reached for the pen and my fist forced itself closed and refused to open like a cramp. I tried to take a step towards the bottle of aspirin and was met with dysfunction--temporarily. My body wanted to live more than I did, so I had to trick it. I smoked a joint--something called Mental Mind Fuck--that was laced with acid... And it worked. On my journey into the woods, I married a tree who was married once before. Their ex showed up and we got into a scuffle; He punched me in the face and took off with my tree. I sat there crying, heartbroken, until a crow reminded me of what I had committed to and that the perfect opening was just ahead; not too far away but not too close.
“you seem to get me... thank you.” I said to the crow.
“Don’t speak to me you smear!” The crow squawked as he flew off into the opening.
Each step that I took closer to the opening felt like it was weighed down with lead-- atomic number 82. I anticipated what dragging a cold razor blade across my wrists would feel like. Would it have a cacophonic sound like ripping fabric as my skin parted like the Red Sea? Oh, it would be red, the most beautiful Crimson red that would be brighter than any cardinal that has ever flown these woods. I thought that it would smell rich and musty at the same time. When one commits to such a permanent act of defiance, questions flood with the blood that flows through their veins faster than they can be answered. Then the decision of whether to do it has to be made, even if those questions are not yet answered.
As I forced my way through the coppice and into the opening, I saw the crow and he saw me. Maybe he just wanted me to get it done and over with so that he could pick at my lifeless vestiges, but nonetheless I was glad to not be so alone. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t terrified to death of what I was about to do. Life is a gift, and sometimes gifts are horrible. I had no return receipt and I couldn’t just regift it as I’ve wanted to do so many times before. When a person is wanted in life, they appear to want their life in return. But me... My life... I’ve only known rejection, falsities and empty promises. The only person to ever treat me like I mattered was my 4th foster mother’s own mother. Anna Winslet, my foster mother, had disappeared for two straight months: POOF, gone. After the third day, I called the number posted on the custard yellow refrigerator. No name or address, just a number.
“Hello…Anna?” I paused for a moment and then, in the fashion of a sink that has begun to overflow, so too did my eyes. “What is your name, dear boy?” She sweetly asked.
“Chantry…Chantry Chambers.” I sniffled.
“Well Chantry, I am Anna’s mother, you can call me grandma. Where is Anna?” She asked.
“She left three days ago with Rick.” I blurted out, even though I was instructed not to speak to anyone.
“Oh, that girl!” She huffed. “I’ll be over in two hours, okay sweetie.” and she did come, just like she promised; Only she took me away. I stayed with my new grandma for seven months until Ms. Karen, my social worker, became suspicious and promptly removed me from their care. In the foster system, you never know just how good your last family was until you move on to the next one.
“Always remember, Chantry, you don’t need the world to love you, you just need one person to. I love you and I promise that one day you will be able to make sense of your life. You have a purpose…go find it.” She whispered that into my ear as she held me in a warm embrace moments before Ms. Karen whisked me away.
I stared at the crow as he stared at me, as if to say: get on with it. I reached into my right pocket and pulled out the razor and slowly peeled the athletic tape off the blade. There were exactly 100 pills and I intended on taking every single one of them. what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger played on repeat in my mind as I began to swallow pill after pill after pill. My lips were chocked white and my mouth tasted as if hairspray had been applied to my tongue and gums.
“How long does it take for blood to thin?” I asked the crow. He just ruffled his feathers and, as if in absolute disappointment, flew off deeper into the woods. I followed the shine from his black feathers--purple in the direct sun-- and that was when I saw it. A beautiful staircase in the middle of the forest. It had gleaming brass railings and small intricate carvings (no doubt mahogany) of what looked to be Celtic in derivation. I stared for a moment, wholly rapt, as I walked around to scrutinize.
“Hmmm…no support beams…” I began to say. “…This wasn’t here before. I just know it. Or was it?” I thought that my buzz had dissipated hours earlier but now I wasn’t sure. “I know I am not still high.” I compellingly told myself. I placed my hand on the railing and then something in my stomach began to complain. I violently threw up until all the contents of my stomach were on display for the entire forest as if at a museum-- bile and half dissolved tablets of aspirin.
“Damn it!” I shouted as I sat on the bottom step. “Please…give me a sign.” I sighed. I didn’t realize it as I precisely put the athletic tape back over the blade but I was given a sign; I was sitting on it.
The soft glow from the stairs seemed to calm my suffering as I sat on the bottom of the steps. It was hard and soft at the same time, like tumbled marble, and had veins of gold which looked to be flowing in the same guise as my own veins, which is to say uncultivated and disobedience.
“Maybe a fall from the top of the stairs will kill me.” I said loud enough for absolutely nobody to hear. But somebody did here. A gentle breeze floated through the thicket with a silvery dulcet that carried a single word on harmonious gusts: climb.
“The hills are alive with the sound of music,” I sang to myself. “That makes so much sense now!” I felt the pulse of the stairs as it began to syncopate with my own pulse. “Climb…what do I have to lose?” I said to myself unsurely. I was somewhere in between melancholy and officiousness--sad curiosity.
I stood at the bottom step and looked first at the heap of vomit and then at the sheer beauty and grade of the staircase.
“Shouldn’t have worked out legs yesterday, if I survive this fall, I will feel this tomorrow!” I jokingly said as a smile appeared at the corners of my mouth, a smile that hasn’t touched these lips in months. I took my first step and instantly felt something begin to swathe my skin. The same something I felt when Sky Montgomery kissed me in Tommy Sockets closet in the basement of his parents’ house in the 6th grade. I didn’t feel it again until the 10th grade when I kissed Tommy Socket in that same closet, fueled by no outside pressure other than that of which we placed on ourselves. It would have been the perfect moment to, if his dad didn’t open the door which (Tommy double and triple swore he locked), while our lips were locked in a rapturous embrace. I didn’t even hear the door open; I just remembered our lips being forced apart and then being thrown across his living room with my head resting harshly on the granite mantle of the fireplace, cracking open my skull.
“It wasn’t him dad…it was me!” Tommy screamed as his mother ran down the stair to assess the damage from her husband’s drunken tempest. I laid there as my head gushed blood; too afraid to cry and too afraid to move.
“Get out now!” She screamed at her husband as she wrapped a towel around my head and held me kindheartedly. Tommy sat back in the closet, closed the door and cried. He was still in there whenever his mother rushed me to the hospital to have my skull stapled shut. My foster mother and father didn’t seem the least bit concerned with the transcontinental railroad tracks going from East to West across to my epidermis, they only shook their heads in disappointment.
“What did you do?” They asked. I did not answer. I was more afraid of these two than I was of Tommy’s father. Tommy’s mother tried to plead with them, but they assured her that it was my fault, that everything is my fault. That evening she sent CPS to my house and then tossed all her husband’s things in the front yard, scattered everywhere like an unorganized yard sale. That was also the night that she climbed into the closet with Tommy and prayed with her son not for forgiveness or guidance, but for strength. Tommy has yet to come out of that closet.
I stopped just short of the treetops. The sun filtered through the leaves and it felt like I was underwater, chasing the light ripples like I had done as a child when I lived with foster family number two.
“I could jump headfirst.” I contemplated to myself. To my right was a nest with three small baby Robins that appeared to be smiling at me. They stared at me as if I came bearing worms and I stared at them as if the answer to my torment was buried in their nest. “I can’t, not in front of them.” I said to myself as I flashed them a smile, the same smile that they offered me. “Just a little higher.”
I pushed my way through the canopy and, maybe for the first time in my life, was introduced to the cerulean sky. White billowy clouds in the shapes of all things good--elephants kissing, a camel whistling and a book in the shape of a heart--were dotted across the sky. As I looked back at the stairs, they were still pointing in the direction that I wanted to go, up.
“Screw it.” I mumbled under my breath as I took another step and kept on climbing. I was high enough in the sky now that I could see the red and white tents and the Ferris wheel at the County Fair. The entire town seemed to be in attendance, well, all except for me.
I was the same height as the water tower that supplied water to our small town. It was painted with a lie in bright red paint: happiest town in Tennessee. the scrivener was stunning and a total charade.
Two men who were tethered to the tower were welding when I saw the bright flashes of Arc. I was close enough to hear the pop of the arc and there was a melodious tune playing over their portable speakers.
“Hey Mitch,” one shouted to the other as he shut off the radio. “Hey, do you see that?” I just stared at them and kept both of my hands on the shiny brass railing.
“Hey you!” Mitch shouted.
“Me?” I asked in jest.
“No…the other guy floating in the sky behind you.” He nattily said. “What in the hell are you?” I knew his question was rhetorical but I shook my head and still felt the weight of his lexis. it was as if they were delivered with the stingers of Wasps and Hornets in the form of blind abhorrence.
“I am nothing…just a mistake.” I shouted back.
“I didn’t mean it like that, Bud, I mean like…how’re you floating? He asked. This time I creased my brow in uncertainty.
“I am climbing these stairs.” I said as I stomped my feet up and down in revelation. Astonishingly there was no sound when my feet struck the smooth surface of the steps.
“I don’t see any stairs kid; I just see you.” Mitch said. “I only see you!” He repeated. It felt good to hear someone say those words to me but I only allowed them to flow through me and not stay. I stood there for a moment, utterly confused. Could only I see these stairs?
“I’m sorry for bothering you, I’ll be gone soon.” I spoke. Mitch was actively trying to talk to me while the other guy who was on the phone—no doubt reporting what he was seeing—described the happenstance to the authorities.
I climbed higher and faster until I was out of ear shot. My muscles were burning in my legs, thighs, calves and back, but nothing burned more than the feeling deep inside the cavity on the right side of my chest. I thought that once a heart was broken it was broken. But this was a different feeling that I was unfamiliar with: humanity.
So much of my life had been shattered because I only looked down. It was as if I were swimming at the bottom of the sea, chasing light ripples. What was down seemed up and what was up seemed to be the only place that I wanted to go. I was stepping beyond curiosity into a land of self-discovery and wonder. I couldn’t even remember when I became so light, when my feet stopped being weighty stones. For the first time in my life, my body and I were In Sync. We both wanted to go up. There was no remonstration from either party; no cramp in my hand or dysfunction, just a smile plastered across my face.
I was as high as the Willis tower in Chicago when the thoughts of Tommy Socket began to flood my mind. I stopped climbing for a moment and just listened. There was a bucolic cry on the wind, carried up from the earth that sounded like chanting. GOOOOING UP! GOOOOING UP! The words floated freely as they danced circles around my head. I looked down to levy the chanting and saw what could only be described as black patches forming like mold. But it wasn’t mold, it was people. GOOOOING UP! They were just as curious as I. Mitch had explained his earlier conversation and the other guy recorded a video. Together, the two of them reached out to the police and the media, explaining that I wasn’t a threat but that I was merely climbing a stairway that nobody else could see.
Overtly religious faction groups from near and far blamed the rapture and predicted the end of times. The more populous cities like Chicago and Philadelphia experienced rioters and looting, but that was unrelated to me, Just a typical day in those cities. But my little city, my happy haven which had caused me so much sorrow and antipathy was now on the map. Tourism grew by 400% in a matter of hours; Everybody wanted to find their own stairway leading up.
When you’re down and looking up you sometimes find your way. But when you’re up and looking up, you will always find your way. All the categorical doubt and ambiguity that put lead-- atomic number 82-- in my shoes, just vanished into the cerulean sky. And in the wake of its banishing; Laid my life’s purpose. It appeared quick and sudden with warm notes of hope and perseverance. But it was there, above the spectacular hell below that I left behind, and above me... above the clouds and the stratosphere: the firmament.
It never occurred to me or anyone that one could simply walk to heaven. But that is exactly what I did. I climbed and climbed and climbed until all I could see when I looked down where earthly tones of emerald and golden yellow. My heaven looked different from the next person’s heaven, but it was my heaven, nonetheless. I wasn’t looking down anymore, only up.
“I will never look down again!” I proudly proclaimed, only this time loud enough for everyone to hear.
When I reached the very top step, the sun was beginning its descent and the moon was on the rise. From that summit, I couldn’t begin to describe the overpowering feeling attached to what I was witnessing. But if I had to, it would be like getting the opportunity to change your last words to someone you’ve lost: a parent; a spouse; A sibling; a grandparent or a friend. The last step that I stood on, I came to understand, represented the only thing that weighed down my soul and tied me to the old me-- the one who looked down--the razor blade. I leisurely slipped my hand into my pocket and retrieved the cold piece of sharpened steel. I held it in between my right thumb and index finger and we just stared at each other. A rogue glint of light refracted off the blade as if it were a wink or a mock.
“C’mon…remove the tape. Drag me across your wrists.”
I removed the tape slowly, and then I paused. It didn’t stimulate me anymore. Before, when I would peel back the tape, a charge of adrenaline would course through my veins and bring my blood to the surface. I had wanted to do it, but now that I had seen the world from this angle; From up above and down below, I no longer felt like the end was the answer. The end was now the beginning and I was ready to begin.
I’ll never know if the stairway stopped because I muttered those words or if they just simply stopped. All I do know is that I went into the forest with a heavy soul and a razor blade with the intentions of ending my misery. I climbed an invisible staircase where every step was eclipsed with self-discovery and manifestation. I now believe that the stairs stopped because it was my time for them to stop. These miracle steps arrived when I needed a miracle, and when I no longer needed that miracle, it ended.
When I began my dissent down the stairs, I realized that I was given my second chance. The patches of mold that had formed down below had begun to come into focus with every step that I took towards the earth. What I thought was a bucolic cry on the wind was in fact the voices of people who had come from near and far to witness the man floating in the sky. GOOOING UP! GOOOOING UP! They had chanted although I was on my way down.
For the first time in my life I was seen not as a mistake or a stray or a smudge, but as me; Chantry Chambers. I felt like my life before the stairs was a book that was fixing to end. I had more pages in my left hand than I did in my right. I also spent all my time and energy trying to get where I thought that I was supposed to go hindering me from getting to where I wanted to go. Words didn’t have meaning until I gave them meaning, and I let the stringent mockery of others force my hand. But now, as I look back on my life, I am and will always be thankful for my stairway into the sky. Miracles happen every single day in the most dubious of ways. I caution you this: when the miracle does appear, keep your heart open and don’t be persuaded by the opinion firing squad. Nobody could see my stairs, only me. But that made them no less real. Just because others cannot see what you can, does not make it any less real.