by Mike Riggs
I have known some impatient people over the years who couldn’t wait for the end of the world.
So they killed themselves.
Eric and his mom lived in a one-room rental with a carport and no fence. Eric and my little brother and I all went to school together. My brother said people used to make fun of Eric because he didn’t wear clean clothes. He also said Eric liked to pick on other kids. From what I remember, Eric always had a smudge of dirt on his face, as if he dropped from the womb and landed in dirt, and the dirt stuck like a white-trash birthmark. Maybe that is why Eric was such an asshole.
After work one day, Eric’s mom found him hanging from a tree in their backyard.
They told my brother’s class that Eric had been trying to retrieve his pet squirrel. According to the official story, the pet squirrel escaped into the backyard and up a tree, and Eric was trying to catch him. With a rope. That got tangled around his neck.
When my brother told me about Eric, he told me he believed Eric was trying to catch that squirrel. I didn’t say anything, so my brother said it again. My brother was 12. Eric was the same age. I was 14. We lived a block away from Eric in a HUD house. Kids like us weren’t good at math, but we knew you couldn’t catch a squirrel with a rope.
Nine years ago, no one talked about the Mayan calendar. No one thought to ask, “Why didn’t Eric wait for the end of the world? It’s just around the corner.”
On my bookcase is a translucent stone ashtray my girlfriend and I got this year. Etched lines fill the dish, but the image is hard to make out until you start depositing your ashes. That is when the etched lines fill up with black and gray. After a smoke or two, you can make out a face and some hieroglyphics. After a whole pack, you are looking down at the Mayan calendar. It’s like the ashtray is saying, “I will kill you before that cigarette does.”
When people want to go, they go. Sometimes they tell you, and sometimes they give you time to do something, but if you can’t give them a reason to stay, then they put on their game faces and they go.
Scott and I were in the same fraternity. We lived down the hall from each other. We worked out together. Scott told me he didn’t believe in shrinks or quacks or drugs. Scott told me he wanted to get a picture of a bomb tattooed over his ribs because he felt like he might explode any minute.
Scott sent us all an email the day he killed himself.
“Guys, forget about me. Love, Scotty.”
We found Scott locked in his room, crying, terrified of himself.
We got Scott help. Campus cops, campus shrink, a few hours stay in a hospital. But Scott didn’t believe in shrinks. Scott escaped the hospital. Scott fetched the handgun his father gave him for Christmas. Scott hid in the music building, where he probably played his favorite Eminem song over and over again, just like he did at our fraternity house. One of us found Scott in the music building and brought him outside.
Cops showed up in the parking lot. They wanted to take Scott back to the hospital. Scott didn’t believe in hospitals. The cops didn’t care. So Scott shot himself.
In the 1987 movie Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson’s character Martin Riggs forces a suicidal person off a building ledge. Riggs knows that the man wants to go, and that people who really want to go are good at finding ways to go, so he grabs the man, and he jumps. Together, they fall and fall and fall until they land safely on a big cushion provided by the fire department.
I imagine January 1, 2012 to be a big cushion for people who are impatient to leave this life. It would mark the end of their descent, but there at the bottom would be all the people they loved and who loved them, finishing their own journeys.
But on my bookshelf is a kitschy ashtray and a John Cusack movie, which says to me that we do not believe that the end times are upon us.
Which means no one ever could have said to the boys:
“We’ll get you a new squirrel. You can get a tattoo. Just hang in there a little while longer.”
Things may have gotten better in the interim, or maybe worse, but there would have been a goal in sight. Waiting would have meant they could’ve split this rock alongside the people they loved, and who loved them. Some days would have felt interminable; other days would’ve felt like other days. No one would have had to go it alone, in this life or the next.
Then again, neither of the boys were particularly patient.
I work long hours in the ninth story of an ugly office building. The average story is 12.5 feet. From my office to the asphalt on L St. NW in downtown Washington, D.C., is probably 112.5 feet. They say if you fall for long enough, you pass out before you hit the Earth. This isn’t something I think about often, but I think about it sometimes.
I think I am going to wait it out.
2012 is just around the corner, and things may get better before then.
Also: my windows don’t open.
Mike Riggs works and lives in Washington, D.C.
Photo by elmindreda, from Flickr.