You’re the last person in the universe.
How long could you survive?
How long would you want to?
“How many times have I been here before?” He thought looking out and down his apartment window. He wouldn’t jump. The fear of heights. The nasty splatter. How would his mom see him? But the wind rushing and the finality of it.
He turned around, went back to desk, pulled out a syringe, and overdosed. Half-intentionally. He could feel his breathing slow. His eyes fell. He had a last minute of fear and regret as the world seemed to collapse on him and that was that.
The next the day the sun rose. No one came into his room the next day. He’s had enough fights with his mom for her to give in and yell “good morning”s and “good night”s and “I love you”s from beyond the closed door. She went to work and came back. Left dinner on the table for him.
At school all his friends thought he must have skipped. Everyone on their own would shoot him a text. His teachers checked with each other and had the administration call home.
The call came. His mom broke down. His friends shook. Even the people at school that had just brushed shoulders with him felt it. There was something off about that school until the population turned over.
In his note he said he couldn’t find a reason to live anymore. He was frustrated. He was tired. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but he had lost any drive to live his life without a thought as to his mon’s son’s life. Or his friends’ friend’s life. His teachers’ student’s life. His classmates’ peer’s life.
The day came to an end. It was nice. The weather had cleared up and he spent the whole day relaxing and playing with friends. He came home and sat down, grooving to his favourite song. It was almost midnight and he was tired. He put his headphones to rest and went to brush his teeth.
And he realized, standing there, facing himself in the mirror that he was alone. His chest started to tighten and he had to fight to breathe. The bathroom started to close in. And in the quiet, silent, lonely moment he hated what he saw in the mirror. This caricature of a person that everyone else thought was him.
He wasted day after day pretending to connect, not saying what was really on his mind. He wasn’t fake, but he wasn’t real either. The fear that stopped him from doing anything worthwhile turned into a worry of ending up mediocre with superficial friends and a shallow life.
He put his toothbrush down and put in his earbuds again.
I picked her up on my way home from work. I opened the door for the both of us. She went to the bed and I went to my computer trying to avoid thinking about it. She sat there looking at me expecting me to talk about what had happened.
“Talk to me,” she pleaded. “What happened?”
I remember when I was little my family went on this road trip. I was stuck in the middle seat with my sisters on either side. I wanted to sleep, but they were bored.
We made a pit stop. I don’t know if it was part of the plan or if my parents were tired of me crying. I tried telling them what happened.
“What kind of boy cries so much?”
I told her what happened. She wanted me to talk about it and when I gave her a non-answer she started talking about how I always do this. Maybe I always do. But what more could I say? I didn’t know what I was feeling. I was mad or sad or confused and scared. I felt like my lungs were filled with something and I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t need her to talk; I just needed someone with me. I didn’t know how to ask for a hug so I sat next to her. I guess she was tired of trying.
Honestly she was right. I was being selfish. And this became about her.
I was always on the smaller side. Everyone wanted to see if they could squat me. I guess it got to me. I started working out and I never got big, but I was making progress. My sister was really proud.
This one time Dad took us out to dinner so he could eat with his friends when my sister brought it up. He didn’t even look my way. He turned to his lady friend and talked about how he was double my size when he was my age.
I don’t know what I wanted. It’s not like I was expecting anything resembling support. He always talked about how a man ought to live without asking how I spent the day. I guess I let that get to me too.
I stopped going to the gym.
I just wanted to sleep. I turned my back and covered my head with the blanket. She stopped herself and almost unwillingly put a hand on my shoulder. She didn’t get a response. She was right about me needing to talk and me always doing this, but I didn’t know what else I could say.
She tried being nice a little longer. But she got frustrated again. Told me I needed to grow up. Be a man.
“Be a man.” That’s what she said to me then too. I doubt that she remembers. The first time she tried, it ended with me in tears. What kind of man does that when there’s a half-naked girl on top of him?
Ultimately she got me to do it. I mean, I said yes. I had to have.
It had been eight months since Michael Pierce got released from prison. He got 2 years for a trafficking charge 8 years ago. When he went in, Mike was on the smaller side and got picked on so he bulked up and learned to defend himself. He learned his way around. The Official Version was that “Michael Pierce has become aggressive and manipulative.” And the years started adding up. “From initially a model inmate, Michael Pierce has become a high-needs offender that would need a lot of work in the community.”
On the inside he stayed clean from drugs and away from gangs. And eight months after moving in to the halfway house, Mike was working two jobs, got a car, and was on his way to completing his personal-training certificate.
He got lucky with the house and the house got lucky with him. The house normally only took low-risk offenders whose main problem was addictions and Mike was neither of these things. But he was motivated. The system has a way of breaking you down. There was no way he was going back.
He got close with some of the staff, but never talked much about his family. It had only been a few weeks since he made contact with his dad. The rest of his family he hadn’t spoken to since well before his incarceration. They were planning to meet up face-to-face in a month.
Mike Pierce was in the office during a shift change, “Machine Gun Johnny. Leader of the Flying Dragons.” Three hours later he was found dead, face down in his closet with a needle in hand.
I almost remember it like this, with Em glaring at a young, happy me. Happy that he just got a new game or had a nice time out with Mom or Dad. I almost remember her being angry at my naïveté. But if I were to be honest with myself, I know it wasn’t like that. There was no shouting or glaring or contempt. She saw a young, happy me and she bent down, whispered in my ear. She took away whatever trust I had in Mom and Dad out of love, not to be cruel.
I thought she was crazy. But something like that has a way of staying with you. A few weeks later, Mom bought me some game console and a week after that she told me I’d have to decide in court who to be with.
Fortunately, that never happened. According to Mom, Dad straight up said he didn’t want us. He ended up getting us on the weekends. Unfortunately for him, he mostly only got me. Everyone else was too busy. Looking back, maybe I should’ve been a little harder to get. I wanted Dad to like of me so much I became spineless around him, but I think he hated those types. It’s funny how that works. But, he tried. He would always mention how he’s proud of me. It’s cute looking back. I never believed it though. See, Dad had this “what a man is” speech that he always did. I got the hint.
It’s also funny how my being so timid around Dad caused so much friction with Mom. Dad never paid the child support on time and so it was our job to wring it out of him. I remember this one time, Mom got so mad at me. She yelled with tears in her eyes about how we don’t respect her or the money she makes. How we take her for granted because I “forgot” to ask Dad. I’m sorry Mom.
I’ll admit, it got better when we got older. I remember in Grade 11 I really wanted to be a writer and I told Dad. He really did want to support me, but his eyes gave it away. Later, when I told Mom about wanting to go into counselling, she did the same. But I get it now. Parents have a weird way of dealing with showing their love.
I remember this one time, I had some “girl trouble” and Dad talked about the divorce for the first time in 15 years. He talked while he scribbled on some scrap paper. I think it helped him focus. And, for the first time, I realized that they went through the same shitty divorce that I did.
Mom was a trooper too. When I was in university, I remember seeing Mom look so fragile. The worst part was that I couldn’t tell if she had gotten old or if she was always like this. Em told me, Mom would buy the big bag of rice but leave it at the bottom of the steps until we got through enough of it for her to carry.
He stopped for a second. He hadn’t gone to either funeral, but he always meant to visit. He thought maybe now he could be honest with his parents.
He told them about what the other had done to and for their children. Apologized for how much distance he created, for having a courtroom wedding that neither knew about, and ignoring most of their calls. He hoped that they didn’t mind lying next to each other. It just seemed kind of fitting. In life they separated, but here they were together again.
He promised to bring his kid as soon as he’s born then started to pack up. Before leaving he left a bottle of wine for Mom, a 6-pack for Dad, and some flowers between their tombstones.
Jonathan lay in his bed tossing and turning but the moment his mind drifted from trying to find a comfortable position the images would come back. He wanted to scream but when he opened his mouth nothing would come out but a whimper.
He was exhausted. Everything that happened actually happened. And it happened fast. ‘A miracle’ they said. Everyone from the 911 operator to the paramedics called it a miracle. Paul’s legs were shattered, his left arm was hanging by the skin that kids his age make jokes of, and you could see Paul struggling to breathe. And miraculously—although unfortunately for Jonathan—Paul was still completely conscious. It reminded him of a scene from Evil Dead. What a fucking miracle.
“Aaaaaaah, you got to get shwifty.” Jonathan rolled around and reached to turn his off his phone, but thought given the circumstances people might want to reach him. He looked around and saw the sun was starting to rise and the annoying little blue jay that always came by was already making a mess of the balcony.
“Hello, this Ellie from the Coquitlam Victim Services Unit. Can we speak to Jonathan?”
“This is h— I’m hi— I’m Jonathan.” What an awkward question he thought.
The victim services lady asked Jonathan about how he was doing and he answered truthfully. He slept about 2 hours in bits. He only ate a bag of cheetos or two. But at least he drank a lot of water. And tomorrow he’d be meeting up with a couple friends. The lady asked if Jonathan had considered counseling and if he would like a referral and if she could touch base with him next week. He hadn’t, he might, and she might as well to make sure he wasn’t going to do anything stupid. They never would end up calling back. Probably because of more important things to deal with.
He was awake and it was morning and he thought it was probably best to get up but his limbs felt heavy and he could swear he could feel that his blood was coming to a full stop. If it weren’t for his dislike of sharp things, letting out some of the pressure didn’t seem like a bad idea.
Two figures at a distance were watching Jonathan with great interest.
“I told you. Everyone has a breaking point.” One said to the other.
“He’s just struggling. He’ll come around.”
Jonathan and two of his friends were off to get some Korean burritos and play Scrabble with their version of the dictionary. It had been two days since the incident and Jonathan was dealing with this the same way he did with everything else.
His friends knew what had happened but not in detail. Jonathan updated them as matter-of-factly as he could. “But I guess that’s where the saying comes from. Hit like a truck.” He tried to laugh at his own joke; it almost made him puke.
“Real talk though. You think you’re gonna visit?”
“I don’t know if I will.” Pause. “I don’t know if I can.”
There was a “hmm” of understanding from the other two in the car. And that was that. The three of them were off to get some Korean burritos and play Scrabble with their version of the dictionary.
Wednesday. Jonathan stared at his phone watching the clock app for the first time. The second hand trudged along.
Half a week had passed and half a week remained until another Sunday. He really didn’t want to go. Maybe he’d take a break. He supposed, either way, he really should address it with his volunteers first. Then take a break, if he needed to.
He went to the Facebook group page and started his post the way he always did. He talked about what had happened. How they really need to figure out how to deal with Paul and evidently whatever changes they had made before were not working out. He took responsibility as the leader of the group and he took responsibility as a Christian who had failed to show love. He told them he needed to take a break. Then he signed off the way he always did.
He stared at the post for a while. He changed a few words here and there. He took some of the emotionally charged items out and tried to sound reassuring in the parts that explained what had happened calling it “a miracle.” And after the technical challenge of writing the piece was over—which he thought he did well enough—he hit post. He clicked away before the content of it became too real, but the notifications of likes and responses brought him back.
He turned on Discord. No one was up. Of course. He tried playing his little game alone, but thought it sounded a little pathetic.
He knew he should go for a walk or do something productive, but he had no energy to listen to his body that begged for food, exercise, or sunlight. So he did what he thought any rational person would do and went on YouTube. But, of course, out of the thousands of hours being uploaded daily, there was nothing left to watch. He tried listening to some music but couldn’t get past more than five seconds of any song. Then, after the ritual of escalating his avoidance tactics, he did what he always ended up doing when he got stressed.
He opened a new window in incognito mode. He got himself some tissue and a bit of lotion. He went and surfed his regular sites begging God or the devil to help him find something that could take his mind off forgetting that he found masturbation boring too. He scanned various clips looking for the ones with the narratives that got him off the most and came as quickly he could.
When he finished he just sat there looking at his screen. The clock in the bottom corner trudged along.
Jonathan stood outside the front of the Denny’s near his house. He had one of those puffy jackets on and was scanning the parking lot under his baseball cap which was pulled a little too down. He knew he looked a little shady; he just couldn’t seem to keep his head up. Soon enough his pastor would arrive.
They sat down opposite one another. Jonathan kept his head down but took his cap off, worried that it would come off as disrespectful. Every now and then, he forced himself to look away from his hands fidgeting underneath the table, but never could look straight ahead. The whole time, he hoped he wouldn’t send the wrong message.
The pastor asked how Jonathan was doing, if he ate, and what he would like. Jonathan hadn’t eaten but didn’t think he could. The pastor reassured Jonathan that it was alright and how Paul was doing really well, not just physically but Paul had been a lot more receptive to his parents’ advances in the hospital.
“You know, no one blames you. Paul’s parents have nothing but sympathy for you.”
He didn’t know how to take it. Here he was getting consoled indirectly by the family whose boy had been in a terrible accident. How could Paul’s body be in better shape than his?
“You shouldn’t live with this guilt. No one is putting you on trial. Not Paul, not the family, and, most importantly, not God. Sometimes tragedies happen but God is in control. I don’t know why he allows such things, but he is in control. And he loves you.”
Jonathan could see where he was going. But none of that really mattered. If God was so involved in what happened, then he failed God too. And sure, he agreed that God loved him, but so what? Jonathan didn’t see how God’s forgiveness translated to forgiving himself. Of course, none of that left his lips.
“You can’t take all the responsibility. Paul has some responsibility. The parents do too. I definitely do as the leader of this church. And so does the driver who was going a little too fast. If you want to take responsibility, divide it evenly. You aren’t responsible for another person’s life.”
Jonathan accepted that; he just didn’t care about how others fit into the picture. He caused Paul, who he knew to be emotionally unstable, to have a tantrum that led to Paul storming off. He watched with a ‘not-again’ attitude as Paul made his grand exit out of the church. And he didn’t rush to follow after him. Sure he didn’t do anything particularly egregious, but it was all the same to him. He was put in charge of the children and he did not do everything in his ability to immediately rectify the situation. No amount of “focusing on God’s love” would change that. Again, he kept his thoughts to himself.
His pastor prayed for Jonathan and thanked him for meeting. Jonathan thanked his pastor for his words, his time, and his offer for food. He put on his puffy jacket and left with his hat pulled a little too down.