December 6, 2020

Haumai

(c) J. Singh

I find myself alone, dazed and confused, standing on the ledge. It's dark, and a bone-chilling wind is whistling all around me. Here I am, in the dead of night, all alone and frightened. Nobody is around, not a single soul to be seen anywhere. Everyone is snugly tucked away in the warmth of their cozy beds in their loving homes. And I am out here in the biting cold. Standing on the ledge of a window on the forty-fifth floor. It took quite a while to work up the nerve to actually climb out of the window. They don't make it easy to get out, and I've already suffered several minor scrapes and bruises while working to squeeze through the narrow opening. But I managed to do it. And now here I am. Clutching the cold stone of the building exterior while standing precariously on the window ledge. "What am I doing here?" I think to myself, in a moment of panic. And then I remember.

I remember the life I was leading. The marriage, the job, the kids. Climbing the corporate ladder, working harder and harder for the next big promotion, the status, the prestige. Buying the latest model luxury car, moving into ever bigger and grander houses, dressing to impress, sending the kids to the best private schools, and always striving, striving, striving for more. Up to my eyeballs in debt, but always giving the impression that I had money to burn. What I had was never enough, there was always another level, always more to be achieved, to be accomplished, to be conquered. I attended all the fancy dinners, met with all the important people, and secured my standing in my community. But something was wrong. There was a hole deep inside me, an emptiness that only grew the more I attempted to fill it with material things. This dreadful void was not going away. Instead, with each passing day, I felt a gnawing sense that something was really, really wrong. And the emptiness, that deep sense of fear, just grew and grew. It was always there. And in my most private moments, I was painfully aware of its presence. I had spent my whole life chasing happiness, and still it remained ever elusive.

I had tried therapy, but it did not work. I tried talking with my friends, but they either couldn't relate or they themselves desperately asked me for advice. Nobody could help me. I was on my own.

Finally, it drove me to this. Now here I am, standing like a fool on the ledge of the building where I work, my light blue tie flapping about in the wind. With a wry smile I realize how vain I have been all these years. Who wants to die immaculately dressed in a four hundred dollar suit? With my free hand, I loosen the tie and pull it off. I let it go and watch it flutter away in the rushing wind. It flies off to a destination unknown. Maybe tomorrow someone will find an expensive blue silk tie and be happy to wear it. At least it's better than wasting it on a corpse.

I feel like matters have come to a head and things have finally culminated in me taking this action. All that's needed now is one more step. The hard part is over. One more little step and it's done. I feel my heart thundering in my chest, beating a mile a minute. I take several deep breaths and ready myself. But, I can't do it. I didn't realize that it would be so difficult. I try again, this time I shut my eyes tight and try to move. But I am frozen in place, my knuckles white from gripping the stone wall so tightly. Realization dawns on me. I don't want to die.

What are you waiting for? I ask myself. I am sneering at me. What are you, a coward? I look at myself, standing there so frightened and docile. I am disgusted with myself.

You are useless! I point the finger at me. You can't even end your own life! What good are you? What are you trying to prove by doing this stunt?

"I don't want to live this way anymore", I wail. Tears are streaming down my face. I am sobbing as I face my reality. There is nobody here to witness this but myself. I am finally starting to be honest with myself. I feel like a little boy, lost and alone and bewildered.

You are weak! I taunt, Pathetic! You aren't worth anything! You think anyone loves you? Nobody loves you!

"That's not true!" I cry out into the darkness and howling wind. "My wife loves me. My family, my kids. My friends."

Really? Who are you kidding! If they really loved you, they would be here now! When you need them, nobody is here! You are all alone! You will die alone! Alone and pathetic! You are a fraud! You better just jump, because it's better than the humiliation of being found out! What if your kids find out what a coward you are, what then?

I shake my head, trying to avoid the unrelenting onslaught. But I can't escape it. And then, quite suddenly I am sweet and cajoling.

Get down off that ledge, I say to myself, You don't really want to die. Not really. Come on, there's so much to live for. You've been waiting for the new Mercedes model to arrive. It's going to be in the showroom next week. You can't see it if you're dead.

"I don't really care that much about that now," I reply honestly.

Don't you want to see your kids graduate? Get married? Don't you want to be a grandfather someday?

I nod. "Yes," I admit, "I do want those things."

And don't you want to be Regional Director? You have been working so, so hard in your career. You deserve that promotion.

"Why do I feel so empty inside?" I cry out desperately. I don't care about the promotion anymore.

What's not fulfilling you? You want more money? More sex? More power? More fun? Tell me, I will show you how to get it. Just tell me what your desire is.

"None of those things," I take a deep breath and look down. It is dizzying. It's a long, long way. I can make out the street below. I feel sorry for whoever will have to clean up the mess I'm going to leave behind.

You're not really going to jump, I say, taunting. Come on, face the truth. You just want some attention. Like a baby.

"No," I have finally realized that none of the things I have been chasing have given my any real fulfillment. All my life, I have been chasing happiness, and it has eluded me. Instead, I have been trying to fill the void with all these things, and they have been a very poor substitute. So this is the reason for my crisis. I have been applying the wrong solution to the problem.

You have some nerve to complain, I say, living in luxury and enjoying the best that life has to offer. Most of the world struggles to live day to day. You should appreciate what you have!

"I do appreciate it," I say, "I am very grateful. But it won't fulfill me."

Then what will you do?

For the first time, I look at myself. I look at who is talking to me.

He appears out of thin air, my doppelganger, floating ominously like a ghost, hovering just out of reach. He has a sinister smile on his face as he looks at me. But I am not afraid of him, not anymore.

"You!" I say to him, "it's been you who has been driving me all along, leading me astray, making me chase after things that will do nothing for me. My whole life, ever since I was a kid. It's been you!"

He nods, a smug smile on his lips. It's because of ME that you're such a success! I am the one who has made you what you are. You should be thanking me.

"Yes, you have," I admit, "but you are also the reason why I am so disconnected with myself, so unfulfilled, so empty inside."

I feel a certain calmness now. I am more steady. I can feel my fear slowly ebbing away. I have realized the source of the problem, and I know what I must do to correct it.

He suddenly senses that he is danger. You need me! he screeches. Without me, what are you?

"Without you, I am free."

And I let go.

He screams as he falls. I watch him as he slowly gets smaller and smaller, and finally disappears. He is gone. And I am left with a sense of calm contentment. There is no urgency anymore. I don't have to rush to the next meeting, hurry to finish any project, or feel the weight or pressure of any deadlines. There is no nagging fear of the future anymore. Suddenly, I am unburdened. I feel light and free. Whatever will be, will be.

And that emptiness, that deep, dark hole, has vanished.

I turn around and slowly make my way back through the window into the office that I thought I'd never see again. My phone is lying on my desk. Twenty two missed calls. So many text messages. My wife and friends, all worried about me. I send her a quick message "I am ok, please don't worry. I'm heading home now."

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