Only traces of the sun were left as the night's weight pushed it down into the far end of the Earth. I sat there, rattling with nervousness, on the edge of the roof, building up the courage to jump.
My brother, Jeff, was six years older than me. That meant I wanted to be him. To do this, I followed his every lead; if he rode BMX bikes on the dirt track near our house with his friends, there I would be, peddling right behind him, trying to catch up. Of course, when Jeff hit one of the jumps, he would soar through the air, pulling off some spectacular trick. When I hit the same jump, I would end up tumbling over onto the ground, getting deep cuts on my legs, and my bike would fly overhead, crashing down ten feet in front of me. "Maybe you should go play in the yard," Jeff would say.
About a week ago, I had seen Jeff do the coolest thing yet; I saw him go onto the balcony outside our parents' bedroom, climb over the railing, stutter-step down the pitch of the roof and then jump off. I had never seen anything like it before -- not that wasn't on television, anyway. I sat in my bedroom window, boggled by what I had just witnessed. I knew then, as Jeff's friends down in the yard congratulated him, that following this stunt would prove my worth. If he saw me jump off this roof and not die, he would be pleased. It would be one of those moments among siblings where the older one, the one who pretends to never pay attention to the younger one, would stop and let down his façade to say "Hey man, good job. That was my kind of action."
That night, as the day's bright sky began to go dark, I went out onto the balcony. When I opened the door, it scraped against the floor and made a shushing sound, like the ones on Star Trek. I closed it behind me and gripped the railing tightly. This was by far the biggest thing that I'd ever tried. Just the thought of being out there, standing on the edge of that silver-painted roof, made me queasy. I looked out into the tree that sat in our yard and I could hear squirrels scurrying around, rustling its leaves. I wished that I was up there; that I was able to frolic at great heights -- though without fur -- and not concern myself with plunging to the ground, to my death.
After twenty minutes of me standing there, having not even climbed over the railing yet, I heard my mother lean outside the back door and call me for dinner. I exhaled a gust of very relieved air and quietly went inside.
For three more nights I went back onto the balcony, each time preparing myself to go over the railing. And finally, after the sun dropped once more into the horizon, while my mother was doing the dishes and my father was watching M.A.S.H., I did it; I climbed over the railing. It was glorious and terrifying. I'd made one more advance in this incremental adventure, and I was almost sure that I would pee my pants because in my mind, my hands were slipping. I was already tumbling down the roof, gaining speed as I went, and falling onto the ground, possibly dying, or at least breaking bones. I wanted to let go. I wanted to slide down that slope and dive effortlessly to the ground, where I would land perfectly and smile at the judges. Yes!
After ten minutes, I went back inside.
When I went downstairs, my father was on the couch, hand in the front of his pants, sleeping. On the television was a show called The Fall Guy. It starred The Six-Million Dollar Man and was about stuntmen. Oh! I saw this as a sign, so I sat down on the floor and watched as my father snored. There was jumping from moving cars and fistfights and cool guys saying cool things. This made me realize that what would get me to jump was a fancy, satin jacket like the one Colt Seaver wore. So, I went into the coat closet and dug around. Behind the jean-jackets and my father's old peacoat, I found my brother's Philadelphia Phillies jacket. It was red and not the cool brown that Colt had, but it was satin, and that was close enough. I carried it up to my room and thought about when I would be out on that roof, when I would jump.
That next night, I felt a cool breeze on my face as I walked out onto the balcony. I was feeling supremely confident as the satin jacket hung loosely on my shoulders. This was it; my adrenalin was coursing, my heart was pounding. I was fast and agile -- I was the Fall Guy! With strong hands I pulled myself over the railing -- nothing could stop me -- I shuffled down the roof's delicate and slick slope -- certain that this was it -- and I sat down, dropping the heels of my shoes in the gutter, a temporary stop before I launched myself outward into the world. I looked up at the tree where the birds and squirrels frolicked and I knew that the space between us was about to be filled with my soaring body. I was a sugar-glider! I was an eagle!
Sitting there, the ledge right in front of me with nothing beyond it, I began to get scared again. I could feel my pulse quicken and my hands beginning to sweat inside of the jacket's satiny sleeves as I tried to talk myself into jumping: Just jump, dummy. No no, I will die. You won't die. I might die, or at least break something. Sissy.
After what felt like an eternity, reason won out. I calmed myself and decided to go back inside. This was not worth it, this risking myself for approval. Jeff wouldn't know I'd done this, anyway. It was silly and I now knew it; I was not him and shouldnít want to be him. I was me and it was time that I started recognizing that. Carefully, I took off his jacket and tossed it out into the open air. It hovered a bit, the wind pushing up under it like a parachute, and then dropped into the yard.
With this newfound self-confidence, I turned around to ascend the roof's lazy pitch. As I made my way up and was about to grab onto the handrail, my shoe slid out from under me and before I knew it I was face down on the slick metal surface, sliding quickly toward the edge. My heart began to race and suddenly I envisioned my death; my insides crushed on impact, gravity causing a big mess that my father would have to wash away wit the hose. Would I have a heart attack before I hit the ground? I was gaining momentum, too paralyzed to try grabbing at something. I reached the gutter and my feet were off of the roof, then my legs, my waist. I was in the air. It seemed like an eternity that I was falling, like the wind was under me and I was the jacket. Everything and nothing ran through my mind at the same time. I could feel my lungs expanding quickly, then contracting, and each rapid thump of my heart. I could see the deepest colors of the sky through the vivid green leaves of the tree and I wondered if this was what death was like.
I landed feet-first, but my legs buckled beneath me. Gravity wrestled me to the ground with a thump, and for a second I was sure that I would spend the next year in a body cast. Everything had to be broken. I felt nothing, but at least I was alive.
As it started to occur to me that I had survived, and that I was not dead, I heard the back door open. I didn't want to look up, in case there was a break in my neck or back somewhere, but I heard the bitter and sharp tone of my brother's voice call to me: "Hey dork, time for dinner," he said, and then went back inside.
[Mr. Seighman does this.]
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/seighman.html]
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