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  • mariokiefer

Man on A Ledge

I stood watching the crowd that ringed the mid-town building not far from the delicatessen where I often had my lunch. As the man who stood on the ledge peered down to the sidewalk below, I could not help but wonder whether he marveled at the people that milled about. From his vantage point, could he discern the uniforms of the first responders from the everyday wear of the rest?

I looked around to take in the crowd and thought “From up there, we are nothing but ants. And if everyone down here is nothing but ants, then why do they bother me so?” Did the man on the ledge above feel the same?

From amidst the crowd, I heard the chant begin, “Jump! Jump! Jump!”

At first it was a single voice, but that voice was soon joined by others. I felt my eyes begin to well with tears at their cruelty as I recalled my own life. I knew how this man on the ledge must feel.

I took a deep breath and remembered all of those times that I was on the outside looking in – or more accurately, looking out. Not just figuratively, but literally. Like that time as a child I sat looking through the window and watched the other kids at play. But I could not go play with them. I had not been invited, after all.

I always knew I was different. Even as a child that had been drummed into my head by my own parents who continually asked: “Why do you have to do your own thing? Why don’t you do what the other kids are doing? Why can’t you just be like the other kids?”

I let out a little grunt and scoffed at that notion, “Be like the other kids.” Didn’t my parents know that I tried? Didn’t they realize that I wanted to be just like everyone else. I didn’t seek to be different. I just was. And, as is the way with children, they knew I was different. They sensed that there was something not-quite-right with me. Because they sensed this, they didn’t want to be around me. It didn’t matter what I wanted. They avoided me. Even when I begged to play, they excluded me from their games.

Was the man on the ledge like me? Had he, too, been excluded as a child?

When my parents asked, “Why don’t you go outside and play with the other kids?” how could I tell them: “It’s because they don’t want me to?” How does a child tell a loving mother that she was raising a freak that nobody wanted to be near? Sure, my parents pushed and prodded for me to be with the others, but that was only because they did not want me to be different. But I was happy with who I was! Even if, being myself meant being alone. Despite their urgings, how could I be with those who did not want me? Did the man on the ledge feel the same?

I let out a little snort at that thought as I scanned the crowd. Their chants continued; carried on the wind to my ears. “Jump! Jump! Jump!” they cried.

I wondered, “How can people be so cruel? In a society that has gone mad, the only sane thing to do is withdraw from that society.” I shook my head and continued to watch. I could see the pinpricks from the glints of sunlight that reflected off of the various phones: the phones that were aimed toward the man above by people who were desperate to video the impending fall. Of course, later they would post those videos to their preferred social media accounts captioning the posts with: “I was there”; and “I saw the whole thing”; or “The dude was crazy!”

In time, they would change their words to reflect tributes about how awful it was that this man – the man on the ledge – did what he had done. Many would proclaim their own trauma at having witnessed it. But those proclamations would be lies. The trauma they professed would be little more than masturbatory celebrations of their own new-found fame as they were interviewed on the evening news. Or, worse yet, mere attention-seeking from the throngs of social media “friends” who would offer their deepest condolences for the trauma of having witnessed another man’s suicide. “Who are these ‘friends’ that one has never met?” I wondered.

I knew nothing that the crowd saw on this day would traumatize them. No; rather they were simply titillated by the prospect of proclaiming their trauma to the world. After all, trauma itself is far less satisfying than the chest-thumping about it that ensues. And, I thought, “In a society that celebrates victimhood, it seems all that matters is: who has been victimized the most.”

Again, I heard the chants of “Jump! Jump! Jump!” then let out another derisive snort at the thought of the abuser later playing the victim.

Listening to their taunts, my mind wandered back to my childhood. Those children had not teased me so mercilessly – not the way these so-called adults were teasing the man on the ledge. In fact, I reflected that they hardly bothered me at all. Thinking on it, I realized that if truth were to be told, I was not teased or bullied as a child, although plenty of other children were. Maybe I escaped that torment because I was, generally, larger than the other kids. If one wanted to bully me, they likely feared that I might strike back. So, they refrained from confronting me directly. The tortures they perpetrated had not taken the form of physical beatings or even emotional name-calling. Their means of torture was far more insidious. They avoided me. They ignored me. They shunned and ostracized me. I was completely alone – invisible. And, I wondered if the man on the ledge felt the same. Did he, like me, spend his time indoors; reading books, watching television; or staring out the window at the other children in joyful play all the while fantasizing about how different his life would be when he was all grown-up and people didn’t care that he was different?

I harrumphed at that thought as my mind wandered back to Mrs. Gould – my high school counselor. “It will be alright,” she had said, “you will see. It will all be different when you are in college. College students don’t care about differences — in fact, they celebrate them.”

But that was a lie; just one of the many lies that adults tell to children.

Even after I left high school, and entered college, I realized that those around me were no different from the ones I had left behind. Oh, I tried. I really did. I tried very hard to fit in. Even asking that cute girl in my Poli-Sci class out on a date. She smiled at me when I did and, when she said “yes,” my heart soared. On the night that we were set to meet at the theater, I sat in the lobby waiting and the theater emptied before I finally gave-up on the idea that she may actually show, and I took my leave. For three hours, I sat in that lobby. For three hours, I waited for a train that would never come. The funny thing is that nobody even noticed. For all intents and purposes, I could have been just another cut-out advertisement of the latest blockbuster. I realized, I was still invisible, after all.

Did the man above me experience this? Did he feel alone? Was he, too, invisible? Was this his last grasp at an attempt to be seen?

When I left college and embarked upon my career, it did not take me long to realize that the so-called “real world” was no different than the ones before. I found the adults that surrounded me were the same as the children in grade school. Like my peers from those early days, they too sensed that I did not belong. They didn’t tease me to my face, but still, I knew. Each and every time that I walked through a door and the room went silent, I knew. Each and every time I turned my back and caught the furious whispers that were not quite soft enough to escape my hearing, I knew. Like the children before them, they called me “freak”, “weirdo”, or, when feeling more charitable, simply “strange”. When they went out for happy hour on a Thursday night, somehow, I never received the invitation. Like the kids of my childhood, neither did they want for me to come out and play. Eventually, in the same manner, they too forgot about me. They ignored me. They shunned me. They avoided me and excluded me from their games. I was completely alone – invisible, again. Did the man on the ledge above feel the same?

The cries of “Jump! Jump! Jump!” interrupted my reverie, and I thought, “In a world so full of adults isn’t it odd that there are so few grown-ups?”

I heard a gasp from the crowd and looked up to the man on the ledge who now stood on one leg, his other dangling above the open air to the ground below.

“Will he do it?” I wondered.

I hoped not. As the crowd alternated between gasps and taunts, I thought, “Please, don’t do it. Don’t give them what they want,” and I closed my eyes in silent supplication to Providence to save the man from his folly.

As I contemplated my own invisibility, my thoughts wandered to this very day. This morning, I rose as usual around 6:30 a.m. I drank my coffee and performed the obligatory morning rituals that would get me through the hours ahead. I dressed as I always did in my suit and tie, left the house and walked to the train stop but a block away. Along that path, nobody noticed me. Nobody spoke to me. Were they intent on their own day – these people who had been neighbors for five years, but had never even once spoken the word “hello”? Why, after all of this time, had not a single person on the street ever acknowledged my existence?

At the train stop, I waited. The first coach to come by was so overcrowded that I did not bother to board choosing to wait along with the others who were disinclined to become sardines. When I ventured a question about the timing of the next train to the man in the green coat, he turned and walked away with no response. Had society become so narcissistic that those around us were invisible? Or, was I the only one? Was the man on the ledge as invisible as I?

When after I boarded the train and alit at the station three blocks from the very spot where now I stood, I crossed the street on my way to the office. Not one, not two, but three different people walked directly toward me and across my path. This despite the fact that I was as far to the right of the crosswalk as I could get without stepping over the hoods of the vehicles that waited their turn to move forward. Only if I stopped and refused to move, did the crowd part and only enough to get by without otherwise noticing. I remained invisible.

I heard the crackle of the radio from the policeman to my right and overheard the report that they had breached the door and were now talking to the man on the ledge. I turned my attention to the sky and, sure enough, from the window near where the man stood, I saw another speaking to him. From down below there was no way to hear the conversation, but from the animation of the two it seemed that the man on the ledge was agitated by the sight of the one in the window.

I wondered: What thoughts go through a man’s head as another makes attempt to talk him down? Does he listen to the other man or has he already made up his mind? And if he has made up his mind, what can another say to stay his hand? At least the man on the ledge was invisible no more.

I saw the one in the window nodding profusely and reach out his hand to the other. For the tiniest of moments, it seemed that the one on the ledge would acquiesce. Tentatively, he reached his hand to the other man. But just before those two hands made contact, the one on the ledge turned and pushed back from his perch.

I barely heard the cries of the crowd over the clicks of camera shutters. I barely saw the man as he fell to the ground because of the glare of the camera flashes. But there was no denying the sound of the thud as he finally came to rest on the pavement below. Some in the crowd turned away, but most pressed forward wanting to document the horror for themselves.

Looking over the shoulders of the men in blue who tried vainly to hide the sight from the ever-pressing crowds of onlookers, I saw the eyes of the man from the ledge. They were not blank as I had expected. No; in those eyes, I clearly saw myself looking back.

I turned and walked away with the rest of the crowd. I tried to speak to them – to ask if they had seen what I had seen. But nobody responded.

Even after I had plunged to my death in front of them, still, I was invisible.

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