I said in a small voice, “Please don’t kill yourself.” I was hugging my knees to my chest. And then he turned around, pointed the knife at me and asked in a very angry voice, “Why not?” And I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I was nine.
He didn’t have any friends at school. I didn’t either. They picked on him though. They left me alone with my books. I’m not sure which was worse. By this time my parents made barely enough that I had to pay for lunch. Some days I didn’t eat because I had to pay off that fat bastard who would otherwise beat the hell out of me. Looking back, it’s actually kind of impressive how you can give your entire lunch to someone else for days on end and the teachers never notice.
After school all we did was kill time. None of it mattered. The things we did. Homework. It was always too easy. Each day like the last. We watched a lot of TV. It’s a wonderful way to kill your brain. During school all we did was kill time too since the main purpose of school is to get socialized. And we both failed. Miserably.
We lived in bubbles. I think life would have turned out differently if either of us had found programming. Or knew about internet communities. Or knew someone who cared or some place where we could have agency. Where we mattered. We lived in vacuums. We kept journals no one would read and that we would be ashamed of reading.
I realized I couldn’t say, “I don’t know.” What was there to live for? I spouted a list of stupid things like ice cream, Saturday morning cartoons, weekends and snowball fights (These are a few of my favorite things?). He said none of it mattered. He was right.
I said that we would miss him. He asked who I meant. I said his mom. He said that was bullshit. I said I would miss him. And then he got really mad. Because it was a lie. And I knew it too. I wasn’t his friend. I wished then that I had tried harder to be. We lived in separate vacuums.
If you ever see someone truly seething with anger and hatred at life, you’ll know that they also radiate hopelessness and sorrow. Maybe even more so than the anger and hate. It’s heavy and unmistakable. It makes you want to cry. It drains the life out of you. That was him.
Because for all of it’s ugliness and chaos, it’s the best we have. Life. And you see someone like this and you really do start to question. Especially if you want to help and you can’t.
So then, very calmly, he looked me in the eyes. And then he raised the knife to his throat. And he smiled. It was a sad hopeful smile. This is the part where I got up and reached for him. Way too late. But he stopped. He stopped the knife. He stopped smiling. His eyes said how dare you. And then he came for me.
We ended up on the ground. I’m glad he didn’t just decided to poke me full of holes. At one point he had me pinned to the ground and was inching the knife closer to my throat. He was two years older than me. And a lot heavier.
I didn’t want to die. It wasn’t much at all. But I didn’t want to die.
I wanted to see the other kids laughing and running around even though they never let me play with them. I wanted to go home and see my parents smile back after I faked a smile and told them school was fine. I wanted to finish the books I got from the library. I wanted to watch the leaves fall off the trees and stare at the stars and play with my models.
I thought about Indiana Jones and Batman and all the other action heroes and how this happened to them all the time. I asked myself what would they do. And then I tried to kick him off and it didn’t work and I thought to myself I’m not a hero, I’m a nobody and I’m going to die and then I started crying.
I don’t know. It gives you perspective I guess. To realize fairly early in life that what’s really important is people and not things. It’s a horrible thing to think when you’re about to die that you won’t miss anyone and they won’t miss you. It’s a horrible thing to be alone and unwanted.
The next thing I remember is that I had the knife and he wasn’t trying to kill me anymore. It used to bother me, that I didn’t know how I got it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I put it away. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything as brave as that again. Or stupid. Maybe it was both. I wanted to be a hero. Or at least do the right thing.
After that he got sent away. When I told my parents the story they told me I did a good job and then they asked me if I had finished my homework. I said thanks and no I didn’t and they said go finish your homework.
For a long time afterwards I didn’t talk to anyone. I was afraid. After all, I just wanted to change the channel and he didn’t. And I said please and he started screaming about how nothing in the world was his, not even his time. And then he went to the kitchen and got a knife and said he was going to kill himself with a smile on his lips.
When I was 14, my father asked me to order something for him at McDonald’s I couldn’t do it. What if she blew up on me too? He was really disappointed when I came back to him with his $20 in my hand.
A few years back though, I realized that I could look at it a different way. I shouldn’t be afraid. Of almost anything really. I’ve survived this. And I understand. That it’s much worse to be unloved and unwanted than to be penniless. But we can all do something as long as we’re alive. To help each other from drowning.
And joining Demolay taught me about the importance of service. Life is about helping other people. Also Peter Brusoe helped me become an orator. It was always one of my dreams. To be like Cicero. It was a long process. I froze up and cried on stage at my first competition. But I picked myself back up. That’s what really matters. That was eight years ago.
I teach toastmasters’ here and there now. Two years ago I spoke in front of about four hundred people at a fancy dinner. I’ve won a lot of money at competitions. I gave it all away.
These days, a lot of people who meet me comment on how confident and charismatic I am. They’re also usually impressed at how well I listen. Everyone’s worth listening to after they realize that you care. My life isn’t exactly turned around 180 degrees. But it’s getting there. I have a few friends that I value very much. I read every day and I’m starting to write more (it’s hard because my brain still associates it with pain). For the most part I’m reasonably content. And I smile a lot which I never did when I was a child. Partially because I was born with a cleft palate. Partially because I didn’t have anything to smile for really. But things are better now.
We got dinner a year or two ago at school and shared stories about our lives since the incident. We were both in better places than before. Oddly enough, or not at all, we’ve both worked at suicide hotlines. Afterwards we walked around at night on campus. You could see the stars and listen to the leaves rustling from the wind. I said that it was beautiful…life that is. He smiled, sadly, like someone remembering the darkness and the sorrow. And then he smiled like someone who desperately loves life and said in a whisper yes, yes it is.
And I smiled back because he was right.