I manage to make it through the day on a small amount of food. As I walk over to workshop I worry about money, my financial situation. I wonder how possible it is that I will win a writing contest soon, ever. Get a book deal soon, ever. Get a well-paid job soon, ever. I think about this as I cross the bridge of the L’Arve (Green River) in Chamonix, where I have two weeks to live and write and have so many experiences. It’s a lot of pressure, to have experiences, to have so many that is.
Our workshop location is changed to someone else’s apartment and we must walk over there now to learn of its spot. All ten of us walk down the block, and I flock to C who I can tell wants a cigarette but knows there won’t be enough time for all that. When we arrive we are given the code for the gate, and still in my head I am thinking how I will afford my apartment in Los Angeles, how I will manage to become the writer I want to be. Earlier in the kitchen I had told my roommate that I make dreams come true, and barely believed it when I said it. I’ve made a film, written a collection of essays, gotten myself in dire circumstance time and time again. My therapist used to say that all people have good and bad in them.
We are directed to a very small lift and I immediately ask where the stairs are located. No one is sure, and we’re told to just hop in, all six of us who haven’t been here before, while the other four remain downstairs. We pack in and I’m in the corner. My puffer vest, a boundary between me and my workshop peers. I hold a water bottle with about two sips of liquid left, the wrapper of a cherry candy that K gave me, my cell phone in my pocket.
The lift begins to rise to the fourth floor and I tell everyone I am closing my eyes because I don’t like small spaces. I feel the elevator stop moving but refuse to believe this stop is one of any sort of permanence. It will keep going. The ride isn’t over. I look for the number above and it reads “CO2.” It means nothing. We are stopped. It takes the rest of the group another second to come to this conclusion. The alarm bell button is pushed; a lady comes on the intercom speaking French. The woman who lives here speaks to her kindly, with a giggle at the end of each sentence. Someone else has cell service and begins to message the others. I stand in the corner and clutch my phone with no service, my almost empty bottle. I do not think of my bank account. I do not think of my credit card statement. I do not think of the impact I may or may not have on the world today or someday soon, ever.
I voice my concern, my anxiety, my fear of what is happening right then and there. Everyone else seems calm, or at least puts on a façade of calm for me, for each other. The lady on the line says service will take at least twenty minutes to arrive. I get hot, my vest tightening around my body, my chest struggling to move in its natural rhythm. Our workshop leader offers me water. Another woman offers me a ginger candy. There is an exchange in the middle of the lift between candies and kind words. I look at C and she tells me that we are already in our worst-case scenario. Nothing else can or will go wrong. Someone will be here soon and it will end. In a seminar the other day, Cheryl Strayed asked us to write about a moment in which external and internal realities conflict or in some ways collide. This is what C is doing for me. I believe her even though I know she is lying. She is trying to comfort me, provide me with care and love, but inside she might be afraid herself. All these things conflict and collide. It all makes perfect sense, but none of it matters. Our leader turns to face the elevator door and attempts to pry it open. It begins to work, slowly, and then all at once the door is open. We are in between the third and fourth level, more so on the fourth, where the woman lives, so we get out, one by one, quickly as the doors want to push back to a closed position.
It takes me a moment on the balcony to stop myself from throwing up. I am dizzy as I look out at the mountains, the great view that was promised upon relocating this workshop’s meeting place. The trees have no form to me now; they are only a mass of green and brown cascading downward, upward, folding into each other, as close as six people can get in a lift, closer even, like how each leaf is important and not important at the same time. I am important and not important. Mostly not, probably. But on the lift, another woman I just met today asked me questions to keep my mind from racing. She was too late, but her smile was bigger than my fear. I didn’t believe it would be okay, but I knew it would be. Something inside me knew not to get on that lift, but something inside me also knew I would get off sooner than later.
C and I walk back towards our respective apartments and share a cigarette. It is much needed and I am grateful to be out of the lift. She tells me she was a little afraid we might plummet to our death, something I hadn’t even thought about. She read somewhere it is a myth that elevators run out of oxygen easily, and that wouldn’t be what did it in for us. She had a whole different set of fears that ran parallel to mine but didn’t resonate as deeply, as strong with the need to vocalize said fear. We are the same age, in the same place, same workshop, and yet our little difference is what made one of us okay inside and one of us not. I tell her that the mountain continues to test us. I wonder when I will understand why.
I’m not sure if I really believe the things I want will happen. And maybe I don’t have to completely, but a part of me must care enough to make all of my realities collide.
Brittany Ackerman is a recent graduate of Florida Atlantic University's MFA program in creative writing. She was the Artist in Residence at the A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida, leading a workshop of creative writing students in all genres. She also currently writes for the Arts and Cultures section of Broward New Times. At the Mont Blanc Workshop in Chamonix, she is working with Alan Heathcock and a group of writers in a nonfiction/fiction workshop for the next two weeks, and plans on moving to Los Angeles shortly after returning from France.