The Pier

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.

Click.

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.”

“Your 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.”

“Why?”

“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.

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Having Heaven 4 – The Epidemic of Suicides

Linda Wilson, a 16-year old girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma suffered severe carbon monoxide poisoning and was rushed to the hospital but later died. Her mother, Mary, made a statement to the authorities that her daughter killed herself after she had a nightmare that “Heaven had been destroyed by the Devil.” Following the dream, she constantly asked family and friends if they felt the same emptiness, the same pointlessness of life. Her family attempted to divert Linda’s attention and told her that what she was feeling was only temporary and it would pass, but she wouldn’t listen. The following Sunday, when her family went to church, the girl stayed behind complaining of an illness. When the house was empty, authorities say, she dragged the barbeque grill from the backyard into her bedroom, sealed the door and window with garbage bags and packing tape. She then filled the grill with charcoal briquettes and lit them. Mary, sensing something was wrong with her daughter, left church early and discovered Linda still alive but in a critical state.

The Metropolitan Times, August 17, 2017

Nearly one week to the day after the bizarre dream, Mayra finally got her wish though not in the way she wanted. The Knowing had finally made the news in the form of a story bearing the headline:

TEENAGE DEATH BY HIBACHI DUE TO FEAR OF NO HEAVEN

And as was often the case with tragic news, Linda Wilson’s death opened the floodgates. Every type of news outlet from tabloids, the news hour, and morning shows to prime-time magazines, network and cable evening news and print news magazines were filled daily with related death stories, such as:

A man who committed suicide by slitting his wrists on his wife’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York; the murder-suicide of a family in Sri Lanka; the self-immolation of a woman on the streets of Guyana. A middle-aged man in the UK who held up signs on his live Twitch stream, apologizing to his friends and family for the pain he was about to cause them before placing a Glock G43 to his temple and pulling the trigger. Reports came pouring in from all over the world, Kazakhstan, Cote d’lvoire, Suriname, Equatorial Guinea, Lithuania, Sierra Leone…

A wave of emotions crashed down so hard on Mayra she felt as though she was unable to breathe. She stared at her laptop screen, not quite able to fully take in the list of suicides that grew longer as each day passed. Gavin sat on the couch beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Mayra leaned against him and kissed the back of his hand, grateful for the support.

“I don’t understand,” Mayra said.

“We knew nothing good could come of this,” Gavin sighed.

“But mass suicide? How could this be the only option for so many people?”

“Babe, we all just got the eternal rug pulled from under our feet. That’s all some people have to live for, the thing they desperately cling to as they suffer their way through a lifetime of daily hardships and bullshit. Without that, what’s the point? Why does it matter if you die sooner rather than later? Without some sort of great reward for completing life as a decent human being, you’ve got no advantage over some scumbag that’s been shitty all their lives, or all the sex pests and murderers, so why not choose to end your existence on your own terms? The only thing awaiting you is the same eternal nothingness that exists for everyone else.”

“So, you’re saying you’re okay with this, that we should sit on our hands and do nothing to help these poor suffering people?”

“Why are you trying to make me out to be some heartless monster when all I’m trying to do is play devil’s advocate and see things from another point of view? You know what, don’t answer that. Let me try it from a different angle, something’s that’s been rolling around in my head for a few days. If the Heaven we know, let’s just call it Christian Heaven even though I’m sure its scope is much wider than that, but if our Heaven is gone how can we be absolutely sure that we aren’t now being judged by another religion’s rules about getting into an afterlife that doesn’t conform to our belief systems? What if, instead of Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, we wind up coming face to face with Hades or Anubis or some other wacky being?”

“Gavin, if you’re not going to take this seriously, I don’t know why we’re bothering to have this conversation.”

“Just because I can’t name the various religions’ afterlife gatekeepers doesn’t mean I’m not serious and if you took a step back and looked at it objectively you’d see the thought has some merit. Before this Knowing business nobody knew for sure that Heaven existed and if one version of heaven can exist why can’t others? Who’s to say our religion was the only one to get it right? And if I felt my soul was going to be rerouted to some foreign destination…well, all I’m saying is I get it. Now might be the time to make the decision to shuffle off this mortal coil in the hopes I wouldn’t end up in Valhalla or some junk like that. My only worry would be winding up in Hell, if that place is even still open for business. I mean, can one exist without the other? Aren’t they a package deal?”

“I don’t know, but that can’t be the way it works,” Mayra said, setting the laptop down on the coffee table. “Hell, to me, is the place where people are sent who need to be punished for purposefully living terrible lives. People who are so depressed they don’t feel they have any other choice shouldn’t automatically be sentenced to endure unending torture among the truly evil. Shouldn’t they instead be helped by someone in Purgatory? Shouldn’t there be someone to examine the cause of why the person felt the way they did? Shouldn’t they be allowed to expiate their supposed sins before going to Heaven? Not that I’m sure there’s truly a right reason to hurt the people who love you by taking your own life, but if they don’t believe they have another option, I hate the thought of Hell being the consequence for that.”

“But that’s not for you to judge, is it?”

“What?”

“The Bible states anyone who commits suicide is a sinner, babe, end of story. If someone punches their own ticket, their designated next stop is Hell,” Gavin took Mayra’s face in hand and turned it so that she met his eyes. “You’re one of those people who wants to believe that Heaven is a truly good place, but how good can it be if it excludes good people who don’t happen to be Christian or Jewish or the religion du jour?”

Mayra hated to admit it but Gavin had a point and she was ardently defending her position on the rules governing a place that no longer existed. When the silence in the room grew deafening, she picked up the remote and clicked on the tv. On CNN, Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, Archbishop of New York, was delivering a live speech broadcast from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, addressing the issue of how the seeming absence of Heaven was going to affect the living going forward and all the souls that used to reside there.

As if he knew, Mayra thought. She could tell from that same absence of hope expression on his face that he had no more knowledge than the rest of the world. But she knew why the speech was necessary. The church always laid claim to having inside knowledge, albeit limited, on the way God and the afterlife equation worked and the recent rise in the suicide rate meant people could no longer pretend what they felt wasn’t real. But this telecast, although presented as the official religious word, wasn’t going to be enough. Instead of trying to pacify the masses with false assurances, the church should have introduced a new doctrine to try to help everyone come to terms with what Heaven being gone truly meant.

“Well, that was a waste of time,” Gavin said. “So much for the church being clued in to what’s going on.”

But Mayra realized the problem was bigger than that. Before The Knowing everyone lived in a world where hope existed but now that hope was gone. Perhaps even forever. Without hope of a reward for living like a decent life, of continuing existence on a higher plane, what was to control the savage base nature that lurked within us all? The loss of Heaven changed life of the planet in ways she couldn’t even begin to imagine. But when she looked at Gavin it seemed another normal day to him. Like he never cared all that much about what might come next. Again, she questioned if he truly believed in God, which made her wonder if she was truly still in love with him. Loving him was easy. Seeing him as the man she wanted to be with for the rest of her life… she shook her head and pushed the thought aside again. There were far too many more pressing thoughts in her mind for her to start questioning their relationship status, especially if she was misreading the situation in the midst of all the confusion. What she really needed at this moment was a healthy dose of Bethany.

To Be Continued…

©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The above excerpt is a work of fiction but if you have been affected by any of the issues raised here, or are thinking about suicide, or worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline may be able to provide help and advice. Call 1-800-273-8255. Click this link and you can find someone online immediately and find other phone numbers to call for immediate help, and also find resources to help someone you know who is having suicidal thoughts. There is even a text-for-help option for U.S. Veterans. Someone is available to help 24 hours everyday.