“For the few blissful seconds before the crash, I forgot. I forgot it all, all the joy, all the pain, all the regret. And I was free. Free to be, free to see, free to die. To die on my terms. And I was sorry, sorry for it all. All the lies, all the fights, all the sleepless nights. Because I had always known it would end this way, free-falling from the hospital roof.
“Oh, that wretched hospital. Wretched place I had entered exactly one year prior to this day, this hour, this frozen moment of ecstasy. And I had entered the place another thirty-two times after. Each time worse than the last, hope slowly being gnawed away by the devolving reflection in the mirror, the puddle, the sliding elevator doors. But then there was the crash, and with it, everything—lies, pain thirty-two times—came rushing back. It didn’t end that way, my way, the only way. I survived. And now I am back in this wretched hospital for the thirty-third time in a year.”
His soft-spoken words echoed around the lonely room, a bed, unoccupied chair, and blank-faced TV screen his only audience. He looked out the wide, grimy window, pleading for a glimpse of the cracked blue sky, but all he saw was himself.
No, not himself. The shell of himself. A puppet lay in that backwards bed, swaddled in white bandages with flecks of blooming red, strings attached to its arms, legs, and head. Strings that trailed back to the heavy hands of the machines beeping and whirring and dripping, gloating that he was still alive. The hands controlled the strings, that controlled the puppet, that was he. They controlled when he ate through the mouth of a tiny hole in his forearm, what he drank through an identical hole in the other arm, and how much pain he felt, pain that wasn’t really pain because he was glad to have the distraction, any distraction, from his failed attempt at freedom.
When his eyes flickered to the adamant window denying him his view, it reminded him of his fall. He could still taste the wind’s song howling in his ears, feel the air pouring over him, through him, like sand running through his fingertips. He could feel it in every part of his wounded body, broken bones, and shattered dreams.
A nurse came in then, the true puppeteer, interrupting his escape attempt and slamming him back into his cage. She said nothing and he said nothing while she checked the hands that controlled the strings that controlled the puppet that was he. Her icy gaze was enough to imply her disdain for him, for what he’d done. And likewise, his silence was a clear beacon of his dislike of her. But as she turned to leave the patient to his dedicated audience, he called out to her in a strained whisper, “Would you mind…opening the window?”
She halted her march like someone had struck her in the back. She considered the treaty between their mutual hate, opened her mouth to reply, considered it again. Finally, one word clawed its way out of the man’s throat and collapsed between them, “Please.”
Spinning on her heel, the nurse strode to the window, flung it open, and prepared to take her leave. But something stopped her. Maybe it was the look of contentedness on the broken man’s face as the cool breeze kissed his cheeks. Maybe it was the desperate tone of the “please.” Or maybe it was just plain curiosity that had been stalking in the shadows in the back of her head. Whatever the reason, she ventured to ask, “What’d it feel like? After you jumped…Like flying?”
The man sucked in a labored breath, let it out, made no move. “It most certainly did not feel like flying,” he whispered, eyes still closed, the taste of the wind still lingering in his ears. “It felt like falling, which many people mistake for flying. That is, of course, until they crash.”