(A true story, recalled after reading Carey DeCuir’s “Edge of Suicide,” Palais SL Magazine, December 2010)
I am torn between a deep-seated belief that we all shuffle off this mortal coil when we are supposed to, as part of some grand scheme, and wondering if suicide is the same as any other death in this scheme. Is it predestined that this person should die by their own hand, rather than in a traffic accident, disease or being murdered? In the end, dead is dead, right?
Once (more than once, I suppose you might say) I thought I had the right as well as the ability to end my life on my own schedule. I was wrong or at least failed in several attempts. I am intrigued that when it came time to shake hands with Mr. Brink from external causes, I clung to this existence for, if you will pardon the expression, for dear life.
The incident recounted below took place in July of 1992 and seems a lifetime away. I was feeling overwhelmed with pressures and doubts and it just seemed moiré than I could face. I am as convinced now that suicide is never the answer as I was that it was the only course then.
The barrel of the pistol was cool as I nestled in my ear on that hot July afternoon, and the click as the hammer fell on the empty chamber uncomfortably loud. So far, so good. Pity I had to buy 100 shells, as one shot was likely all I would be able to take. I thought about what I had heard, that a .22 doesn’t have the velocity to exit through the skull, that the slug just tumbles around like a pinball, doing low-level but hopefully lethal damage to the soft tissue. Not ideal, but I could hope to die quickly, or be unconscious as my life drained away.
I had picked the spot, the place we had called “Rabbit Gulch” for its isolation. More a path than a road unless you knew where to go, I sat in my rusty, orange 1974 BMW 2002 facing the Front Range of the Rockies a few miles south and east of Boulder. I felt a twinge of guilt about the oil that was dripping onto the thirsty ground, but it could not be helped.
I test fired one more time, and slipped a shell into the chamber. I composed myself for the act, and briefly considered the fact I had written no note. What was there to say? My wife would be free to return to England, I would be free of my student loans and the bleak job prospects in Cornwall. It would be best, for all concerned. I jammed the barrel into my ear.
Then, in my rear view mirror, someone on horseback appeared, coming towards me. And another. At least a dozen, ambling in single file. I could not risk spooking a horse with a gunshot, did not wish to be responsible for someone else’s injury, so far from anywhere. So I waited.
And I waited. The plateau we were on is broad, and the riders were strung out, in no particular hurry, the sort of string a dude ranch might put together. I was a fool to pick a Sunday, it seemed.
As the last swishing tail vanished as they rode down the rise, another party appeared from the west, coming toward me again. Same leisurely pace, same dude ranch “feel,” I suspected many had never been on a horse. “Bloody hell,” I thought, “it’s a conspiracy…” It seemed so appropriate – my soon to be widow claimed it just sounded wrong when I said ‘bloody,’ my American accent made it sound vulgar. She could keep her proper English ways, we’d be free of each other soon enough. Son as the horses passed, even more in this second group.
I thought about Penelope Jane. She wasn’t a bad person, we had some good times, probably more good than bad; I thought about my dad, who would say suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As I watched the last horse vanish I picked up the gun once more.
The day had waned and the sun was now setting. Not just any sunset, no. A picture postcard sunset. I had to watch. I thought about never seeing Jane or my family again, never tasting homemade ice cream or hearing Enya or Sade or Beethoven and I drove home in the fading dusk, to face whatever life had in store.
That was not my first brush with suicide and I would try again later that year, but it was long ago and while I often think I would be better off dead, I know one thing: it is not up to me to decide the hour of my death. If it was, I would not still be here.
I never knew I did not want to jump into the Grand Canyon until I stood there. Sometimes you need the view from the edge.