Everything was rushing past me, like going through a platform on the express train. Except I wasn’t on the subway. And everything was rushing from down to up. Which, considering I just jumped from the 75th floor of my building, makes sense.
My mom called Cara, not me, when it happened. She refused to call me after the argument we got into last week. I didn’t blame her.
“Your dad fell,” Cara told me over the phone as I rushed out of the office. “Your mom is taking him to the hospital. He could walk, but he was having a hard time breathing and complaining about a pain in his stomach.” My wife broke off and started to cry. “She sounded so scared–”
“It’s OK Cara. Don’t cry. Are you OK to drive?”
She sniffled out an “Uh-huh.”
“OK. Meet me at the hospital. I’m heading there now.” I hopped in my car and sped away. Traffic grew heavy as I approached the hospital, eventually coming to a standstill. Unable to contain my urgency, I jumped out of my car to investigate. Another driver – a burly, lumberjack-looking fellow – was walking back towards his car and stopped me.
“There’s an accident blocking the road. We’re gonna be here for a while.”
I slowed down to a brisk walk and called Cara. “There’s an accident. Are you there yet?”
“Tell Dad I’m coming. Tell Mom the accident is blocking traffic but I’m close so I’m just gonna run there.”
“Ok I will but Nick I-“
“I’ll be there in less than 10-“
“Nick! Listen to me! They don’t have record of your parents checking in yet.”
“What? Did she definitely say Good Samaritan?”
“I could have sworn that’s what sh-“
“Oh my God.” I dropped the phone as the mangled wreckage of the accident came into view. A tractor-trailer turned my parents’ Toyota Camry into an unrecognizable hunk of metal.
I went numb.
Jumping – the actual, physical jump, wasn’t the worst part. Heights have never scared me. It’s the anticipation that got to me. I’d thought about jumping before. I could jump from my office building. It’s huge. Tonight was different, though. I knew I’d be getting laid off when I got to work. After that, I’d have nothing left.
I stayed up all night contemplating my decision. At 6am, I knew it was time.
Why didn’t she call 911? Why did she have to drive Dad to the hospital? I’d asked myself these questions for weeks afterwards out of anger, sadness. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt depressed about my parents’ deaths, and angry that they were taken so quickly, so early.
Most of all, I felt guilty. Never would I be able to relieve myself of the guilt I have about not saying goodbye. My last conversation with them was an argument about their shed. Their shed. Mom wanted it painted, Dad couldn’t do it, and I didn’t want to do it. They called me lazy. I called them needy. My final goodbye was a “Paint the damn shed yourself!” behind a slammed door.
Why was that the way we left things? I’d been acting like my old self here and there recently. Between the stress of work and raising two toddlers, it was warranted. It wasn’t a fight like the ones we had when I was a teenager.
It was petty. A petty fight about painting a shed. I couldn’t forgive myself.
Getting to the roof was easier than expected. There were no security guards. No locked doors.
Some say suicide is the easy way out. I guess they meant it literally.
I sat in my driveway, dreading the thought of going inside. She has to know I’m home by now. I saw the kids peeking out the window. They will have told her. I need to go in.
“Daddy!!” the little guys yelled as I walked through the door. I gave them both a big hug and spun them around. They laughed. I smiled.
“Go put your jammies on and I’ll read you a story before bed.” They ran up the stairs as fast as 4 year olds can run up steps.
“Didn’t think you’d make it home before bedtime,” Cara said, back turned to me.
“There’s stuff for a sandwich in the fridge.” She left the room, never making eye contact with me. The kids were coloring before I got here. I cleaned up their mess and headed to the refrigerator.
Nothing in there for a sandwich. Cara stopped making enough dinner for there to be leftovers months ago.
After the deaths of my parents, I would go on long drives. Cara didn’t question it. She knew that it was a coping mechanism I created long ago. She’d feed the kids and leave a little extra for me when I got home. She’d always wait up, no matter how late I was. She didn’t ask me any questions about where I drove or how I was feeling unless I brought it up – she let me have my space. She was everything I could have asked for.
But as she began to move on, I couldn’t. I kept replaying that last conversation in my head. When I closed my eyes, all I could see was the wreckage. The mangled blue frame between the truck and the pole. I constantly thought about my relationship with my parents; what I put them through growing up. How I’d caused them so much pain for so long. How couldn’t Cara understand why I didn’t move on as fast as her? “Put yourself in my shoes,” I told her. “Try to see it from my point of view. You know me.” That only worked for a few weeks.
Four months after the funeral Cara had completely moved on. I still felt like I just lost them yesterday. We grew distant. Affection diminished. It became hard to have a conversation about anything of substance. We felt obligated to ask the typical questions. “How was work?” “How are the kids?” “How is your day going?” We didn’t care about the answers.
A year later, we barely spoke. Emotions over the last eight months turned from confusion to anger to hostility and, finally, heartbreaking acceptance.
The divorce papers were being finalized. We hadn’t moved apart for the kids’ sake, but that would come soon. I stayed away from home more and more often so they didn’t see us at odds.
I read the boys a story and, once they fell asleep, headed to my bedroom. I slept in the guest room now. I heard a knock on the door.
Cara stepped in. “I heard from the judge today.”
“I’m getting full custody.”
My eyes quivered as I walked out into the sunlight, beating down on me ironically on this uncharacteristically warm November afternoon. I slowly walked across the plaster. The south side is the only side with a straight shot to the ground. I stepped up onto the ledge.
I can’t remember a time in the first 17 years of my life that I was ever truly happy. Sure, there were moments, but never did I go to sleep at night feeling good about my life.
My parents realized it. They tried to help. They placed me in therapy. The doctor told them I had a combination of various mental illnesses, including depression, severe anxiety, and anger management problems. None of this was a surprise.
Our relationship had been strained for years. They’d try to reach out, but I wouldn’t reach back. I heard them get in screaming matches about what to do with me. “No more therapy!? You’ve GOT to be kidding! He’s a mess!” I hated how much I tore them apart. But I was completely unable to express that to them. Instead, I held it in. Silence. I don’t know why I did it. I couldn’t explain.
High school brought on a whole new set of factors. Everyone started filing each other into various categories. “Cool kids.” “Smart kids.” I was placed in “Other” or “Miscellaneous.” I was unable to connect with my classmates, and they made fun of me for it. I had no friends. I felt completely alone.
I bought some Vicodin from a guy who sold them at school and started taking them to get through the day. They helped me disassociate from the torture it was walking through the halls, let alone what went through my head. Soon one pill turned into one and half, which turned to 2, 3. I’d begun to lose count throughout the day. Whenever something was going wrong, or I started to feel bad again, I’d pop another.
One day I had a particularly bad fight with my parents during which my father slammed my head against the wall. My mother screamed at both of us until he let go of me. I stormed off to my room, popped a few more pills, and laid down. My head was spinning as I drifted into emotionless sleep.
I woke up on a hospital bed with an IV in my arm. “Attempted suicide.” I didn’t want to die, just numb the pain. They wouldn’t hear it. My parents took me directly to rehab.
It’s funny how they’ll say “he jumped off a building.” No one actually jumps – not in the literal sense of the word. Jumping implies excitement, joy, giddiness. They shouldn’t call us jumpers. They should call us leapers. But that sounds too faithful.
I got to see my kids every other weekend. The judge didn’t order it, but Cara agreed to let me form a relationship with them. I liked to think that I gave them some type of father figure. At least temporarily.
The visits normally consisted of me indulging their every want and need. McDonalds for lunch, followed by the toy store. Candy for dinner. Want to watch four hours of TV? Go for it. I knew it wasn’t healthy to let them do these things, but it made them happy to see me. It was better than nothing.
That was all fun and games for a while. As they started to grow up, though, they grew tired of these indulgences. They started to bicker with me. They’d repeat things Cara said about me, asking “why are you so mean to mommy?” and “why didn’t you love her enough?” Clearly she’d been feeding them lies to win them over.
It was working.
The visits started to become more and more sparse. Once every 3 weeks. Once a month. Finally, one day, Cara called.
“Hi, what’s up?”
“The kids won’t be coming over this weekend.”
“They’ve asked that they stop visiting.”
“Did they ask that, or did you tell them?”
“Nick I’m being serious. They told me they don’t want to visit anymore. I’m sorry.”
I haven’t heard from them since.
Then I heard it. Music coming from the open window I just passed. It was quick – only a fraction of a fraction of a second – but I recognized it. Like how a song can come on the radio and you know what it is after half a note. It took me back, like only music can, to an earlier time in my life.
It was an unseasonably warm November afternoon. The sun shone down on me as I got in the car. My father came to pick me up.
“Hi Nick,” he said in a cautiously optimistic voice.
“Hi Dad.” I shut the door and buckled my seatbelt.
“It’s good to see you.”
I didn’t know what to say. This was the first positive sign of emotion my dad had shown me in years. “Thanks,” I responded. “It’s uhh…it’s nice to see you too.”
That’s all we said for the first two hours of the three-hour drive home. I’d spent the last six months in an experimental immersive mental health treatment facility. I’d barely spoken to my parents during my time there – it wasn’t allowed often.
And now that I was finally able say whatever I wanted to my father, I didn’t know what to talk about. My dad and I had been distant for so long. Not just over the past six months, but for years before that.
I wanted to talk to him. Badly. I wanted to tell him how much better I felt. How hard I worked at rehab to feel better. How I learned so many ways to deal with things when I started feeling anxious or mad or depressed. I wanted to tell him that I know I’ll always have these traits, but I can live with them and handle them. I wanted to apologize for how badly I acted towards him and Mom. I wanted to tell him how inspired and optimistic about life I was feeling. That I don’t even think about taking pills to numb the pain. That there isn’t much pain anymore anyway. But I didn’t know how.
I gasped for air, as if I was about say something, but withdrew at the last minute. I saw my dad glance over, then back at the road.
“I…” I stopped. “Um…” I hesitated again. Get something out of your mouth. I sighed heavily. “I-“
“Nicholas.” My dad interrupted. I swallowed my words. He paused for an eternity. “Your mother and I have never been more proud of you. We love you, son.” He paused again. “I love you.”
I bit my cheek as my eyes started watering. I love you too. Say it. I took a deep breath and stared forward through the windshield, vision blurry. Nothing came out.
My dad turned the radio on and music filled the car.
“Great song. You know it?”
I’d never forget it.
That car ride. The day my life started over. So full of optimism, inspiration, happiness. I was so strong for a 17 year old.
What happened to me? I thought to myself. How did I fall back into my own trap? I’d done so well for so long. I lost my ability to control my emotions after my parents passed. I forgot how. Instead, I let my old self overpower me.
It was small at first, but it grew. Quickly. And I did nothing to slow it down. It consumed me, so much so that I saw no way out. When I realized I needed to control it, it was too late. And I didn’t care to fight it. So I lost myself. I became a slave to my illness, allowing it to be an excuse to not only lose my friends, but let my marriage fail and kids despise me. I told myself I was unable to do anything about it. But really I should have been fighting like hell to get myself together.
I need to forgive myself. I’m a strong person who’s been weak recently. I can overcome it. I can stop being the person I’ve turned into. That optimistic 17 year old – who had the strength to forgive himself and turn his life around – he’s still inside me. I can be the person who fell in love and had beautiful children. I can be happy. Like that day in the car with Dad. That can be me again.
Relief swept over me. Escape from my former self felt possible. I was more hopeful than I’d felt in years. Just like in the car that day, with my dad. That’s when I knew everything was going to be OK. That I’d be OK. The minute he told me loved me.
“I love you too Dad.”
I hit the ground.
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