He sat there quietly on the steps, playing with the pocket knife he had been sharpening in whatever time he had, massaging it against an oiled whetstone when there was a break from work in the printery. There was no anger or rage, no fear or discomfort – a complete apathy had settled over him, as comfortable as a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night where he was born 15 years ago.
He’d just been kicked out of Physics class, one of the few classes he enjoyed, for highlighting a mistake made by the teacher – he was told never to return to the class.
He studied the honed blade and tested it against the young hair on his forearm, deriving no pleasure from how well he had sharpened the knife, how the knife shaved as well as a straight razor, scraping dead skin with it.
Things had not been going that well.
There was no one to talk to, really – to speak of things bothering him was a sign of weakness, and there’s little room for weakness between young men crushed together under the weight of a school where everyone in authority told him that he could do better when he didn’t meet their expectations. He had not yet learned that when he did well they did not speak, all that he heard was that he was not working hard enough.
The same happened at home. Nothing was ever good enough. There were no smiles involving him, the laughter was either directed at him or about something he wasn’t supposed to be party to. No matter what he did, it seemed, it wasn’t good enough. No matter how hard he worked in his drunk father’s business, it didn’t matter. His stepmother was a lost cause, off typing away and dragging her feet on hard wood floors, her inability to cook not open for discussion despite him having to walk home for lunch every day.
It was a control, keeping him from speaking with others at school except in class or breaks.
The printery did little more than make ends meet, with glorious plans espoused by his father that were not attainable.
“If you pulled your weight…”, “If you tried harder…”… well, that was what he was fed with every day in every aspect of his life. He did try hard. He wasn’t perfect. He responded to painful stimuli just like everyone else, to a point, to a point where he was squaring off with everyone when beaten into a corner like an animal. He started coming out of that corner swinging, and that, too, didn’t help.
He remembered a drunk uncle who had been a doctor in an emergency room complaining about how people didn’t know how to kill themselves properly – they slit their wrists the wrong way, and he had gone about explaining the right way. It’s odd the things that stick in a young mind.
He didn’t fit in at school. He was mocked for his cheap black shoes, even slapped on the back of the head by schoolmates driving by as he walked back to his prison. He seethed.
Maybe it would be easier for everyone if he just wasn’t around. The thought had no feeling to it – there was an apathetic pragmatism to someone who, already confused by puberty, the culture shock of being of another place and of a mixed ‘race’, and no way to let any of it out without more of the same burden that had been piling up for years.
He traced the knife point – he had honed that part the most, for opening boxes of paper – along the path that the drunk doctor had demonstrated, quietly. There was no thought of death. There was a thought of leaving life and escaping a world that was heavy-handedly trying to sculpt him into something he could not be.
Those he loved could not be pleased, those he liked could not be pleased, and the response that broiled in him just made things worse over and over again.
Life, to him, was pain. As he fiddled with the knife, he thought about what might be said about him should he leave, and realized it simply wouldn’t matter anymore.
A deep breath. The index finger steadied itself behind the blade of the knife, feeling the curve of it. “It might take a while”, he thought, but he had nowhere he wanted to be and nothing better to do based on the validations of others.
There was no pain when the point pricked the skin, revealing a drop of life’s juice. Another deep breath, preparation for the stroke….
“Don’t do that.”, said a familiar voice, quiet and deep, friendly. He looked up from his wrist, down the stairs and saw quiet and large Jojo, who looked up with the penetrating and humorous expression he always seemed to have . Jojo beckoned with his hand, and the moment was over.
He went and hung out with Jojo.
In that pivotal moment, the straw did not break the camel’s back, and, as it happens, it never did.
People like to talk about suicide after people have committed suicide, or when they have suicidal ideations. You’ll hear all the buzzwords – depression, ‘mental health issues’, and then you’ll hear the judgements about being selfish. You’ll hear people say that they had no idea, that they had just spoken to them not long ago, and how well they knew them.
The only suicide experts are dead. Everyone else just has theories. Everyone is different.
I’ve lost friends, acquaintances and loved ones to suicide. I’ve also talked a lot of people out of it – more than I’ve lost – by not talking, instead listening. And I’ve lost a few I did listen to.
Everyone who commits suicide has a reason that people who don’t commit suicide don’t understand. Few people who have stared into that particular abyss are even allowed to talk about it in society, or in a conversation with a counselor, without some judgement that somehow seems to make it all worse. I imagine that there are more people who have thought about suicide than any scientific study would reveal.
In some religions, it’s a sin – for the religious, the ultimate backstop. Another reason not to say anything about it. It’s taboo, more so than the the Internet History of many religious people’s web browsers.
As the above showed, it didn’t take much even in the moment to stop it, but it did not stop what lead up to it. While some- many? – people are oblivious to how difficult other people’s lives are, simply not being a jerk is enough.