This is it, Ryan thought. 16 years of school led to this moment.
The man at the podium rattled on about responsibility and possibility. Ryan, amongst his classmates, had the opportunity to change the world. They were taught how to achieve and now was their chance to prove it.
Ryan heard the man's words but did not listen. He waited for him to finish. There was a moment fast approaching that would wash over him a guiding light.
The man finished his speech. There was a roar of applause and Ryan joined in. A standing ovation swept the crowd and Ryan joined in. This is it, Ryan thought. I'm almost there.
Words echoed over the crowd's rising cheer. Tassels moved across pointed brims. Hands threw hats in the still air.
Ryan took his seventeenth step, but there was nothing. He expected change but felt no difference. Year after year he was told to take the next step. He was told he was progressing. He looked down from his dizzying height, and shuddered. His chest tightened. His lungs collapsed. Gravity begged him to jump, but he couldn't. He'd come so far. It would be a waste to start again. He averted his eyes back to his staircase. The tension released. His breath returned. He was still safe, and Ryan took another step.
1 year, 6 months.
Tedium and repetition exhausted Ryan. He worked for a year and a half and didn't think he could go another day, but did it to arrive at this moment. His boss entered the small meeting room.
"You've worked hard." His boss said. "We think you should move to level 2. You've earned it."
"Thank you for the opportunity, sir." Ryan said.
His contract was renewed. His future edged closer. The clock ticked overhead like a roller coaster approaching the first drop.
"You're welcome, son. You're on a good track. You might run this place soon." His boss said with a wink.
They stood and shook hands. His boss went back to his desk and Ryan went back to his cubicle. He observed his own desk with distaste. Soon the plywood would be mahogany. Soon he would have an assistant. Soon he would be his own boss.
Ryan took another step on the staircase, but again there was nothing. He expected change but felt no difference. Year after year he was told to take the next step. He was told he was progressing. He looked down from his daunting height, and quivered. His chest tightened. His lungs collapsed. Gravity begged him to jump, but he couldn't. He'd come so far. It would be a waste to start again. He averted his eyes back to his staircase. The tension released. His breath returned. He was still safe, and Ryan took another step.
Ryan had 7 years until he retired. He sat behind a wide desk in a large office. At the bottom of the glass pane walls he could see the top of the letters that showed the city his company's name. The view no longer awed him. The kangaroo leather beneath him no longer comforted him. The Italian suit that hugged a little too tight lost its luster.
Keep going, he told himself. I've made it this far. He imagined his staircase above him. He thought he reached the summit, but there were a few more craggy rocks to climb. Just a few more and he'd be there.
Ryan stepped onto that staircase, and there was nothing. He expected change but felt no difference. Year after year he was told to take the next step. He was told he was progressing. He looked down from his dazzling height, and groaned. His chest tightened. His lungs collapsed. Gravity begged him to jump, but he couldn't. He'd come so far. It would be a waste to start again. He averted his eyes back to his staircase. The tension released. His breath returned. He was still safe, and Ryan took another step.
15 years of retirement. Ryan's grandchildren played in the fresh grass. The sun nipped at the far off hills behind the careless children.
"Are you ready to go?"
Ryan jumped at the question. Go where, he asked himself. He twisted his sore neck and saw his son in suit and tie. His hair cropped and parted like Ryan had taught him as a young boy. He belonged on Forbes magazine or behind a wide desk in a large room, alone, at the top of some tall building.
"Grandma has dinner on the table." Ryan's son said.
“I'll be in in a minute.” Ryan said.
The sun fell behind the ridge. Fleeting claws scratched hot orange and pink trail's as if the sun refused to set.
Ryan's son called to his children and they ran towards the house. The granddaughter ran inside first, but the grandson stopped beside Ryan.
“What are you doing?” Ryan's grandson asked.
“I'm waiting.” Ryan said.
Ryan shooed his grandson away. The child turned and mumbled as he went inside.
He sat at the top of that staircase as he had for 15 years. He expected change but felt no difference. Year after year he waited. He was told he had arrived. He looked down from his gray haired peak with apathy. Clouds covered his steps and the landscape below. He'd come so far. He reached the end and found a lie. Tension set deep in his chest. His hands clawed at the sky but left no trail. His breath escaped him for the last time and with his final request to start again the staircase shattered below him and he fell through the clouds and into darkness.
“What would you like to be in the future?” Will's second grade teacher asked.
“A painter!” said Will's excited neighbor.
“An astronaut.” said another student.
“Very good, class.” Will's teacher said. “It's important to think about what you want to be in the future so one day it can come true.”
Will thought of his parents. He wasn't sure what they did, but they didn't seem happy. He wondered what they said when their teacher asked them this question. He wondered if it came true.
“I want to be a billionaire.” Said a student in the front of the class.
“You better start saving now.” Will's teacher said and smiled wide.
“What did you want to be, teacher?” Asked one of the students.
The teacher's smile tightened and she said, “I wanted to be a ballerina.” For a moment Will saw a sparkle in his teacher's eye, but with a blink it died.
Will opened his table desk and put his notebook away. When he closed the lid, Will's teacher caught his eye, something he avoided like the sun's glare.
“Will.” His teacher started. “What would you like to be in the future?”
Will sat stunned as his teacher and classmates stared at him. He hadn't thought of an answer yet. His mouth opened but no words fell out.
“Maybe a firefighter? A policeman? A teacher?” Will's teacher said.
Will stared down at his desk. Why did he have to have an answer? He glanced at the clock. 30 seconds left until the bell rang.
“Yeah, a teacher.” Will said, repeating his teachers last suggestion to remove the spotlight.
The bell rang. Will would now go to third grade. Soon he'd be in fourth, then fifth, and not long after he would graduate. He didn't give it much thought. He didn't feel any tension. He breathed easy. He went home and his father drove the family to their grandparents.
Will played with his sister in the grass and heard his father call them inside for dinner. They ran towards the house and saw their grandpa on the porch watching the sky. Will's sister ran past him, but Will paused.
“What are you doing?” Will asked.
“I'm waiting.” Will's grandpa said.
“For what?” Will said.
Will's grandpa said nothing and shooed Will away.
Will turned, stomach grumbling as he mumbled to himself, “You shouldn't, it'll be gone soon.”