Beyond The Balcony

Melissa L. White


© Copyright 2023 by Melissa L. White

Photo by Melissa L. White.
Photo by Melissa L. White.

All she wants right now is to escape this blinding anxiety, this crushing panic attack. But Annalynne Mason never stops to consider what she will experience on the way down, from the moment she leaps off her apartment’s balcony, and her life flashes instantly before her eyes while she falls six stories to the pavement below—she spends her final seconds reliving these interconnected and pivotal fragments of her life— until at last the welcomed darkness greets her upon impact. Ah, beautiful silence. Emptiness. Peace.

Then the light bursts forth from the end of the tunnel, shining on Annalynne’s spirit, as she ascends from the suicide scene, leaving her mangled body, and floating up, up, up…into that radiant white light of perfect love.

And from there? It’s almost too incredible to be believed. But everyone will experience this passage, someday. It is inescapable. Inevitable. The one sure thing all humans experience. It is their common path—their shared destiny….


But to understand Annalynne’s leap to her death, one must first accompany her on her journey as sobbing hysterically, she throws the phone down, slams open the balcony door, rushes outside, and leans over the balcony rail, gazing down at the alley below, between her apartment building and the back wall of the Hollywood Wax Museum next door. The mural of John Wayne, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe greets her from the rear wall of the Wax Museum—benign, unsympathetic to Annalynne’s most recent trauma, as she stares at it for the last time then wipes her tears and climbs slowly, deliberately, up onto the white wicker patio chair on her balcony. She stands there a moment, taking a deep breath, then steps up onto the stucco balcony wall, balancing herself on the four-inch-wide steel rail on top. Looking down, she sighs her last, hopeless breath, closes her eyes, and leaps.

And as she falls to earth, she relives the phone call she just received from her bank, notifying her of insufficient funds in her account to cover a $25 co-payment she made at her doctor’s office earlier that day, where she learned the results of her recent biopsy, PET scans and MRIs— stage-4 metastatic melanoma. Instantly she is back in the examination room, where her doctor shows her the scans. She sees the spots on her lungs, her spleen, her brain, her thyroid. But it doesn’t register. All the air is sucked out of the room when he says the words, “The prognosis is not good. You need intensive, aggressive immunotherapy treatment.” Annalynne stops listening at that point. God knows how long she has. When her doctor mentions that with Kaiser’s setup, unless you have Medicare, each infusion has a $1,500 co-pay— this registers. Completely. How the hell will she pay for this? Her attention snaps back to that final straw, where she becomes enraged after learning on the phone call from her banker that the IRS just seized her entire checking and savings accounts due to her husband’s back taxes—which he owed from before they had even met ten years ago. “That’s so unfair! Is this even legal?” she protests, but her banker explains that even though Annalynne’s husband passed earlier this year, their joint accounts still have his name on them, so technically, she is liable for her husband’s taxes since they have filed their taxes jointly for the past six years. This rage all but consumes her now, until she remembers being blind-sided with the news, the month before, that her employer is downsizing and eliminating her entire team, terminating the two dozen staff members besides her in this “expendable” department, effective immediately.

She relives the shock of learning a few days later that her former company has filed for bankruptcy, liquidating all the 401K retirement savings of its employees. Then the sheer panic hits Annalynne once again, of being jobless and penniless at age 59, desperately looking for work—virtually starting over when she should be planning for her retirement. She instantly relives the indignation and humiliation at her most recent job interview with a recruiter for a large company who was clearly at least three decades younger than Annalynne, and who asks her unabashedly— so arrogant— “Why in the world have you chosen to start looking for a new job so late in life?” …like it was her “choice” to become unemployed, this close to retirement age.

The rage. The resentment. The humiliation all coming back to her until she sees the roses her neighbor of fifteen years brings to her that evening after her horrific job interview. She smiles, smelling the sweet fragrance of the petals, nurturing the unbridled joy of a true and lasting friendship. Thank God for her, Annalynne sighs. She is a real treasure.

“You will find another job,” her neighbor assures her. “You are strong. Intelligent. Resourceful. And most of all you are resilient.” Annalynne hugs her friend, grateful for her optimism, but nonetheless she remains fully aware of the cold hard truth that no one hires seniors in today’s job market. She has ten dollars in her purse. Rent is due in two days. In less than a month, she will be evicted. She cannot fathom being homeless while dying from cancer. But she doesn’t tell her neighbor any of this. Instead, Annalynne thanks her for the roses, hugs her, and invites her in for a cup of chamomile, then her neighbor shares photos of her newest grandchild.

Annalynne instantly relives the moment she first holds her grandniece, her brother’s only grandchild. Immense love radiates from inside her heart, as she gazes down at that innocent, beautiful little baby, yawning, pink and warm like a tulip opening in the morning sun—embracing Annalynne’s soul now as she holds this precious baby in her arms. She feels this tiny heart beating, her small body pulsing with energy, the way her pet parakeet, Sherman, used to feel when she was a child, with his little talons vibrating as he clutches her skin, perching on her forefinger, singing along with The Eagles on her 70’s radio station. Instantly, the Eagles’ song “Peaceful Easy Feeling” fills her mind with thoughts of sleeping in the desert with a billion stars all around. This memory calms Annalynne as she falls from the sixth floor past the fifth floor, until she hears the wail of an ambulance approaching.

She looks up and sees her husband, Terrence, his lifeless body now cold as she kneels beside him in bed, wailing, praying, sobbing hysterically while she waits for the paramedics to arrive. Once they finally load Terrence onto the gurney, she panics, seeing the splatters of dried gravy on his left foot, and she longs to wash it off before they carry him away. But she can’t. It’s too late. So, she starts to cry again, remembering how Terrence— being incredibly drained and worn down from the past two years of chemotherapy— had grown so weak that he dropped his dinner plate on the floor the night before.

After cleaning up the mess and putting Terrence to bed early since he felt so very tired and listless, she remembers that she had been too exhausted last night to wash his feet. Now today, the irony hits her that he will enter heaven, barefoot with gravy stains after dying in his sleep. She wonders morbidly if the coroner will think Terrence was neglected, after seeing his foot. Those damn splotches of food soiling his skin and somehow negating the entire two years that Annalynne cared for Terrence, feeding him, bathing him, dressing him, giving him his meds when he was too weak to do it himself. This thought makes her extremely sad, overwhelming her, causing her to panic until she remembers her wedding, then sees herself walking down the aisle towards Terrence seven years earlier. His eyes glisten and he immediately winks at her, as he watches her approach.

Then falling past the fifth floor approaching the fourth floor, she relives the awfulness of her mother’s slow, painful demise from terminal cancer. Annalynne sits by her mother’s side each day, reading to her, painting her nails, and praying with her during each of her chemotherapy treatments. Instantly, she relives the muted pleasure of watching her mother lying in her hospital bed and opening her birthday presents. The gift from Annalynne’s father – a bottle of Nina Ricci, L’Air du Temps perfume, elicits her mother’s “oohs” and “ahs” like it is the most incredible gift she’s ever received, even though it’s been her father’s gift of choice for every Mother’s Day and birthday for the past 30 years. Her mother spritzes her wrists, rubs them together, and that familiar, comforting fragrance permeates the tension in the room, melting the sharp edges of fear like a butter knife spreading margarine on warm blueberry pancakes at their Sunday night childhood ritual of joyful and boisterous family pancake suppers.

Annalynne watches as her mother smiles, nearing the end of her life, yet still carrying on as if she has all the time in the world to enjoy life’s small pleasures. Closing her eyes, Annalynne relives her overwhelming sorrow mixed with relief when their family gathers round her mother’s bed, as she finally passes on, struggling as her breathing changes to those last puffs of breath at the end, trembling, then whispering softly, “I’m falling…”

Then slowly, effortlessly, the life seeps out of her mother’s tired, weak body as her soul departs and her eyes grow wide. Then she smiles, and gasps softly as if pleasantly surprised. Her mother’s eyes wide open now, a single tear wells in the corner of her left eye, resting there without spilling down her cheek, leaving Annalynne weeping by her mother’s side, heartbroken, yet free at last from the burden of her mother’s suffering. This freedom is so long in coming and so completely despised yet welcomed at the same time.

Annalynne smiles to herself, remembering the family of baby squirrels playing beneath the giant oak tree next to her mother’s grave where she goes to plant roses. As she kneels by the tombstone watching the wee squirrels, this all-encompassing sense of hope and reassurance which floods into Annalynne’s being, helps her not only remember her mother’s sheer joy at being alive, but allows her to experience that joy for herself. Right now. In this exact split second as she plummets towards the pavement.

Then falling from the fourth floor past the third, she remembers being ten years old and up on stage at her first dance recital, performing a ballet routine as the Sugar Plum Fairy Queen, with her rhinestone crown and her silver tutu. She pirouettes and spins across the stage, in front of the rest of the class who perform the chorus routine in a line behind her, while she dances her solo up front, center stage.

Feeling the emotion and excitement of being ten and looking out from the stage, she sees the faces of the audience members looking up at her and smiling. An intense thrill from simply being alive fills her now with the incredible surety that she is doing exactly what she was put here on Earth to do. Perform. Then a ripple of doubt seeps into her mind as she wonders to herself, somehow from outside the memory of performing ballet onstage as a ten-year-old; she is now the older soul looking back on her life, wondering how in the hell she could possibly have lost that feeling of being “one” with the Universe. How did she become so separated? So incredibly lost? So willing to leap from the balcony to end this glorious, beautiful, love-filled journey her parents gifted her with at birth?

Then it hits her as she falls past the second story of her apartment building, that she has all but forgotten the powerful magic of standing still. She has rushed from decade to decade of her life, without taking the time of late, to bask in the ecstasy of standing still in the moment, to just appreciate the miracle of life. To appreciate nature, like the time she stood watching the blazing sunrise burst through the dramatic purple, pink, and orange clouds dotting the horizon above the east rim of the Grand Canyon; or the time she gazed up at the billions of stars shimmering in the cool desert night sky near Abiquiu, New Mexico—so far from city lights; or hearing the pre-dawn sound of woodpeckers pummeling the pine trees outside the bedroom window of her childhood home near the woods; or feeling soothed by the sound of rain splattering against her grandparent’s tin-roofed garage, where she watches as a little girl, enthralled as her grandfather teaches her how to rob the honeycomb from his prized beehives without getting stung, by simply talking to the bees and thanking them for their golden honey.

She feels a sensation of sadness as she experiences this loss, of being unable to stand completely still in the moment, until she finds herself standing still on the gulf shore at Galveston Island’s West Beach. She waits in the surf, her mother on her left side, her father on her right, as they hold her hands, lifting her small six-year-old body up above the waves as they roll in. She is in the exact center of her family, her mother’s other hand holding onto her brother, while her father’s other hand holds her sister, all spaced out in a row across the gentle waves. She laughs, so happy— with such intense bliss— embraced by the love of her family; comforted by the bright Texas sunshine; lulled by the gentle sea breeze rolling in off the tepid Gulf of Mexico.

Looking up at the sky, she feels God’s hands holding hers, as her parents repeatedly lift her small body above the cresting waves. The cool, refreshing water; the warmth of the sun; the laughter of children playing Frisbee on the beach behind her all soothe and calm her now. She feels so connected— so at peace with her place in the world. So incredibly happy and serene. Until she finds herself at five years old, perched on the pier overlooking Lake Livingston where she stands fishing with her father. The two of them waiting, watching the water for signs of the ever-elusive fish when at last a six-pound bass strikes, and her father drops his rod and rushes to her side, helping her reel in the prize catch of the day.

Annalynne feels the spontaneous joy of spending time with her father, listening to him talk about flying a two-seater Piper Cub airplane when he was younger. Watching her dad bait her hook, it dawns on her now what he’s been trying to teach her—that fishing is all about the process— the time spent together on the lake, giving each other their undivided attention. She loves her father for teaching her this, more than she ever thought it possible to love another human being.

Just as she relives this cherished memory, Annalynne approaches the first floor as she falls, and time drags out into an eternity— slowing to a crawl. Starting to panic all over again now, she feels hot and frightened until all at once she recognizes the faint scent of Nina Ricci perfume emanating from her own neck, and instantly she is lying beside her mom one night, breathing in her mother’s perfume. After their parents wake them up at midnight to come outside and watch the meteor shower in the balmy Texas Indian summer night sky, Annalynne and her sister lay on a blanket in the backyard as toddlers, stretched out between their mom and dad. Faint traces of Nina Ricci fragrance enfold them, comforting Annalynne like a warm bear hug, as her mother coaches them to make a wish on every shooting star they see because, as she assures them, “Each falling star is a gift from God.” With rapt attention, Annalynne listens as her father explains how far away these stars are, and how the light they are seeing is so old, that by the time they see it, the star has already burned out. He then does his best to explain what a light year is.

She reaches for her father, and he takes her hand, squeezing it as he tells her that he adores her more than all the billions of stars in the galaxy. “All the love in the Universe cannot match the love I feel for you and your sister.” Annalynne closes her eyes and relaxes, so at peace. If only she could have remembered all this love while she was still on the balcony…

In a flash of hope, she longs to share this monumentally thrilling revelation with others who may be perched on their own balconies right now— that no matter how difficult life may be… and this is the crux of Annalynne’s epiphany— part of being human means seeking out, remembering, and honoring the love one has known throughout their life. Even if it’s fleeting. Even if it was decades ago, during childhood. Because that love is permanent; it’s always inside the heart. It’s what makes all life worth living, and if people can hold that love in their hearts, it will empower them to overcome the hard times. Until they can seek out, create, and experience more love. As Annalynne discovers in the final split second of her life— one is never too old for love— it’s never too late. Love is what she experiences as her last emotion, her final thought…not the regret or the loss or the pain. It is the love; only the love…

And then….

…The impact…

And then darkness. Emptiness. Peace.

Then the light shines forth at the end of the tunnel…beckoning Annalynne into its intense, bright whiteness— pulsing, pulsing, pulsing…

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