Jerry’s family was shocked when they discovered he chopped off four of his fingers with a hatchet, and eventually died from losing too much blood. It made a sticky mess of his garage, where he was found wearing his favorite t-shirt from a 1979 Bob Dylan tour concert. There was no suicide note, but his cell phone was just a few feet away on the shelf. He didn’t attempt to make any calls.
Before taking the blade to his hand, Jerry had become overwhelmed with grief. He was a single man in his 30’s, with a steady career in accounting. Girlfriends were here and there, but he hadn’t been seeing anyone for the past few months. His life was not quite stagnant, but not much different than what most residents in a suburban cul-de-sac would refer to as “normalcy.”
Detectives searched for a reason why. There had been no history of depression or violence, nor any sudden changes in Jerry’s lifestyle. But the answer for Jerry’s gruesome death would never be known by any still living, for it remained solely between himself and another dead woman.
Jerry witnessed a suicide a few days prior to his own. A woman he had never met was walking on the sidewalk, parallel with his car. She was holding her purse with a kinked elbow, and her hair was auburn brown, like a fading tree in autumn. When he saw her, she appeared to be on her way to a lunch date, perhaps. Maybe a business meeting. Her attire looked professional and well kempt. A purple, flowing skirt and denim jacket was her final outfit.
Jerry saw these details while waiting at a red light. Suddenly, she darted into the intersection just as a moving truck was speeding to catch the yellow light. She stood squarely in front it, feet planted firmly on the ground and hands at her side. The purse had dropped to street.
When the truck hit her, it sent her body into the air. The truck’s tires squealed less than a second before impact, and the vehicle remained halfway in the intersection when the light turned green for Jerry.
He decided to drive forward, and not wait around to become a witness. But he was certainly in shock. He pondered the immediacy of the suicide. How calm and normal everything seemed at one moment, but how everything was frantically replaced with death a second later.
Why did she do it? Someone with such physical composure, what snapped in her brain that caused this woman to end it all?
Jerry’s car tires rolled slowly over the blood on the pavement. Leaving a light trail behind him as he drove. He stopped at a car wash to clean his sedan. Some blood had also splashed onto his hood.
As he washed his car, squeezing the trigger of the pressure washer with all four fingers, he felt envy. The experience this woman just had, this final experience, was one she took complete control of. Up until this point of his life, nearly everything Jerry had was the result of fortune, misfortune, or some mysterious "stuff" of life he had no understanding of (fate? God?). He realized that suicide was one action that a human can make regardless of his environment. He couldn’t choose the weather, or how tall he was, or where he was born, or when. But he could choose when to end. That is, as long as that mysterious stuff of life didn’t choose it before he did.
His fingers loosened their grip on the pressure washer. The blood had been sprayed clean off, and he was ready to finish his drive.
Of course, Jerry was troubled by all of this. He was not a stoic man, but one who enjoyed socialization at work and parties on weekends. He was not a gloomy person at all, but seeing this suicide triggered internal questions as to why he was alive.
During his drive, he wondered about his family’s likely reaction had he done the same thing as that woman. If he suddenly jumped in front of a truck, would they ask why? Certainly they would, but they would not find an answer. The best anyone could come up with might be something like “he was here, and then he was gone.”
But had Jerry spoken with that woman, perhaps he wouldn’t be thinking these thoughts at all. Perhaps she would have told him how troubled she was on the inside, and that death is not a frivolous matter. He would never know, so he avoiding putting living words into the mouth of the dead.
Her name was Etta. She was a mother of two boys, both in high school. Her husband traveled for work, and was occasionally away from home for months at a time. But they had a happy marriage built on trust and love. She did not have suicidal tendencies.
One week before her own suicide, Etta took a routine trip to the grocery store. She bought milk, bread, orange juice, a few cans of soup, laundry detergent, and some mints to keep in the car. It was an evening trip for bare essentials, occurring after dinner and before turning in for the night. The sky was almost dark, and the light poles in the parking lot were already brightly yellow.
As she sat down in her SUV, Etta noticed a young man at the edge of the parking lot near a tall bush. She thought he could have been homeless, or maybe a teenager smoking cigarettes. It was dark there; he was nothing more than a shadow.
A light flashed and a loud bang startled her. The man had a gun, and he shot himself in the foot with it. Etta saw him on the ground, still holding the gun in his hand while staring at his wounded foot, a white tennis shoe now covered with blood and dripping out the heels.
Etta assumed this was an accidental shot, so she turned her vehicle on and sped towards him. She pawed around for her cell phone on the floor of the car as she accelerated. Nobody else seemed to be in the parking lot at the time.
She shined her headlights on him, seeing his face as freckled. Later she realized it was a splatter of blood. He lifted his gun, and shot himself in the wrist. This shocked Etta, and she froze with her hands over her mouth. As horrifying as it was, she would not turn her eyes. The man then looked at her, almost impervious to her arrival. Then he looked back down at his wrist wound, inspecting it.
He lined up the wound on his wrist with the wound on his foot, and shot again. Etta shrieked. He was now lying in a pool of his own blood, straddling the boundary of the grass and the pavement. Weeds poking through the cracks of the pavement were glistening in Etta’s headlights. The young man was hunched over now, still inspecting the holes in his body.
Though he hadn’t up until this point, he now winced in pain. His eyes squinted and he clenched his teeth. He aimed the gun at his chest and fired. His body wobbled and he nearly dropped the gun. A deep wound of red on his buttoned, collared shirt nearly toppled him. After a few seconds, he attempted to point the gun at his head, but the shot missed. He tried again, and blew off his chin. Only his upper teeth remained now, the tongue hanging like a long tie against his neck.
His body crumpled down into a pile of red, wet flesh. Etta was crying. She saw how intentional this young man was about his final moments, how each shot of pain was one he desired to feel before the finalization. She turned her car off, along with the headlights.
Instead of feeling thankful for her own life, she felt repulsed by it. As she sat in her SUV, in the parking lot of a suburban grocery store, her demeanor turned grim. A scowl representing the distaste for humanity’s ability to commit suicide. She remembered her family dog, who never allowed itself to flirt with thoughts of death. The animal who lived until the day it was put down. A final decision reached not by the animal, but by the human family.
When she was a little girl, she cried when her dog died. She didn’t want to see her pet go, because it had brought nothing but joy to her family. She cried again tonight because she hated the man who looked through her windshield as he slowly shot himself to death. There was no honor in what he did, no respectability. And this is the state of humanity she now saw. She did not see people capable of love, but a species plagued by its own awareness. With each shot, this man was fully aware of his self-infliction. And deep down, Etta knew she was capable of the very same thing. She despised herself for maintaining this capability.
She decided then that her death would not be a slow one, but that it would come immediately and by her own call. Prolonging suffering was not something she would partake in, nor would a methodical suicide. She didn’t know when it would happen, but she knew there would be no time less painful to those who loved her. Death, no matter how it comes, hurts those who are not exited by it, but left to wait and suffer longer.
Why would this young man commit suicide? Why Etta? Why Jerry? Why put a name on a gravestone? Why feed a dog every day between walks? Who decides when one should be born, and who keeps parents alive? One death inspires another; it cannot be so in life.