There were about 15 stories between me and the concrete sidewalk, with nothing but a layer of air between the two solids. Occasionally you'd have a few heads that would stick up closer, but only just, and they were far and few between on such a slow Sunday morning. The weather was beautiful, but with it being a weekend, not many were headed to work. The streets were empty, and it was serene. For the first time in years I finally felt relaxed. My legs were dangling over the edge of the building, my hands resting on the ledge, leaning back and soaking up the sun. I wanted to enjoy my last few moments, and I couldn't have taken a better day. After decades of fighting with myself, I had finally over-ruled my previous decision to live, and take the route I always intended. I was going to kill myself.
30 years ago I had tried for the first time and very nearly succeeded. I was working and spent half of my shift preparing to kill myself at home, a few hours later. The pain became unbearable, and I instead decided to move the schedule up and just kill myself at work. I was going to be dead, what did I care where the mess was or who had to clean the mess up? While this was a great theory, working in a desolate building with no one in it on the weekends, it didn't due to one factor. The building wasn't empty. There was one person in an office that I was unaware of, and he walked by at just the moment I tried. I had filled a basin and was drowning myself, and he hauled me out of the water. 911 was called, an Ambulance brought me to a hospital, which discharged me almost immediately for being perfectly fine. Neither the Hospital nor my work knew that it was a suicide attempt, both assuming it was an accident.
When I told my best friend about it, he lost his mind. I caused him a lot of stress and heart ache, and I understood why, but he couldn't see it from my perspective. He kept saying that he couldn't understand how I felt, yet immediately followed it up with a request to not kill myself based on something from his perspective. Apples and oranges. It's impossible to explain it to him, because he doesn't feel the way I do. He doesn't feel the overwhelming, agonizing grief that I felt just existing and I'm glad that he didn't. I wish though, that just for a moment, he could feel how I feel and finally clue in to why I wanted to die. I spend each waking moment fighting for control over my own mind, fighting to sustain who I am as a person, and dealing with the internal conflict of trying to piece together exactly who I actually am. Having done it for my entire life, I couldn't do it anymore.
Then came the moment. The moment when he asked me to live. The moment when he made me promise to live. The pain I felt was immeasurable, but so was the love that I have for him, so I went with his position instead of my own. I lived for no other reason than he asked me to, and I think he realized that. The next few months were rocky, to say the very least, but he stood by me. I didn't have any energy to do anything, I quit my job, and I was homeless and keeping it from him. When he found out that I was actually breaking into somewhere I used to work to sleep indoors at night, he dragged me into his house and put me on his couch. He fed me, he kept me warm, and he was there for me.
Yet throughout all of this, I never felt any different. The past 30 years have only gone by simply because of that promise, and if he had never found out about my attempt and I had the chance to try it before he did, I would have without even a second thought. The pressure was on him, and he made it aware that he was uncomfortable with it, but what else could I do? He really was the only reason I was alive and although I tried to find more reasons to live, I never could. It was always him and only ever him.
But he's dead now.
My best friend passed away last night when he was struck by a drunk driver, coming back from a date. The lucky lady got away with not so much as a scratch, but Josh was considerably less lucky. Internal damages were too numerous to count or repair, and essentially all the Doctors were doing was emergency triage to extend his life by a few more hours so he could say goodbye. His mother called me, crying, and told me to go to the hospital. I feared the worst, but hoped for much better. After all, I was always a pessimist and things never did seem to go as badly as I thought, but today was different. My fears were realized the second I saw his broken body laying on a bed, tubes invading his body, and a strange look of pain and peace across his face.
His mother was reluctant to leave the room but did at his persistence. I can understand wanting to be there for your son in his last moments, but I don't think he wanted to do that to her. He knew I could handle it however, and wanted me to be there for him in his final moments. So we talked. At first it was small talk, him mentioning some local sports results and making some weak puns. I laughed, as I always do, but it didn't have the same ring to it.
“I'm going to die you know.” He said, his hand holding mine. I wasn't sure who was gripping harder anymore though, me clasping his to give him strength in his last time on this planet, or him for trying to pass his boundless strength onto me. I didn't answer him, but my reaction was enough. A hard gulp, a steely squeeze, and the draining of color in the face. I knew it, but up until now I didn't want to believe it. Josh always knew better than me though, and as much as I wished he would be wrong now, he wouldn't be. “Are you going to keep living for me?” My eyes watered, up until now being surprisingly dry, and my hand lost some of it's firmness. “I want you to.”
I thought about it, and he didn't say anything in the mean time. I could tell that he was fading, but he was still holding on for me. Holding to help me. “I can't Josh.” My voice had lost it's resonating rumble and came out as a raspy squeak. I didn't want to defy him, but did he expect me to live without him when he was the only reason I was alive? Surprisingly, he nodded. “I understand.” If I wasn't already incapable of speaking then this would have definitely knocked the wind from my sails.
“I've spent the past 30 years with you. You went from sleeping on my sofa to your own apartment. You dated others, but never settled down. You kept trying to find happiness, and I know you failed.” His words were true, but it didn't matter. They still stung. “For the first year, I knew you would get better. And as new yearly calendars were bought, it dawned on me that you wouldn't. So, why are you still alive?” The question was unexpected, but the answer didn't take long to form in my head. The instant response was “You forced me to.” The words that passed my lips were “You asked me to.”
The pain from the answer was hidden, but not well enough. I saw the twinge of sadness, the pulling down on the corners of his mouth. He was hopped up on morphine but apparently it didn't do anything to dull emotional grief. “I asked you to stay alive because I was selfish.” Again, another couple of words that were more shocking than anything he had ever said. “I've known you through highs and lows in your life, and after every day that I thought that you had reached your rock bottom, you started digging. Each day I saw you soldier on through all of your agony, and push it aside. You never complained, you never blamed me, you internalized it and tried your best to deal with what you had. You lived because I asked you to.”
Tears were streaming down my face, my hand gripping harder, and in clasping harder I could feel him fading and his hold slipping away. His eyes were losing everything that made him who he was, and I became painfully aware of how little time we had left.
“That was unfair of me, Joey. Had I known that you would be 58 years old and unable to find any reason to live beyond myself, I never would have asked you to do this. It was unfair, extremely so, and I know no apology can make up for the misery I have caused you. I know you hate me for what I did, you spoke a lot in your sleep while staying with me, but I genuinely believed it was for the better. It's only now that I realize how selfish and stupid I was. I hurt you, someone I love, because I didn't want to miss you. I didn't want to wake up in the morning and know that you were gone, and I didn't want to have to hear your name only to be clearly aware that you had left me. I love you Joey, and I have only ever wanted the best for you, but I fucked up. Can you forgive me?”
I did hate him. I had always loved him, and I still do, but from the moment he prevented me from killing myself again, there was a hate for him that burned inside of me. However, there was nothing on Heaven or Earth that could prevent me from forgiving my best friend. The words “Of course, you fucking idiot” came out as a garbled, sobbing mess, but he understood it. If he didn't, he understood the sudden burst of energy from someone who shuffled along as I kicked my chair back and wrapped my arms him and sobbed into his neck. His arms wrapped around my back, his fingers grasping now weakly at the fabric of my shirt. I kept repeating “I love you” over and over, and so did he. Then his hands slipped and fell, and he didn't say it anymore. My sobbing intensified, teardrops landing on his back and being absorbed by the gown. His skin started to feel cold, and clammy, but I didn't want to pull back. I couldn't see his face without the life in it that I had loved.
It was a nurse who entered the room and was watching the entire ordeal who pulled me away from him. From what she told me later I was there for an hour and they needed to move his body to the morgue. I fought her, shoving her away and grabbing him again. It took 5 security guards to restrain me and 2 nurses to administer a sedative.
I didn't go to his funeral, actually it was being held right now. While I was swinging my feet over emptiness, the only person I've ever loved was being lowered 6 feet, in a cedar box, into cold, damp dirt. I had always wanted to be cremated, but I changed my will yesterday. I even bought the plot next to Josh in the cemetery. I know I should feel guilty for not being there. His mother asked me to deliver the eulogy, but I knew that couldn't happen. I'd just be an inconsolable wreck. She had called me a couple of times in the past few minutes, but I just let them go to voicemail. I didn't need someone else making me promise something that I didn't want to do.
The decision to slip off the edge was made easily, and the action effortless. The fall felt like it took hours, but I knew it was only seconds. His face was the last thing that I saw in my mind before it all went dark.
Yet somehow, it was the first face I saw when the lights came back on. I became acutely aware of the fact that I was having conscious thought, and I expected to see concrete a few feet away when I opened my eyes but instead I saw Josh. 30 years younger, but his face looked as creased as it did when he was 60. His hand was holding mine, squeezing tightly, and the look of relief that swept across his face when I woke up was unmistakable. “Heaven?” I asked, my voice still sounding raspy. He looked confused, then to someone at the foot of my bed. I turned my head to see a Doctor holding a clipboard. “Common occurrence Mr. Cooper, nothing to be worried about.”
I rolled my head towards him again, and as I saw his face again it started to flood back. The suicide attempt when I tried to drown myself. The 911 call. The ambulance. Most importantly, the phone call to my best friend. How could I forget about that in such an important moment in my life. Then it dawned on me that Josh's last name wasn't Cooper, it was Archer. But wait, no, it was Cooper. Or was it Archer?
Something must have looked amiss because the Doctor spoke up. “Joey, you're in the hospital. Do you remember why you're here?” I nodded. “I nearly drowned.” The Doctor reflected my nod and added “You tried to kill yourself. Do you remember that?” Again, I nodded. “Do you remember agreeing to an experimental drug to help with depression in an emergency?” I started to shake my head no before it started to click into place, and changed it into a slow nod. “There have been side-effects of this particular medication, some have reported time loss, memory black outs, and false memories. They all seem to right themselves within an hour, but the initial confusion can be overwhelming. Do you understand?” I nodded one more time, before asking something.
“Can I have a moment alone with Josh?” “Of course.” He said, as he turned to leave. After he closed the door behind him, I looked back to Josh and waited for him to say something. “Why did you try to kill yourself?” It was a cutting question, but one that I had at least already answered for him before. “It doesn't matter Josh.” His face grew angry, brows furrowing. “Of course it fucking matters. You tried to end your own life, that's kind of an important thing to do. And even if it doesn't matter to the rest of the world, it matters to me.”
The conflicts between my memories had started to untangle and relax. I could tell what was a dream and what was a real memory. I knew everything after my suicide attempt was fake. It had to have been with me laying in this bed for that sole reason. The past 3 decades have been nothing but a hallucination, but one that had prepared me. After the disappointment of dying twice only to come back to life, I couldn't go on to live again.
“Josh, I want to say some stuff. It's probably not going to make sense to you, but if you give me time I'll explain. I'm not entirely sure what happened, or how it did, but I have lived another life besides this one. I spent 30 years with you, and those 30 years were spent only because you asked me to live. I tried to kill myself here, you found out, and forced me to promise me to stay alive. Emotional blackmail is what I'd call it. You caused me distress and torment simply because you didn't want to live without me. Yet at the end of those 30 years, when you lay in your bed dying, you told me that making me promise you to live was a mistake. That I was unhappy, that I was in pain for the entire time after this point. I caused you distress from seeing me consistently unhappy, and I broke your heart because I was nothing more than a shell that walked around from home to work. My life was devoid of any meaning, except for you, and I looked to you for any purpose I should have. You knew you had made a mistake, and you apologized to me. Something that you have no reason to apologize for, but you did it anyway. So let me ask you a question Josh. I know you love me, you have said that in the past. You know I love you, I have said in the past. But here's the question. Can you love me enough to just let me die? I won't be happy, and I will hurt you like I've hurt everyone else. If you make me promise again to live, I'll do it. I will dedicate my entire life to existing solely because you asked me to, and I will try to find something else, but there are no guarantees. Or can you trust me on my judgment, and let me make my own decision to end the pain?”
The cavalcade of facial expressions was interesting to watch, but also painful. It went from confusion, to severe confusion, to total confusion, to understanding and grief. His hand gripped onto mine tighter and tighter as the minutes ticked by without him saying anything. We just sat there staring at each other. Tears had started to slide down his cheeks, and I kept wiping them away. The first words spoken were by him, batting away my hand and whispering “Stop being a homo.” The tension broke, and both of us laughed until it hurt. But the silence creeped back, and it was just left with the two of us staring at each other.
Finally, he moved. He slowly reached across and wrapped his arms around me. I arched my back and started sitting up, twisting awkwardly to hug him from the side of the bed. We held pose again for some time, only the gentle swaying of us both as our arms stayed around each other. Suddenly, he started squeezing harder and moved his head to be able to speak, moving his mouth from being squished against my shoulder. “I love you Joey.” There was a pause. “And I'm going to miss you.” My arms crushed him, trying to make him part of me, and feeling his tears sliding down my back and being absorbed by the gown. Full circle I guess.
After I was discharged, promising not to attempt suicide again (Ha.), I started making plans. I was going to try again in a week, giving me ample time to tie up any loose ends and to say my final goodbyes to Josh. He was only the person in my life who I cared about. I have no family, no other real friends. I just wanted to have one final, happy week left with him. He felt distant and sad, but he did take every moment for what it was worth. He savored it, he filmed it, and I knew he'd treasure it. We did everything we wanted to do, we did everything we ever planned to do or at least the closest that we could.
But when the next Sunday rolled around, it was time to say goodbye for the last time. I didn't tell him how I was going to kill myself, or where I was going to do it. That was information that he didn't need to know or hear. It's not that I didn't trust him to try and stop me, but it's unnecessary knowledge for him to have. The only thing I kept repeating throughout the week is “This is not your fault.” I think he understood that, but I knew he was going to blame himself anyway.
Our last hug was bittersweet. I felt a lump in my throat saying goodbye, and both of us didn't try to hide any tears or any pain. It was the last human moment we would have together and we should be raw for each other. He knew how much I was going to miss him, and even though I don't believe in a God or a Heaven, I knew that some part of me would always live on, always missing him. I got a laugh out of him, and a kiss, when I said “Humor a dying gay mans last wish, and lemme kiss my best friend.” He made my final week paradise, and I'll love him forever for that. But the door had to close, and I had to walk away.
When I got home, I pulled the shotgun from under my bed and loaded it with a single shell. I poured a shot of whiskey and downed it, curious as to why I bothered using a shot glass when I might as well just chug from the bottle. I turned on my phone and brought up Josh's Facebook page and tapped on Albums. I found my favorite picture of him and stared at it for a few moments before placing the butt of the gun on the floor, and the barrel under my chin. Still staring at the phone, I got ready to pull the trigger. I wanted his face to be the last thing I saw, again. I sat there hoping that the lights would go black permanently. Hopefully third times the charm.