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YOU CAN READ ABOUT MY FIRST ENCOUNTERS WITH THE MAN WITH MISMATCHED EYES HERE
Despite the trauma of losing a good friend in my Junior year, I graduated from college with pretty good grades. I had all the necessary qualifications for a fledgling architect, and sent my resumé out to as many firms as I could find. And then I waited. A full three weeks passed before I received my first — and only — positive response. It was a smaller firm and a very junior position, but I was delighted. Finally, I had the job in the big city that I had dreamt about. I moved into a shitty little apartment in a dilapidated old building which I could barely afford, but I was happy. Well, except for the nightmares.
Yeah, my career was going well, but emotionally, I was in kind of a dark place. Not all the time, you understand, but the memory of the man with the mismatched eyes, the man who I had seen kill himself not once, not twice, but three times, still haunted me. Every now and then I would awake in the dead of night, panting in fright, the sinister glare of those blue and brown eyes still fresh in my mind, that sadistic yellow-toothed grin swimming before my eyes. With very little to distract me from these dark and disturbing thoughts, I decided to keep myself busy. I threw myself into my work, working late every single night, taking work home at the weekends, never giving myself a moment of respite to think about the man and his impossible multiple suicides. My boss was pleased with my work and my commitment to the firm, and within a year of joining the company I was given the first of three promotions. Day by day, I became a little better. The time I was spending with my colleagues allowed me to see that they were good people, and I made some good friends. Slowly but surely, I settled in to city life. Soon I was earning decent money, I had friends I could count on and I even moved out of the pit that was my first home in the city. The nightmares came less frequently, I found myself thinking about Nicky and Guy and Tim less, and I think, for a while, I dared to believe I could be happy. With the extra cash coming in I was able to resume therapy, finding a great doctor who was able to talk me through the anguish I was feeling, to help me make sense of my complex emotions. Life got better, and as it did, so did I.
It was July when he came to me again. It was hot, the built up urban landscape concentrating the heat until it was as hot as that long ago Summer afternoon when this is all began. Yes it was hot outside, uncomfortably so, but in our air conditioned office it was cool, almost chilly. I worked on the 22nd floor of a 30 storey building, at a desk by the window with a beautiful view of the sprawling metropolis below. I shared the office with my colleague Marty. We had become good friends over the time that we had worked together, often socialising out of work hours. He was a short guy with dark hair and dark eyes, almost achingly sarcastic and quick to fly into hilarious rants about how the most inconsequential things pissed him off. I liked that about him, it was kind of like working with my own personal Larry David. At the beginning of the week when the man returned, Marty had discovered the joys of listening to assorted tiny local radio stations through the internet, sniggering away at the ads for small town businesses (his favourite was one for a funeral home in a little place in Oklahoma that actually had a jingle – seriously).
I was stood at the water cooler, peering back over my shoulder at Marty and talking about the looming deadline for the project that we had both been drafted onto, when my world fell apart again. ‘Greg, seems to think we can just wave a magic wand and we can clear up his mess,’ Marty was barking, banging his fists on his desk to punctuate his words. ‘Because we’re not busy enough…’ ‘It’s not so bad, I’ll take some of it home with me on Saturday, we’ll be in good shape next week,’ I replied, draining my plastic cup of cold water, then deciding to refill it. ‘Man, I know that, I just want to moan like an asshole!’ Marty cried in faux exasperation. ‘Let me moan like an asshole, man! Jesus, now I need listen to some shitty radio to calm down.’ I laughed, emptied my cup again, then stooped for another refill. The sound of music suddenly drowned out the gentle hum of the air-con, a familiar tune that made me freeze in my spot. ’Maybe if we think, and wish, and hope, and pray, it might come true, Baby, then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do…’
The Beach Boys again. Wouldn’t It Be Nice
, the same song I’d heard each and every time the man had come to me before.
Suddenly I straightened up, looking around wildly for those mismatched eyes, knowing they would be there, somewhere, glaring straight back at me. Marty wasn’t looking at me, his eyes focused on his screen. He was so oblivious to my sudden change in demeanor that he even sang along with Brian Wilson and the boys under his breath: ‘We could be married, And then we'd be happy…’
Still my head whipped back and forth, spraying droplets of sweat. I swallowed hard, my throat suddenly feeling thick, my esophagus bobbing clumsily. I searched the office, sure the man would suddenly appear in the doorway, perhaps with a straight razor held to his wrists, grinning at me the whole time. But he never showed and, as the seconds passed my brow furrowed in confusion. Could it be coincidence? Just a random song playing on the radio after all?
Have you ever had that feeling that you’re being watched? The prickling sensation on the back of your neck that tells you you’re under scrutiny, a crawling of the flesh that alerts you to the fact you are being observed even before you see your watcher? It was that sensation that caused me to turn my gaze, not to the inside of the office, but out of the window to the cityscape beyond.
The man was stood on the roof of the building opposite ours. It was shorter than ours, the roof level with our office window, so despite the distance, I could still see him clear as day. Wind whipped at his shabby grey suit, that serpent-like dark green tie fluttering out to one side. The air buffeted at his mop of grey-streaked brown hair. He was at least 60ft away, but even at this distance, somehow I could see those eyes, one blue, one brown, fixed straight on me. I could feel the hate in that gaze, a feeling so palpable I actually groaned, my hands becoming leaden, my unresponsive fingers dropping the water-filled plastic cup to the carpeted floor. ‘Woah, clean up on aisle three!’ Marty chuckled behind me, his usual response to any spillage. I didn’t laugh this time. Instead I croaked, a senseless sound of utter helplessness. ‘Will?’ he asked, the humor in his voice replaced with concern. I heard the soft scrape of his chair as he climbed to his feet behind me. Atop the building opposite me, the man stepped up onto the ledge and spread his arms wide, a grim parody of the crucifixion. Then, this pudgy, unremarkable, pale man with Satan’s eyes smiled at me, yellow teeth visible beneath that silly little mustache. Finally I found my voice, crying ‘NO!’ as I planted my hands against the thickened glass, looking on in abject horror. Suddenly Marty was by my side, his eyes following my gaze to the opposite rooftop. ‘Holy shit, a jumper!’ he cried, frantically dashing to the phone. He was too late. As he pulled the handset from the receiver, the man with mismatched eyes stepped over the edge and out into nothingness.
He seemed to take an age to hit the floor, his fall a gentle arc that slowly brought his body from upright to horizontal, striking the sidewalk in a bellyflop that sprayed a dark crimson in every direction on impact. I saw the passersby jump, scatter in different directions. The windows in our office were thick and sound-proof, but I still heard their screams in my head.
After we spoke to the authorities, I went home, Marty clearly concerned for my emotional well-being. I didn’t know how to explain the state that I was in, shaking uncontrollably and bursting into tears without warning. I knew I couldn’t tell him this was the fourth time I’d seen the man end his life, not if I didn’t want to sound like a lunatic, so instead I explained that I’d seen a man commit suicide at the train station when I was a teenager. I said (not entirely dishonestly) that the events brought back some terrible memories. My boss told me to take as long as I needed, even recommending a good counsellor he thought could be helpful in this time. I nodded gratefully, took the number, thanked him and left. I knew this counsellor couldn’t help me.
The days that followed were some of the darkest of my life. I’d felt like a different person, a powerful, capable, successful man, not the frightened child who’d needed my father’s strong, reassuring arms to make me feel safe all those years ago. Seeing the man again served as a reminder that no matter how far I’d run from my childhood home, I would always carry that frightened little boy with me. Now the fear was back, stronger than ever, because now I knew I would never be rid of the man, and with this knowledge the nightmares returned. They came every single night. I dreaded sleep, knowing that no sooner would I close my eyes then I would see his. Sometimes I dreamt of the ocean, being pulled towards the seabed, further from air, from the sun, from safety, with that smiling monster attached to my foot, grinning up at me as we sank into the depths. Other times I would be lost in the woods and all around me I would hear the creak of ropes, the whistle of trains, bearing down on me. The worst was the time I dreamt I was stood on the roof of a skyscraper, my toes over the edge, staring down at the street below, the cars and people small as ants. Tim was stood beside me, in the grey suit and green tie of the man. He whispered to me, his eyes closed, telling me that it was OK, he forgave me for letting him die, that there was a simple way to make it up to him. He took my hand in his, and asked if I was ready, then counted to three. 'One… Two… Three.' And then his eyes opened, one brown, one blue, and he smiled at me cheerily with yellow teeth as we stepped off into the abyss together. I woke screaming and crying, relieved to be alive but too terrified to try to sleep again. This was the first occasions when I gave up on getting any rest for the night, knowing that I would never be able to relax in the darkness, instead logging onto my laptop and browsing the web. Most of the time I would end up reading about suicide — what makes a person take their own life and what methods work best for the individual who truly is determined to end it all. Sometimes I even tried to research the dead man, but he remained an enigma. The authorities had come no closer to identifying the man who had hanged himself in the woods when I was a boy, or the man who had thrown himself under a train when I was a teen, or the mysterious man in the ocean from just 18 months earlier, or even the leaper from just a few weeks ago. The trail had gone cold.
It was through my late night research into suicide that I first heard about Suicide SOS. SSOS (as the charity’s workers often refer to it) is a helpline set up to aid those who are going through crisis and are now contemplating taking their own life. The volunteers on the helplines provided a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen and some kind words to help the troubled individual make the right decision. I browsed the organization’s web site and found myself genuinely moved by some of the written accounts of people involved — not just the people that manned the lines, but also some brave individuals who told their stories about teetering on the brink of ending it all but being saved by the SSOS call operator who talked them through their crisis. So I looked into it a little more, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was a SSOS center just two blocks from my home. On a whim, I decided to head over and take a look one saturday morning.
When I rang the buzzer on the door a female voice greeted me. She was friendly, which was exactly what I needed at that time, and when she asked how she could help, I surprised myself by responding that I was thinking about volunteering. The woman, Anna, was delighted to hear it and came down to give me the tour and talk me through the application process. When she appeared at the door I was instantly smitten with her. She had long blond hair and sparkling green eyes. She had creamy pale skin and an infectious smile that seemed to lift my spirits just by being around her. She led me up the stairs to SSOS office, explaining as she went that I would need to fill in some paperwork and, should I make it to the next stage of selection, I’d have to take a course of training to prepare me for the work. I nodded as I listened — I hadn’t expected any less from what would surely be a pretty taxing job. She showed me around the premises which were small, located on top of a convenience store. It consisted of a short corridor and four rooms: a bathroom; a kitchen; a call center (which housed three desks, two of which were manned - one by a stern looking woman who Anna introduced as Claire, the other by a shy, young black guy called Tyler) and the manager’s office. Anna explained that there were seven more centers in the City, with over 50 up and down the coast, so if I was successful, I could work in my choice of location. I explained that this office was the nearest to my home and Anna smiled. ‘Me too,’ she beamed. ‘Nice to meet you, neighbor!’ After that she showed me the forms I’d need to fill in, helpfully giving me pointers as to what sort of response would be received more favorably. In hindsight, she probably shouldn’t have done that, but later, when I asked her why she helped me, Anna said: ‘We needed a new member of staff… and I could see that you needed us.’
Finally, after I’d completed the form, Anna walked me out. I said ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye’ to Claire and Tyler, receiving short responses from each, then Anna led me back down to the front door. ‘So, hopefully you’ll be hearing from us soon,’ she smiled again, then gave me her card in case I thought of any questions later on. ‘I hope I do too,’ I said, meaning every word. I never believed in love at first sight until that day. Anna showed me it was true.
Less than a week later I received a phonecall from somebody at the SSOS main office, inviting me to attend a training course. The hours were awkward, but I pulled some strings at work, taking some unused vacation time to take the four day course.
It took place in a pretty nice set of rooms at a local community college. There were just five of us in the class, although one girl never came back after the first day. I can kind of understand why — I’ve been through my fair share of training days and even the best ones can feel pretty draining. This was not one of the best ones. The first day was dry in the extreme, explaining the legal standpoint of the SSOS and the many ways in which one would need to act to ensure that the organization was not liable for future lawsuits. I remember thinking that it was shame a charity that existed to help other people had to be so careful to watch its own back, but I guess that’s the society that we live in. It was on day two that things changed. We had a guest teacher and when I walked into the classroom and saw Anna’s pretty face smiling back at me, I was delighted. She recognized me too, walking over and putting a hand on my shoulder, saying she was glad to see me there. She seemed sincere and that just made me even more determined to work with this wonderful woman. When we all sat down, Anna played us a tape. It was a recording of a man, a man who sounded so tormented by grief that just listening to his voice caused my own inner self to ache. He identified himself as Chris, talking about the loss of his fiancée, saying that he couldn’t live on after what had happened to her. There was another voice on the call, a calm, quiet female voice that spoke with him gently, never judging, never making suggestions, instead encouraging Chris to speak with her. She told him that he was not alone, that she cared and wanted to help him. She knew when to stay quiet and to let Chris vent the feelings of anger and hurt and despair that were eating him alive, and she knew when he needed her reassurance. ‘When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, even one more minute – whatever you can manage,’ she told him. Slowly, over the course of the conversation, Chris was talked back from the edge, he even spoke about getting professional help. In the end he tearfully thanked the woman for saving his life. The woman was Anna.
From there Anna talked us through the call, replaying excerpts so we could hear the parts that mattered. She taught us how to assess the danger levels, to find out if the caller had a plan for taking their life and if they had yet implemented that plan. She told us that some callers would already be dying, having taken an overdose, perhaps using gas or even bleeding themselves out, and the call would be made simply because they didn’t want to go out alone. Even when staring oblivion in the face, some people wanted a friend by their side. She told us how to spot these calls, how to rapidly assess the threat level and the easiest ways to get the caller to provide the information necessary to possibly save their life. It was this talk that had the biggest impact on me, and I think it was during that training that my life took on a new purpose. I’d seen this man end his life over and over, so now maybe I could make that right by saving others? It seemed a pretty noble dream at the time. It seemed right.
I completed the course and less than a week later, arrived at the SSOS office for my first shift. I could only do evenings and weekends on account of my job, but they were accommodating to my needs and made things as easy as they could for me. Anna greeted me upon my arrival, said she was happy to show me the ropes and even took the first call of the evening to give me some guidance. It was a girl who’d just broken up with her boyfriend and was drunk. Pretty quickly Anna was able to ascertain that the girl had no real intention to end her life, instead this was a cry for help. Nonetheless, Anna remained calm, kind and patient, talking to the girl and reassuring her throughout. I was hypnotized watching her work, she was astonishing. Within five minutes the girl was tearfully thanking Anna, promising to speak with her parents about what she was going through. I was so impressed, that after the call ended I actually applauded her. ‘That was incredible,’ I said, shaking my head in awe. ‘It wasn’t,’ she replied. ‘It was just a case of listening. Most people want to tell you what ails them, all you need to do is let them.’ We spoke about our lives briefly over the course of that quiet night, and when she asked why it was that I’d been drawn to SSOS, I hesitated. I trusted her already, implicitly, but even so, I couldn’t tell about the demonic man with the mismatched eyes. Instead I told her that I had witnessed suicide on more than one occasion, and it had left scars on me. She was sympathetic, talking about the damage that suicide inflicts, not just to those who choose to end their lives, but those around them too. She revealed how her own mother had taken her own life after battling with depression for years, and how that had left Anna to look after herself and her younger sister Kerri. For years, she had resented her mother for what she did, cursing her selfishness for robbing her daughters of a normal childhood, but in time, after speaking to the folks at SSOS she had come to realise that it was an illness that had taken her mother from them. And it was her work at SSOS, her work helping other people, that finally allowed her to put her own demons to rest.
It was a little after 10 when the call came. Anna nodded to me, then put a hand on my shoulder and said: ‘You can do this.’ Nerves jangling, I put the headset on and pressed the answer button. The call was from woman called Maggie, a young mother who had lost her husband, Austin, in a car accident. She was at her wit’s end and couldn’t see a way to continue without her husband. At first I drew a blank, the sheer pressure of what would happen if I got this wrong crushing me. Finally I managed to stammer my name, tell her that I was here to listen for as long as she needed me. Anna looked on, nodding approvingly. Over the course of my conversation with the desperate woman I was able to work out that she’d been having these feelings for a few days, but had not yet formulated a plan to commit suicide. This meant we had time, and feeling a little relieved at that revelation, I encouraged Maggie to speak to me. I never contradicted her, remembering my training, and I never tried to shame her over the effect that her death could have on her young son, little Bradley, knowing that she was feeling enough guilt and anguish without me adding to it. Instead I told her that I understood the despair she was feeling, knew that she was in pain, but also reassured her that as bad as the pain might feel now, it would pass. Then, remembering Anna’s words from the tape, I said: ‘When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, even one more minute – whatever you can manage.’ It worked.
Finally, after a 25 minute talk, Maggie thanked me for listening, promised that she wouldn’t hurt herself and ended the call. As soon as she hung up, Anna cheered, embracing me. ‘You just saved a life, Will,’ she smiled. ‘So what do you think about that?’ ‘I think I want to celebrate,’ I grinned, euphoric. When the next shift of workers came in at midnight, Anna and I went to the late-night Chinese place across the road and ate and talked. In the years that followed, we called that our first date.
Six months later, Anna and I were together, she’d moved into my apartment, and, when the SSOS announced that they were looking to fill another paid position in our office, I successfully applied for the role. Sure it was a pretty steep pay cut from my architect career, but between the two of us, Anna and I made ends meet. A year almost to the day since I took that first call, while on a picnic in the park by the river, I asked Anna to marry me. She said yes. I’d never been happier, scooping her up into my arms and spinning her around under the falling blossom of the cherry trees. It was while we were planning our wedding that the call came.
It was a Tuesday night, dark outside and with the feel of rain in the air causing the pedestrians in the street below to hurry home before the downpour. Anna was arguing the merits of teal for the bridesmaids’ dresses when the phone rang and I quickly snatched up my headset and hit answer.
‘Hello, Suicide SOS, how can I help you?’ Nothing. Just the sound of ragged breathing down the line. This wasn’t unusual, sometimes callers would struggle to find the words to articulate the pain they were in, a way to voice the complex emotions they were feeling. ‘Hey,’ I said soothingly, ‘It’s OK, take your time. I’m here if you want to talk.’ 10 seconds passed, then 20, with nothing but the breathing at the other end of the line. Then a familiar riff on a 12-string guitar started playing. The look on my face must have alerted Anna to the sudden terror that flooded through me, and she plugged her headset into my line to listen along with me. ‘Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long…’
‘H-h-hello?’ I stammered, ‘Who is this?’
The voice that answered was deep, rich, but cracked, as if the man speaking had a sore throat. It had a rumbling, bass quality, but also a ragged scratchiness. Worst of all, it sounded utterly emotionless. ‘I want it to end.’ ‘O-OK, how can I best support you right now?’ I replied, my voice shaking. ‘I want it to end.’ ‘How long have you been feeling this way?’ I asked, desperately rattling through the preferred questions. There came a sick little chuckle, the sound of a man amused by the cartoon in his Sunday paper. ‘Since you were 11.’ Anna was staring at me, her eyes wide. She mouthed at me: ‘What the…?’
‘OK, uh, what should I call you?’ I asked, desperate to get any information I could. The man didn’t speak for a few seconds, instead treating me to more of the Beach Boys. ’Wouldn't it be nice? You know it seems the more we talk about it, It only makes it worse to live without it…’
Finally he spoke, his voice barely more than a whisper. ‘Simon.’ ‘OK, Simon, what has made you feel this way?’ I tried, panicking now. ‘I don’t want to be alone,’ that gravelly deadpan voice replied. ‘I know these feelings are bad right now, I know you want…’ I pleaded, but he interrupted me: ‘I want it to end.’ ‘Simon, please don’t do this,’ I cried, standing up as I spoke, as if somehow I could spring into action and prevent the inevitable. At the other end of the line the song finished playing. In the silence that followed he spoke once more, different this time. His voice no longer sounded disconnected, emotionless. This time when he spoke, I heard the smile on his face. ‘I want it to end.’ ‘Simon, no, plea…’ The end of my sentence was drowned out by the deafening boom of a gunshot, causing both Anna and me to wince and jump. ‘NO!’ I cried, dropping back into my seat, my head in my hands. As I sat there sobbing, my earphones filled with the familiar 12-string guitar once again as the song started over. ‘Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long…’
Then the line went dead. Anna rushed to my side, her arms around my shoulders. ‘It’s OK,’ she whispered in my ear, her face close to mine, ‘We can’t save them all. Some people just can’t be reached. Anyway, you’ve no way of knowing if he did it, it could be a sick prank.’ I nodded dumbly at her. I couldn’t tell her that I knew he had died… nor could I tell her that he would die again.
I worked the phones less after that, only ever putting in a shift alongside Anna so she could handle the bulk of the calls. It was cowardly, but I wasn’t sure I could handle hearing that voice again. Nonetheless I heard it every single night in my dreams. Months passed and finally our wedding day drew near. I invited Andrew and Jason, and Guy, and genuinely looked forward to seeing them all. Sadly, I never heard back from Andrew, but both Guy and Jason confirmed they would attend. Later Jason explained that Andrew was going through some health issues. It seemed so hard to believe that big, sporty Andrew, one of the fittest guys I’d ever known was in ill health, but I understood and asked Jason to pass on my best wishes.
Our big day came and finally Anna met my dad. I hadn’t taken her back to our small town, that place still carried too many bad memories for me, so this was the first time they ever spoke face to face. Within two minutes she’d charmed her way into his heart just like she’d captured mine.
We stood in front of everyone and recited our vows, me flanked by Marty as my best man and Tyler as one of my ushers, while Anna’s younger sister Kerri, with her bright rainbow head of hair stood by her side. At the end, after the pastor said you may kiss the bride and I swept her into my arms, I never even heard the cheer from our friends and families (despite Jason’s claims later that it was one of the loudest he’d ever heard). All I cared about was my beautiful new bride.
Later that night Jason caught up to me at the bar, squeezing my right hand firmly, and slipping a drink into my left. ‘Hey, it’s been a while, man,’ he said. ‘I know, I’ve just been busy and…’ I started trying to explain my aloofness over the past few years. ‘Uh-uh-uh,’ Jason butted in, shaking his head. ‘No, don’t do that, man.’ I looked at him puzzled, a little worried because I knew what he was going to say. ‘It’s about Tim, isn’t it?’ he said, gently. ‘Look, you don’t need to answer, I know it is. But you know what else I know? It. Wasn’t. Your. Fault.’ Suddenly I felt tears prick at my eyes, taking me by surprise and robbing me of my voice. I shook my head dumbly, wiping at my eyes with the back of my hand. ‘Hey, hey,’ Jason went on. ‘You’ve been beating yourself up over this shit for five years now, man. Enough is enough. It was an accident. You didn’t force him into the water. Damn it, you nearly died yourself. What more could you have done?’ ‘I… I know, I just…’ ‘No, just nothing, OK?’ Jason interrupted, his voice firm now. ‘Do you think he’d have wanted to see you like this? Really? He’d have been fucking happy to see you and Anna. He’d have loved this party. And he would have been proud as hell of everything you’ve accomplished. So do his memory justice, drink this…’ he clinked his glass on mine, ‘And live a charmed happy life, because he’d be rooting for you.’ I smiled then, despite the tears, and clinked glasses before we sank our drinks. ‘You cool?’ he smiled afterwards. ‘Yeah, I think I am.’ ‘Awesome,’ Jason smiled. ‘Now how about you get me your sister-in-law’s phone number?’ ‘Dude, too young!’ I laughed, elbowing him gently. ‘OK, OK,’ he laughed, hands raised in a gesture of surrender. ‘What are you boys talking about?’ came a voice from behind me, and I turned to see Anna, looking as radiant as she had during the ceremony. ‘Do you want to tell her?’ I asked Jason, provoking a barking fit of laughter from my friend that I was unable to resist joining in on.
Our honeymoon was beautiful, a peaceful break in the Florida keys. We spent days on the beach and nights wrapped in each other’s arms. It was idyllic and, along with Jason’s kind words, finally I was able to start putting my mind back together after the call from Simon.
We’d been back at work for just two months when Anna found herself rushing to the john to throw up. At first we thought it was a bug, but when it came back the following week, Anna had an idea what it might be. We bought a test and then she disappeared into the bathroom with it. Five minutes later we were dancing around the lounge, jumping up and down and shrieking in excitement. Our family was about to get a little bit bigger.
The sickness lasted for weeks and, it was during one of those crippling bouts of nausea, during a time when she seemed to survive on crackers and water, that the next call came. Anna was in the bathroom, retching noisily, and Claire was on the other line with a caller, so despite my anxiety, I picked up the phone. When I heard the music playing on a car radio I nearly threw up myself.
‘And wouldn't it be nice to live together, In the kind of world where we belong…
My mouth went dry and I tried to speak, instead wheezing in dismay at the caller. But it wasn’t Simon’s voice that answered. ‘H-hey, is there anybody there?’ a nervous male voice came down the line. ‘Uh, there’s a guy on the bridge here and I think he’s going to jump.’ ‘OK, uh, where are you? Have you alerted the police?’ I replied, trying to think my way through this. ‘My girlfriend has already made the call, but I really don’t think they’re going to get here in time,’ the man replied. After a quick exchange of details I was able to find out that the young man’s name was Sean and they were on a bridge over the river just outside the city. When I asked him to describe the man he had called us about, I felt my pulse quicken at his response. ‘Uh, middle aged, brown hair, mustache, grey suit, kinda freaky eyes…’ ‘Listen Sean, have you tried to speak to the man,’ I asked. ‘Uh, yeah, but he isn’t answering me.’ Suddenly, I knew what needed to be done. I froze for a moment, not sure if I could go through with it, knowing that I had to anyway. Finally, with a sick feeling in my stomach, I spoke: ‘Sean, I’m gonna need you to put me on speakerphone.’ ‘OK, uh, hold on,’ Sean said, then I heard more voices in the background. More good Samaritans? Hopefully the police had got there sooner than expected. ‘You’re on, man,’ Sean called. I swallowed again, hard and then began to speak.
‘Simon, I know it’s you. I know it’s you because I know we’ve always been meant to do this, you and me. I think that’s why we keep finding each other. We find each other, because this is how this has to end. That was what you said, right? You want it to end? Well I do too. ‘I know you’re in pain. I know you can’t face this anymore. I know you can’t, because for years, I wasn’t able to. I think that over the years you’ve become so scared of doing this alone that you decided you needed me to do it with you. That’s why you've been haunting me, because you want me to join you. You know, there were times when I would have. After Tim, during the lonely time when I first came to this city, you nearly had me… 'But you only nearly had me. ‘You see, since then I’ve found a reason to live. I’ve got friends. I’ve got people who love me and I love them, and that’s stronger than fear. You won’t get me. You can’t have me. So what do you say we end this now. Talk to me. Because I’m not scared of you.’
I waited with baited breath for a response. ‘Holy shit, man, he’s looking at me,’ Sean said. ‘Oh, uh, you want the phone buddy? OK, here it goes, steady man, OK, steady…’ Suddenly there was a jumbled medley of raised voices, men shouting, a girl shrieking in horror, the confusing sounds of a struggle filling my headset. ‘Sean? SEAN?’ I cried, gripping my desk so tight my knuckles were white. Then, after what seemed like an age, a voice spoke. ‘Holy shit, they got him, man! The cops got him!’ Sean, his voice elated. ‘They’ve pulled him back, he didn’t jump.’
When Anna came back, my eyes were wet with tears of joy. ‘What’s wrong?’ she asked. ‘Nothing,’ I grinned. ‘Nothing at all.’
Anna went into labor two weeks before her due date. We rushed to the hospital where, after a long labor, Anna gave birth to our little boy. As we sat there, arms around each other, gazing down at his beautiful little face, we decided to call him Timothy. I loved him with all my heart.
The first weeks of life with a newborn are crazy. There’s no sleep, no respite, yet somehow it’s the most joyous time. Anna and I fell head over heels for this tiny bundle of trouble that had landed in our laps. The dreams had gone now, what little sleep I could grab no longer haunted by Simon’s voice, or his mismatched glaring eyes. Finally, I was living my life.
Three months ago, when Timothy turned three months old, we decided it was time for our son to meet his grandpa. We loaded up the car, placed Timothy in his baby seat, and braced ourselves for what was sure to be a very long two hour road trip back to my old hometown and my dad. As we started up the engine and pulled out, I finally felt prepared to head back to where my nightmare began. The roads were clear, the sky was bright, Timothy was sleeping and we were soon on the freeway. ‘I’m proud of you, Will,’ Anna smiled as she squeezed my hand. ‘And I’m thankful to you,’ I smiled back. ‘Both of you,’ I added nodding to the peaceful bundle in the back seat. Anna laughed, then wound down her window, the breeze tousling her hair as we continued along the highway. ‘How about some road music?’ she asked, hitting the radio switch when I nodded enthusiastically. ‘You know it's gonna make it that much better, When we can say goodnight and stay together…’
All my fears came back at once, a crashing tidal wave of panic that washed over me. I yelped, a vocalization of the sudden dread that gripped me, and hurriedly hit the off button, plunging the car back into silence.
I looked back up to the road, my hands gripping the steering wheel like a vise, just in time to see a battered old chevy (the same model I’d left my home town in), plough straight through the central median strip. The reinforced barrier acted as a ramp, spinning the car into the air as it crossed into our lane. Time seemed to freeze and, just before impact, as Anna screamed, my eyes locked with those of the grinning driver of the other car. One was brown, the other blue. Then everything went dark.
When I came round the emergency services were working on what was left of our car. The hood had folded on impact, the engine block forced back into the space where my legs had been. The Chevy that had hit us was mangled and twisted to one side, its front driver side wheel on the hood of my car. Looking at the wreckage before me, I knew I had to be badly hurt, yet I couldn’t feel any pain. That should have served as a warning, but despite the ringing in my head, and the shadows encroaching on my vision, I had to check on Anna and Timothy, I needed to know they were OK. Anna was motionless beside me, cold and wet to the touch. It took me a while to spot the fender that had pierced the windshield and impaled her chest. Her once sparkling green eyes gazed downwards, dull and unblinking. ‘Oh god no, no, no…’ I muttered, trying to pull her close, my hands floppy and useless at the end of arms that sparked with a white hot pain. Suddenly a paramedic was there, speaking softly, telling me to keep still as she placed a mask over my face and I sank into the cold embrace of oblivion.
Anna was declared dead at the scene. Timothy lasted two days before his injuries took him from me too. I wasn’t able to see him before he died, my own extensive injuries keeping me in ICU. My legs and pelvis were shattered, my back broken just above the waist. The damage to my spine was serious and permanent. I will never walk again. My wrists were also broken in the crash and the impact had left me with cracked ribs, one of which had punctured a lung. I spent the next two weeks attached to a morphine drip, not in this world, not out of it. I spent two months in that hospital and every single morning when I woke up and remembered that my wife and son would not be waiting for me when I got out, I wept until I could weep no more. Later I learnt from the police that the other driver had not been identified. They had been unable to find any fault with his car so were treating his death as suicide by automobile. They didn't tell me one thing that I didn't already know. Last week I was discharged with a wheelchair, the first of many appointments with a nurse, and a supply of strong painkillers.
Tonight, as I finish writing this, I have ground up each and every one of those pills, poured them into a glass of wine and then drank it. I know from my training at SSOS as well as my own research, that this is the most efficient, most painless method available to me. I know that very soon, I will fall asleep and I will never, ever wake up again.
Simon won, I know that now. I have nothing left. I have nobody left. I don’t want to be alone. If I survive, he will come again, and again, and again. I want it to end. This way, I can be with my wife and son again and the pain will be gone, the suffering will be over. I will never see those eyes again. Just the thought of that future helps me smile through my tears. Wouldn’t it be nice? THE END