Even holding the perfect balance in my hand, my mind and body freeze up as I look at the wire and the expanse below it. I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this. I have never walked a tight wire, much less one stretched the length of a football field. And if (when?) I fall, it will kill me.
As if she can read these thoughts on my face, Irene says from beside me, “Terrifying, isn’t it?”
I turn my body to her. “I can’t do this. It’s crazy for me to even try. There’s no way I’ll make it to the other side.”
“And what if you don’t?”
I can’t believe she’s just asked me this. “If I don’t?! Look for yourself. I’ll die. Out here, alone. Painfully.”
“We’re all going to die. What choice do you have but to try? You can turn back. Go back to your crevice, or live in those rooms you bravely escaped. But is that living? Or just a different kind of dying? Are you alive simply because you are breathing?”
I understand the logic of her words, but anger wells up, spurred on by the icy fear coursing through my veins. “I. Can’t. Do. This.”
I don’t want to have this conversation. I want to hide, be alone, forget I ever found this place. I want the safety of what I know. But Irene is not leaving. She must sense my desire to shut down. It has to be written all over my face. But for the first time since I’ve met her, she does not comfort or pull back slightly when I need it. Instead, she pushes.
“I thought I knew you. Am I the only one who remembers what you’ve already done? Did you think you could use that plank to cross to the meadow? Was leaving behind what you knew you could do easy? Haven’t you changed at all? Why did you even come here?”
And now the fear turns to tears. My eyes well up and overflow as I stare across the chasm. The activity there seems to be gearing down and music accompanies the voices and the thrum of activity.
Irene’s words circle in my mind: Why did I come here? Is living the old way really living? Do I want to go back? Could I even go back? Why did I come here? Why did I come here?
Still fearful, but knowing I must set that aside, I ask Irene if I could have some time alone. She gives me a skeptical look, like she half-expects me bolt back to the meadow the minute she leaves. But she doesn’t say that. Instead, she walks over to the amphora and picks up a balancing pole. As she walks past me to the high wire, she pauses to embrace me.
“I’ll see you when you get there,” she says quietly.
And with no hesitation, she leaves. Her feet grip the wire, her pole perfectly straight, her eyes focused on her destination. In mere moments, she is on the other side. I watch her place her pole in a vessel and walk away, without looking back.
Holding the image in my mind of Irene’s confident, successful crossing, I step to the edge. I realize I am gripping my pole tightly, so I close my eyes, take a deep breath and relax my grip. Opening my eyes, I look down to ensure my feet are positioned correctly and take my first step.
The wire is tight beneath my feet, implying solid ground beneath it. I take a step, then two, using my pole to keep my balance in check.
And then I fall.