By: Danielle Zielinski
“Enu, enu, enu. Whoooop! Arrr, arr, arr, arrr.” The standard car alarm music blared through its fifteenth cycle.
“People have gotten so good at ignoring them I find it amazing anyone still uses car alarms anymore,” I thought to myself as I dangled from the bungie cord. It was cold and I wished I had worn that sweater afterall. I fingered the party hat that miraculously was still on my head after my plunge from the fourteenth floor and mentally went over how exactly I had wound up here.
The morning started out warm and seasonably spring like. I had made my typical resolution to leave the house. “Today would be the day,” I told Sprinkles, my cat. She looked back up at me from her perch on the sill, her big yellow eyes seeming to say, “yeah, I’ve heard that one before.” I have been diagnosed with something called agoraphobia. It’s a fancy Latin word for ‘fear of leaving the house’. I know it sounds silly and trivial for ‘normal’ people. “It’s easy,” they tell me. “Just grab the handle of the door, open it, and walk out.” But every time I try to do just that something stops me. I know something horrible will happen to me if I go out there. I don’t know what, but something will. Like hundreds of mornings before I woke up, watched the news with my cup of coffee, made mental notes of everything horrible that had happened over night to other people who had chosen to leave their houses, got showered and dressed, went down stairs, put on my shoes, grabbed my purse, thought about grabbing a sweatshirt, decided not to grab a sweatshirt, and paused with my hand on the door handle for forty-five minutes trying to work up the courage to turn it and walk out the door.
I was just about to chicken out and go have lunch just like every other day but for the sound of the doorbell. Its ring managed to pull me from my nervous thoughts about the many different ways I would die today if I went out that door. I could see through the window that it was an Amazon delivery person. Without thinking I turned the handle, pulled the door open, and stepped outside. Just like that, in one millisecond, I was through the door and standing on my front stoop with a package in my hands. The only thought in my mind was, “wow, I didn’t know my house had yellow siding.” I looked down at the brown box with the Amazon smiley face arrow logo on it and wondered what I had ordered. My eyes inadvertently searched for clues on the outside of the box until I realized that the address label actually read: Clara Jones, 1530 St. Augustine Ln. The address was for the house across the street.
I stood there weighing my options. Number one: I could do nothing. I could return to the safety of my home and either leave the package on the front step or take it inside and keep it. My moral compass pointed to no. Number two: I could try and find a phone number on the package and call the lady across the street to come over and pick up her package. Drat, there wasn’t one. Number three: I could take a deep breath, walk across the street, ring her doorbell, and just hand her the package. Number three it was. I inhaled deeply and steeled myself for the task ahead. Walking across the street would bring me farther from my home than I had traveled in five years. “Here we go,” I thought. “It all starts with one step. Come on right foot,” I chided myself. “Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot,” I chanted all the way across the street and up the crumbling front steps of the house that was a mirror image of mine. “Don’t look back,” I told myself as I rang the doorbell. I knew if I looked back at my house I would drop the package and run back across the street, slam the door, and burrow under the covers of my bed and never come out again. “Please don’t answer, please don’t be home,” I chanted into the growing silence. I started to put the package down on the front stoop when to my horror Clara Jones answered the door.
She was about six feet tall, slender, medium skin tone, dark hair, athletic, and gorgeous. I was instantly intimidated. Her dark brown eyes met mine and her eyebrows raised in the unspoken question, “who are you and why are you on my doorstep?” My mouth suddenly lost the ability to form words so instead I raised the box for her to see.
“Delivered to me by mistake,” fell out of my mouth.
She took in the address label and a note of recognition lit up her face as she translated my fragment of a sentence.
“Hey thanks,” she said. “Not many people would take the time to bring this over.”
Most normal people would say ‘you’re welcome’ about here. But I just stared blankly back at her.
“Do you, uh, wanna come in? I know most of the neighbors, but I haven’t seen you before. Did you just move in?”
I remained frozen, staring at her like a deer about to be hit by a car. “Talk you idiot,” my brain screamed. “This is it; this is your chance; what you’ve been waiting for! Take the plunge, move your feet, go inside and meet your neighbor,” a drill sergeant inside my head screamed at me.
“I, uh, I’ve been here for five years now. I just don’t get out much,” I stammered as she was getting the ‘weirded out closing the door now face’.
“Oh! You must work from home.”
“Uh, yeah,” I spit out, “Just like data entry really boring stuff really.”
“Really,” She mocked my overuse of the word in a friendly way.
I had never been teased in a friendly way before and I think she registered the fear on my face as I braced for a helping of negative verbal ridicule reminiscent of my awkward high school days.
“Well, lemme give you the grand tour,” she said, instantly warming to a friendly, nurturing tone and sweeping me in the door with her arm. “Obviously, you know my name now from the box. I’ve been here about seven years and I love the neighborhood. Don’t you, well you must, you said you’ve been here five years. Everyone is so friendly, aren’t they,” she happily prattled on.
I was secretly relieved that she was suffering from a bout of verbal diarrhea right now. It was all I could do to keep taking deep, calming breaths while I followed her through her home. This was too much! Not only had I left the house for the first time in five years, but I was also in the process of making a new friend, I think.
“And here’s the half bath down here. Is that how your house is inside too? I feel like our houses are similar in style, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” I interjected.
“Hey, I’m getting the hang of this,” I thought, “this is easy. All I have to do is follow her and interject a word here or there to let her know I’m still listening”.
“Oh, and here’s Buster,” she motioned at a large furry puddle of drool with teeth.
Buster proved to be friendly and joined us for the remainder of the house tour and for drinks on the patio afterward. I sipped my Margareta- the first alcoholic drink I had ever had in my entire life and enjoyed the feel of sunshine unimpeded by window glass on my skin. The friendly chatter and companionship of another human being did much to calm my anxiety. The glassful of depressant didn’t hurt either. I was just about at the point of truly enjoying myself when Clara threatened to expand my comfort bubble once more today.
“So, I do have to pop into the office for a couple minutes today. I hate to leave though; we’re having so much fun. I feel like I’ve known you my whole life, you’re so easy to talk to. You must get that a lot.”
All I could squeeze in was a nod here.
“Would you want to come with me?”
The question hung in the air, but she didn’t wait for me to answer it. Before I could retreat she was putting on a pair of high healed stilettos and sweeping me into her bright red Mini-Cooper S. I mentally breathed into a paper bag as we raced off toward the city- a place that guaranteed certain death if I entered its limits.
“Isn’t it gorgeous,” exclaimed Clara as she neared a parking garage.
To my surprise, she was right. The sky was bright blue, the buildings were a deep black against the sun and they seemed to go up, up, up forever. There were intricate fountains spraying bright blue chemically treated water for overfed green pigeons to bathe in. It certainly wasn’t the tranquil, quiet fields of Iowa that I grew up in, but I could appreciate the strange beauty of it. There was an energy to it- a pulsing of life. You knew you were never alone in the city and it was bizarrely calming.
The next several hours went by in a blur. Clara took me up to the fourteenth floor and introduced me to her entire marketing, advertising, and public relations team who welcomed me with open arms. Somehow, I wound up trying my hand at web-based content writing and was so good at it Clara offered me a job right then and there. Promptly at five P.M. the computers turned off, the DJ turned on, catering showed up, drinks flowed. I looked down and realized that I was dancing to music and somehow glow sticks had shown up in my hands. At midnight Clara and I were peer pressure chanted into bunging jumping off the fourteenth-floor roof because Floyd- Sarah’s friends’, husbands’, roommates’, cousin was in the bungie jumping business and had rigged the whole thing up pro bono. He sent us sailing safely over the edge and then promptly passed out from too much of, well, everything and no one else either knew how to bring us back up or was sober enough to remember that we were there. The next morning instead of watching the news, Clara and I made the news as the Channel 9 traffic copter found us still dangling there at six A.M.