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A Downward Spiral

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Calls From the Edge

My family shouldn’t have to put up with me. They’re good people, solid, happy. Sometimes when I’m with them I think I’m on television.
—Ned Vizzini

“You have twelve new messages. First message received Tuesday at 11:43 P.M.”

“Hey bro, I know it’s late, but I thought I’d see if I could catch you before you went to bed. It’s been a couple of weeks since we last talked. I was hoping to catch up with you some. Looks like I just missed you, I’ll try calling you another day. Don’t worry about calling back right this instant. Commence the game of phone tag! Love you, bye.”

“Next message received Tuesday at 11:45 P.M.”

“Hey sorry man, I almost forgot about Mom’s birthday; it’s in a couple of days so we should probably talk about what we’re going to get her. I think she really liked the lavender-accentuated winter roses we got her last year, maybe we should both chip in and get them sent to her again on the day of her birthday. Try to think about what message you want written on the card and call me back when you get this as we should probably be ordering those in the next couple of days or so before it’s too late.”

“Next message received Tuesday at 11:54 P.M.”

“I know you’ve probably gotten one of these messages by now. I don’t want to keep bugging you, but I just saw a website that was offering a deal that would arrive the day of her sixtieth that has all of her favorite flowers. If we’re going to do it, we have to place an order in the next hour or so before the offer expires. I can’t order it with my card since my account’s recently been frozen... It’s a shitty debt thing, nothing to worry about, just one of the many pleasures of being jobless. Get back to me.” The audible sound of a can (likely beer) being opened is heard before the call ends.

“Next message received Wednesday at 2:01 A.M.”

“Well, the deal expired a while ago.” The sound of drinking is heard with the empty clang of a can being set down and hitting other empty cans. “Not a big deal though. It’s not like we haven’t fucked up in the past and failed to get mom something on her birthday before. It’s just shitty that we’re doing it to her again after everything she’s been through lately. I at least tried to step up this time though, where the hell were you?!”

“Next message received Wednesday at 2:57 A.M.”

The voice sounds much more intoxicated. “I didn’t mean that bro. It’s just... things have been kinda rough for me lately. It hasn’t been easy since I got laid off, ya know? I just-” A glass is heard tipping and spilling its contents out. “-just was looking for someone to talk to. I’d really appreciate it if you got back to me. I know you got work and everything, but I could just really talk to someone right now. Call me back when you get this.”

“Next message received Wednesday at 3:32 A.M.”

“So I was thinking about how much of a whiny bitch I sounded like with that last call. I didn’t mean to come off that way; it’s just been so fucked up lately. I-I’ve been drinking- Never mind man, you don’t want to hear this. I didn’t mean to drop all of this on you so suddenly. I’ll talk to you when I’m sober and not such a hot mess. Goodnight.”

“Next message received Wednesday at 4:42 A.M.”

The voice is now slurring and marble-mouthed. “Look, I know it’s late, but I gotta talk to someone, I-I’ve been so messed up lately. It seems like all I do is send out job applications to places that aren’t looking to hire and get drunk afterwards. It’s not even with friends anymore; I’m just drinking by myself. Can’t say I blame them, I’m hard to be around. I’m the only one who can put up with me and even I’m getting frustrated. I’m such a goddamn train wreck. I haven’t been sleeping much lately, just drink, drink, pass out, get up feeling like shit, and repeat. I forget the last time I actually had a good night’s sleep. I’ve been on a downward spiral for the longest time. I don’t know what to do man, are you there? Please pick u-” Message cuts off.

“Next message received Wednesday at 4:50 A.M.”

“Sorry, apparently that one got cut off and I kept talking to myself for five minutes like a goddamn tool. It’s probably better you didn’t hear that, I said some stupid shit. Oh well, it wasn’t like I was saying anything important. God, I can’t do anything right. Maybe it would be better if I just...” There is a momentary pause before the call is disconnected.

“Next message received Wednesday at 5:10 A.M.”

The song “A Warm Place” can be heard playing softly in the background. “I really need to talk to you man. I got an empty bottle of whiskey sitting next to me with a loaded revolver in front of me. Heh, guess you could say we’re both loaded. I’m really thinking about it man. There’s just not much left for me here. My friends don’t talk to me anymore and I haven’t talked to the rest of the family in months. Please call me back when you get this.”

“Next message received Wednesday at 5:26 A.M.”

“I mean what’s the point? I’ve been drinking for the past couple of hours, got sick, tried to touch myself, failed. It’s my last night here on this earth and I don’t have shit to do. I’m so goddamn bored. How sad is that? Only a couple of hours left and all I can think to do is get plastered and have a go at myself. I even failed at that. God, I’m such a failure. I can’t seem to do anything right. I’m fucking miserable right now bro. I’m sorry, I know you don’t want to hear this. I’m a shit-show. I think it’s time. I love you.”

“Next message received Wednesday at 5:35 A.M.”

“I had it in my mouth man, it tastes metallic and cold. I focused on it just to see if I could still feel something. I couldn’t.” He sobs into the phone, but holds the receiver away so as to muffle the noise. “There’s just no point in it anymore. Everything I touch gets so fucked up. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t keep hurting people. I’ve already done too much damage; it’ll be better for everyone if I wasn’t here. I’m sorry, I guess this is goodbye.”

“Next message received Wednesday at 6:10 A.M.”

The voice sounds much more sober. “I’m sitting out on the balcony now. I’m pretty sure the sun is going to rise any moment now. I just want to see that one more time. I managed to contact a local florist who should deliver the winter roses by mom’s birthday. I’m still gonna do it. I just wanted to see if I could reach you before then... Are you there? I think it’s time for me to go. I love you, and I am so sorry- You there??? Tell mom that I’m so sorry. The sun’s rising- Are you listening??? I better do it before someone walks by. Goodb- Hello??? I shouldn’t have dumped all of this on you. Okay, I love you man.” A hammer can be heard being fanned back before the call disconnects.

“Messages erased at 6:31 A.M.”

A Helping Hand

The history of melancholia includes all of us.
—Charles Bukowski

Hiro Shige looked out at the figure on the bluff. He hoped that they weren’t out there for what he thought they were. He looked back to his favorite show. With a sigh, he flicked the tv off and got ready to brave the cool beach air. He downed his scotch and winced as it burned its way down his throat. It was made for sipping and enjoying, not shooting. His house sat a couple hundred yards away from the beach, but the bluff did technically fall under his property.

He opened the screen door and walked into his backyard. Every now and then, people ventured out onto his property to take photos of the scenery and to take in the sunset. The trespassing didn’t anger him, sights like the one up on the bluff were meant to be enjoyed and shared with as many people as possible. He took pride in the fact that people were constantly climbing it to look out at the horizon and ocean.

There was however a dark side to having such a scenic view. Something told Hiro that this was going to be one of those cases. Every once in a while people would walk onto his property and climb the bluff. When they reached the top, they would throw themselves off and plunge into the shallow sea below. People rarely came out here so late at night to enjoy the view. As much as he hated it, this beautiful area was often used to commit suicide.

It was about a hundred-foot drop into shallow rocky water. Those that managed to survive the fall and miss the larger rocks would likely have their bones broken on impact with the water and would be swallowed by the great below. As much as Hiro hated it, he had seen a few people go over the edge. By the time authorities could be alerted and a search could be organized, the soul was lost to the sea. They were always slow to respond, not through any fault of their own. Hiro was just closer so he felt like he had an obligation to help out.

He had lived there for seven years and during that time; he had seen five people commit suicide. To him, that was five too many. The more unnerving thought was how many had done it when he hadn’t been around. How many corpses and skeletons were repeatedly bashed against the rocks lost in the ebb and flow? How many people plunged to their death leaving behind only ripples in the water? That was why he went out to talk to them every opportunity he got. He didn’t know how many people he talked down off the precipice. He honestly stopped keeping count. It didn’t feel right to him. He began the climb towards the figure.

As the man got closer, he could see the person clearly. The figure was female. Her brunette hair was buffeted by the wind and almost seemed silhouetted by the moon. She was almost ghostly pale. From what Hiro could make out, she was average-looking. Not beautiful, but certainly not ugly. She had a plainness to her that would have been appealing were he a couple of decades younger.

He spoke very softly, careful not to startle her, “The moon looks beautiful on the water.” He had talked to a number of people and found it best not to jump right into trying to talk them off of the ledge.

She turned and gasped, genuinely caught off guard by his sudden appearance. She stammered, “Wh-what are you doing out here?”

“I like to climb the bluff every now-and-then and enjoy a smoke.” He patted his pockets and groaned, “Which I left back at my house. Would you mind keeping an old man company and come walk with me? Nights like these are best shared. I’ll even bum you one if you want.”

She looked at him quizzically and responded, “You go on ahead. I’m… going to enjoy this for a few more minutes and then I’ll probably head off. Sorry if I’m trespassing or anything.”

“Don’t worry about it. If you don’t mind, I’ll keep you company for a bit.”

“I’d prefer to be alone-”

“I hate to do this, but can we drop the act? I know why you’re out here. People don’t usually climb the bluff on cold and windy nights unless they’re thinking of jumping. I’m not going to call the police or anything like that. I just want to talk a bit. Are you okay with that?”

She heaved a sigh and huffed, “Look, I’m not really in the mood for talking.”

Hiro nodded and weighed his options before continuing, “I figured you were up to talk about it. Most people that are thinking of ending it jump as soon as the reach the top. I don’t know why they wouldn’t stop to enjoy the scenery. I think that’s a big problem in a lot of peoples’ lives, they don’t take time to enjoy the view. The people who wait are the ones with reservations about what they’re doing. Why are you going to do it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve talked to a couple of people before that were in your same shoes. Everyone has a reason. Some people have just lost their jobs, some have failing marriages, flunking out of their colleges, and I just wanted to know yours.”

“Do I need a reason to kill myself?! What does my reason mean to you?!”

“No need to get on the defensive… I’ve been there myself, that’s all. Not on that edge mind you. My ledge was a revolver. I still remember how the barrel tasted in my mouth. How my teeth felt as they chattered against it. How it felt so heavy in my hand. It’s not something I enjoy remembering. I just remember years spent wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. I was adrift and out of control. One day, I just thought to myself, ‘Why not end it all?’ I shocked myself with that. I had never thought of suicide before, sure I’d been depressed, but never that lost.”

Hiro took a second to make sure the girl was still listening before he continued, “I buried that thought deep. I pretended it didn’t exist, but instead of going away, it grew. Not only that, but it began to eat away at me. It wormed its way into my head at night and became a bloated and ugly thing. It slowly spread its tendrils out and began to rot me away from the inside. By the time I stole my dad’s revolver and stuck it into my mouth, I was ripe with decay.”

“Why didn’t you pull the trigger?”

“I wish I could say I saw the light or a kindly, yet dashing, old man intervened, but the truth is never that poetic is it? My dog started barking and I realized he needed to go out. I put the revolver in my coat and took him for a walk. It was on that walk that I started to really mull everything over. I decided that instead of doing it that day, I would press pause. I would hold off for a month and if I still felt that way, I could end it without any regrets. I waited a month, and then another, and another. Enough about me though, why are you here?”

She fidgeted around and in that moment, Hiro realized how young she actually was. She couldn’t be over twenty years of age. She was likely a college student. “I’m just tired of being alone. My family is shit and I have no friends. It’s not going to get better so why keep fighting it? It’d be a lot less heartache if I just ended it here. I think the worst part is that I’m going to die alone with no one to mourn.”

“Your family would mourn, those people at college would look at your empty seat and wonder what kind of person is now missing from their life. Are you sure you don’t have any friends? Not even someone who you could tell all of this to?”

“There’s no one.”

“Well, you are telling me. Maybe I can be your friend? We did have this heart-to-heart and revealed our lowest moments to each other. Why don’t you join me back at my house and we can talk all of this out with some hot cocoa. How does that sound?”

“You’d be my friend?”

“I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t want to.”

She shivered and for the first time in half-an-hour, Hiro realized that she had been standing on the bluff in the middle of winter in nothing more than short sleeves and jeans. He approached carefully; this was what he had been waiting for. If he could get her away from the precipice, then the hardest part would be over. He slowly wrapped his arms around her and held her close.

She broke into sobs in his embrace. He whispered that he was here for her. Her tears stained his shirt, but that was fine with him. He told her that she was going to be okay. She looked up at him with tear-filled eyes and asked if he could do something for her. He nodded and said that he would do anything; he was her friend. Her grip around him tightened.

Her voice was little more than a whisper, but it reverberated like a gunshot in a tiny room. “I don’t want to face this alone.”

She twisted with a sudden strength he had not expected and pulled the both of them towards the precipice. If he were a younger man, he would have pulled away, but his age and his experiences had left him sapped. She looked into his eyes one more time before the final pull. They both teetered for a moment before they both slipped over the ridge.

Hiro felt the air ripping at him as he fell with her. Her face was beatific and content as she waited for the impact that would end her suffering. She had gotten her wish; she would not die alone. Hiro Shige would join her. He had a few moments to let the terror build in his heart. There was something else in there as well. It was something rotten and it called out to the great below. Its arms were outstretched and welcoming the obsidian-looking water with the jutting rocks that almost looked like teeth. What Hiro had denied for four decades had finally returned to him and would not wait any longer.

A Grave Reminder

Yeah, I think I know you.
You spent a lot of time full of hate.
A hate that was pure sunshine,
A hate that saw for miles,
A hate that kept you up at night,
A hate that filled your every waking moment,
A hate that carried you for a long time.
Yes, I think I know you.

—Henry Rollins

The woman moved furtively through the graveyard. This was the part she hated the most about paying her respects. She turned from the main path where a majority of the head stones were and went off to a corner of the cemetery. She could feel people’s eyes on her, wondering what she was doing wandering off the set path and heading to a small patch of headstones that weren’t adorned with anything. They almost looked forgotten, and for most people they were. It was a traditional Catholic cemetery with, frankly draconian rules.

People who died from suicide could not be buried with the others on hallowed ground. They were instead shunted off to the side on a part that wasn’t technically on church grounds. It was a reminder for her and the rest of the world what her son had done. Her son had taken a rifle, stuck the barrel in his mouth and depressed the trigger with his toe.

His death had been instantaneous, but the aftershocks afterwards had threatened to rip the family apart. Her husband went from a boisterous man to a quiet and withered husk of a man almost overnight. Where the house was once filled with his bellowing laughter, it was now as quiet as the graveyard she stood in. She could barely get him out of the house and amongst friends. Years later and he was still as broken as he was the day that he got the news.

The woman had not escaped those aftershocks either. She did a much better job hiding it from others, but it still ate away at her insides all the same. It had been over three years since he committed suicide, but she still felt the stares every time she went to visit his grave. She made a habit of visiting it once a month and ‘catching up’ with her son. She would have invited her husband to come along, but last time he had almost had a complete breakdown. Maybe she was desensitized to it all, having visited him so many times. She wanted to pay her respects in her own way and not have to worry about appearing strong enough for the both of them.

She laid lilacs at the base of the grave and whispered a quick prayer. It was a mechanical reaction. She believed in God and had helped raise her son that way, but it just felt wrong to pray for him when even the cemetery had silently judged him by relegating him to a small patch well away from the others. She finished the prayer, but stayed kneeling. She had more she wanted to say and now seemed like the prefect time to do it.

She tried to ignore the feeling in the pit of her stomach, but knew that that wasn’t going to make it go away. It never really went away. She began, “We’re doing good Joe. You made us so proud when you were with us, proud parents of a soldier. We’re trying to stay strong, but some days are harder than others. There are support groups for families who have lost soldiers, but we went to one meeting and decided it wasn’t for us. I think being around all of those people trying to shoulder their burden and being crushed by it only made me feel worse.”

She paused a moment and felt the pain coiling up in her stomach before she continued, “Vera’s doing good. I think she took your death harder than anyone, having just broken up with you, I think she felt partly responsible for what happened next. She really sank into herself and almost self-destructed. I think she would have if it hadn’t been for her best friend. She persevered. She’s married to him now and they’re expecting their first child in a few months.”

The sadness kept building in her stomach; it wormed its way free and began clawing at her lungs. She tried to remember the pleasant memories, but all she could think about was his diary and how he had died. The sorrow raked at her throat and she felt it constrict. Hot tears began to sear their way down her face; she tried wiping them away, but more followed behind to replace them. There was no denying it; she had to get it out before it ate her away inside.

“I spent all of these years wondering why you did it. I just couldn’t accept that you would kill yourself. You were such a happy child. I remember your dad chasing you through the backyard before picking you up on his shoulders. Your laughter was infectious. I remember how I could read your face like a book. I knew when you were sad, when you were hiding something, when you were nervous.”

She continued talking even though her throat burned and her stomach roiled, “I knew you so well. Or at least I imagined I did. I thought I knew you, but the instant you pulled that trigger, I realized I knew nothing about you. I didn’t know what you were going through. I didn’t know you had broken up with Vera until she told us. You never confided in me about how depressed you were.”

She paused, she felt like she was really talking to him, which made the next part all the more difficult. “I couldn’t come to terms with what you did. It made no sense. You were so happy those last few weeks. You were always smiling, constantly joking; you had the perfect story for every occasion. I read your journal; I read your final moments. I know it was a massive invasion of your privacy, but I needed to understand what made you do it. I had to see what lied underneath that happy veneer.”

She winced her eyes shut, as if that would stem the flow of tears. It didn’t and now she felt like screaming. She held onto it, she let it drive the words out. “I never realized how angry you were. I thought everything was going well. I heard stories from other mothers about their soldier sons, but nothing could have prepared me for something like this. You had so much hate and rage building up inside of you. I didn’t realize how angry and depressed you were. I think I know you now.”

The grief inside her twisted and writhed. She hunched over and wrapped her arms around her stomach in an attempt to make it stop. It built up and an insidious thought began to squirm free from the decay and rot that had filled her insides. “You were so angry. You were worried about taking us down with you, but we could have helped you. We could have gotten help. We didn’t know about the boy. We didn’t know.”

The thought disgorged itself from the cancerous mass of mourning in her stomach. It metastasized and spread into her brain. The thought she had buried for so long was now free from the chains she had used to bind it down. It had been spreading inside her ever since she had heard of her son’s death. “You know, I thought of joining you.”

“It could have been so easy. Your father keeps a gun under the bed in case of intruders. He doesn’t even keep it locked up in that lock box. All I needed to do would be to take it out of the box, load it with the bullets he keeps beside it, and put it up to my temple. It would have been so easy to end it all. I didn’t… I didn’t do it because I don’t want easy.”

The decay inside her began to crumple away. “Your father turned eighty yesterday. You should have seen when he broke out the cake with eighty candles stuck into it. There was barely any room left for the frosting. I bet you would have made a joke about the fire hazards that doing that posed. You should have been here… You should have, but you weren’t. You chose to end it and now you missed this. You’re going to miss all of this.”

The rot that had taken hold of her as she knelt in front of her son’s grave began to recede. “You won’t be here. We’re going to see milestones, miracles, and yes, tragedies. We’re going to enjoy the good ones together, support each other through the bad ones, and we’re going to grow. You’re not going to be here for any of it. You wanted to escape and now you are going to miss everything.”

The flow of tears abated and she wiped away the remaining stragglers. She felt better, whether it was the cathartic revelation or her decision about what she was going to do, she didn’t know. She stood up and looked around. The sun was beginning to set and it was almost time to go. She had just one more thing she wanted to say before she could leave.

She was almost swallowed up by the sorrow again, but she fought it back down. It would never go away completely, but she would learn to live with it. She wouldn’t let it hang around her neck like some long dead albatross and weigh her down. “I love you… but I can’t keep visiting you like this. I’ve come here dozens of times each year since you… committed suicide, and I can’t keep doing it anymore. I’ll visit with you every now-and-then, and I won’t forget you, but I can’t keep doing this. It’s not healthy.”

She stood up and felt her knees pop after having been on the ground for so long. She traced her fingers across the words etched in the granite: “Joseph Yossarian” one last time as if she were touching his cheek. The stone was cold and offered no comfort. She whispered, “I love you baby, I always will. Goodbye.” She left his tombstone behind and walked back to the cemetery grounds.

Her son was gone and she wasn’t going to join him. She still had a life left to live. She left the cemetery with her head held up high. She walked away from the great below.

Written by EmpyrealInvective
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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