holding severed hands

“You wish that you won’t wake up but you can’t even get to sleep
six feet under for these six months, just dying to be buried…”
Sacha Sacket, Sweet Suicide

“I’m waiting for blood to flow to my fingers
I’ll be all right when my hands get warm…
-Dashboard Confessional, The Best Deceptions

I’ve come across peculiar customers throughout my years in retail.  One gentleman used to come in through the rear entrance of the store and always went through my area to get to the jewelry department.  He was a tall man in his late 40s with a big, round belly.  He always wore polo shirts, shorts, and white crew socks that stuck out from tennis shoes, no matter the weather.  His shaggy hair was brown and unkempt, swept across his brown eyes and over his ears.  He had bristly hair that hung down from the nostrils of his Roman nose. 

He liked to pass the time talking to the jewelry associates, sometimes spending a whole hour looking at jewelry and chatting.  Sometimes he branched away from jewelry and talked to other associates in other departments.  Eventually, he made his way to my department to talk to me.  He spoke with a deep, booming voice and also with a lisp.  As he talked, his tongue darted between his small, brown teeth, muffling his “s” sounds.  Right away, I could tell he had a mental handicap.  He often spoke in circles, repeating himself as he stood with his hand propped on his jutted hip.  He talked about the weather a lot, hoping for rain or wind to break the southern heat.

I noticed he wore women’s jewelry.  His hands waved in the air as he talked and I noticed several rings on his fingers.  The bands were thin gold that supported small diamonds.  He also wore a delicately thin necklace with a heart pendent nestled in the hair that crawled up over his open shirt collar.

I inquired about his taste in jewelry to one of my coworkers one day and she said the rings and necklace belonged to his dead mother.  He wore them to feel closer to her.  I didn’t know if I thought that was touching or creepy.  Maybe a bit of both.

He also bought a lot of women’s panties and his name was Roger.

But out of all his eccentricities, his incessant talking was the most problematic.  He talked about things I was not interested in, therefore it was painful to stand through one of his rants or daydreams.  He also often showed up when I was busiest and, not wanting to be rude, I stopped what I was doing to listen to him talk about hoping to win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes and what he would do with his windfall.  I mostly nodded and even chuckled when appropriate.  Sometimes I folded a stack of shirts and then picked them up and slowly walked away from him to give him the hint that I needed to get back to work but he never picked up on any of my cues.

He made me uncomfortable in a way I couldn’t articulate.  He wasn’t rude or intimidating.  He was just awkward and I’m awkward as well so we didn’t make a great pair.  I found myself hoping a customer would need help or the phone would ring so I could shimmy my way out of his conversational grip.  It came to a point that when I saw him stomping my way, I sprinted in the opposite direction so as to avoid his laser gaze.

I’ve known him for years.  He was one of many customers that I’d see and feel that sense of familiarity coupled with a bit of unease, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  In his own way, he was a part of my routine, a consistent face, an expected presence during my time at work.

While I was on vacation, he shot and killed himself.

One of the scariest moments of my life was when I had to talk a good friend out of committing suicide.  We were only children back then, in the middle of our teens and awkward with acne and agony.  I wasn’t writing down my life back then so the events are foggy at best but I remember I caught wind that she was thinking about taking her life and so I called her on the phone at two in the morning and tried to calm her down.  She sobbed and I stuttered to find the words to talk her out of it.  I threatened to drive to her house in my threadbare pajamas if I had to just to get her to not hurt herself.

I remember the panic in my stomach and this heavy feeling of hopelessness that wrapped around me like a lead blanket.  I suppose she was feeling the same hopelessness, just filtered differently than mine.  I asked her to consider how killing herself would make her parents feel, would make me feel.  Through sloppy sobs, she told me she didn’t care how it would make us feel.

I was hurt and offended but I pushed through my feelings to try to save her life.  Eventually, through an hour of calm coercion, she settled down and decided not to do it.

I didn’t realize until several years later what it meant to not care about the ramifications of suicide.  I went through life with darkening eyes.  I felt the pain intensify every day, the hurt bubble up and bloom out over everything until it was all I could see.  All the laughter in my life didn’t make a difference and was rendered ineffective, like putting sugar on a suture.  I realized I wanted out.  I realized how selfish it might be.  I realized I didn’t care.  I saw how my friend’s unconcern for my feelings was not personal.  I didn’t want to hurt anyone but I was hurting more than anyone realized, more than I could express.  I was living in a skin that sizzled and the only way to stop it was to slide out of it.  Sometimes, pain is stronger than love or fear and you find yourself willing to do anything to end it, no matter who it might hurt.  It’s not something you want to do but something you feel you have to do.

I think my friend didn’t kill herself because she wasn’t really ready.  I don’t think I had much to do with it.  I was an ear and an assuring voice.  She just made a rash decision, a moment goaded by a bad day or dialogue.  I think if she was really ready, I wouldn’t have been able to change her mind.  We always hope we have some kind of influence, that our love or language will steer the outcome toward life.  But I don’t think that’s so.  When someone is ready to go, there’s no stopping them.  It may seem like a personal blow to you but it’s not.  You can be there and try to create a connection.  You can reach out and hold their hand to comfort them but then you realize their hand is severed from their body and you’re only holding onto a few fingers and a fledgling hope that somehow you’d be enough to make a difference.

You’re not.

I kept thinking about Roger.  I didn’t feel bad about him.  I wasn’t upset over his death.  I wasn’t going to miss him but he stayed on my mind and I wasn’t sure why.  I guess I knew him enough to think it was a shame he passed away but it was also mixed with a perverted kind of reverence.  Some people think suicide is taking the coward’s way out but I think it’s kind of brave to belly flop into the unknown like that.  He was the first person I actually knew who had committed suicide.  This guy I saw around my store for years wasn’t going to walk in with his tennis shoes and shiny gold rings on his thick knuckles anymore.  Why did he do it?  How had he summoned the sadness or courage to pull it off?  What was going through his mind?  Did he have anyone to talk to?  Did his impairment have anything to do with his death?

The possibility of ending my life is always there, always peeking its head out from under the shame and rage that fills my body.  It calls to me, reminds me it’s there, waiting.  It all presses down on me until I feel crushed under the weight of every person and voice and insecurity and I have to put my hands up and wonder if I really want to die at all.  I say I do, under my breath when things go bad.  I say it almost every day.  I joke about it too much to be healthy.  But do I really mean it or am I exhaling empty threats?

I keep imaging scenarios in which I’m faced with true death. What if a disgruntled customer comes in and points a gun at my face? Am I going to press my head against the barrel and tell him to do me a favor or am I going to piss myself and scream for mercy? If a truck comes barreling toward me, am I going to whip out of the way or am I going to stand still with a welcoming smile?  If I’m ever diagnosed with cancer, am I going to fight it or fall frail until I break apart?  Am I all talk and no toxins?

I guess I’ll never really know unless I’m confronted with the true possibility of biting it.  There’s a wholly undiscovered world on the other side of a gun.  But I’m scared that world is as empty and cold as the one I’d be leaving and that’s why I haven’t pulled the trigger yet.  It’s the unknown we fear, the possibility there really is a hell or there is nothing at all waiting for us.  We wake in emptiness and live in it and die in it and then we are extinguished.  We have to face the possibility that we are not important and our lives don’t mean anything and neither do our souls.  We’re all born and suffer and die and then grafted onto the Great Void and it’s terrifying to think that there is no point to anything because pointlessness leads to chaos and chaos leads to death and no one wants to die.

I have no roots, only regrets.  I have no wings, only chains.  I have nothing.  I think about my friend’s nothing.  I think about Roger’s nothing.  I think of the nothing hidden away inside everyone.  One day, I will be nothing.

I’m just exhausted.  It’s that simple.  I’m tired and I want out.  I’m tired of living inside my head instead of living in the world. I’m tired of constantly feeling like there’s nothing more to life than what I’ve already experienced.  I know there’s more to life than what I’ve lived and that’s almost worse because I know there’s love and happiness out there and the fact that it dangles out of reach is what corrodes my insides.   My life is shallow and trivial and I’ve become petulant and pathetic.  I see the world through morose-colored glasses glued to my face.  The tentacles come out and lap at my face and neck and chest and sink thoughts of death and dying into me.  They slide the slime of self-hatred across my body, slicing at me until the light pours out.

I’m not ready yet.  But I’m making plans.  I’ve said to myself that I’ll give it a few more years.  I’ll give things a chance to turn around.  I’ll try to turn things around myself.  I’ll be proactive in producing better days.  But if I don’t see a change, I’ll have to get up and get out because I can’t go on like this much longer.  And the consequences won’t matter.  The words won’t make a difference because I’ve come across worlds my whole life.  Words feel good on the surface but it’s the actions, the feelings, the love behind them that make them effective.  And that’s what’s been missing all this time.  And it’s kind of too late to correct that because that love would have kept me from ever getting to this point.  I’m beyond it now.  I’m coasting.

One day, I will sever my hands so no one will be able to reach me or come running in their threadbare pajamas.  I’ll be beyond help by that point.  In a lot of ways, I already am.

It’ll take a miracle to move me.

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