Don’t Look Down
This is what being scared of heights looks like. This is a true story.
Her: It’s the third floor right not the thirteenth?
Me: Third. It’s a low rise building.
Receptionist: It’s your lucky day we’re going to upgrade you to the penthouse.
Her: What floor is that? Already anxious.
Receptionist: Our top floor, the eighth.
Her: No, thank you but no. Frowning.
Receptionist: Also frowning. It’s a complimentary upgrade.
Her: Didn’t they teach you the word no in hotel school? Really anxious now.
Me: Deliberate coughing.
Her: Sorry, but I’m no good with heights. Anxious and contrite.
We arrive on the third floor. Our room is at the end of the corridor. At the end of the corridor is a sheet of floor to ceiling class no wider than two people standing side by side. She steps out of the lift, sees the glass and gets back in the lift.
Me: What are you doing?
Her: I can’t.
Me: Can’t what? I put my foot across the door sensor to hold the door open.
Her: I can’t go down there, the glass. She’s sweating.
Me: That’s going to make things hard.
Me: It’s only glass.
Her: But we could fall. We could both fall.
Me: It’s fixed to the building that glass. Look I’ll go and—
Her: —No. Don’t go down there. Yelling.
Me: Nothing will happen. The lift starts peeping. I can’t hold the door anymore.
Her: You don’t know that.
Me: I’m taking my foot out of the lift door now.
Her: No don’t. She steps out and plasters herself Spiderman style to the wall. Her mascara is running.
Me: I try really hard not to, but I laugh.
Her fingernails are virtually embedded into the wallpaper. We are easily 25 metres from the glass she’s afraid of and have no view out of it other than the building across the street.
She laughs too.
Me: Maybe you could stay here.
Her: No maybe about it. I’m staying. She’s clench jawed and shaking.
Me: Sleeping will be awkward.
Her: What makes you think I’ll be sleeping? Like ever.
Me: What about if I walk in front of you so you can’t see.
Her: How stupid do you think I am? She shouts this. I know the glass is there.
Me: I laugh so hard. I feel so guilty for doing it.
Her: Yeah, very funny. She laughs a little too.
Me: You know there’s no such thing as a city hotel with rooms on the ground floor. I tried.
Her: I know.
Me: What I don’t get is how you can get on a plane but you can’t walk twenty metres. We just flew here that morning.
Her: Me neither. You should um, leave me and…
Me: I try to take her hand, but she hisses at me. Seriously. You want me to leave you Spidermaning it in the corridor?
Her: Be pretty funny if someone else comes along.
And then of course they do. A couple step out of the lift. They’re so engrossed in smooching all over each other they walk right past her towards the glass. They walk right past a woman spread eagled against the wall dripping sweat on the carpet. We both laugh hysterically.
Her: I can’t look. Her face is very red.
Me: They didn’t fall out of the building.
Me: Got any recommendations for what we do now?
Her: Not really, no.
Me: You’re not going to have a heart attack are you?
Her: I might.
She really looks like she could at least pass out. If she passes out I could drag her to the room maybe. I am genuinely thinking this.
Her: I’m an embarrassment.
Me: You’re not dull at least. How about if you inched along the wall?
Her: She inches. That might work.
She inches. It takes twenty minutes. In that time another couple arrive. They take one look at her, bug out, get back in the lift and leave. That makes us laugh too.
In this way we get to the door. I open it, shielding her from the glass wall and she slips inside and screams. The entire room is floor to ceiling glass. She opens a coat cupboard and climbs into it and closes the door.
I’m thinking this is not an improvement on things.
Her: I’m okay. She’s muffled. I try to open the door. Don’t open it.
Me: You can’t stay in there.
Her: Oh yes I can.
The room has fabulous views. One bedroom has a balcony. I dump my bag in the balcony room. I close all the blinds and turn the lights on.
Me: You can come out. I’ve closed all the blinds.
Her: Peeps out. Creeps out. Stands in the middle of the room. She’s a wreck. Hair everywhere, makeup ruined, sweat marks on her shirt.
Me: Can you sit down?
Her: No, the lounge is too close to the window.
I rearrange the furniture. Now I’m sweating. She sits.
Her: I broke four nails. There’s blood on her hand and later I see she’s left a trail of it all down the corridor. There are gouge marks in the wallpaper.
Me: Do you think you’ll be able to leave the room?
Her: Are you kidding me? You’ll have to drug me to get me out of here.
Me: Do you think you should see someone about this? I was really worried. I still am.
Her: Who would I see?
Me: We could get a recommendation.
Her: Too embarrassing.
Me: I am speechless. I make fish faces at her.
Her: She laughs.
Me: I don’t understand how you can laugh about it. You were terrified.
Her: I know, how hysterical is that? She can barely speak for laughing. Funniest thing ever. The look on those people’s faces. I think I tore the wallpaper. I move towards the curtain and peak out. She screams at me. Get away from that window. She means it but she’s laughing so hard she could wet herself.
She cheerfully stays in the apartment all weekend. We repeat the Spiderman shuffle when we check out. We get on a plane and fly home. She doesn’t take a window seat and keeps her sunglasses on. It must take an enormous effort. She’s still scared of heights. She still has meltdowns. We still laugh about it.
I’m the Me in this story. And if you’re interested in phobias I’ve got two recommendations for you.
Sandra Antonelli’s Driving in Neutral. Driving in Neutral’s hero, Emerson has claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces.
And my Getting Real in which the hero Jake has acrophobia, a fear of heights that plays out not unlike what you’ve just read.