Warning: Please do not read if you don't want to feel sad right now. This story is my tears in a vial.
Doc was a liar. The last thing I said to him was “See you later.”
He replied “Ok.”
I did see him later, but “ok” implies that he would see me as well. He could lie to you by telling the truth. It was a gift. His name wasn’t even Doc, it was Shawn. I just called him brother.
He never told the truth to me about the first time he tried to kill himself. He always denied it, saying he was just hanging lights in the tree when he slipped and fell and broke his leg. He was never great with knots. When we went canoeing I was the designated knot master. His square knots were never square.
But he finally got one right.
The night before, we learned that Shelley’s dad had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At 83, the best chemo can do is give you quantity in exchange for quality. Shawn opened a bottle of Relax, against Shelley’s insistence that she didn’t need it. He poured her a sip, and he had the rest of the bottle after I went to bed.
I got up at 5 or so in the morning to get a glass of water. There I saw the bottle. Shelley had set it out as a talking point about limits and boundaries of the house. He had been drinking us dry. He drank a bottle of ginger liqueur. We had to hide the Crème de Cacao and my son’s stash of birthday cash. I had been cool about it, but this was too much. Another day, another $20 drank away. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I didn’t care about the wine or money; it was his lack of progress after promising so much.
I stayed up playing games until he awoke at 7 or so. I was on the computer resetting a problematic application server at work. He saw the bottle out and put it quietly back into the recycling.
“We’re kind of upset about that. I thought we had a nice talk about responsible drinking,” I said with a coffee-induced tremble.
“Well, I didn’t spill any.” He went out to the porch to have a cigarette. I finished up with the server and followed him out there.
“Last night you tried to tell me you were a burden and I disagreed. Well, this morning you crossed a line. It’s when I lose sleep over you. That’s when you’re a burden.”
He said he’d replace the bottle. I said I didn’t care about that, and that he needed that money for gas to get a job and see his kids.
“I need you on your feet,” I told him and patted his shoulder.
I helped him submit an application before I left. He was throwing some laundry in the dryer when I said I would see him later. It was game night. Shelley would go off to ballet and he and I could play video games and watch Aces High and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
When I got home from work, Shawn was not there. Shelley had taken a nap after he had got home from his job search at noon, and when she woke up she thought he had gone off to my son's room to finish sleeping off the bottle.
“You should go make sure he’s alive,” she said, hoping it was a joke.
He wasn’t in Devin’s room, or anywhere in the house. I sat back down on the couch.
“He’s either gone for a walk down to the lake, or to the bar. He’ll probably come back about when you go to ballet. If he’s gone down to Beachcomber’s I don’t want him to come back tonight.”
I figured it was a 60% chance he’d gone to the bar. 20% chance he’d gone down to the lake. 10% chance he’d found a job in the neighborhood. 5% chance he was in jail. And 2%...
I decided to look around for clues. I checked his phone. It was open to a text he had sent his wife Jenny regarding the line in the divorce papers reading “guilty of gross negligence and cruelty.” He had to have purposely loaded older messages to see that. If I’d looked under the phone I would’ve seen where he’d written his bank numbers and passwords. Maybe I did see it, I’m not sure.
I went outside to find more clues. Perhaps he was out gardening, I thought, but at this point I knew where to look and I knew what I’d find. There was a footprint in the tall grass leading into the woods beside the house. I pushed up the blackberry thorns at the entrance to the woods and entered, ducking my head beneath them.
He was on his feet. His hat tilted back on his head, pushed aside by the orange extension cord he had tied to a tree. The tree had slumped and the cord had slipped just enough to stand him perfectly upright. He looked like he was deep in thought.
I walked toward him, around to the front. His tongue was purple and stuck out a bit. His blue eyes stared a billion miles into the sky.
“You fucking asshole,” I said. I pushed him hard with the palm of my hand in the same shoulder I had patted that morning. He swayed only slightly, as if just drunk.
I left the woods shaking. I came into the house through the porch door and told Shelley to go to her parents’ house. She refused, and we cried all night. This was the second suicide in the same manner she’d experienced; her brother did the same thing 10 years ago. I can’t imagine doubling the trauma.
He didn’t feel in control of his life, and maybe his death was the one thing he could. He prayed silently to himself before every meal. He could not be turned from his belief in a singular higher power. I told him that he was a part of that power, the Universe, that it works through his own actions, and that he could use it to forge his own circumstances. I think he knew where he was going and was ready to leave.
He died with his boots on, looking up at the sky.