Stairs

I couldn’t get up the stairs that day. The day from my last entry, I mean. I seem to be wandering backwards through that day, from the pain in my teeth to the cause of it, and from there to the foot of the stairs. I was stuck there, or rather, I believed myself stuck. The idea of going it on hands and knees didn’t occur to me right away.

I lived in the upper suite of a duplex back then. I had my own private staircase with a door at the bottom. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to lie down and rest in a public stairwell, but in my home, it didn’t seem so extraordinary. I spread out my coat and curled up on it. I meant to rest for five minutes and then try the stairs, but I kept dozing off, which is the reason I’m telling this story.

See, every time I fell asleep, I dreamt I went upstairs. Sometimes, I walked up. Other times, I crawled. Once, someone carried me. But I always got upstairs. Then, I’d wake up, see I was still at the bottom, and go back to sleep. (For all I know, I’m still in that stairwell, dreaming all of this. Any moment, I’ll wake up and find I’m still nineteen, still laid out on that coat I was so proud of back then, the camel-hair one that made me look like Grace Kelly. Mother gave me that. It was her coat, then mine. One day, I put it in the washing machine. Man, I miss that coat.)

Let’s assume I’m not dreaming, though. Let’s say I’m here at my computer, telling this story, and I’m telling it because the same thing just happened again. Not the horrible bit, with the cracked teeth and bruised-up feet, and having to climb the stairs like a dog, but the dreaming bit. I was waiting for some news, work-related, that could’ve been very good or very bad. I had my laptop in bed with me, so I’d hear my e-mail chime the moment it came in. And again and again, I dreamt of failure.

Sorry. I did my best, but our editor wasn’t impressed.

Thanks for getting those samples to us so quickly. Unfortunately, your style isn’t quite what we’re looking for. Good luck in your future endeavours!

You write like a 60-year-old Oxford don*. What makes you think you can do YA fiction?

You waste our time with this shit? Fuck off and die, you unbelievable snert!

I woke up several times with a pain in my chest, that dull agony you get when a loved one turns their back on you—and after all that, I got the job.

I guess what I’m wondering is, what the hell happened to me, in twenty-one years? At nineteen, I dreamt of success. At forty, I’m dreaming of failure. Not just failure, but crushing failure, embarrassment, rejection.

Maybe it’s ’cause I got dumped a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a serious relationship, but I didn’t feel nothing. There’s always affection, and nobody likes to be told no.

My mother always gets on me, y’know, “stop cutting yourself down. Why do you do that? Why do you hoard the slings and arrows, and ignore all the praise?” And I say to her, “because I’m human. Because we all do that.” She tells me she doesn’t. I halfway believe her. She’s one of those people who expects the best, and somehow, she usually gets it. Not always, of course. I’m sure she expected a better child. (And how she’d nip my head, if she knew I said that!)

It might be a problem, though, this vinegar thinking. Bitterness and despair, over imagined rejection—that’s taking it a bit far. That’s how you get to be the Unabomber, probably.

I don’t want to be the Unabomber.

Oh, but I’m delighted about the job. Really. Just over the moon. Maybe I don’t sound it, but I’ve been fizzing all day. Fizzing with glee. I’m sick from too much sugar (I ate half a pound of fruit in celebration), but still, I’m ecstatic.

This is a good day.

* A criticism I’ve heard a few times. More than a few, maybe, not in those precise words. I try hard not to write like that. Sometimes, I can’t help it.

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