I was at the end of my rope.
I don’t mean I was frustrated at the end of a long day and looking for the Cuervo. I was not underappreciated, overworked or even moderately put upon. This is not my way of saying I was ready to give up on life. I most definitely did not want to die.
I was quite literally at the end of my rope. I was holding it with both hands, had it wrapped inexpertly around one leg, and was pressing the little twenty centimeter knot into the front of my ankle with my other foot to try to keep a grip on it. I would have held that bitch with my teeth if I’d thought it would help.
It was one of those times a lying man would have told you, “I knew I never should have got out of bed that day.” or “I’d had a bad feeling ever since I woke up that morning.” But the truth is I woke up that day happier than I had ever been. I say wake up but really, I never went to sleep.
About 10 months before, Sierra, down at Earl’s Suds Shack, finally said yes to my weekly-repeated requests for a date. One week later I cooked her my famous Four Alarm Chili and we danced under the stars. A month after that we signed a lease together and the night before I found myself dangling over my grave, she said yes to my final request. I asked if I could cook her chili until death do us part. Sierra nodded with pools of tears gleaming above her lower lashes, then we folded ourselves into a blanket on the wicker bench out back and talked about everything from space travel to ancient Greeks. She fell asleep with her head tucked under my chin. I was too uncomfortable to do more than nod off here and there, but she felt so good in my arms I wasn’t about to let her go.
I could feel the knot slipping and my fingers were so cramped from holding the rope I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to straighten them again. An icy gust blew the promise of rain into my face. Firetrucks had turned up below. My brain provided a cartoon of me letting go of my lifeline and twelve firemen running back and forth 40 stories below with a trampoline trying to gauge my trajectory.
It occurred to me that I should be panicking. What could the firemen do to save me? I was too high for any of their ladders and platforms. I thought of Sierra’s eyes and the tears breaking free as she nodded “Yes.” to my proposal. Ever since the first time I sat down in front of her at Earl’s and asked for a ‘Giller Might’ I knew she was the one. Sierra took my word fumble and turned it into a good-natured game. I spent the night drinking slow and finding excuses to make those big brown eyes crinkle at the edges. Then I spent the next three years and four months trying to win some time with her outside the bar.
The most amazing woman in five counties said yes to being my wife and I die the next day? Not happening! I tried to adjust my grip on the rope and wrap it around my hands. I bent my knee first and tried to stand on the rope to keep it from slipping. I’m not a climbing expert. I almost lost my morning coffee and biscuit when the rope sizzled through my hands and I dropped another foot. Once I realized that I was still holding the rope and not yet a man puddle, I did toss the Dunkin’. Then I almost laughed when I wondered if the firemen would use that puddle to determine where to put the trampoline. Or one of those big, blue, stunt-man, pillows.
The foretold rain spattered against the windows behind me like a fistful of gravel. I closed my eyes against the stinging drops, then quickly reopened them to ward off more nausea and what I can only imagine was vertigo. For just a second I could not determine up or down and the back of my head felt that spin you get when buzzed goes bad and drunk kicks in.
Where the hell were those firemen? About seven ladder trucks and four ambulances were taking up the street, but so far not one of the ants below had made a move toward me. “This requires decisive action, Men!” I yelled into the wind, “Let’s get moving before the window-washer goes splat!”
Aahhh, there was the panic. I knew it would turn up eventually. My upper arms had been burning for what felt like hours and the thought of touching Sierra’s soft brown hair again was not injecting the strength into me that it had two minutes before. I was going to die today. Like it or not.
I heard a soft sound behind me and turned my head the three inches I felt I could spare. A man’s foot was just visible in my peripheral. Just then the gust threw more rain at me and I reflexively closed my eyes. Back was the nausea and the head swim. As I blinked it off I felt something touch me in the vicinity of my harness. The words, “Don’t let go yet,” floated to me from my left side. I couldn’t turn my head. The three inches I had given up to look over my right shoulder had locked me into a kind of whiplash that felt cemented over.
I very nearly passed out with relief as I felt the hands of multiple people securing me to other ropes and lines. Then one man wrapped me in his arms, pulling me into his body the way I had held Sierra to me the night before., and told me to let go. I couldn’t actually unclench my fingers, but some message must have gone from brain to extremities because the rope zinged through my hands and I did not fall. There was something under my feet. They must have pulled me onto one of the other washer platforms. I couldn’t look around because my neck was made of concrete and I was tangled into the best man-hug I have ever experienced in my life.
An hour or a few minutes later I was being lifted off the platform and onto the roof of the building. Clips clicked and clinked, ropes fell away and my fireman angel was still holding me. My legs had no strength at all, I could barely feel them. The vertigo returned as my body was tilted horizontally and laid on a gurney. In the elevator I looked at the faces of the men who’d saved my life and could not tell which was My Guy, but someone was holding my hand. I tried to squeeze it, maybe I actually did. “I love you,” I declared to the elevator’s occupants and then I guess I passed out.
I don’t scale buildings and wash windows anymore. I have my wife and children to keep me on the ground – in a good way. But that’s why firemen always drink free here at ‘Forty Stories to Go’ Bar & Grille. I owe them my life and the last 10 years with the most amazing woman in five counties.