01 Feb DEATH GAVE ME A CHOICE
Death came to me that night as I sat numbly in a puddle of my own desperate blood and tears. And when I saw him, a tall entity clothed in a robe so black it reached past the depths of darkness I felt inside my heart.
I’d been upset. Not about one thing in particular, but multiple things.
I’d made so many mistakes, that trying to put myself back together had become harder than reassembling a broken eggshell.
A year earlier, I’d lost the most important person in my life. The only girl I truly loved: Penny. I could only blame myself. I’d spent the past year blaming myself for betraying her, betraying her trust.
She’d found a new guy, a better guy than I am. One that brought her flowers, took her out on fancy dates, was loyal to her. And all that reminded me of how many chances I used to have to do all those things for her.
6 months earlier the guilt and pain got to me – tore at my soul – and to numb the pain I took sleeping pills will alcohol every night, dreading the moment I’d wake up to another sunny, lonely day.
4 months earlier, I lost my job and my scholarship because the depression and substance abuse kept me rooted to the spot. I didn’t want to face a world where I’d have to watch everyone else swim, as I’m slowly sinking.
3 months earlier I lost my friends and family as well; I’d become distant and emotionless. I turned down invites, didn’t show up for holiday get-togethers, blew up on anyone who told me I needed help.
I was in chaos, and I could only blame myself.
1 month earlier, I’d bought the small rectangular case of razors. Adding self-abuse to the substance abuse. I’d feel the smallest release when I felt the sharp sting and saw the deep red flow down my wrist.
And that night, I called my ex-girlfriend slightly tipsy, but truthful all the same. I told her I loved her, I begged for another chance, I cried harder than I’d cried in months just at the sound of hearing her voice.
She told me one thing and one thing only, “I don’t love you anymore, Calvin. And I never will.”
She hung up the phone immediately after, and all I could do was stare blankly at the corner of the room. But as everything hit me at once, it hit me harder than a car going full speed.
I didn’t hesitate. I swallowed the rest of my sleeping pills, gulped down the remaining vodka straight from the bottle, and I used those razors to cut deeper than I’d ever cut.
So here I sat, hopeless and alone. But I wasn’t alone. I’d looked down at my bloody wrists for mere seconds, and when I looked back up he was there.
A normal person would have been hysterical and afraid, but I wasn’t normal anymore. I wasn’t surprised he was there. No, I welcomed it.
“Calvin,” he spoke in the most baritone voice I’d ever heard – lower than the voice overs on every movie preview – and he said that one word with a disapproving sigh.
The way he said it made me feel like a kid again, as if I’d done something and lied about it. But I wasn’t lying now. The proof was in the mess that was myself at that moment.
I sobbed shakily. “I-I’m sorry,” I said. For whatever reason, I felt like I had to apologize, so I did.
“You’ve spent a long time being sorry, Calvin. But not once did you say sorry to yourself.”
A crease formed in between my eyebrows as I mulled over what he’d just said. It came to me slowly. He wanted me to see that my only enemy was myself.
“Do you give all of the souls you come across helpful advice? I thought you were Death, not a psychologist,” I raised an eyebrow at him, still unnerved by the fact that I was looking into an endless black hole where his face should be.
He forced a deep, short laugh, “No. Mostly just the ones like you, that take it into their own hands to decide fate. It’s not up to you, Calvin.”
“So you give advice to your suicide victims. What does that mean?”
He sighed again, as if he’d explained it thousands of times before; I’m sure he had. “It means you don’t get to decide this. It means I’m giving you another perspective.”
I stood up, curiosity hanging on every word. “What perspective would that be? The only way I see things is that I’m a horrible, crap excuse for a human being. So why be afraid of dying when I’m more afraid to live? I had to do this. I needed to do this.”
“And I’m showing you, Calvin, what living can do for you.” A hint of persuasion sounded in his voice.
“Tell me, Death, what do I have to live for?” The question came out harshly, but he didn’t flinch.
“Listen closely. What if I told you that you’d make it through this depression, not fully healed but controlled by medication and therapy. What if I told you that because you’ll overcome this depression, you’ll get another job. And the job will pay for the education you dissed. When you’re done with that education, you’ll be admired. Admired by your friends..your family..and most importantly your ex-girlfriend. They’ll see the greatness in you that you know you have. They’ll be proud of that change. You won’t be able to look at a bottle of vodka without being sick. And what if I told you that your career will pay for the expensive ring you’ll use to propose to your one and only. And you’ll be able to give her all the flowers and dates and loyalty you’d failed to give before. Most importantly, what if I told you you’d be able to give her a dream wedding as well? And give her two beautiful children: a girl and a boy. What if I told you you’d be missing out on life by choosing to give up?”
Tears rimmed my eyes opaquely, “I can be happy again?” I asked hopefully, afraid of what the answer might be.
But his answer was the biggest relief I’d ever felt, “Yes, you can be happy again.”
I wiped my wet cheeks and cracked a trembling smile, “I’d say I want to live.”
“Then I am no longer needed,” the finality in his voice diminished the tension I’d felt before.
As I grinned wider, I let out a half cry-half chuckle, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Now go to the hospital, get your stomach pumped and seal up your wounds. Goodbye,” and in a flash the black void that was him vanished.
For days afterward couldn’t get rid of that smile. The nurses and doctors that helped me were puzzled by it. A man being treated for a suicide attempt is this happy? I knew to them there was nothing right about it.
But I hadn’t felt for right in my whole life.
Because of my obvious mental health issues, I stayed in the mental ward for a month after I healed physically. Just like Death said, I still had the memories of my depression, but it was nothing the therapy and medication couldn’t fix.
After I was released, I found a job at a call center that paid slightly more than minimum wage. It wasn’t the best of jobs, but I was sure glad to have it.
I saved money for a few months and started going to school again in the fall. I was working on a business degree.
My friends and family were there to watch me graduate, and I’d never felt more thankful. Finally, I was making people proud again. I wasn’t failing.
I didn’t even drink that night with the rest of my friends. I didn’t want to touch another drop of alcohol. I spent that night with the people closest to me, all seated at a large table at the best restaurant in town.
And I’m so glad I chose to do so that night, because our waitress happened to be the girl I missed so badly and still loved.
She looked surprised to see me, but she also looked glad. “Calvin…” She said, staring at me as if I was her long lost twin.
I wanted to smile too, but I noticed the faint purple under her right eye. It wasn’t completely hidden by her beige foundation.
She knew I noticed, and before I could say anything she began taking our orders.
Concerned, I told my family and friends as they were leaving that I was going to stay and speak to her. They understood, and after more congratulations, departed.
I waited another hour in the twilight-stained parking lot, where I could breathe in the fresh spring breeze.
She was one of the first to come out and she noticed me propped next to the entrance, halting her stride.
Penny’s face lit up and there were tears in her eyes, “I knew you’d wait for me, Cal. I know you’re a great guy, I think I’ve always known you had potential but I guess I was being my own worst enemy.”
Those words brought back the tiniest memory of what Death had told me months prior – that I should say sorry to myself. And she needed to do the same. “The past is the past Penny. No animosity.”
She looked even more grateful then and reached to hug me. I put a hand on her cheek before she could, and gently rubbed the purple under her eye, “Did he do this to you?” I asked concerned and pissed off.
Penny didn’t say a word, but her deep brown eyes said it all. He obviously was over the accommodating boyfriend role and had started asking too much of her. But I would become everything she needed and more.
I pulled her into a hug and ran my fingers through her long hair, “It won’t happen again, love. I’m here now.”
After that night, things were better than they’d ever been between me and Penny. She’d gotten away from her abusive boyfriend and together we got him the jail sentence he deserved. We’d spend every moment we had to spare with each other, and it was like we’d never even parted. Even our old inside jokes remained the same.
With time, I’d saved enough to buy her the most beautiful ring I could find, and I proposed to her. Right in the middle of the local high school football field where we’d met so many years ago.
A field, maybe not the best setting for a proposal but it meant so much to both of us.
Flowers filled our house with fragrant smells. I brought one home every day after work. I made reservations every weekend for dates. And no girl could ever mean as much to me as my Penny.
The wedding was the one she’d always dreamed of when we were younger: A winter wedding in the snow, everything adorned in blues and whites, and that long-sleeved dress she’d hoped for ever since she saw it in that store window.
A year after the marriage, Penny came to me with the best news I’d ever received from her. She was pregnant. We found out it was a girl, and I was every bit the happy father when our Violet came into the world.
Dark hair, just like her mother.
Two years later, we had our son – Jackson. He looked like me, with green eyes and a mop of chestnut hair. Violet was over the moon about having a younger sibling.
Life was amazing. It was everything Death had told me it would be, and more. I chose life the last time I saw him, and life chose me.
You can imagine my shock the day I found him standing in front of my work desk. I had been tapping away on my computer, focused on nothing but my work. He broke that trance.
I became a statue, still as Lot’s wife after she had turned to salt. After seconds of this vacant stare-off, I broke the stillness, “Why…”
He sighed, much like he had the night we’d met. That disapproving sigh, but now with a bit of apprehension. “Something has occurred, Calvin. Something bad.”
My heart beat swiftly against my ribs, I stopped breathing. “W-what do you mean bad?” A million things raced through my head at once. My family, my friends, myself; did something happen to them? Was something going to happen to me?
“You remember Hale, don’t you, Calvin?”
Hale. The piece of crap I’d put in jail. I hated hearing his name, “Yeah. I remember that bastard. What about him? Did he finally get what was coming to hi-”
“He got out of jail, Calvin.” The caution and pity in that one sentence couldn’t have been good.
I stood up from my office chair, flustered, “there’s no way! He couldn’t have gotten out yet! He received fifteen years! It’s only been nine!”
“Ever heard of good behavior, Calvin?”
I was enraged. How could this monster be capable of good behavior? And then I remembered. He’d fooled Penny for a year. He had been a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He was definitely capable of fooling others.
“I think you need to come with me, Calvin.”
I didn’t waste any time. I followed him, not bothering to tell anyone I was leaving work. My first priority was to make sure the people I loved were okay. But the pieces that were being put together in my mind was anything but okay.
I drove ninety all the way home. Beads of sweat had formed across my forehead and my breathing was loudly audible.
Death followed me into the house as I rushed inside, but he said nothing.
The living room was a mess of broken vases – the ones which held all the flowers I’d given to Penny. And a million little pedals and leaves littered the floor.
I was so immensely angry and scared at the same time. Scared mostly, because the scene in front of me hinted that nothing good could come from it.
I screamed, terror in my voice, “Penny! Violet, Jack! Wher-”
“The master bedroom, Calvin,” Death said from somewhere in my peripheral. He pointed to the door at the end of the hall. A door that was now chopped and broken, standing slightly ajar.
I sprinted down the hallway and pushed past the door, not worrying about the sharp splinters that dug into my left hand.
The light was off. I wish I hadn’t turned it on. Because when I did… I was met with sheer horror.
Blood. Crimson painted across the white carpet and bedsheets. On the walls. And painted on the bodies of the three people in my life that meant the most to me.
The details are too traumatizing to repeat, but the axe that had been used on all of them was left behind – embedded into my wife’s skull.
I fell to my knees in front of them, wracking sobs so hard they made me puke.
I just couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t speak. I was screaming under the weight of emotional pain. I was hurt.
“But you said it would be better!” I turned to Death, screaming and seeing red, “you said I’d be happy! Why…,” I sobbed deeply again, unable to contain the lump in my throat.
“And you were, Calvin. You were happy for several years. But with a life comes chances. Good ones and bad ones. Everyone suffers, Calvin.”
“Suffer? I have nothing to live for anymore, Death! I’ve lost my reasons for living, for working, for loving! That’s more than suffering!” I couldn’t contain the contempt in my voice and I got dangerously close to that black hole of a face Death wore, despite having to look up to see it.
“You’re wrong again, Calvin. I’m here not only for your family, as I do have to do my job,” he lifted his bony hands in surrender, “but I’m also here for you…”
“What?! You already know I’m planning to kill myself once again, psychologist?” I spat at him, every word drenched in hot rage.
“Actually, yes. I knew you’d try. You’ll go get the pistol from the top shelf of your closet and blow your brains out, you’ll do it in a few hours in this very room. But I have another perspective for you.”
My mouth hung ajar. He knew my plans, knew where the pistol was that I kept for protection, but I couldn’t be too surprised. After a moment I crossed my arms and glared, “Oh! Another perspective for me, huh? What?! What could possibly make me choose life this time? A life that isn’t worth living!”
For the first and last time, Death laid a hand on my shoulder, and although I couldn’t see his face, I knew he was looking me right in the eyes.
“You must live, Calvin, because Hale must die. And you’re the one who will make it happen.” I thought I heard his lips part into a smile, if he had lips.
Death made it clear once again for me. “What do you say, Calvin?”
I smiled then, too – what must have appeared a sick, sinister grin, but a grin all the same.
“I’d say I want to live.”