I’m going to tell you a story. It’s about a long winding staircase, a long winding staircase into darkness. Thick darkness. You will have to step carefully, feeling each step beneath you with your foot, with your toes, to make sure it’s there, to make sure you aren’t about to put your weight on empty space, having missed a turn in the dark. You might want to take your shoes off. Taking your shoes off might help, and you don’t want to fall. This is not a game. There is no net.
I’m going to tell you a story about why you took the first step. Why you entered the dark place that curves and crawls. In this story, no one put a sword at your back. You weren’t walking the plank. You lived in the shade of a great tree, and when the sun was hot in the sky you found shelter in its shadow, and when the clouds opened up you found safety beneath its leaves, and when you were hungry fruit fell from the sky. Fresh ripe peaches squirting juice. You had everything you needed. The story goes on for some length about this: you did not want. You were safe. You were secure. You were not alone: there was always someone to climb the branches with, or to kiss between the acorns. You did not need to go anywhere.
But you did. The day came when you walked over to the hole in the earth, the place that offers you nothing but mystery, and you took that first step. I’m telling you this story so that you don’t expect me to feel sorry for you. I’m telling you this story, which is true, because you decided to leave the tree and its leaves, the tree and its branches, the fruit of the tree, and the friends and lovers who circled it – and no one made you. You walked away, and you knew what you were doing. You were not the first to release their hands. You were not the first to cross the roots and walk over to the uneven ground. You stood at the top of the stairs and you could not stop yourself from putting your foot down on the first step. Or if you could stop, you didn’t.
The story I’m telling you is a common one. The story I’m telling you is ordinary, even if you do not meet anyone else in the darkness along the stairs, even if you are alone on the stairs, taking careful steps, for the rest of your life. You are not exceptional: you only made a choice.
Because, and this is the end of the story, in the end it was not the tree, or the leaves, or the fruit that mattered. In the end, it was not the branches, or your friends, or your lovers that mattered. In the end, the only thing that mattered to you was this stairway, and the steps you take as the wind blows in your face and you feel your way, barefoot, down another level.
That’s what matters. Don’t blame me. You came here by choice. You always do.
Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues. He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.