The proposition of “Let’s go downstairs” seemed innocent enough. No, that’s a lie. I was actually quite taken aback and had visions of being knifed/blackmailed/tickled/forced to lick a shoe until I caught Alisha shaking her pack of cigarettes at me. We were at her friend Mark’s apartment, watching the Penguins game, eating pizza and quickly drankin’ our way through three bottles of wine.
“I’ll come too,” Mark decided, since the first period had just ended. He and Alisha grabbed their wine glasses. Not wanting to seem like some wino who can’t be without a glass in her hand for five minutes, I left mine on the table.
I had never met Mark before, but he was very affable from the get-go and had good vanilla handsoap in his bathroom. And even though I usually get annoyed with girls who watch sports for the eye-candy factor, it wasn’t annoying when Mark gushingly admitted to thinking Sidney Crosby is cute.
After Alisha and only Alisha finished her cigarette because she was the only one smoking, not me, I don’t smoke, Mark swung his keys in his hand and went to unlock the front door.
“Oh, shit,” he spat. Alisha and I stood there waiting for an explanation, but all he had to do was open his hand to expose my car keys dangling from his finger.
Mark lives with his brother, who conveniently was in Ohio for the weekend. And of course, Mark’s phone was in the apartment, watching the hockey game that had resumed by that point. His landlord’s number was in his phone, along with his brother’s, which he didn’t know off by heart. Through a phone relay, Mark managed to acquire his landlord’s number, and it naturally went straight to voicemail.
And then a bunch of panicking happened. At one point, we found ourselves sitting in my car, where we at least learned that the score was 3-0 Penguins. I emitted a dialed-back, near-silent “yay….” accompanied by a watered-down roof-raise, because I had a feeling maybe Mark was a little bit too stressed for someone to be punching the roof of a car in jubilation.
“I can always ask one of my neighbors for a ladder,” Mark postulated. Moments before, we had scoped out the back of the house. He lives on the second floor, and there’s a small roof beneath his kitchen window, which he admitted to not locking. Standing on the sidewalk in front of his neighbor’s house, Mark turned to us and asked, “Before I go and ask for a ladder, will one of you actually climb it?”
My hand shot up to the sky. “Me! I’ll do it.” I could sense Alisha looking at me in surprise. But probably it was adoration.
“Hold my glass,” Mark said, shoving it at Alisha’s hand. As he turned to walk to the neighbor’s house, I started jumping up and down in excitement.
“This is fantastic! I’m so excited!” I squealed.
But Alisha, turning somber, placed her hands on my shoulders. “I just want to say that, of all my friends, I am so glad that it’s you here tonight. You are the bravest person I know, and I feel safe in your presence. When this first happened, in fact, I thought to myself, ‘A-Prid, you need to calm yourself right down, girlfriend. You’re going to be fine. Erin’s here, and she’s like MacGyver. She will get us through this. And then you’ll have the rest of your life to bake her chocolate-covered rewards.’”
And then she thrust one of the empty wine glasses at me so she wouldn’t be mistaken for a drunken sidewalk-bound hobo.
Able to procure a ladder, Mark tramped around to the backyard. I followed, beginning to feel the onset of nerves manifesting as prickles in my fingertips. The ladder was sprawled out on the shadowed grass with Mark muttering, “How do you open this thing?” while I scoped out (with eyes stretched out to the size of porn-industry standardized tits) all the things I could potentially impale myself on. Like literal wooden stakes that were used to prop up flowers.
The ladder was opened to its fullest potential and propped against the back of the house. Making sure Alisha and Mark had firm grips on either side, I began my ascent. It was a wobbly ascent. The ground below seemed uneven and I can’t say I felt very secure. But I thought about some really awesome things to help me get through it and by the second rung I was already pretending I was on one of the Real World / Road Rules Challenges, about to win $10,000 for my team and a snowboard I’ll never use. And then I remembered my team was Mark and Alisha and I won’t lie – I considered throwing the challenge.
By the fourth rung, I began ruing the fact that I left my wine on the coffee table.
By the fifth rung, it occured to me that no one asked Mark why he wasn’t shimmying up to the roof to save us. I already knew why Alisha wasn’t – she’s not a team player. And also, I think she once told me she was abused by a ladder one time? Maybe I dreamt that? Oh right, I remember now what it was – she’s allergic to heroism.
I vaguely remember hearing forced and monotoned words of encouragement, in the style of “Bad Actor Reads From Cue Card.” Supportive gems such as “Oh yay. You are. Doing. A great. Job. Yay. Woo.” and “Don’t worry if the a/c unit falls on you! I don’t care about it!” and “I see that weather vane just plunged into your thigh. Can you try to not get any blood on the walls though? Thanks.”
Finally, I was at the top. The only thing left for me to do was turn to my right and swing my body onto the roof. And for the record, I’d like to point out that from the ground, the roof looked flat. But with it half a foot in front of my face, I was able to see that it had a slight peak to it. Awesome. But I had two people below counting on me, and without even swearing once (I KNOW RIGHT), I did a gentle dive over the gutter, where I then landed with the grace of a prima ballerina. And I won’t even remark on how the ladder simultaneously started sliding to the left, except that I just did.
Crab-walking to the kitchen window, it dawned on me that I never thought about what I’d do if I couldn’t get the window open. No way was I going back down that ladder. I once sat in a treehouse for hoursbecause I was too scared to come down the ladder. Granted, I was four. But I haven’t grown up much. I was able to slide up the screen with ease, but the window was more stubborn. Every time I would get a good grip on it with my palms, the top half of the window would jiggle, and I’ve watched enough Dario Argento movies to know that this is not a good sign. Finally, I held my breath and pushed up as hard as I could. The bottom window slid up high enough for me to drop my forearms under it and finally have something other than clammy palms to use as leverage.
And then something that had been hanging on the inside of the window fell and made a loud enough crash for Mark to scream from the ground, “Do NOT break my Fiestaware!” This was right as I was swinging a leg onto the ledge and kicked a bowl that had been placed decoratively on the sill. My arm shot out and grabbed it, which was probably enough of a talent-display to play for the STEELERS. Just as I set the bowl out of harm’s way, my other leg was en route though the gaping window and kicked another Fiesta piece. I saved that one too. I may be clumsy, but ain’t no one ever said nothin’ about bad reflexes. Safely in the kitchen, I straightened up the Fiestaware collection and noticed that the first thing that fell was actually a stained glass window hanging. A quick examination learned me it was unscathed. A good thing, as I would later learn it was the first piece of stained glass Mark made.
There was two and a half minutes left to the second period. I got to see Max Talbot attempt a penalty shot as I poured another glass of wine.
“Hey Mark, you know what’s funny?” I said once he returned from taking back the ladder. “I’ve never climbed a ladder before.” And oh, how we laughed. This was when Mark admitted to not wanting to climb it because he was wearing slippers. And really I have to agree that my ballet flats are way better for house-scaling.
It’s crazy to think about what might have happened had I not succeeded. We’d probably have had to fashion an igloo from leaves and Alisha’s cigarette butts, catch some rats to cook with her lighter. Maybe we could have eventually started a brand new colony down by the river. Oh, the homeless have already done that? Shit.
The “how” isn’t important, but I found Alisha’s diary entry from that night.
With all the roof-raising I do, it was only natural that I would wind up on a roof someday.
[A note from Present Day Erin: This is one of my favorite memories of Alisha. I miss that broad a lot sometimes. Also, I haven’t climbed a ladder since.]