Living on the Ledge§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: September 14, 2008; revised: August 15, 2017; readers in past month: 757

Looking Down from my Balcony

As the summer comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the pressure of having spent my first summer in my new apartment on the fifth floor. I have a fear of heights, so living this high above the ground has been difficult. Most people don’t realize that a fear of heights is not specifically a fear of the height, but a fear of one’s mental health, a fear that one will lose self control and jump to one’s death. When I lived at my previous two apartments in Milan and in New Orleans, I lived on the third floors. I’m not afraid of having a window or balcony on the third floor because if I jumped, there would be a high probability that I would live but would be seriously injured, perhaps crippled. One is tempted to jump to end the stress and depression of life. Running the risk of not dying but becoming a cripple, of having life become far worse is not tempting. However, from my open fifth-floor windows or from my balcony, looking down to the pavement below, death is fairly well assured. There’s not even a car below to possibly break my fall, unless I make a running jump.

So, a summer of sitting here working at my desk with the windows open behind me at my desk and in my bedroom day and night due to the heat — I have no air-conditioning like most apartments in Milan — has been unnerving. It has been disturbing. I feel quite relieved tonight that I am finally able to close the windows since the temperature has finally receded, finally relented its pressure on me.

When I walk the streets of Milan during the night alone, I think about my anxieties, about my frustrations in life. I mutter to myself aloud in English, ‘I want to go home.’ Part of me does not know where that is. At the moment, technically, my home is here in Milan at my apartment. I’m beginning to realize that I have to remind myself of that. I need to take myself in hand and say, ‘Your home is here. Don’t worry, you’re home.’ It seems like a silly thing to do, I know. Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned in previous web log entries, I’m still a boy at heart and when I’m feeling vulnerable or lonely or in someway hurt, I forgot the things I know as a man and I am a boy exclusively again.

Hurricane Gustaf recently went through New Orleans, the first hurricane to seriously threaten New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. I was safe in Milan at the time, but I still felt uneasy at the prospect of a repeat of three years ago. I see New Orleans as one of my homes still and want it to be safe: it still hasn’t fully healed yet from Katrina. I need it to be whole again, even if I never live there again. CNN International continously covered Hurricane Gustaf as it approached the Louisiana coast. I wasn’t very emotional through it all, just a little numb as I waited for it to hit New Orleans. During the coverage Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security — an agency that I’ve never liked and have mocked in the past — held a brief press conference that CNN aired lived. He talked about how they had learned from their mistakes after Katrina and how they are better prepared. In the past the federal government primarily waited until a hurricane was over before getting involved. This time, though, they were taking proactive measures. For instance, they sent trains and buses in to help evacuate people who don’t have cars of their own. In past they would tell everyone to evacuate but the people without cars were forgotten and later scolded for not heeding the warnings to evacuate. The Homeland Security chief also talked about improvements to the levee system that have been completed thus far, although there’s more to be done. I’ve seen the improvements to the mouth of the 17th Street Canal (i.e., locks and a pumping station), the canal in which the greatest levee-break occured during Katrina. If they had had that in place for Katrina, the damage would not have been so severe. There were many other things about which the chief spoke. As he spoke, I cried. I cried from a feeling of relief that someone who can help to protect my home is protecting it. I felt safe and not so vulnerable. Therefore, I could let my emotional guard down and cry in relief.

Window Behind my Desk

So I’ve emtionally survived the threat of Gustaf and the temptation of my open window now that summer is ending. Well done me. But is this to be my life: enduring the forces of nature and backing away from the pull of gravity? When I first started living on my own about seven years back when I divorced myself from my ex-wife, although I was in my late thirties, I was sometimes afraid at night lying in bed hearing the creaks of my apartment building and the wind outside bending trees and what-not. I don’t mean noises from a storm, but the normal sounds of a quiet night. It was reminiscent of childhood fears of the boogie man. Recently I noticed that I no longer have fearful moments in my apartment alone. I’ve become stronger in that regard. What I fear primarily now is myself, it seems. I fear my life being emotionally disrupted and I not being able to deal with it. I seem to need a stable home to be able to stabilize myself internally. A friend of mine, Caren Poletti told me years ago that as long as my home life is stable, I’m able to be daring with everything else in my life. I think that was a fair assessment of me. Incidentally, many things that she has assessed of me has turned out to be accurate — although I didn’t always see it when she told me.

I like my new apartment. It’s taking more time than I like, but it’s coming together in a way in which I can be comfortable. It’s very tedious, but that only gives my apartment a richer feel to it. Working out every detail: colors, materials, exact furniture acquisitions and their arrangement, and many other minute aspects make my apartment work well for me and help me to feel comfortable. Without it, I’m a mess. I spend too much time focuses on holding together my base and bcoming frustrated from it all. I find myself living on a ledge.