I started committing suicides. They were small at first, but more grandiose as the months passed.
At first, I came up with basics: wrist slashing, hanging, overdose, jumping off a building, and stepping off in front of bus. They were all very mundane, really, and if not done properly you just end up living very, very painfully. It was after those routine ways to snuff oneself that I began to get creative.
There was going into a biker bar nude and starting fights with drunk bikers. And when I say "fights", I mean with a knife in my hand. That was a fun night. Everyone was freaked out and angry at the same time. They all wanted to kill me, but they didn't want to touch me either. Eventually, though, they did.
Oh, another good one was sneaking into one of those giant dump trucks at a quarry and letting them dump tons of excavated rocks on me. The driver of the loader always sees you just as it's too late and tries to stop the load. His expression is priceless, and the pain lasts only seconds.
Most spectacular was riding a motorcycle full speed up Pennsylvania Avenue, dodging the cement stanchions in the ground that stop car traffic on the 1600 block and riding helmet-less right into the fence around the White House. That was damn spectacular. The President wasn't home that day, but I got a few of those Secret Service jockeys to wet their britches.
Those were some good times.
But the truth of it all was that no matter how many ways of shuffling off the mortal coil I committed myself to, none of them made me feel any better. In the end of each of those fantasies, I felt slightly sickened that this was what I fantasized about without any idea of why I did it.
So, much to my chagrin, my answer came to me in a cliché place: sitting, talking to a friend at coffee place. At least this place had outdoor seating on the sidewalk. If I'd been surrounded by baristas, earth-tone artwork and light jazz I think I would have died just on the inside.
We sat, Lenny and I, sipping hot cafe creations whose frou-frou names always slipped my mind, outside on a cold day and talked.
"Why do you want to be dead?" He always took me at the face value at which I presented myself to him. He never lost his cool or told me I was crazy- even when he would have been perfectly right to do so.
"I don't want to be dead."
"Okay, so this whole thing with the suicides..." he motioned for me to continue his sentence.
"...is wanting to die, but not to be dead."
He looked at me for a me for a minute, taking two sips of his ultrafrappachinomochalattewhatever, and then he spoke. "So, you want the experience of dying, but you don't want to be dead. Is that what you're saying?"
"Yeah, pretty much. That sums it up."
He put down his drink, folded his arms and rested them on the table, "Okay. I'll bite. Why?"
"Well, I figure that unless you've died, you can't really appreciate the value of life."
"Yeah, I guess that could be true. But isn't there some other way since, technically, your method is pretty much impossible?"
"Not entirely impossible. I could experience some kind of trauma, die on the operating table and be resuscitated." I took a sip of my drink since I was starting to feel cold.
"Yeah, but what a risk. Why not climb Everest or volunteer as Big Brother for an underprivileged youth?"
"It's not about achievement, Lenny. It's not about helping others. It's about me valuing my own existence and making the best of it for myself."
Lenny picked up his drink again, "Whatever you decide, you know? It's your life. I just think I'd rather not waste any time I have left in life trying to die. It's a sin in some religions."
"I'm not trying to die, Lenny, I'm trying to live."
It shouldn't have been a surprise to me, then, that I died later that day.
I had caught the subway out to where I lived and was walking up the sidewalk on 256th Street when I saw a guy on a bicycle heading towards me. He saw me and I saw him. I moved the right on sidewalk and he moved to his right. As he neared me, a sedan backed down a driveway seemingly out of nowhere. His bike impacted the sedan, and he came flying upside down and ass-first over the car's trunk at me. He was a big guy, and he came at me doing ten miles an hour or so. When my head hit sidewalk, it was a quick, hard fall.
When I woke up in the hospital, which is where it appeared to me that I was at that moment, Lenny was reading a paper in a chair near my bed. My head was fire, and I was bandaged and gowned.
He did not look up from the paper. "Three minutes, twenty two seconds of you being dead and they were ready to call it. Your head injury caused some sort of shock through your central nervous system and you eventually stopped breathing.""So, I died?"Lenny motioned around, "They tried one more time.""I guess, wow," the pain in my head made me woozy for a moment, "I guess they were successful.""So, how'd you do it this time? No one could figure it out."Pain was still radiating out of the back of my skull. "Do what?""Try to kill yourself. The police, your parents, me: none of us can figure it out.""My parents are here?""They were here for two weeks, but between the store and the ranch they couldn't stay more than that. I'm sure your mother will come back once she hears you've regained consciousness. The doctors told them it could be a week or it could be a month until you woke up. Guess they were right.""How long?""Since they left? Eh, about eight or nine days.""This still hurts.""Well, you did fracture your skull. Nurse will be in soon. Once they notice that your vitals have changed at the nurses' station, they will come. So, before they do, tell me the truth.""What?""No one knows how you did this to yourself." Lenny put down his paper and leaned forward in the vinyl guest chair, "You can tell me, no judgment. Did you just decide to fall over and land on your own head?""What? No, no, there was.. There was a guy on a bike on the sidewalk, and he was coming at me when a car backed out of a driveway and he hit it. He flew over the handle bars, over the trunk and into me. He took me down."Lenny shifted back in his chair a bit, nodding his head slightly. "Okay, okay. Problem there is, Kyle, someone just found you there sprawled out on the sidewalk, bleeding. There was no cyclist, no bike and no car. And with the way you've been talkin', they wanted to see if this was some sort of attempt.""You told them about what we talked about?"Lenny leaned in again and whispered, "Kyle, this is me, I wouldn't do that. You must have said something to someone else. Maybe on Facebook or something?""No, no way." My head felt better when I held it, "At least, I don't think so. It hurts too much to think."That's when the nurse and a doctor came in and my life became a series of tests, questions and few answers. Lenny slipped out when the medical exams began and returned with coffee later. The police came by later, and Lenny stayed while I gave my account of what happened. They showed me pictures of where I was found, taken by the crime scene photographer. I pointed excitedly at two of the pictures."That's the car that backed out! And in that picture, I think that's the cyclist!"The two police officers told me that the worn out Dodge Dynasty that I pointed at had two flat tires and hadn't moved from that spot in years. The gentleman I had pointed out was actually one of the EMTs who had responded to the call when a passerby had seen me.
I had no other explanation to offer them, and the doctor who joined the conversation stated that it could very well be my subconscious mind incorporating items from the scene of the incident that I didn't consciously remember. Maybe another car had pulled in the driveway and that's what the cyclist had hit, but when I was lying on the ground I saw the old Dodge and got it in my head that it was the car. The doctor offered that the EMT's face was the first one I saw after the accident, so he put his face in place of a cyclist I never really saw all that well.In the end, there was no evidence that I had tried to commit suicide, and nothing I could remember that would point the finger at the owner of the car or the real cyclist. The police were left with nothing, and so they left.I was released two days later with a prescription for anti-inflammatories and pain-killers. I would keep going back for CT scans over the next few months and was instructed to call if I experienced dizziness or blackouts.
My mother did not fly out when I woke up. My parents called, but both their businesses were struggling and the two weeks that they had spent here already had been covered by friends and employees who couldn't spare any more time unless I was in a desperate situation.
I went back to work, but life as an insurance adjuster had become duller than before. I thought I would appreciate life more after what I experienced, but it seemed just the opposite. I felt like something had been stolen from me: my dreams of appreciating being alive, and several weeks of my time locked up in a hospital. When I was dealing with people who were trying to pad insurance claims, it just made me angry that people wasted energy and effort on deceiving others and trying to get ahead on false pretenses.
I drove by the accident scene. Sure enough, the Dodge Dynasty was in the driveway that I had sworn a car had pulled out of in front of me. The twenty year old sedan had two flats on the right side, and the dust and dirt on it showed no sign of having been disturbed in months. Knowing cars as well as an insurance adjuster should, I knew it was most likely a candidate for the junkyard since it probably suffered from a bad transmission. There were no dents in the rear fenders, and no other car could have pulled into the driveway with the Dynasty parked where it was.
I went over the firehouse to see if the EMT was there. I talked to him under the guise of wanting to thank him for helping save me, but the truth was I wanted a good look. His face was as I remembered it, but he obviously was the EMT on the scene. He recounted everything for me, and there was no way he hit me, biked over to the firehouse, changed clothes and responded to the alarm. He was too sincere, I could just tell.
Time was flat, and Lenny kept coming around to check on me. He kept reminding me I'd been given a great gift and that I should enjoy life again. We still met for coffee sometimes, but after a while I just wasn't into it.
I'd been proven wrong. A brush with death had not made me appreciate life more. It had made me realize how little everyone else appreciated it. I became disgusted with almost everyone around me.
I suppose me leaving the door to my apartment unlocked was a sign that maybe, maybe I wanted someone to catch me in the act. Lenny walked in just as I stepped off the stool and felt the clothesline tighten around my neck.
I struggled. He smiled. I gasped. He laughed.
I didn't die. He finally pulled me down.
He lead me to the couch and sat me down. He gave me a glass of water from my own kitchen.
"So, Kyle, I have to thank you." He stood a few feet from me.
"Why?" I rasped and then downed the rest of the water in the glass.
"The man upstairs and I had a bet going. You proved me right."
"You had a bet going with Mr. Harlan upstairs that I'd kill myself?" I was in fierce pain around my throat and befuddled how I'd botched my own hanging.
"Not Mr. Harlan. Think harder." Lenny shook his his head, "When the cyclist came at you, you didn't move even though you had time to do so. I contended that you stayed in place because you wanted to die and this was your version of suicide. The man upstairs contended that your death was accidental. I told him that I could prove you were truly suicidal and that you belonged with me and not up there with him."
"My death?" I was having tremors start in my hand, "In the hospital... you... you said they resuscitated me."
Lenny smiled at me and leaned in closer, his voice a bit more gravely. "First off, I said they tried one more time. You assumed that they'd been successful. Secondly," this was when he leaned in closer and whispered into my ear, "you now have an eternity to learn that I am the one being in this universe guaranteed to never tell you the whole truth ."