There was absolute freedom that Charlotte felt of which she had never felt before and it all started with one step. It wasn’t that long ago when the entire world felt overwhelming and nothing Charlotte tried to do could pull herself out of the dank dark sludge that made up her life. But with that one step, she was finally free of the shadowy stress which she was feeling just a second earlier.
With her eyes closed, Charlotte envisioned when all of these issues first came to fruition. It was the year after she graduated high school and Charlotte was away at college. She enjoyed learning and had always wanted to work for the government. Her goal was to join the CIA, but the FBI would have been just as great.
She was in a distant relationship with her high school sweetheart. Jason was not a scholar and had already acquired a job with his father. She always knew that she was going away to college and they would see each other during breaks and over the summer.
The first year was amazing. She dedicated extra time to her classes and made a few friends. It was the fall, winter, and spring breaks that made them both happy. But it was her decision to stay at college that changed things forever.
She had planned to go home for two weeks at the end of the season. But when she called Jason, he said that it was best if they took a break. Charlotte could see the same thing that the distance was difficult. So instead, she tried to spend time with her best friend, Lisa. Half the time Lisa was there for her and that made up for the time away from Jason.
The last time she went home was that winter. She made a point to see Jason and have closure. She agreed to meet him, but he wasn’t alone. He must have told Lisa and she was there too, hopefully to mediate. But once she took off her coat, it was apparent that she was pregnant, and it took a couple seconds for Charlotte to figure what had been going on. She shook her head as if the motion would keep the tears at bay, and then Charlotte turned around and ran. She went by her parent’s house to get her things and left without saying a thing to her parents.
The air flowed through Charlotte’s hair, and she could feel a tickle on her scalp which rippled shivers down her spine. It was just a month after she returned to school that Charlotte received word that both her parents had been in an accident. Her father, who was driving, was in a coma with a head injury. Her mother was thrown from the car and collided with a truck that was still going through intersection, dead on arrival.
Charlotte had to leave school to be with her father, but a week after burying her mother, her father died. She stayed two more weeks and when she left, swearing to never come back.
But upon making it back to school, Charlotte found that she had failed her classes. She knew that she could retake the courses and be forgiven for the bad grades. What Charlotte didn’t know was that the scholarship which she had received had been revoked due to her current grades. For the first time in Charlotte’s life, she was going to have to find a job.
Asides from the wind which passed right through her, there was an electric quiver that racked her body with euphoric delight. Charlotte’s muscles had the same sensation when she worked her first job at a restaurant. She carried a hundred dishes and bussed a hundred tables. Halfway through, her muscles began to burn. Before her shift was over, Charlotte could feel each muscle shaking independently and being fed on endorphins. It was the most alive she had felt and the closest to death. It was exhilarating.
She was able to save enough money from that job to retake the classes and hope that her scholarship would be back. Hope was not something which treated Charlotte fairly.
Charlotte opened her eyes for a split second and the world which looked so small a couple seconds earlier was beginning to expand. Charlotte remembered the day that she received the letter from her school. She was filled with excitement and looked forward to not only repeating the courses but also to being a year away from graduation. The feeling quickly disappeared when they said that they did not have the scholarship and that the waitlist for the school was two years. If the loss of her parents or Jason was difficult for Charlotte, this was devastating. It was the compounding of absence which made this a unbearable. Charlotte had reached her breaking point.
Charlotte took a breath as she was afraid that she had not taken one for a while. She held onto that breath as if it was her last. Like a deep sea diver emptying their air tank, Charlotte held on to what was in her lungs. She had many times held her breath. From the many birthday candles that she extinguished to more recent parties with smoke but no candles, she was more than use to exercising her lungs. Most recently, since the loss of everything that she loved, Charlotte tried to keep herself busy and found a job at another restaurant. One of the other servers introduced Charlotte to Meth. It was a great way to maintain energy on the eighteen hour days of doubles. At first it was just one day on the weekend. Then it was little pick-me-ups a couple times a week. Now it was a couple times a day. But she had a plan to quit.
And even with all the problems, Charlotte still was almost completely free. She had forgotten about Jason and had met someone new. Jimmy was nothing like Jason. He was brutally honest with Charlotte. When she met him, he had a girlfriend, and now he had two. When he was happy, he shared things. When he was mad he expressed it. Charlotte felt like Jimmy was a true man.
Even when she did something wrong and he would hit her, Charlotte knew it was all out of love.
For the first time in the past few seconds, Charlotte could smell the city. She could smell the exhaust from cars and the wreak of trash. She could smell the butter stench of the homeless which littered the sidewalk. That was a smell which Charlotte came to know well.
It wasn’t long after first meeting Jimmy that Charlotte lost her jobs. Neither place appreciated a skeleton with bruises and sores. After the jobs, Charlotte lost her home. Her mind was starting to disappear as well.
The one thing that Charlotte did have was an addiction. Her last paycheck went entirely to self-medicating. It was the lack of a paycheck that had Charlotte trading services for the high that she was always chasing.
There are times when ants looked like people to Charlotte and other times when people looked like ants. In a matter of seconds, that perspective flipped.
Charlotte remembered being only a few seconds ahead of Jimmy when she made it to the elevator. Then once she made it on the elevator, she pressed the top floor button frantically for the door to close. He reached in and grabbed Charlotte’s shirt. She shoved him with both hands and pulled away just as the doors began to respond to the button. And much to her surprise, the door closed before Jimmy could get to his feet.
Charlotte made it to the top floor and then ran to the stairs. She could hear Jimmy yelling and running. She went up one last flight of stairs and crashed through the door for the roof.
This was the number of choices that Charlotte had. She ran toward the edge of the building. As Jimmy slammed through the door to the roof, Charlotte took a leap of faith. She knew it was thirty floors and she began feeling freedom the moment that her foot left the roof.