I want to die.
He turned around, glanced over his shoulder at the lonely figure that he’d just passed. He looked at the man leaning against the railing, staring into the dark gray water that churned far below them. He stared at a handsome face that shouldn’t hold so much sorrow. He knew what was happening, what was going to happen if things were left alone.
There were two types he’d seen in his life. Those who lived and those who died. Each had a distinctive appearance, if you knew what you were looking for. He saw one of those looks on the man’s face. So he turned around and walked back to stand next to the young man that seemed as if he had lost himself a long time ago.
He stood there for a while before he was noticed, and the young man slowly turned to look at him with a face full of fear and longing. Deep inside eyes filled with pain he thought he saw hope buried there, a faint glimmer hiding deep inside, so faint it could be blown out by the faintest of breezes. He didn’t say anything as he stood there, he just waited.
The young man didn’t say anything, simply stared and at that moment he realized the man was frightened.
He didn’t smile, like he normally would have. The sun didn’t belong on this dark and cloudy day. “I hope you don’t mind me joining you, but you looked lonely by yourself.”
The boy responded to him, forcing the words out through shocked surprise. “I don’t mind.”
There was no life in those words, just a simple response and somber attitude.
A sudden impulse later and the stranger was wrapped in a tight embrace. The words came to him as a burst of inspiration and he whispered into the young man’s ear softly. “You’ll be alright. Just turn and walk away.”
He let go then, and with a light pat on the man’s shoulder, he continued the way he had been going and walked away from the bridge.
As I walk down the steps I think of the events that led me here. The people I live with don’t know I’m leaving. They probably won’t even notice until they come to ask for rent. They can sell off the rest of my stuff to pay my part. I doubt I’ll ever see any of them again, even though we used to be really good friends. They were my only friends, really, but then they all found their own lives and I got left behind. They stopped paying attention to me and I stopped trying to fit into their lives.
I tried to kill myself yesterday. Everyday on my way home I walk over this one bridge. Hardly anyone goes there, which is partly why I do. I’d always stop and look at the waters rushing far below and wonder what it would be like to fall into that cold oblivion. Everyday I think ‘there’s still something worth living for’ and ‘I’m stronger than this, I can make it through’. But none of those thoughts came to mind yesterday and I was frozen where I stood, staring at the water, unable to move away. I was really going to do it. I was a step away. But then he showed up. And he hugged me. He helped me walk away. I don’t even know his name, but I know the sound of his voice speaking words I can’t remember and the embrace I’ll never forget.
Which brings me to now, as I leave behind the life that no longer holds anything of value. In a way I really did die today. I’m no longer the same person. I’ve left everything behind and I’m going to start over brand new. I’m moving out. Not sure where I’m moving too, I just know I need to get out. I shoved my life into two book bags and I’m walking away. It’s a lot simpler than I thought it would be. It’s like the invisible chains that were holding me back, all those little assumptions about what I should do, fell from the bridge instead of me. They’re gone and so am I.
I don’t need to quit my job because I was fired yesterday. Not like I care really. I’m glad it’s gone. My boss was a sexual harassing pervert who can go fuck himself. Duty and company loyalty were the only things that kept me there this long. No, I think that’s a little too grand for me. More like laziness and denial. If I had one job that was bearable that means I didn’t have to go looking for another. I didn’t have to try. Maybe this time I’ll go for something with a lot of female coworkers. I get along better with women anyways.
I leave my key on the counter, somewhere in plain sight, and let the door lock behind me as I leave. The last step out of my old apartment had a ring of finality to it. The drab hallways don’t look so depressing when I’m leaving them behind, and the stairs don’t even creek when I walk down to the first floor. I step into the sunlight and take a deep breath of the city air. For some reason the sky seems brighter today than it has been for years and I start to whistle as I leave my life behind.
“We meet again.”
I looked up from the counter to meet the eyes of the man I’d never forgotten. Blinking twice, I forced my surprise to a manageable level and tried to get my vocal cords to work again.
“Hi.” I’d always been one for appropriate responses. Creativity at its finest.
The man smiled widely, more cheerful now than he had been on the bridge. “I’m glad to see you’re doing well.”
I fidgeted with the pen in my hand. Yes, I was well in the sense that I was still alive. It seemed a little embarrassing now to have been caught attempting suicide. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks.” A lot of things were loaded into that last word, but I got the impression that the stranger understood. ‘Thank you for saving my life,’ I wanted to say but one word of it was all I could manage.
“No problem.” A blinding smile was directed at me, and I realized this was the first time in a long while that someone had smiled at me like that. It was infectious. I smiled back, just a tiny upturning of my lips but more than I’d been able to manage recently.
Belatedly I realized that I should be working. “Can I get you anything?” I’d just found this job and I didn’t want to loose it after only a week.
“Café latte. Tall.”
I rang up the purchase, turned to make the coffee.
“Are you new here? I come in here fairly regularly, and I know I would have recognized you.”
I nodded with my back still turned. “I just started this week.”
“Ah. Things going okay for you?”
I knew exactly why the question was asked. We were both skirting around saying the outright truth. For some reason I found myself answering with complete honesty. “It’s getting better.”
“Good.” As I passed the coffee across the counter, I was handed a business card in exchange. “If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know. I know it sounds a little weird but I really mean that.”
I stared at him silently for a few seconds, touched that a complete stranger would be so open. “Umm… I’m looking for a place to stay right now… If you know anyone who’s renting or needs a roommate or something…” I wasn’t quite sure why I said that. It wasn’t my style to ask for charity, but it seemed right to ask this man. I trusted him, more than anyone I’d ever known.
The man looked at me with a bit of surprised amusement, and rubbed the back of his head. “Actually I’m looking for a roommate. My last one moved out a couple weeks ago. It’s pretty cheap rent when split between two people. I know this sounds a little sketchy, but I assure you it’s legitimate.”
Well, that was certainly a surprise turn of events. Live with the stranger who stopped my suicide attempt? It sounded so strange when I thought about it, but it was better than sleeping in the park like I had been.
“Umm… if you don’t mind, I’d like that.”
Again the man smiled that blinding smile that seemed characteristic of him. “Really? That’s great.” The stranger took the card back and scribbled an address and phone number on the back. “That’s my home address. Give me a call before you come over or you can just show up. I’m not planning on going anywhere tonight.”
“Thanks.” Those small words seemed so inadequate for everything the man had done for me.
The stranger extended his hand. “I don’t think we’ve ever been properly introduced. I’m Daniel.”
I took the hand, felt the warmth of his hand around mine and remembered what those arms felt like. “Nice to meet you, Daniel. I’m Evan.”
“See you later.” With a smile and a wave, Daniel walked out the door and I went back to work.
“Hey, Jimmy! Wanna go get a pizza?”
“What? Now? Umm… give me a few minutes, k?”
I didn’t even look up from my textbook. That made things easier for all of them. If they thought I noticed then they’d feel bad and invite me. After all, we were friends. The two men were literally talking to one another over my head. But it was easier this way so that I didn’t have to pretend I fit in. Easier for them so they didn’t have to put up with my poor company, and despite their smiles I knew they didn’t want me with them. We were friends but that didn’t mean much.
So I kept my head down, staring intently at my textbook even though I hadn’t read a word of it in the past fifteen minutes. But they didn’t notice that I hadn’t turned the page. They never noticed a lot of things about me because they never bothered to look. In a way that was easier for me. That way I didn’t have to lie and make excuses.
I stared at the page in front of me, letting the words drift over me like the conversation my roommates were having. Absently, the nail on my index finger scratched over the inside of my thumb. After a few minutes they left, and I was alone again. It was much the same as when they were here. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even really move, at least not much. I did lift my head a little to look into the open kitchen to my right. On the counter I could see the top of the knife rack, the black handles sticking into the air ready to be taken out and used.
It was a ritual for me, almost. I’d study in the living room. My roommates would go out without me. Then began my little staring contest with the handles and eventually I’d look away. It took longer to look away than it used to. Before I’d tell myself I was being stupid and crazy and I wasn’t that weak. Now I was wondering just how weak I really was and did it really matter?
My nail scrapped particularly hard and I forced my hands apart. Looking down at my hands instead of the knives I stared dully at the few light red scratches that dotted my hands. There weren’t many. That’d attract attention. It looked like I’d been scratched by a cat, a really angry cat. That’d make a good excuse if I was asked. No one ever did, not for the last two months. My scratching was starting to hurt but I didn’t stop. I never could bring myself to cut my fingernails.
“Evan, are you hungry?”
I nearly jumped out of my skin, mind suddenly pulled back from memories to the present day. There were no college roommates. There was no textbook in my lap. I stared blankly at the concerned face in front of me. Who was this man? David? Danny? Oh right, that’s it. Daniel. The guy that stopped me from killing myself. I was sitting in Daniel’s apartment. A few minutes ago, I’d finished putting my luggage in my new room. The concerned face turned into a frown as Daniel picked up one of my hands. I was as surprised as Daniel to see the scratch on my thumb, almost bleeding. When had I done that? I couldn’t remember.
“Are you alright?”
“No.” Why had I said that? I’m not used to telling the truth.
Daniel took a seat next to me, still holding my hand as if afraid that I’d continue hurting myself if he let go. I wasn’t sure he was wrong.
I looked up into eyes that could swallow me. “Everything.”
An arm wrapped around my shoulder, pulling me into Daniel’s chest. I stared into the fabric of his shirt, and wondered if I was supposed to be crying right now.
I wasn’t quite sure what Daniel was asking me about so I picked something.
“I used to think about cutting myself.” I looked down at the pale, unmarked skin of my arms. “A long time ago, before the thing on the bridge. It wasn’t to kill myself or anything. I just thought it might help somehow.”
“Help me feel better. Help make living a bit more bearable. Help stop me from wanting to just end it all.”
I shook my head, even though the answer was written on my exposed flesh. “No. It seemed like cheating. Like I couldn’t handle it, which is true. In a way I think it was because I thought I wasn’t worthy of hurting myself, like I wasn’t good enough to. I’m not sure how much sense that makes but to me I had no worth and cutting myself seemed like I was pretending to be better than I really was.”
Daniel’s grip tightened on my hand and he held me tighter, rubbing circles on my back. “Scratching was safe ’cause I couldn’t accidentally kill myself from it. No blood to cover up, at least not normally.
“I wanted to die so much but I refused. For a long time I wouldn’t let myself admit that that was what I wanted and it seemed unreal, because then I’d wallow in suffering one night and then be happy the next day and I couldn’t really explain why. I thought I was just being stupid.”
“What made you try?”
I stared at Daniel’s shirt for a long while. “I don’t know.” I couldn’t think of anything that had made the day on the bridge particularly bad, aside from being fired. But even that hadn’t come as a terrible loss. “I think it was just because I was there. I was out walking and I saw the bridge and I thought I could end it. I’m not even sure if I really would have gone through with it or not.”
I pushed away a little to look at Daniel with emotionless eyes, a bit of my inner doubts spilling out in the air between us. “Why are you helping me?”
“Because you need it.”
There was such a sincere look in Daniel’s eyes that I wasn’t sure what to say in response. I let myself be pulled back against Daniel’s chest. “Do you have any family that you need to contact?”
“They don’t care.” Thoughts of my mother and father drifted though my mind, images of being alone all the time, and I remembered birthdays and holidays spent by myself because my parents didn’t care. I had to apologize to the teachers because parents couldn’t come to conferences and family events. I said they were working, when it was really just that they wanted nothing to do with me. I was the child they hadn’t wanted.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I could feel it even now, the cold blackness that had settled onto me at home and carried through to my college years. They didn’t love me and it felt like it was my fault.
“Have they ever said so?”
“No, but they don’t.” They would never have said anything outright. They said it was a kindness to send me away to college on the other side of the country. If they could have sent me to another country they probably would have.
“Why are you so sure?”
“Because they’ve never tried to call me once in the last two years. I haven’t been home, even for summer vacation.” The ringing tones of an unanswered phone echoed in his ears.
“What about your friends?”
“I don’t really have any.” Weren’t friends supposed to be concerned with how you were and interested in your life?
“Were you living with anyone?”
“I had roommates. I left without telling any of them.” What if I had told them? Would they have tried to plead with me to stay or would they have shrugged indifferently and left me alone to pack?
“Will they come looking for you?”
“I don’t know.” Had they even noticed I was gone?
“Do you want them to?”
“I don’t know.” If they did look for me, would I be happy? Did I want to see any of them again? Would I miss any of them as time went on?
“Do you feel any better?”
I blinked. “What?”
Daniel let go of me. “Are you feeling better now that you’ve talked about it?”
I looked at Daniel in surprise. “Yeah, a little. That’s weird.”
Daniel smiled at me, a tiny smile but with an abundance of warmth in it. “Sometimes it helps to just vocalize the things you’ve been keeping to yourself. Next time you feel depressed or even if you just want to, sit down with me and talk. It doesn’t matter if you talk about what’s bothering you or anything like that, but try talking about something, okay?”
I nodded silently. I started to wonder what type of person Daniel was and why I had so openly accepted the offer to move in with him.
I froze, stopped in the middle of the park as that familiar voice called my name. I didn’t dare look over my shoulder. I wasn’t ready to face this, so soon. Instead, I ran, taking off into one of the groves of trees scattered through the park in blind panic. Really, I should have known that I couldn’t outrun him. I’d never been good at sports and he’d been one of the best. So it wasn’t a surprise when I was tackled from behind.
We hit the ground hard and unfortunately I took most of the impact. I whimpered and I think that was what got him to get off of me so fast, though he held my wrist as if afraid I would run away again. I would have too. I was scared, too scared to move so I just lay where I was and didn’t turn around. He rolled me until I faced him and this position would have been a little strange if I didn’t know he was a straight as they came.
He was angry. “Where the hell have you been?”
I flinched and looked away. He turned me back and I quaked in the face of his anger.
“Answer me, damn you.”
I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t think of a damn thing. So I started crying. Really, it was an appropriate reaction considering how scared I felt. For the second time in the past month I was shocked as I was comforted. He held me so tightly I thought I was going to break, and I did, a little on the inside, as the sobs came forth.
When I finally stopped, he spoke again. “Fuck, Evan, what the hell happened to you?”
“I’m sorry.” That was the only thing I could think to say. It seemed right so I said it again and again, over and over in an endless stream and I almost started to cry again but his hand over my mouth stopped me. I realized then that we were sitting up, with me cradled in his lap and to someone passing by this would look very inappropriate. We didn’t care.
“Shhh, it’s okay. Just tell me what’s going on.”
“I tried to kill myself.”
I didn’t mean to say that. I realized how bad an idea it was to say that afterwards, when he glared at me with such obvious anger that he was shaking, trying to control himself. I couldn’t move, his hands on my arms had tightened to the point of fierce pain and I’m sure there would be bruises coming later.
“Why?” The word was spat out fiercely.
“I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
“Why didn’t you say something? We could have helped.”
“I didn’t think you cared.”
I hit the ground again, face throbbing from where he punched me. I think I deserved that.
“What the hell ever gave you the idea we didn’t care?”
“I…” I didn’t know what to say, how to phrase it. “I just… I thought you didn’t like me. That you didn’t want me around. That I was a burden. I…” I was hurting again but once I started talking I couldn’t stop. “I thought you didn’t care so I left. I… I don’t know why I thought that but I did. I still do, a little. I can’t help it. I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry.”
The anger softened and I felt like crying again. “We do care you know. But it’s hard for us to know what going on when you don’t talk to us. You never say anything so we stopped trying.” He looked at me for a long time without saying anything. “It’s okay to speak up, to say you want company. You aren’t alone.”
Those words brought a new flood of tears and I berated myself for being so stupid. “I’m sorry, Jimmy. I’m really sorry.”
Jimmy sighed and gathered me into a hug again. When I quieted he spoke. “So, where exactly did you disappear to for the past two weeks?”
I blushed, feeling really stupid about saying this out loud. My face still hurt from where he’d hit me. “I’m staying with a guy I met.”
A bit of his anger came out again, though I don’t think it had ever really gone very far away. “You’re living with a stranger? Is that safe? How well do you know this guy?”
“He’s the one who stopped me from killing myself.” I watched a flicker of sadness cross Jimmy’s face and then pass and I wondered if maybe I would have been missed. No, I didn’t wonder. Now I knew and I realized I’d been so very stupid recently. “He’s nice.” That was a bad start but it was a start nonetheless. “We talk and he’s been helping me.”
Jimmy eyed me. “You do look better.”
I hadn’t realized that the changes were so visible. I felt better but I never paid enough attention to my appearance to know that I’d changed outwardly as well.
“Well, let’s go.”
I blinked as Jimmy stood above me with a hand outstretched. Automatically I took it and started following him out of the secluded grove. As an afterthought I asked where we were going.
“To meet your roommate. I’m not going to let you stay with some creep. I need to see that this guy’s decent otherwise you’re coming back with me.”
I knew I should be offended but the statement was so like the old Jimmy I used to know that I was comforted. It felt good, knowing that someone cared.
“I’m going to tell the others. At least enough that they stop worrying.”
Suddenly I was very scared. “Will they hate me? For what I did?”
Jimmy stopped and turned as they reached the end of the secluded grove. They hovered on the edge between civilization and muted wilderness. “How they react is up to them, but they won’t hate you.”
I felt a large ball of tension relax at the words. “Thank you,” I said. I meant it.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that they showed up, one by one, at the coffee shop over the next couple days. But I was surprised each time one of my old friends walked in and with each of them I felt part of myself coming back. When I went home at night I’d talk to Daniel. I kept going over how stupid I’d been and he helped me understand a bit why I’d thought that way. It was all inside me, all this self-hatred and guilt. I thought I wasn’t worth being loved so I pushed everyone away and created my own shell of loneliness. Not all of it was imagined. There was some reality in what I painted, some real cause. My parents never called. Never even knew I was gone because I didn’t exist to them anymore. That was where the real loneliness began but I couldn’t blame it on them. They didn’t love me but I didn’t love myself either. Because of that I couldn’t see that there were people who did love me, people who really cared. I know that now. There’s so many people that do care about me that I didn’t know about.
“Evan, you’re boyfriend’s here.”
I snapped out of my thoughts and walked out of the room, throwing a mock glare at Jimmy who simply grinned back. We have an understanding now. I come talk to him, tell him what I really think and he listens to me until I’m done. That’s one part of our agreement, that he listens. The other part is that he gets to smack me if I say something stupid. It helps clear my head, clear the air and get everything out in the open. My coworkers were concerned about the bruises but I explained a little and things have been going smoother recently so that he doesn’t need to hit me.
Pain is a wonderful teacher and I’ve discovered I don’t really like it as much as I used to think I would.
As I walk into the front room, Daniel smiles that brilliant smile of his. For a moment, I ignore the cooing of my roommates as I smile back and he kisses me lightly on the cheek as a greeting. I moved back in with my friends a few months ago. It was my own idea, not because there was anything wrong with living with Daniel but I wanted more space. I didn’t want to become dependant on him for support so I moved out. We still talk often, over the computer mostly or the phone, and he comes in every day to the coffee shop between breaks at work. We talk less about my past and more about the present, and the future.
We’re not really dating, though my friends all tease me that we are. In a way, that’s kind of true but it’s not. We don’t want anything formal just yet. We’re both still learning. Okay, so maybe I’m the only one that’s still working things out but Daniel’s okay with that. He’s helped me so much that I don’t think I can ever really thank him enough.
Things are going slow but that’s okay. That’s the way I need things to go, I think. I’m taking it day by day.