The haze fell away from me. Now I was walking down the pink-carpeted hallway of my grandparents’ house, much like how it looked to me when I was a young child, around five or six. I took the first right and headed down a second hallway, this one shorter and leading to the master bedroom. On the left side on the wall of the hallway, just like when I was awake, were photographs. But these pictures were different this time. As I passed by them, I noticed that they were full of people I did not know. No one gazing back at me was a relative; they were strangers, imposters, unwelcome to this place. The frames hung awkwardly at an angle, unable to lean smoothly against the ribbed walls. The walls seemed to know something I did not.
Thankfully, before I got to the end of the hallway and turned left, where I knew my grandfather currently lay in his hospital bed, the final photo on the wall flashed by me. I stopped. I knew the residents in this one. The four people – in a typical Sears-like family photo – were my dad, my grandfather, my cousin Donna, and me. We were all sporting wildly colorful Hawaiian shirts with bulky sunglasses reminiscent of the 1980s around our necks. We were excited. More than excited. We were exuberant, ecstatic. So happy that this photo was being taken. The grins would have to be peeled off our faces.
The grins widened as I looked at them. Soon the photograph, like all the others, was odd to me, foreign. It should not be there.
I should not have been there. So I left. I was now in a new building. The instant I arrived, I knew it was old and abandoned; it was large as a church, tall with the rafters reaching to the heavens. In the center was an elevator. I had just left the shaft. And to the left from where I stood was another corridor, this one long and almost endless from my point of view. Dank and unused, it called for me to start walking that way.
Without warning, a green-hued spirit streaked down the empty hallway, mouth wide and limitless, but with no sound coming out of it. It flew down the corridor and toward me. But it evaporated as it reached the end of the hallway, mere inches from where I stood. I spun around to someone at my side, some anonymous actor in this scene and I shouted at him: “Look, it went down the hallway!”
“Didn’t you see it?”
I snapped back to that hallway. Both of us stared down trying to find what I had just seen; nothing was there. After ten seconds of silence, flames rose from a large central candle as if that spirit still were present and had ignited the flame.
With the dream complete, I pulled myself out of bed and feared the worst had happened already. I knew that something was wrong, something was off. Something was very wrong that morning. I had been visited by some psychic, some unknown soothsayer, that anonymous someone in my dream. I made my way to the computer in my hotel room. It was on the verge of losing all its known power, no means of recharging it as my adapter’s cable had been malfunctioning over the past month due to Istanbul’s brownouts and unfriendly power surges. I had no way to get a new one at the present; I did not want to purchase one in Slovakia. I was in Banská Bystrica, a town smack in the center of that country. I had been waiting to hear news about my grandfather ever since my mother mentioned to me a week earlier that he was nearing his end, his final breath, quickly now, much quicker than the year before when I had left the U.S. for Turkey. It would not be much longer until his time on earth would be up, she had said. And I would not be able to communicate directly with my family until the next day.
I recounted the list of End Time prophecies I knew so well from years and years of parochial education; that march to the Day of Judgment that seemed to be going much slower than most of my teachers had promised. Why did that last thing not happening faster – that last prophecy that would allow Jesus to return? Why couldn’t my grandfather’s life continue on when things that seemed inconsequential still had not just happened in 2008?
I was invited to an impromptu get-together in Beyoğlu, located on the European side of Istanbul. I met up with a few of my pals from the language school where I worked during my first year there. The meet-up spot was an apartment, one of many along the road, adjacent to a mosque, juice stands, hardware stores, and also the random take-out lokanta. This was right at the end of İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Street), but this part of the street held much fewer people than the mob normally found near the main square in Taksim. I sent my pal and coworker, Jeff, a message when I reached the front door. I was let in.
The person hosting the party held yoga sessions here, so furniture was rare in the main living space. Mats littered the floor. Medicine balls held shop in the living room corners. People had plopped down on the wooden floor or on mats, sipping on Efes or red wine, chatting and smoking and lazing around as dusk began to smolder through the windows, prompting lights and lamps to be switched on and more food to be pressed upon the multiple guests sitting crossed-legged or standing with arm akimbo, the other arm holding a wine glass or a stray cigarette.
I made it to the rooftop terrace after a half an hour. Two or three tables sat bored near the doorway. Chairs were layered with leftover rain from the morning’s storms. Jeff was up there with a few others taking in the late-spring evening; I wandered around to check the near-360 view of Beyoğlu. It rivaled the top of the Galata Tower not far to the south, a tourist spot that boasts one of the best circular views of the city, casting recalcitrant eyes over the rolling blocks of apartments, like sunrays from the topmost floor that streamed over everything. From up on that terrace, I could see for miles all around. The bridges crossing the Golden Horn – the Haliç – were lit up under the pollution-clogged sky. With many areas of Beyoğlu quite hilly, I could see myriad apartment blocks rotting and boarded, rolling this way and that, whittled by wind and hundreds of mottled years, years full of repainting and lackluster maintenance. The sun was masked behind clouds, but it was still bright out. Still, streetlamps eventually flicked on and stayed lit like frozen fireflies. The pre-sunset ezan, the call to prayer, filled the air. Jeff sidled next to me.
“It’s such a calm night. The view, the sounds…”
“I would live on this terrace forever if I could,” was my reply.
There was a pause as we both inhaled our view, this almost priceless view, opened and served to us like a coconut on a desert island.
“You know what I would really love to do in maybe 20 years’ time?”
Everyone else had ventured back down to the party by then. I turned to Jeff, who peered over the ledge, looking at the almost people-less road, bike and electric shops now closed, the lahmacun corner shop not far away, scant of clientele – it was such a non-busy slice of one of the most famous streets in Istanbul. I adored it.
“What would you do?”
“I want to dress up like Mickey Mouse, get all the way up here, and then jump off this building,” he said.
“And I’d be holding a chicken head, so there’d be a lot of blood.”
My mind was processing this image, one I can still see clearly. I could see it happening during another party similar to this, on an evening similar to this, another almost-perfect, just-about-impossible-to-duplicate evening.
“Why do you want to do that?” I asked.
I looked down over the ledge; I had the sudden urge to balance on the ledge, the same urge I had one time after a Cleveland Indians baseball game. See if I could keep steady, with nothing to catch me if I slipped, no nets, nothing at all.
“I just don’t want to grow old,” Jeff said. “Lose my mind. Die without my memories. I mean, I still have a good 20 years before that would really happen, but…”
He paused. He sighed. His chest swelled for a moment as the sky began to fade into oranges and reds. Another streetlamp clicked on. Nothing paused for his pronouncement. Seconds continued run off.
Jeff continued with the pause. It must have struck a nerve. It struck one with me also. My grandfather’s Alzheimer’s and the dementia that racked at him, his impairment that made him incapable of taking care of himself. His abilities and his memories were already laid to rest. I tried to picture myself in the same spot, and I could not. I would never be cognizant of it: it would be something I might notice for a moment but then I’d forget it only minutes later as the brain cells that fired off would suddenly sizzle and disappear. And then it would fall away, like so many other things, forgotten, inadhesive.
“So, Kevin,” Jeff said finding his words again, a bit more electricity in his voice. “Get this, I want to die in a cool way, one that’s unique, one that’ll get headlines. I’d want to jump off a place like here. Just so that the newspaper headlines read: ‘MICKEY MOUSE JUMPS TO HIS DEATH HOLDING A CHICKEN’S HEAD’.”
The front page of Hürriyet flashed before us with those words in block letters. So he wishes not to reach old age with the typical dementia, or the existential what-ifs banging at his neck when he’s 68. He wants an imprint in history, this infinitesimal flash of fame. Not 15 minutes in his mind, but not a millisecond either. How long would he feel as if he were famous as he leapt off the roof? How long will the idea race in his mind that he, as Mickey Mouse, just jumped off a building in the heart of Istanbul?
Let it be forever. He would be overjoyed.
So I wonder, have you ever leaned over a railing on a balcony, or maybe once peered down from a tall building, from the topmost floor? And then, while you are doing that, have you wondered what it would be like to fall all the way down, what would actually go through your mind as it was happening, and how it would be right at the point of impact, what actually would happen as you hit the ground? Would you have lost consciousness a good while before your collision with pavement? Or would something snap and break when you hit, but you wouldn’t simply cease to exist, you’d be alive?
It sometimes shutters through my mind as I gaze down from a high position, not a real Empire-State-Building-sized height, but a height few stories above ground. It sticks around almost to the point of me wanting – not really-fully seriously – to try it out. I am not stupid enough to do it, but it nibbles at my brain from time to time as I rest my stomach against a railing and peer all the way down, where my body could very well be if I lifted my feet over those rails and parted ways with it.
If I did have the ability to free-fall without asphyxiating and also hitting the ground without dying or being injured, I would do it in a heartbeat. Just to know what was on the mind of someone who had undergone something like that. Just for the experience, the inexplicably unknowable experience. The insidiously masochistic experience.