By Danielle Service
In the winter of 1995, shortly after I’d graduated college but was living on in the dorms as a Resident Director, I spent one long night on my couch talking to a handsome man who looked and acted just like George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – same demeanor and half-smile, same calculated, lilting amusement. He held dramatic pauses in our conversation, carried with ironic and writerly phrasing. He was exactly my type, a friend of a friend, and as the night drew on interspersed with bong hits (ah, 1995) and deep revelations the intimacy grew. You’d think this story ends with a steamy hookup on a winter night in Atlanta but it doesn’t. He asked just one question, very late:
“Can I hold you?”
I nodded, and he did as we continued talking. I don’t remember if we kissed. We probably did, but all I remember is the talking.
I drove to Washington D.C. the next day to visit a friend, then went home for Christmas. When I came back I expected a continuation of sorts but he held a hand up to the endeavor, pled friendship mea culpa – he still had the hots for an ex. I was disappointed, not crushed. We hung in groups together, partied, did Whip-Its by the train tracks, watched The Doors over and over and over. That was then. We drifted. I moved.
"He sent me pictures of his gun collection and told me he wanted to kill himself. He had started writing suicide notes. Wanted to know if I would read one."
Facebook is the best and worst of all social interaction, like Vegas is the best and worst of all of America’s entertainment. The social network drives you back into arms that would otherwise wave in the wind, the way Vegas showcases talent and vice for the taking that, perhaps, should be left untouched by the commoner. Facebook, the opener of doors that are meant to stay closed. Or not. As society hurtles toward the next tier of technological existence who’s to say how our relationships will navigate? There used to be closed endings to almost all of them. Now they are mostly open. It could be the universe’s way to ensure we will all remain connected. But this is hardly the point.
So Facebook reconnected us twenty years later. I watched him get married, have a baby boy. Get divorced, unravel. We started talking again on a thread about Stephen King’s It, of all the damn things. Then we started writing. Then he told me he was under indictment for felony charges of embezzlement and wire fraud and was looking at serious prison time. He sent me pictures of his gun collection and told me he wanted to kill himself. He had started writing suicide notes. Wanted to know if I would read one.
I know a lot of people who talk about suicide like the day’s flavor, just by virtue of the circles I run in. Recovered addicts, alcoholics. Sometimes writers, neurotic types prone to depression and empathy and insight. The thing about suicide intention and idealization is that you can’t freak out when someone suggests it and to be honest there’s not a lot you can do if someone’s bent on it. I read once that suicide becomes an option when pain is greater than the available coping mechanisms for it. So one either breaks or looks for an outlet. I’ve learned to listen and hear people out, not act like they’re crazy or that I have to do something to stop them.
So I read his suicide note and suggested that in prison he would have so much time to write, and that maybe he could be like Denzel Washington in Flight and take responsibility for his actions instead of killing himself, and he could help other people when he got out. That life would be ten thousand times better once he navigated the swamp of this shitshow. That I’d had myriad students who just wanted their parents around regardless of what the parents had done: kids love their parents no matter what, and his son would too. That maybe a cool book idea would be that he write a collection of suicide notes that chronicled the progression of his recovery and journey through prison.
I have a dear friend who called a suicide hotline in her sophomore year at a prestigious college. She’d been admitted young and was at the end of her rope. The voice on the other end of that hotline answered, then put her on hold, as in “Suicide hotline. Will you please hold?” When she told me that story I howled laughter, slid my back down the wall while I held the phone. “Oh Christ,” I said, when I could speak. “That’s just too damn good.”
“But it was that that did it for me, girl,” my friend said. “That’s when I realized that deep on some level that no one gave a shit. Well, not that they didn’t give a shit, no – that it was up to me to pull it together and that the world would go on if I didn’t. Her putting me on hold was a slap in the face.”
That’s the thing. You never know what’s going to do it. I know I’m good at listening, so that’s what I do.
My other friend and I continued talking, on and off. I left him alone some, reached out at other times. A couple months ago he told me the charges had been pled down to just wire fraud, a year max in white-collar prison. “I decided not to kill myself out of sheer pride,” he said. “What kind of pussy kills himself over a wire fraud charge?”
“Fair enough,” I wrote. “I’ll come see you on my road trip this summer if I go that way, before the indictment.”
“Promise me,” he said. “Promise you’ll come visit.”
I did. I make it a habit to keep promises as part of my recovery, so I went (slightly) out of my way to hit the mid-sized, southern city where he resided. He was not the same as I remembered. Still smart, sharp-tongued, but sweaty, fraught, desperate. Frenetic energy. He told me I looked great, better than my pizza-delivering ‘powder phase’ days. I don’t have many people in my life still who remember me from that time.
He asked if he could hold me. I nodded. I let him rub my back. We did not kiss. He had another girl coming over at seven.
Danielle Service is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She currently teaches seventh grade Language Arts and yoga in New Hampshire.