The Precipice I

Written By: Mel

Have you ever stood at the top of a precipice looking down and just wondered about jumping? Not that you would ever really do it, but just think about it even for a fleeting moment? I think I came here to do that; just to think about it and figure out if I have any good reason not to do it.

Lookout Point they call this place. You can see for miles over the valley below. I stood leaning against the metal rail staring straight down the cliff side. It was cold and the biting February winds felt like they could freeze your very soul. I’m not sure how long I’d been standing there, only that it had been early morning when I set out from my dank little apartment to make the hike up here and from the look of the sky it was now about mid-afternoon. A deep voice startled me from my reverie. “Awfully cold day to be standing here so long.”

I turned to see the source of the voice. The figure was tall but buried deep in with in a dark green parka, with the hood pulled up and sunglasses hiding his eyes. The crest on the parka read ‘Bruce Trail Conservancy Volunteers’. He must be one of the do-gooder naturalists that maintain the trail along the escarpment.

“Yeah? I hadn’t really noticed the cold,” I lied, as I turned back to look over the cliff hoping he would just wander off and leave me to my thoughts.

“Wind chill is minus thirty. Your exposed skin could suffer frost bite if you stand here much longer. There is a heater in the first-aid station just a hundred yards up the trail. Come on, you’ll warm up there before we head back down,” he replied.

God, it sounded for all the world like this jerk was giving me an order. Who the hell did he thing he was?

As if he could read my mind, he stuck out a mitten covered hand. “Bill Lumbrook, and you are?”

“Staying here, thanks for your concern. I’ve got some thinking to do, so if you don’t mind...” I again tried to ignore this uninvited intruder.

“Actually I do mind,” he said as he walked over and leaned against the rail beside me. “I saw you up here when I was making my way up to the point, that was nearly two hours ago and you’ve not moved since. Last person who stood here alone for this long had to be scraped off the valley floor below when she jumped. We had to take out six old-growth conifers to get the equipment in to cart what was left of her out of woods. I’ll not have such happen again on my watch. So let’s go get warm and you can tell me what’s so terrible you’re considering the fast way out.”

I was momentarily dumb struck with the audacity of the man, but I’m nothing if not quick with sarcastic remarks. “Wow! Conservationist and Crisis Councillor; your mother must be proud.”

He touched my hand causing me to make eye contact. He’d removed his sunglasses at some point and a pair of piercing blue eyes stared into mine. “How would your mother feel about where you are right now?” he asked.

He could have asked any question in the universe and I’d have easily come up with a sarcastic or off putting reply, any question except that one. Fuck, why did he have to bring her into this? ‘Idiot’ I thought. ‘You’re the one who brought up mothers.’ I closed my eyes tightly and turned away. I was not going to let this man see me cry.

This man, this, Bill wasn’t it? Yes, he’d said his name was Bill. Bill put a hand on my shoulder, patting as if to comfort me. “How about we go get warm now?” he suggested.

I found myself being turned around and lead along the trail, to a small wooden hut. A small voice inside me was asking where my backbone had gone and why I was following a perfect stranger into a building on a deserted trail in the dead of winter. However, I chose to ignore my inner voice over that of this stranger, this Bill, talking to me in deep melodic tones about old growth trees and indigenous species along the trail. Before I knew it I was seated on a small bench inside the heated structure, cap and thin gloves being pull off as if I was some small child his was helping.

“Let’s get your coat off. You’ll warm up faster without it,” Bill instructed as he stood me up long enough to help me out of my old ski jacket. I sat again and watched him hang the coat over a wooden peg by the door and then he divested himself of his own outerwear.

The man who stood before me was tall, well built with a face that I would not have called handsome but still he was attractive in a slightly rugged, craggy way. His hair was dark and wavy, slightly on the long side it curled up over his ears and around the back of his neck. He wore insulated snow pants with suspenders and an old plaid shirt open at the neck with a button-up thermal shirt showing under it, reminding me for all the world of some movie image lumberjack. I would have guessed his age around thirty-eight, I would later find out that guess was spot on.

The warmth of the place caused my nearly numb hands to regain feeling, but it was painful as a burning sensation spread through them. I rubbed them together trying to ease the discomfort.

I felt his presence beside me on the bench and my cold hands were drawn into the large warm ones of my benefactor and he examined them closely; then checked my face and ears just as carefully before he declared, “No frostbite, you’ll be fine once you warm up. Now,” he paused to look me in the eye, “I’ve told you my name, it would be only polite if you were to share yours with me.”

I hesitated for only a second then decided that a lie would not do here. “Jesse McPherson”

“Do you live near here Jesse?” he asked.

“In Dundas,” I replied my home town of Dundas was the closest to this part of the trail.

“I presume you parked at the foot of the trail and hiked up?”I nodded.

“Well, I’m parked down there as well so we can hike back out together. If it weren’t for the big thaw we had last week no one would be up here now. The snow was really deep along the trail.” He rambled on about the weather for a few minutes with me giving short but appropriate responses. When he suddenly hit me from out of the blue with, “so what’s got you so despondent that you stood at the lookout for the so long considering the leap to the bottom?”

Not at all prepared to share anything that personal with this stranger I replied with a snarky, “What’s it to you?”

“Let’s just say I’ve looked over the edge myself and I want to let you know that things can improve if you want them to.” Deep, rich, blue eyes met up with my own washed out gray ones; they spoke of a kindness and understanding that I did not want to give into.

“Look I appreciate your concern but I’m fine, okay? Thanks for the warm up but I think I’ll head on home now.” I stood with determination and retrieved my coat from the hook and pulled it on, I put the two parts of the zipper together and tried to pull it up, but it stopped only two inches from the bottom. I tired pulling it back down but it was jammed in tight. I could feel by temper boiling the more I struggled with the thing, but it seemed the harder I pulled the more stuck it got and the more my feelings got away from me. “Why the fuck does nothing work in my life?” I yelled out to no one in my frustration. I turned and slammed my fist into the wall of the building, causing the entire little structure to shake.

I let out a yowl of pain, tears of embarrassment, hurt and anger burned at my eyes as I put my now throbbing fist to my mouth. Arms quietly engulfed me and I was led back to bench and seated firmly. Bill took my scraped hand up and tenderly examined it. I hissed with pain as he tired to straighten it. I attempted to pull it away but it was held fast.

“I think you may have cracked your knuckles,” he said with a sad shake of his head.

“Of course I have,” I spat out with disgust. “What are a few smashed metacarpals except to add another layer to the misery that is my life?”

“Jesse, you need to have your hand checked out at the hospital. I’ve got the things here that I can splint it with and put it in a sling so it will be better protected while we hike down. It’s going to be harder for you to keep your balance with your arm restrained, so we’ll need to go slow.” He gathered a splint, tensor bandage and sling from the first aid kit and proceeded to care for my hand. “Talking to someone about those layers of misery might help, you know. I’ve been told I’m a pretty good listener,” he suggested while wrapping the bandaging around the splint.

I sighed deeply. The pain from my hand seemed to be pounding a staccato in my head and I so did not want to talk to anyone about her or how much losing her was killing me. So why were words coming out of my mouth? ‘Shut the fuck up,’ I told myself. ‘You don’t know this guy from shit and you’re not telling him about her.’

“My mother died three weeks ago. She was my only family. I lost my job cuz I was off so much time taking care of her. My mom’s estate is tied up in legal shit so I can’t even get any money from it to help me. And now I’m about to get thrown out of my lousy apartment cuz I can’t pay the rent. Those are the layers of misery in my fucked up life, Bill. Happy you asked?” I offered with as much sarcasm as I could muster.

Bill finished putting my hand in the sling then looked at me with his compassionate eyes. “I’m very sorry to hear about your loss and I just might be able to help you with a couple of the layers of misery you’re dealing with. For instance, did your former employer know that you were off work taking care of your dying mother? And if so did they inform you that you had the right to apply for compassionate leave under the Canada Employment Insurance Act?”

“Yeah they knew why I was off but they never said nothing about getting a leave. They just told me either come back to work or I was outta work. That was two days before she died. I just told them to fuck themselves and of course they fired me after that.”

“Well, they were negligent in their responsibility to you, Jesse. You can take legal action against them for that,” he informed me.

I gave a small laugh at that statement. “Didn’t you hear what I said? I can’t even pay my damn rent. How the hell could I pay for a fucking lawyer?”

It was Bill’s turn to offer a laugh. “Just so happens that I’m a fucking lawyer, and before you go saying you can’t afford me, let me explain a few things.” He reached up and touched the lapel of my jacket. He fingered the pride pin I wore there. “If you were looking you might have noticed I have one of these on my coat as well. I do Pro Bono work for the C.L.G.R.O.* and I would be more than happy to help you with your former employer and look into your mother’s estate to see if I can’t get it moved through probate and get you some much needed cash as quickly as possible.”

At that point I didn’t know what to feel or think. My hand was still throbbing and my black mood still hanging over me, but this man was offering me something to grasp at. My fear was if I started feeling hope again that I’d only be let down and just how much more down could I take?
“You don’t even know me,” I replied, stating the obvious. “Why would you want to do all that stuff for a stranger?”

Bill sighed. “You’re a fellow human being and I am presuming a fellow gay man. The reason I became a lawyer was to help people with troubles such as yours. I realize my profession doesn’t have the best reputation in that area, but we’re not all out to steal the last penny from defenceless widows and orphans.”

That statement struck me as funny in an ironic sort of way. “Mom was a widow and with her gone I guess that makes me an orphan.”

“I’m sorry,” he offered. “That was a poor example given the circumstances.”

‘Was it?’ I thought. ‘Perhaps it was perfect. Perhaps it was just what I needed to hear, that he wasn’t out to get something from me.’ Of course that’s when the other voice in my head yelled out, ‘Yeah right! Isn’t that just what someone who is out for himself would say?’ Then the first voice yelled back, ‘The guy is a volunteer conservationist and works with the C.L.G.R.O. that all speaks of a good person.’ I felt like one of those cartoon characters with the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other each arguing for a different action.

What made me decide to believe the little angel over the little devil? I can’t say for sure, but if I had to formulate a theory I’d say that it was mom’s influence that pushed me. She always believed in the intrinsic good in people. She was a trusting soul. Not that she was anyone’s fool, but she always gave the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

“It’s okay,” I replied. “I’d really appreciate your help.”

I allowed him to help me down the trail that afternoon. It was a difficult trip but along the way his strong arms helped me keep my balance and help me find my way. That stranger, that Bill, insisted not only on driving me to the hospital but he stayed with me for the five hours it took to have the two bones I’d broken in my hand set and cast.

He brought me home, talked some sort of magic to my landlord and got me an extension on my rent. He even brought my car back from the trailhead parking lot the next morning. Five days later, he sat in my living room with papers and a cheque from my former employer. Whatever he’d threatened them with worked well. I got a severance cheque equal to six months pay and a glowing letter of recommendation to put in my resume.

It’s been a year since that fateful day on the Bruce Trail Lookout. I’ve got a new job in my chosen career as a graphic designer. Mom’s estate was finally settled and I got enough money to put a dent in the mortgage. Oh I guess I should say that I don’t live in that little apartment anymore. We bought a house, that Bill and I. We moved in two months ago right after we got home from our honeymoon. Did I mention we got married?

He’s still a bossy son of a b****, that Bill. Takes charge just like he did that day we met. About three months after we met, he introduced the idea of having a discipline relationship. At first I thought he was nuts or some sort of control freak (okay, I actually do think he’s a control freak but that’s another story) but after we talked and I did some reading it began to make sense. It’s not an easy lifestyle but it’s a good one. I think we’re closer and communicate better than any other couple we know. I certainly know we argue a lot less and never allow bad feelings to carry over after a disagreement.

Tonight I’m taking him out to dinner to celebrate the one year anniversary of the day I met that Bill; my Bill.

The End.

Note: C.LG.R.O. is the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario

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