Teeter-Totter

TW: violence, active shooter situation flashbacks, suicide ideation

Alison chose to move to Asheville, North Carolina and leave her corporate career behind following an active shooter situation in the building where she worked in downtown Denver. She’d been one of the lucky ones, hidden in a pitch-black office behind a turned over desk, softly weeping as the shots rang out. Not emerging until the lights of a SWAT team member's head lamp pierced the darkness through the open door. 

In the months that followed, while in crowded public places, she lived in constant fear of a repeat incident. At dinner. The office. Networking happy hours. Concerts. How would she react this time? Where was the nearest exit? What could she use as a weapon? 

Flashes in her mind of friends and acquaintances grabbing suddenly at their necks, blood gushing through their knuckles, caused her to leave mid-conversation for the restroom or outside to calm herself with a yellow Spirit until the grim fantasies subsided.
 
Sometimes in the fantasies she laughed. Not like anything was funny, the way you laugh when something terrible happens, and you don’t know any other way to react. The way she laughed as a six-year-old the night her grandmother passed from cancer and her mom struck her violently with the back of her hand. 

“That’s my mother,” she said. “How would you like it if someone laughed when you died?” 

“I wouldn’t care,” Alison said and wandered out toward the oak tree in the front yard by main street in that little southern town to balance along the sidewalk like a teeter-totter. The lights of the cars fuzzing in her peripheral. Aware even then she was inches from stepping into traffic if she so chose. And why not? Death was only a heartbeat away.

It was only a matter of time before she had to leave Denver. 

Asheville offered a calmer pace of life. Her money stretched longer. She spent days running the holistic yoga studio she purchased. Days off driving on the parkway watching the Blue Ridge Mountains roll out smoky against the horizon. Discovering hidden waterfalls. Her feet hitting the trail. Stepping to the edge and leaping into a pool below. The Earth’s pull. The cold shock of mountain water.

She met two men. Toby and Darren. If she felt social, she asked Toby to dinner in Biltmore Village or West Asheville. Dancing and Cocktails after. If she felt like staying in, she summoned Darren for wine and a movie. The most excitement she wanted in her life was the low risk, but titillating juggling act of making sure they never discovered each other’s existence.  

On nights spent alone, she’d plucked a wine glass from the hanging rack, pour from a Richebourg or something similar, flip on the fireplace with a remote and fall into a chair by the fire. Cover her legs with a blanket. Tell Alexa to play music. 

Beyond the floor to ceiling windows that ran the distance of her home, shadows crawled across the mountains. As the fire roared and the darkness outside turned the windows to mirrors, she peered through the reflection at the lights that dotted the mountainside and took comfort in knowing that she too was safely concealed in a dot of light at a distance. 

Wilson Koewing

3 Questions for Wilson

What was your process for creating this work?

This work came out of the process of working on a different story. While working on a longer story about a character similar to the character in "Teeter-Totter" I was experimenting with the idea of linking certain failures/triumphs in the character's adult life to childhood memories that in one way or another supported or referenced them. The section that became "Teeter-Totter" really didn't fit with the tone of the other story, and I realized pretty quickly that it had the makings of its own short piece.

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?

This story has a relatively simple concept: a pivotal event causes a major change in a character's life, a flashback attempts to illuminate the character's mental state following that pivotal event and then there is a brief exploration of the character's ability to cope with that life changing event. I love the simplicity of this form because it allows the reader to quickly step into the shoes of the main character and get a sense of how they might feel if similar circumstances befell them. This story felt like it could really unravel on me if I let it and that's kind of what I was fighting and why I chose to make it such a short, basically three tiny act, micro.

What is the significance of this work to you?

This piece came about following the recent mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado. I live in Denver and have spent a lot of time in Boulder. I was shocked by those events striking so close to home and during the pandemic, but I also couldn't overcome this feeling of numbness and how uniquely American these mass shootings are and the risk we take everyday just going out in public and how genuinely senseless it is. I wanted to write a piece that attempted to tonally convey the fine line we all walk everyday with death, while also offering up a little hope.

Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His work is forthcoming in Gargoyle, Rejection Letters, Literally Stories and X-R-A-Y.