Trigger warning: The following post is a work of fiction that deals with the subject of suicide. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised here, or are contemplating suicide, or worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, click this link for U.S. and International Hotline phone numbers for immediate help. Someone is available to help 24 hours every day.
The pier was considered an eyesore by local residents. Missing and broken dock planks and wooden posts jutting out of the choppy waters at odd angles, led the pier to being declared unsafe and it should have been destroyed ages ago, but the funding wasn’t available and most likely wouldn’t be until it resulted in a tragic death. As a deterrent, the city posted several warning signs, which went virtually unheeded.
It became a local hotspot for midnight teen make-out parties, as well as a junkie shoot-up spot, and today, it was the place where Lucas Warren decided to make the biggest decision of his entire life. He parked himself on the edge of the rotten wooden dock, with a six pack of beer on one side, and a handgun on the other.
All of 16 years old, he reached the end of a hysterical crying jag, his breath hitched as he wiped tears and snot from his face. Lifting the pistol, he pressed the cold metal muzzle to his temple, took a deep breath, and began to squeeze the trigger.
“Hey!” a voice called out behind him.
Startled, Lucas jolted and his finger jerked on the trigger.
There was a brief instant when the world made no sense. He should have felt something, surely. There was no way in hell that death was this painless. When the instant passed and he realized that nothing happened, Lucas spun his head around, locked eyes on the old man standing behind him, and shot him a dagger stare that would have taken down Godzilla.
“What the hell’s your problem, sneaking up on people like that?” Lucas raged. “Somebody coulda got hurt!”
“Wasn’t my intention to scare you,” the old man said. “Just trying to get your attention. As far as somebody getting hurt, seems to me that was your intention, but I knew it wouldn’t happen.”
“What are you talking about? You made me pull the trigger!”
“Get it straight, kiddo, I didn’t make you do a damned thing,” the old man said, and gestured at the gun. “Besides, the safety’s on. Don’t know much about guns, do you?”
Lucas looked at the gun and the entirety of his being deflated. The moment was gone, and his will and determination to see the act through had departed with it. Once again he could feel the tears coming on, so he shoved his face into the crook of his arm and tried his best to suppress his emotions.
“No need to hide your face,” said the old man. “Tears are nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Go away and mind your own goddamn business!”
“Well, that’s what I was trying to do, but you’re in my spot.”
“Yup. Been coming here before you were a gleam in your daddy’s eye. So, if you don’t mind finding another location…”
“You’re not going to try to stop me?”
“How can I? If you aim to do harm to yourself, there’s nobody in the world that can prevent that.”
“If this is some kind of trick, some reverse psychology thing, you’re wasting your time.”
“Son, if I were trying to talk you down, I’d be asking how you are, and telling you how you don’t seem like your usual self, which wouldn’t make sense because I don’t know you, do I? Then I’d bang on about my terrible week before asking you about yours, in order to show you you’re not alone in struggling with the crap life tosses our way. And I’d let you know that these things that appear to be insurmountable at present will seem minuscule in the rearview mirror of your life, all while using non-verbal cues like making eye contact, nodding while you’re talking, you know, things like that. And then we’d get to the tough bit, where I ask you if you really want to hurt yourself?”
“I hurt all the time,” Lucas admitted.
“I definitely know what that’s like, been there a few times myself,” the old man said. “Speaking of which, my legs are getting a little stiff. If you’re not going to move, I’m going to need to sit down.”
There was a space on either side of Lucas, by the six pack and by the gun the teenager placed on the pier. Without getting permission, the old man sat next to the beer, tapped a finger on one of the condensation beaded cans and said, “If you aren’t interested in these bad boys, I know a fella who’ll take one off your hands.”
“Go ahead,” Lucas said.
“Much obliged,” the old man tipped an invisible hat, pulled a beer free from the plastic yoke, popped the top and took two sips before saying, “I’m going to tell you a story.”
“Because that’s what people do when they drink. They sit around and tell each other stories. Now, shut up and listen.”
A man is walking down the street one day, not paying attention to where he’s going, and he falls down a hole. The hole is too deep and too steep to climb out of, so he begins yelling for help. People pass by and ignore his pleas but eventually, a doctor walks up.
The man yells, “Doc, I fell in this hole and I need help getting out.”
So, the doctor writes the man a prescription, tears it off his pad, tosses it into the hole, and goes on his merry way.
The man goes back to calling for help, and a little while later, a priest walks up.
The man yells, “Father, help me, please! I fell into this hole and I can’t get out.”
So, the priest says a prayer for the man and goes about his business.
Just when the man’s voice is about to give out, his friend shows up.
“Buddy, am I glad to see you,” the man says. “I’m stuck in this hole and I can’t climb out!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, his friend jumps down into the hole, and the man is furious.
“Why the hell did you do that? Now we’re both stuck down here!”
His friend smiles and says, “Yeah, but I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.”
When the story was done, the old man looked Lucas squarely in the eye, proffered his hand and said, “My name’s Lowell, I’ve been down this hole before, and I know the way out.”
Lucas stared at the old man’s outstretched hand for a long while before saying, “I knew you were lying to me.”
“You can believe what you want to, son, but this is the spot I come to when I need to get a little perspective,” Lowell said, setting the beer down and retrieving an old yellowing piece of paper from his pocket. He unfolded it carefully and ran a finger over the the ink that was smudged from old tears and faded with time.
“I was your age, maybe a little bit older than you when I wrote this. My life was a toilet and everyone had their turn taking a dump in it. You’re supposed to be able to turn to your family for support, but my folks had no time for me, they were too busy fighting one another because my mother loved betting the ponies as much as my father loved whiskey. I had to drop out of school and get a job just to make sure the bills got paid. Instead of appreciating the effort of me chipping in, they took advantage and stuck me with all the bills while they blew their money on gambling and cheap booze.
“Then one day, I reached that point, you know, that breaking point and I took a long hard look at my life and decided it just wasn’t worth it. So, I wrote this note, to nobody in particular, it’s just a page full of pain and anger directed at the world. I meant to shove it in my jacket pocket so they’d find it when they found my body, but my head wasn’t right and I wound up leaving it in my bedroom.
“Now, this next bit is going to sound like some hippie-dippie nonsense, but sometimes life has a way of showing you just how wrong you are regarding the things you’re absolutely certain about. Brooke stopped by my parent’s apartment, she was a girl I was seeing, absolutely out of my league, and I couldn’t provide for her, not the way she deserved, so I avoided her. My parents let her in because they didn’t care if I was home or not, and she found the note.
“How she thought to look for me on this dock, I’ll never know. I never brought her here, never talked about it being the place I came to think things through. Somehow, she just knew. And there I was, seconds away from doing what you were trying to do, only I had a piece of crap .38 special that I bought off of a guy named Creepy Pete for a carton of smokes. The thing was so old and busted up it probably would have exploded in my hand.
“And Brooke shows up telling me she’s pregnant and wasn’t going to explain to our baby that her father was a quitter. Not her baby, she said our baby, and something in the way she said it, hit me like a locomotive. Suddenly I felt like I had something to live for, and I started making positive changes.
“It wasn’t an easy journey, believe me. Moving into a fleabag studio apartment with Brooke and the baby, working crummy jobs and barely scraping by to get the bills paid as I made my way through night school in order to get a degree so I could land better jobs and move my family into better places to live. But I did it, as well as making Brooke an honest woman and we’ve been happily married for nearly 50 years. And my son graduated magna cum laude, landed the job of his dreams, married a wonderful woman and has two daughters of his own now. Prettiest grandchildren to ever walk God’s green earth.
“So, no, I didn’t lie to you. I come here every year on the anniversary of Brooke saving and changing my life and I re-read my suicide note as a reminder to be grateful for my second chance.
“But enough about me. How are you?” Lowell asked, making eye contact as Lucas shared his story, and nodding to show that he was listening.