Suicide: A Short Story
The phone is answered: Hello, Olive Outreach Hotline.
Caller: I'm going to kill myself.
The other line: But you're having second thoughts?
Caller: No, I believe I'm going through with it.
The other line: But you called here first. Why?
Caller: You think you can talk me out of this?
The other line: No, I'm not anything special. But I think you can talk yourself out of killing yourself. At least, you hope you can talk yourself out of it. That's why you called.
Caller: How do you know why I called?
The other line: Why else does anyone call a suicide hotline? People who really want to kill themselves just do it.
Caller: I will jump out of this window.
The other line: Wait. I don't mean to trivialize this. I know you're in pain and you're hurting real bad. You're making up your mind if you and perhaps people you care about wouldn't be better off if you were dead. I get that.
Caller: They would be better off, come to think of it.
The other line: Anyway, I'm just saying that its a good thing that, even at a time like this, you managed to hold on to enough hope, a sliver of hope to delay the action by making a phone call. What could it hurt, right?
Caller: That's better.
The other line: That is better, isn't it? You were really offended, weren't you?
Caller: I guess so.
The other line: Curious thing.
The other line: That even at a time like this, you could be offended. It bothered you that you thought I wasn't taking you seriously when you said that you were going to take your own life. Pride. But what good would pride do you, where you're going?
Caller: Where am I going?
The other line: Do you believe in the afterlife? Are you a religious person?
Caller: Not really.
The other line: Then forget it. Its just that pride is baggage one wouldn't think you'd want to take with you... to the... grave...
Caller: You've lost me.
The other line: I don't know about you but when I go on a trip, I pack a bag or two.
Caller: This is going somewhere, is it?
The other line: Like when I fly on a plane somewhere. I pack a bag or two, go to the airport, check the bag or two, and pray like hell that my bags get to where I'm going same as my body. You ever flew on a plane, taken a trip like that for business and/or pleasure.
Caller: Of course. I'm still waiting for the light at the end of the rainbow.
The other line: Gold.
The other line: Boy, you are in a bad way, aren't you? Its gold at the 'end of the rainbow;' and light at the 'end of the tunnel.'
Caller: I must say, you're not giving me much of a reason to go on living right now.
The other line: So, when I pack a bag or two to take a trip of one kind or another, by, say, airplane, and go to the airport, and check my bags, and pray like hell that my bags get to where I'm going the same as my body---its because I need what is in my bags. I plan to make use of the contents of those bags on the other side. Its like your pride. Why pack that bag and be so protective of it, unless you thought you would have need of its contents on... the other side?
Caller: You're very strange.
The other line: What's your name? Who am I talking to?
Caller: Bill Harris.
The other line: A pleasure, Bill. My name's Steve Johnson. Steve for short.
The other line: Bill? Are you still there?
Caller: Yeah, sorry. I was just at a loss of words for a bit there.
The other line: Do you smoke, Bill?
The other line: Here, have one.
Caller: What are you talking about?
The other line: I'm offering you a cigarette. Go ahead, help yourself. I'm holding the pack out to you-- unless you have your own.
Caller: No, I don't have any on me right now. You know, I was going to go out and get some cigarettes. I was doing some paperwork. I was just thinking of taking a break and I said to myself, "I'll just step to the store around the corner and get some cigarettes... have one..." when...
The other line: "When" the urge to kill yourself came over you and you figured, "Why bother?"
The other line: Well, you're lucky.
The other line: You called me and I have cigarettes. Go ahead, help yourself.
The other line: No problem. Light?
The other line: There you go.
Caller: Thank you.
The other line: Ahhh! These things are not good for you.
Caller: No, they are not.
The other line: But so relaxing.
Caller: Yes, damn those tobacco companies.
The other line: I agree, damn them to hell.
The other line: You still there, Bill?
The other line: We're only smoking pretend cigarettes.
Caller: I was wondering about that.
The other line: But you played along.
Caller: They say you're supposed to humor crazy people.
The other line: Ho-Ho! You've got your hope, your pride, and your sense of humor. I must say, you're doing a lot better than most suicidal people I usually talk to.
Caller: Yeah, well... thanks, I think.
The other line: You know something, Tom?
Caller: What? And its Bill.
The other line: Oh yes, "Bill." Sorry about that. I bet you think I'm going to ask you what your problem is.
Caller: Isn't that customary?
The other line: Whatever it is, I'm sure its nothing that people haven't dealt with before. Your pain is not original. There's nothing unique about your suffering, Tom.
The other line: "Bill." The question is why you feel you can't go on any longer. Others have had your problems but saw their way clear to keep on keeping on.
Caller: I have struggled with depression all my life.
The other line: How old are you?
The other line: At what point in your life did you come to think of your depression as a permanent condition.
Caller: Its been a war for me, just getting out of bed in the morning, since I was six.
The other line: A long time.
Caller: A long time.
The other line: You know why angels are immortal, Tom?
Caller: No, why? and its Bill.
The other line: Yeah, well angels are immortal because they have no souls....
Caller: Am I supposed to ask: Why don't angels have souls?
The other line: I'd appreciate it.
Caller: Why don't angels have souls?
The other line: Because they are perfect. They cannot imagine themselves to be anything other than what they are. They regret nothing. They want nothing. They strive for nothing. They are just exactly what they are supposed to be, doing just exactly what they are supposed to be doing---all the time.
Caller: I wish I were an angel.
The other line: No you don't.
Caller: Sure I do. Don't you?
The other line: You'd want to be a soulless immortal? Anyway, you don't want the immortality part, or else you wouldn't be calling here thinking about killing yourself.
Caller: If I was perfect and content, I wouldn't want to kill myself.
The other line: Because you couldn't.
Caller: Couldn't what?
The other line: Kill yourself. If you were an angel, you couldn't kill yourself.
Caller: Like I said, I wouldn't want to.
The other line: Then again, perhaps you might just find a way...
Caller: Are you saying that I would be a suicidal angel?
The other line: Not necessarily. I'm just saying that if an angel is really, really, really unhappy, he might find a way...
Caller: Who ever heard of a clinically depressed angel?
The other line: I was listening to NPR the other day and there was a guy on there... some kind of neuroscientist or psychologist or something. He was talking about the difference between people with depression and---
Caller: Boy! You sure do turn on a dime with the changing of the subject, don't you?
The other line: Its related. Anyhow, he was saying that with the rest of us, those who do not have depression---the thing is, we all have a slightly exaggerated view about how attractive and intelligent we are. Are you with me?
Caller: Yeah, normal people have a slightly exaggerated view of themselves, how attractive and intelligent they are. And us depressives?
The other line: As for you depressives---you guys and gals have too accurate a view of how attractive and intelligent you are. Actually, you tend to see yourselves and the world much more closely in line with the realistic.
Caller: And that's a bad thing, realistic thinking?
The other line: No, but its the same thing as with the angels, you see? Your... "fantasy self," if you will, is something to aspire to, to work toward becoming something better than you are, knowing that you will never really reach you goal; you will never cross that finish line but you keep going after it. That's what keeps you up late at night and early in the morning.
Caller: I've never heard that.
The other line: Its a theory.
Caller: Whose? That neuroscientist guy?
The other line: No.
The other line: Its a private hypothesis of mine based on what that guy said.
Caller: And your knowledge of angels.
The other line: That's right, Tom.
Caller: Do you have a problem, buddy?
The other line: No.
Caller: Why do you keep calling me "Tom"?
The other line: Because that is your name. Thomas Arnold Wicker III.
Caller: How do you know my name?
The other line: The miracle of caller ID.
Caller: I'm not calling from home.
The other line: You calling from some office, your place of work?
The other line: Don't you think I would recognize the voice of my only cousin?
Caller: Holy crap, Stevie?!
The other line: None other.
Caller: What happened to you?
The other line: Remember that last DUI I got?
Caller: That was more than ten years ago.
The other line: Yeah, my third. But the judge gave me a break. He ordered mandatory treatment, meetings, like that, and community service. I came here and then stayed on. I run the place now.
The other line: The pay isn't "wow," but I'm fulfilled.
Caller: That's great. Good for you.
The other line: Listen, Tom. Where are you, at the midtown office?
The other line: Good. I'm back in the city as well.
Caller: Small world.
The other line: Big city.
Caller: I suppose so.
The other line: Listen, Tom I'm only twenty minutes away. I'm coming right over. I want you to stay right there, understand?
The other line: I mean it, Tom. You sit in that chair and don't move a muscle, you hear me?
The other line: I absolutely mean it, Tom. You stay put, tell your secretary to cancel your meetings and telephone calls.
The other line: Tom?
The other line: If you jump, so help me I'll kill you!
Caller: Ha-Ha! Very funny. Stevie?
The other line: Yeah?