A letter no parent ever wants to receive.
A sour feeling came over John’s stomach when he got the call. He wanted to put it off as illness. Bad Chinese take-out at lunch. Maybe someone at work had a bug. Something, anything but the truth. The conversation played through his head again and again, scratching and repeating. “Hi, Mr. Gray…it’s Will, Adam’s friend.” He would have known who it was without the introduction. The same Will he’d driven to boy scouts, who’d always appreciated his stuffed peppers that Adam refused to eat, who wore down his couch and his electric bill, playing video games those endless summer days. But even if he did know Will and know him well, it didn’t explain why he was calling. In fact, he couldn’t remember that last time he’d seen him. The last time Adam had spent time with him. The last time Adam had spent time with anyone. “Are you there?” He cleared his throat and straightened in his office chair. “Yes, Will, I’m here.” “I’m sorry to bother you, it’s just…it’s Adam. He’s been acting weird and he left school early. Wouldn’t say why. I…I don’t know what to do.” Will went on. John didn’t hear. He couldn’t. It was white noise, muffled and indistinct compared to the truth that beat inside of him. The kind of truth he’d known for a while but waited cowardly for a moment of confirmation. And now that moment had finally come. As calmly as he could, he put down the phone and straightened the papers on his desk, wishing desperately for order. He turned to his computer to shut it down but then realized it didn’t matter. It’d take time. His office would still be there when he got back, and he didn’t know if he could say the same for his son. He rushed home, pushed through the front door, wanted to scream his son’s name. Scream it until his throat was raw. But when he opened his mouth, no sound emerged. He couldn’t. He couldn’t bring himself to, too scared that he wouldn’t get a response. His footsteps were hard thuds against the wooden floor, the squeaky stairs, and all the way up to Adam’s room. The door was open. The room was empty. He didn’t know if he should be relieved. And then, finally, a letter. It sat on Adam’s perfectly made bed against his pillow. So conspicuous against the blue sheets. He unfolded the pieces of paper and read the words he already knew would haunt him. Dear DadThis isn’t your fault. Please don’t think that. It’s no one’s fault. Things just are how they are sometimes. I am the way I am and I feel the way I feel and I can’t fix it. I’m sick of trying. I guess you raised a quitter. Just don’t let them call me a wimp for this. I’ve done the research and I know boys usually pick violent methods like a noose and ladder or a shotgun and a bullet and here I am trying to think of something that won’t hurt too much. Just because I have a low pain tolerance doesn’t mean I’m not a man—just to set the record straight. After all, it’s my last chance to.I’ve decided that the least painful method is an overdose, but it has its faults. First of all, your work schedule always fluctuates and what if, me and all my luck, you come home early one day and find me passed out in my bed? There’d still be time to get me to the hospital and pump my stomach and then we’d be back at square one. You may have raised a quitter, but at least I’m trying to finish what I start here. No hospital trips.When I go, I don’t want to be drugged out on medication. I want to be fully aware of where I am and what I’m doing. In the last moments of my life, I want to be firmly grounded in reality. What’s the point of being anywhere else?I know this letter breaking your heart and I’m sorry for that. I really am. I loved you. And if anything, I hope you see this letter, my life, and my decision, as a character flaw. “Video killed the radio star.” Logic killed the practical boy. The facts don’t add up anymore and my black and white world has swirled into gray and I don’t think I can ever be okay with that. I can’t find meaning in the things that I used to and is a life without meaning even worth it? So here I am. John’s knees buckled and he fell to the bed. Didn’t even realize he was falling until he hit the headboard. The pain didn’t register. He felt numb. So here I am. Where are you, Adam? I thought about doing it in the car. Shut the garage. Lock the doors. Turn the key in the ignition. I thought about it so much that I started to do it last Saturday when you went on your annual fishing trip. Thanks again for not asking me to go. No, really. Thanks. It took you a solid seventeen years to catch on, but I’m happy that you respect my dislike of the impracticality of sitting in a boat all day waiting for a tug on a line and a slimy reward. Respect. We’ve always respected each other—our separate interests and opinions. You never loved me any differently for hating football. You were a good dad. The best dad. I’m sorry I’m taking the role of father away from you. I guess what I’ve learned about myself in these last six months is that I’m selfish. But what I’ve also learned in these last six months is that it doesn’t matter. And Dad, I want it to matter. I want it to matter so much. But it won’t. I don’t.So I sat in the car and waited for the poison to fill my lungs. I was shaking like a leaf knowing there was a very good chance it would hurt—after all, I’d done my research. But at that point, I’d been desperate. Then I caught sight of the tacky, fuzzy dice on a string hanging from the rearview mirror. Mom bought those for me as a joke, remember? And it just seemed wrong. Suddenly all I could think about was her sitting beside me in the passenger’s seat laughing and joking around about the hideous dice as we drove to get a burger. And then I remembered the truck and the broken glass and way her head laid on the dashboard. I’d never seen so much blood. But I survived in that car. She didn’t. I wouldn’t disgrace her memory further by willingly taking my life in it.This isn’t mom’s fault. Please don’t think that. It’s no one’s fault. Of course it was someone’s fault. It was John’s fault. He’d seen all the signs and told himself differently. He told himself that it’d be okay, that his son was strong, that Adam would get through it just like he would. Going through the motions, living like there wasn’t a hole in his chest, pretending, maybe even believing that that hole shrunk a little more each day. He’d been coping and assumed Adam was coping in the same way, feeling the same things he felt. John’s grief consumed him, clouded his judgment, and now he’d lost his son because of it. Or had he? Was it too late? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Waking up every morning. Faking a smile. Getting good grades for a future I don’t want. A future I won’t have. Pretending and pretending until I don’t know if I’m okay or if it’s still a façade. It goes beyond the realm of logic. It’s insane, Dad. I’m driving myself insane. Doing the same thing every day—smiling, pretending, living—and expecting a different result. Expecting that I’ll remember to dream. To aspire. To believe. It’s insanity. I will never have a different result, a different perspective on the world than I do right now.They’ll tell you I did this because I was unhappy. They’ll blame it on mom’s death. They’ll blame it on you. They’ll blame it on society. Heck, they’ll blame it on God, if there is one, and anything else they can wrap their heads around to make sense of it—and I can’t say that any of those things are true. I am happy sometimes, if it’s any consolation. Maybe not happy enough, but it’s there. I do think about Mom’s death. Maybe more than I should, but I don’t want to tie her to this. I don’t want to use her as an excuse. I don’t want to use anyone as an excuse. No one is more responsible for my decisions than me.I’ve heard it said that the meaning of life is that we will one day die. I beg to differ. Life isn’t precious because of death. It demeans it, don’t you think? If we’re all going to die, what’s the point of living? What’s the point of striving for more when you could go out to get a burger one day, get hit by a truck, and never come home? Whatever beliefs I had before are gone and for the life of me, I can’t figure out the point. There isn’t one. Dad, I want there to be a one so badly, I want the world around me and my place in it to matter, but it just doesn’t anymore.I want to say that I hope this won’t change you, that you can go on with your life untainted, put on rose colored goggles, and bring light to the people around you like you always have, but I know that’s not the way things work. You’re the hardest part about all this. I’m scared of death. I’m scared of pain. I’m scared of what you’ll become without me. I’m scared that my selfishness might ruin you—and if that’s the case and there is a hell, then maybe I deserve to burn there. I just want you to be okay. Please be okay.You’ll find me in the bathtub. Don’t come in. Please. I don’t want you to see that. Call the cops and have them take care of it. The razors are sharp. But I don’t think the pain will be. I think, in a way, I’ll be at peace. That’s more than I could ever ask for. Peace from the restlessness. The confusion. Just peace and nothing else. The bathroom. He held the paper in his hand so tightly he thought it’d rip. His fingers continued to shake and the first tear made itself known. It rolled down his cheek and leaked onto the paper. The wetness seeped into it and spread, made the ink bleed and blur. He dropped the letter to the bed and brought his hands to his face. He knew then that he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t be alone. Not this way. His future, all of it, it disappeared before his eyes and he wondered if that was what Adam meant. That he didn’t have a future, like every step to get there was aimless, pointless. Walking to a place that didn’t exist. He pulled his hands away and stared at them in his lap. They were wet from his tears, but that wasn’t what caught his attention. They were blue. His fingertips were smudged with blue ink. The ink from the paper. The ink that hadn’t had the chance to fully dry. He knew what that meant. He knew what he had to do, and for a moment, he hesitated. Going in there, in the bathroom—even if there was a chance still stood the risk of breaking him forever. An image he’d never be able to get out of his head. If his son was dead, he didn’t want to go in there. He didn’t want to see it. His mind went to the last time he’d hesitated. Six months ago. It’d been innocent enough but a day hadn’t passed without him thinking about it. Adam had always been close with his mother. The two of them clicked, had the same tastes, mannerisms, attitudes. He’d always laugh and say his mother brainwashed him, that it wasn’t fair that she’d gotten to him first. Usually he was happy that everything he loved about his wife had carried over to his son but that day, that sticky hot summer day, he let it get to him. Not by much. Just a sliver of jealousy. The last conversation with his wife, she’d told him to leave Adam out of the fishing trip that year, that Adam was miserable every time. He tried to fight it and then conceded, finally accepting that he’d never have the relationship with his son that she did. So when they asked him if he wanted to get a burger, he hesitated and they took the hesitation for a no. He let the sliver of jealousy win. He wanted to indulge himself in bitterness, if only for a moment, and let them go alone so he could sulk. They took Sixth Avenue to get there. He never would have done that. There was construction there that summer and it only led to a tedious detour. If he would have been there, if he wouldn’t have hesitated, they would have taken a different way. They wouldn’t have gotten in an accident. His wife would still be alive. Maybe his son would still be alive too. The thought pushed him to his feet. Maybe it was too late. Maybe it wasn’t. But if he could take away one less what-if when this was all over, he might be able to live with himself. Letter in hand, he walked down the hall to the bathroom door, the longest walk of his life. You were the best. The very best.-Adam _________________________________________________________________________________________________ If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, here are some resources, go to your local emergency room, or call 911. You can also go to Forest View Hospital for an evaluation.