I told my parents I was going to kill myself on our trip to Paris. I said I was going to take the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower, walk to the ledge, and throw myself off. They didn’t seem to care.
I tell my parents everything. Like the time in eighth grade when I got suspended, I told them exactly what happened. (I threw spaghetti at a seventh-grade girl because my friend Rachel dared me). Or the time I told them I wet my pants a little when I was watching a scary movie. I have friends who don’t tell their Mom or Dad anything, not even the names of their teachers or their favorite band, but for some reason I can’t help it, it’s like a compulsion.
“Julie, don’t say things like that,” Mom said between fork-fulls of corn nibblets.
I glanced at Dad. He didn’t look up from his newspaper, his meatloaf already almost gone.
“I hope you don’t land on anybody,” my little brother Brian said with a snicker.
I guess I don’t really want to kill myself. Or maybe I do. I haven’t really decided. I just can’t seem to care about anything, life included.
My best friend Jared calls me apathetic. He says if my hair was on fire and someone offered to put it out I’d say “whatever.” I think he might be right.
I still remember when I first saw that word. On my third grade report card my teacher Mrs. Daniels had written in the comments section “Julie is smart but apathetic about her schoolwork.” Riding the bus home from school that day I couldn’t stop staring at the word; it seemed so mysterious and oddly grown-up.
Mom explained what it meant, delivered the obligatory lecture about trying harder, and then gave me some cookies. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that word. And whether or not that third grade report card was the instigator, it sort of became a mantra for my life.
It’s true, I just don’t seem to care about anything. If someone’s ordering a pizza and asks me what toppings I want, I’ll say I don’t care. Movie or bowling? Don’t care. Paper or plastic? Really don’t care.
When Jared asked Rachel to the Homecoming Dance even though I would’ve gone with him, I didn’t care. When my parents forgot my birthday and, when Mom tearfully apologized the next day, I didn’t care. When Brian broke my ipod, I knew I should’ve cared, knew I was supposed to care, but I just didn’t.
Rachel thinks I’m missing some kind of gene; the “gives a shit” gene, she calls it. Maybe she’s right but, irony of ironies, I don’t care why I don’t care.
Our first stop in Paris, after checking into the hotel, is the Louvre. Mom just had to see that pyramid thing from The Da Vinci Code and we spend most of the day there looking at a lot of old stuff. For some reason Dad insists we stand — with about a hundred other people — in front of the Mona Lisa for like twenty minutes.
Afterwards we eat dinner at a little restaurant and then go back to the hotel. The next day we’re going to see the Eiffel Tower and Brian can’t stop talking about it, how he wants to go all the way to the top. Perhaps everyone’s forgotten my little announcement the night before because no one mentions it. Truthfully, I really hadn’t thought about it too much either.
I have my own room in the suite and Brian has the couch in the little living room area. Dad falls asleep almost instantly — I hear his snoring even through the closed bedroom door. Mom goes to bed a little while later and when I hear the TV turn off, I know Brian will be asleep soon too.
Around 10:30 I think about going to sleep but instead put my shoes back on, grab my jacket, and leave the suite. Once out of the hotel I wander around, past several cafes, down crooked streets. I’m not even sure I intended to go to the Eiffel Tower but suddenly there it is. After a moment’s hesitation I get in line for the elevator; I’m surrounded by happy-looking couples and a few people reeking of alcohol.
On the second floor I maneuver through what seem to be mostly tourists and walk to the edge. The wind whips through my hair as I peer through the metal bars. It doesn’t look that far down. Would this even be high enough? There’s another elevator to the top but I don’t feel like waiting.
I climb the railing and stand there with my shins pressed against the top bar. I glance at the people around me; no one seems to be paying me any attention. I lean forward a little and for a moment just kind of hover. Then I shift my weight and start tipping; the round bar under my feet slowly slides towards my toes. Then the bar runs out and I’m falling.
Suddenly I feel a tight, painful grip on my left shoulder and I’m jerked back over the railing. I land on my feet but they give out and I’m falling again. But again, there are hands on me and I’m steadied. Many worried-looking people are staring at me. I hear loud, concerned voices saying things like “almost jumped” and “tried to kill herself” mixed in with different languages. As I’m trying to catch my breath a strange feeling comes over me. It’s relief; I’m actually happy I didn’t go over the side.
But there’s no hand on my shoulder. Nobody stops me, nobody pulls me back, nobody cares. Why? Why didn’t anyone try to do something?
A surprising amount of things go through my head as I fall: I think of school and Jared and Rachel and my family. And there’s something else, something that shakes me, something that finally makes that missing “caring” gene snap into place. I think about the ground coming at me and I care how hard it is.
I care a lot.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED