Jesus Complex

by Lidia Yuknavitch

Appears in Other Voices #31

G uy busts into the diner I'm in and blares out, there's a woman on top of the First National Bank tower, somebody get some help! I'm scraping the inside of my coffee cup with a spoon. The circles grate; people in booths cringe and look at me. I take my time turning around. She doesn't need any help, I say. He's flapping and squawking-but she's naked! And she's up there, christ, what if she jumps? I continue my unbearable stirring. People have turned their attention to us, a little drama for lunch. I stop stirring to say, that ain't why she's up there, and then I begin again. I don't even look at him. I can hear his agitation as he lurches over to me, in my face, how the hell do you know? He's exasperated. Try being married to her for a few years, I think. Try living that life for one fucking day. Try, you pathetic little noble-hearted cretin. I finally turn and look at him. I tell him. I know because I been up there. Not just this time. Hundreds of times. And buddy, I can tell you, this is the last time. I aint going up there anymore. In Cleveland it was the Pump station, in Boston the tower in Harvard Square, in Lubbock the Buddy Holly statue-which, mind you, is only ten feet off the ground. No sir, this is it. I'm not going up any more. I drink the whole cup down in one gesture, like all the years settling into one fine, luke-warm, cafinated beverage.

He's not satisfied. Look mister, he says, I don't care if she is your wife-X wife, I correct him-whatever, X wife, she's in trouble and somebody needs to help. We can't just stand by and let-I laugh and snort. For your information, I was just up there half an hour ago. Talking her down on a god damn walkie-talkie the entire way up. Instructions from people I don't know accompanying me. You know, strangers are FULL to the brim with advice until the moment of crisis itself, then they stand there with their god damn mouths open like bloated and paralyzed fish. I get up there, again, for the I-don't-know-how-manieth time, and she is cool as a fucking cucumber. First thing she says to me is, what the hell are you doing here? Couldn't they find somebody more suitable? Christ. More suitable. Just for the sake of argument, I say, since we've been through this before and I feel a certain familiarity, I say, what do you mean by "suitable?" Do you mean you'd prefer a guy in a suit? I laugh. She doesn't. Someone more dramatic, less, I don't know, ordinary. I look down at the tar on the roof there. Old baseballs, wadded up paper, wire, weird stuff up there. And I say, Lily, I think they assume we have a common history. She looks off and says, well THEY should have considered the full ramifications of that. I say, jeez, are things really THAT BAD that you have to do stuff like this for the rest of your life? Wasn't it enough for us to go busto? When I say THAT BAD I make the mistake of waving my arms around. She counters by waving her arms around wildly and saying as a matter of fact, THINGS have never been BETTER. Throws one leg over the edge in this kind of epileptic like fit. That was the whole marriage-one leg over the edge.

From the ground you see a helpless naked woman lurching and retracting.

I then make mistake number two. I say, well, you look great. She says you motherfucker. She starts cursing so hard spit flies out of her mouth and her hair rages around like crazy. She says, you are the most predictable being on the planet. You are like Tupperware. Then she makes obscene flailings with the other leg and falls in a thump there so she's sort of sitting on the edge. My heart is jack-knifing in my lungs; old feeling. I move toward her out of instinct, hell, anyone would. I take a moment of comfort in that notion-anyone in their right mind would move toward a naked woman on top of a roof if she got too close to the edge. How sane. How normal. She darts a you're dead look at me and says, look, don't be a pathetic ass. You can't get me down from here. You can't get me to put my clothes back on. You couldn't get me to be a wife. If you try to grab me I'll just divorce you in a more POTENT and PERMANENT way, if you know what I mean. Got it?

I just stand there staring at nothing. This is a feeling so familiar I can't recognize it. Me with my hands dangling from the ends of my know-nothing arms like a jerk. Me looking at the ground, no matter where I am in my life, no matter what successes, failures, confidence. We freeze there like that for a long minute. The image is striking. She calms in that moment. A light breeze joins us. You know what's extraordinary, she says. What, I say. You can see flight from the top. Yet another in a series of completely incomprehensible statements out of the mouth of what always appeared to be a normal, beautiful, intelligent woman. I respond, who knows why. Maybe it's inevitable. What are you talking about? I'm tired. I don't want to listen to her nonsense anymore. I am more tired than I have been in my entire life. We're not even together anymore, and won't be, I could remarry, I could have a thousand different lives in a thousand different worlds, and we'd still meet here, like this, in this way. Birds, she says. From up here, you see them from the top, not the belly side. See their backs, the top side of their wingness. And she holds her hands and arms out like wings. For an instant I think, my god, she is as beautiful as ever, she is so crazy and angry and interesting that she is larger than life, and next I snap out of it, I think this is it, this is really it, she's changed, she's different somehow, if the wind blows she'll lose her balance, and I screech, LILY DON'T-FOR CHRIST'S SAKE DON'T-

She says don't be an ass. I'm not a bird.

So I'm going to sit here, and I'm going to drink this coffee, and when I'm done I'm going to walk out of here and I'm never going to see her again. I'm a young man. I've got a life, pal. You wanna save her? Knock yourself out.