Monday, October 23, 2017

A Statue, a Bridge and a Dream by Rick Brooks

Cal is so consumed by guilt after his brother's suicide, he considers desperate measures; by Rick Brooks.

BEFORE

The gaunt little man stumbled down the short hallway between his living room and bedroom, stopping once to lean against a wall and down the last bit of whiskey from the brown bottle he carried. Holding it up to his eyes, dark and bagged, he focused long enough to see the bottle was empty.

“Well, that’s it, I guess.”

He lurched the rest of the way to his bedroom and let himself fall onto the tattered mattress, the only piece of furniture in the room besides a beat-up storage box in the corner. And there, in his nicely-maintained suburban home, with its manicured lawn and welcome mat on the stoop, he reached for the pistol next to him, held it up to his left eye and pulled the trigger.



INTERLUDE

Cal swallowed most of the pain, although some still tugged at the edges of his eyes, trying hard to get out. Alone in the eye of the crowd, unmoved by the mindless masses as they surged past on all sides and dizzied by the towering green lady as the emotional impact of seeing her slammed into his heart, he took in her proudly-worn crown and her brightly-lit torch, trying to see the beacon of hope she had once embodied for him.

"Will you ever again inspire me?"

As he looked up, trying to see the majesty of days past, of the time when he and his brother proudly wore the uniform, he also looked inward, not even remembering what he hoped to find - and still found nothing he wished to bring into the light. Sighing, he hung his head and watched a tiny spider scuttle across his worn sneaker.

"Or will you forever remind me of my failure to save him?" Unbidden, the memory of opening the bedroom door slithered once again across his mind. There was his brother on that ragged mattress, almost looking like he was sleeping, except for -

He shook his head to clear it of the horrible image, the pain tugging hard at his eyes, seeking escape. A single stomp and, "Stop it!" He wiped at an eye. "Not going to cry in public." A passerby shot him a quick sideways glance, but didn’t stop.

Head down, hands stuffed deep in his pockets, he shuffled off to wherever, trying to fight off the "whys" and the "what-ifs", knowing it would be impossible and dreading what would follow.

"Goddammit.”



“I went there again a couple days ago, Doc.”

“The Statue of Liberty?”

“Yeah, I keep hoping,” Cal looked up from the couch at the woman sitting in an easy chair a few feet away, her long legs crossed comfortably as she listened. “I keep hoping it’ll be, I don’t know, different? Better?”

She scribbled something on her notepad, using a pencil that was much too short for her hand. She finished and said, “And what happened? Did you feel anything different?”

“Same.”

She paused. “I’m sorry to hear that.” She flipped back through her notes. “Didn’t we decide to try an anti-depressant? Ah, yes, here it is.” She looked up at him. “Has it helped? Does everything still seem…” She checked her notes again and said, “Gray around the edges?”

“Yeah. Still the same.”

“I had hoped the medication would at least take the edge off that feeling. Not even a little bit?” Her pencil paused, awaiting his response.

“No. And it feels like everything has gone even more gray. Like, not just around the edges, you know?” She made a quick note. “And I’m still having the um, surprise crying episodes.” He looked down at his hands again, trying to remember a better time - back before his brother had bought the gun, back before the surprise crying bouts, back before any mention of death made him want to run and hide in a locked closet like a frightened child.

More scribbling and, “How many of these bouts since the last time we met?”

“Yesterday at work, in the middle of a meeting. Before that, right after I left the statue.”

She wrote a bit then reached for a prescription pad. “It appears the medication isn’t working for you. That happens. We have to keep trying until we find the right one for you. I’ll write you a new prescription for a different—“

He held up his hand. “No. I’m not - um, I’ve thought about it, and it doesn’t seem fair. To him.”

Holding the prescription pad, she raised an eyebrow. “Oh? How so?”

“Well, you know I tried to help him. I really tried. But he said to leave him alone. He said to stop calling and don’t email. And after that he said to stop contacting him at all. He told everyone that. He never said why, although I asked several times. He just said he was ok and he wanted to be left alone.”

The hurt began its relentless tugging again and this time he couldn’t fight. The tears came hard. Between sobs he said, “And so… I left him alone… because I wanted to… respect his wishes… and I never thought… that he… that he…”

He grabbed the box of tissues off the end table, yanked a couple out and buried his face in his hands, trying desperately to allow the tissues to soak up his guilt. The doctor put the prescription pad back on her desk and quietly waited. As the crying subsided, she asked “Cal, can you say it?”

Sniffing, and almost in a whisper, he said, “No. I cannot.” With one hand he tossed the tissues, wet and torn, into the small brown garbage can and with the other he grabbed a couple more from the box. He blew his nose, cleared his throat and, still looking at the floor, said, “I should have tried harder. Gone to his house. Banged on the door. BROKEN down the door. Forced him to talk to me. But I didn’t.”

He tried to stop remembering. The phone call from the police. Breaking into the house. Being the first to open the bedroom door to find his brother. He looked like he was just taking a nap, except for the gun and the mess—

“I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE!” Cal stomped hard, stood and began pacing around the little therapy room. Using the last of his tissues, he wiped the snot from his nose and said, “I should have done more. I should have been a better brother.” The guilt overtook him again and the sheer emotional weight of it pushed him back down onto the couch, where he again buried his face in his hands.

“All my fault.” The intensity of his weeping kept him from continuing.

Several tissues later, the woman said, “I understand. Whether you choose to use it or not, I’m going to give you a new prescription. I’d really like you to start using it today. It will help us to better work through your grief. Right now you’re suffering from depression and if we don’t address that, it will be very difficult to get at the root issues behind your grief.”

“No. I - I don’t know if I’m explaining this well, but I believe I need to feel the hurt. Maybe… penance?” He looked to his left at the cloudy, gray sky outside the office window. “Whatever the reason, it feels right.”

As the alarm on the doctor’s watch chimed the hour, she closed her notebook and said, “Cal, look at me.” He did. “Please try this medication. It will help me to better help you. Right now, you’re needlessly punishing yourself and you don’t have to do that.”

Cal watched her reach again for the prescription pad and mumbled, “Yeah. I do.”

He dropped the crumbled prescription paper in the trash bin as he left the doctor’s office.



NOW

Things were better now - better than they had been in a long time. Although the cold wind stung his face as he meandered toward the bridge, he smiled because for the first time in, he couldn’t even remember how long, he felt in control. Cal had finally come to terms with the “whys” and the “what-ifs” that had haunted him for so long. He understood how manically they had driven him and had finally accepted they weren’t really that important. For the first time in a long time he felt like he had direction. And for the first time in a long time, he felt almost as good as “before”.

He started across the bridge. As he walked, he held loosely to the safety guardrail on the little wall that separated the pedestrian walkway from the drivers on his left. “Gotta be careful,” he thought, “don’t wanna get run over by one of these crazy drivers.” Another wall bordered the pedestrian walkway on his right. It stood a little taller, but not so tall you couldn’t see over it, and had a safety rail that ran along the top. It protected pedestrians from a 250-foot drop into the river.

He walked about halfway across and stopped to admire the sunset. “Gorgeous.” He exhaled, letting out a breath he felt he’d been holding for years. It had been too long since he’d wanted to slow down and watch the sun mark the end of his day. He thought this might be the most beautiful sight he would ever see.

He let the feeling wash over him as he crawled over the taller wall on his right. One hand holding the rail behind him, he leaned out over the edge. His research said hitting the water at this height would be like jumping from a 15-story building onto a concrete sidewalk.

He stared, longing for the water. He only had to let go. No more hurt. No more guilt. And maybe he’d even get to see his brother again.

Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, and -

A woman screamed.

“No no no no no,” Cal mumbled. No one should’ve been able to see him. He had planned so he’d be hidden by the massive center support beam. He tightened his grip on the safety rail.

“RYAN! PLEASE NO!”

“What?” He opened his eyes. “Who’s Ryan?”

He pulled himself back from the edge and peeked around the beam. Oblivious, planning his own end, he hadn’t noticed that traffic had stopped and a crowd had formed on the opposite side of the bridge. He could hear a woman’s screams above the murmuring of the crowd. He looked back over his shoulder, sighed and shrugged. “I can always come back later.”

Cal stepped back over the safety rail, then over the second rail and into the parking lot that used to be the traffic lanes. Cars had stopped in both directions and people had emptied them to join the growing crowd. The woman’s voice came again, over the wind, pleading and with a desperate edge, “Ryan, please don’t! You don’t have to do this!”

He eased through the crowd of the curious, the concerned, and the idiots with their phones out taking video, probably hoping to film the jump. He ‘accidentally’ bumped more than one, knocking a phone or two to the ground on his way to get a look. He stood taller than most, so even before he reached the front edge of the crowd he had a good idea of the scenario. A smallish woman on the pedestrian path held a baby, tears streaming down her face. She stood a few steps in front of the crowd, as if on a stage. Cal bumped another camera from someone’s hand as he moved forward and followed the crying woman’s gaze. Almost directly opposite where he had himself been just moments ago, there was Ryan, a young-ish man with a little bit of a belly. The wind blew his dark curly hair askew as he held on to the far rail with one hand, looking out and down, the same way Cal had done just a few minutes earlier.

For just a tiny moment, Cal knew what Ryan felt: his need to be free of the pain; his desire to just let go and allow himself that sweet release as his body slammed into the river. He felt what Ryan felt and knew how bad it felt. He understood Ryan’s need. For just that one little slice of time, he couldn’t understand why the screaming lady wanted to stop him. Couldn’t she see there was no other way?

The moment passed and, like the changing of a television channel, his attention shifted to the crying woman. He saw her tears. He knew her love and her need to help. He felt her frustration at not knowing what to do and her strangling fear of impending loss. He knew (oh how he knew!) her desire to understand why. For just that one microbit of time, he couldn’t understand why Ryan would want to cause her this tremendous amount of pain. Couldn’t he see that no matter what the problem was, they could work through it together?

He didn’t like this. Not at all. Didn’t Ryan understand how much hurt he was about to cause for the woman? Or the child she held? As soon as he thought it, he found his legs moving of their own accord. They carried him through the crowd, past the lady with the baby and right up to the handrail.

“Stay back, man. Please. I - I don’t want - I’m not - I’ll jump!”

Their eyes met and something passed between them as Cal stepped over the handrail, only a couple feet from Ryan. Cal grabbed onto the safety rail, leaned out and looked down.

“What’re you doing, man? You can’t stop me.”

“My brother killed himself three years ago.” Cal just looked down, and wanted it. Oh, how he wanted it. But he couldn’t let go so he said, “He didn’t leave a note. I spent a lot of time and used up a lot of my soul trying to figure out why he did it. But, nothing.”

Cal didn’t even look at Ryan - wasn’t even aware of him in that moment. He just kept staring down at the promise of release 250 feet below him. “After a while, I just couldn’t take it anymore and I ended up on the other side of this bridge, behind that big support beam. That was just a few minutes ago. I couldn’t deal with being the shitty guy who let his own brother kill himself.”

“I, um, I’m sorry man, but why you telling me?”

Cal ignored the question because he didn’t know the answer. “Ryan, does she know why you’re doing this? Did you at least leave a note? She deserves as much.”

“I guess she knows. I lost another job. I - I get mad and,” he choked back a little sob. “I can’t keep -“ Ryan’s tears started.

“Yeah, I hear you. I used to do that too. The angry shit. Before my brother. Then I just got kinda numb. Couldn’t feel anything except for the guilt, you know?” Cal closed his eyes and felt the cold wind against his face, the murmuring of the crowd fading away as he tried to focus on what he thought he really wanted. But he still couldn’t let go, so he continued vomiting out his old pain because it felt right. “I knew there must have been something I could’ve done to save him. You know? What if I’d have gone to his house and forced him to talk about it? What if I’d have been there the night he shot himself? What if I’d have been a better brother all those years?” He started feeling uneasy as the guilt started to surface again.

What the hell? Cal had awoken today filled with peace about his decision. The quiet walk to the bridge and his musings along the way had even put a bit of a bounce in his step. He had worn a smile as he stepped over the safety rail. But he wasn’t smiling now. The pain came oozing back, a fast-moving cancer squeezing his heart in unrelenting claws and pushing everything else out. He felt his grip on the rail lessen. Yes! Now! Peace at last.

But he heard Ryan cough and say, “It’s not like that. There’s really nothing anyone can do. This is how I become a good father, you know? It’s the only way. If I can’t keep a job -“ He sobbed, the tears returning. “I have to do this because of my baby girl. We need the money and I can’t provide. I keep getting fired. I’m a horrible father. I can’t even control my temper long enough to keep a job for my little girl! So the money from this - the life insurance - will help. It’ll take care of both of them. It’ll make things right.”

Cal imagined Ryan was looking at the water, too. And he longed for it, to just let go and be free, but something wouldn’t let him. He sighed. “Ryan, there’s a really good chance that your life insurance policy won’t pay out if you do this. Suicide is rarely covered. Did you check your policy before you came here?”

“What? No. But - oh my fucking god I can’t even kill myself right!” Cal heard Ryan plop down on the concrete beside him, sobbing.

His hand tightened on the rail of its own accord and like an involuntary passenger, Cal felt his arm pull him back from the edge, yet again.

But this time his soul came along for the ride, too.

He looked back over his shoulder across the bridge, not even seeing the crowd, at the last bit of the sunset. As his heart began beating with something other than guilt for fuel, he wondered how beautiful tomorrow’s sunrise would be and made a mental note to set his alarm so he could see it.

“Ryan, what if I told you there’s a way to help with your anger problems? Ever been to a counselor and talked about it?”

“I don’t believe in all that shit.”

“I didn’t either. But in the last couple minutes I’ve been thinking about things my counselor has told me that I thought were bullshit. Now I’m thinking maybe she’s been right all along.” Cal sat down next to Ryan and let his legs dangle over the edge, feeling lighter in his heart than he had in over three years. “So I’m willing to bet that if you talk to her, and listen, you’ll find ways to manage your anger, keep a job, and, well, become that good father you want to be.”

Cal looked out, not down, at the water. In his periphery, he noticed Ryan looking at him.

“You really think it could help?”

Cal nodded and said, “I do. And Lesson One, you know - jumping off a bridge and leaving your daughter fatherless? Not the sign of a good dad. I think a better sign of a good dad is, I don’t know, maybe ten years from now, your daughter has a lot of pictures on her phone. Pictures with both of you in them.”

He looked at Ryan, whose tears had stopped. Cal stood, wiped his hands on his shirt and said, “So, I think I’m gonna go get a burger. Wanna join me?”

And Ryan laughed.



AFTER

Cal looked up from the couch at the woman sitting in an easy chair a few feet away, her long legs crossed comfortably as she listened. “I said it. To that guy on the bridge. Ryan. I said my brother killed himself.”

The doctor looked up from her notepad and smiled. Cal saw sympathy in her eyes, warmth. He reached for the tissues knowing the tears would come, but for the first time not afraid of them.

“I think - I think I’d like to try that prescription.”



That night Cal dreamt of his brother. They were kids again. They hugged and laughed and they played a bit. At the end, Cal’s brother said, “You’re the best brother I could have ever wanted.” Then he turned away, and skipped happily down the road into the sunset, smiling and waving goodbye until he was out of sight.

Cal awoke to a dazzling sunrise.

5 comments:

  1. A strong expression of human anguish and moral dilemmas. I was a little confused between Ryan and Kevin - but then I wondered if Kevin was Cal's brother's name - if so it might be good to flag this earlier. Nonetheless a brave journey into painful territory. Thank you, Ceinwen

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  2. reading this raw narrative I began to wonder whether the author had first hand knowledge of the events. it is a fine piece and thought provoking.
    Mike McC

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  3. My favorite line is when he says he can't even kill himself right. Painful and funny simultaneously.

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  4. George T. PhilibinOctober 28, 2017 at 9:07 PM

    A psychological story centered on a man’s guilt because he
    felt that he didn’t help his brother enough. His brother
    killed himself. The interior monologue in this story gives
    insight into a mental condition the holds many hostage:
    Grief. Some spend years under its spell while others only
    a week or so. Grief stricken people must tackle their
    emotions and learn how to handle that eroding condition.
    It’s not easy but suffering caused by grief can be
    mitigated.

    The intro with a long sentence gravitated my interest to
    the story. I might have added a little sensory input
    during the opening such as how warm the whiskey felt as it
    washed down his throat. Maybe how cold the pistol felt
    when he grabbed it. However, the first paragraph did work
    as it stands.

    His time with the psychiatrist sounded real, and the
    author did give the feeling of a female doctor. One
    interesting point is the short pencil? Is it symbolisms
    that represented how the doctor wanted the session to be
    short? Was she bored? The best doctors don’t get
    emotionally involved with their patients, and I’m sure a
    psychiatrist listening to the same complaints from the
    same patient week after week would start to have some
    trouble focusing on that patient. She seems to be trying
    different medications which validates that she is at a
    standstill with Cal. Cal has been seeing her for a while
    now, and we get that information by showing more that
    telling. Nice.

    Writers sometime interject scenes or dialogue in a story
    which describe or show a characteristic. What’s amazing
    about that action? The writers sometimes don’t know that
    they did that! That’s what can make writing so profound;
    words can come from the un-conscience caverns of our mind
    without us realizing it.

    Freud in his article ‘Psychopathology of Everyday Life’
    explains how the workings of the mind can be hidden and
    un-conscious to us. Even in writings!

    Cal walked out onto the bridge to kill himself. As he
    walked out he thought “don’t wanna get run over by one of
    these crazy drivers.” With this sentence, I believe the
    author was telling us that Cal didn’t want to kill
    himself.

    The encounter with Ryan becomes interesting. Cal, about
    really to kill himself, saves Ryan from killing himself.
    The dialogue sounds real and I especially like the
    information that Cal gives Ryan about insurance coverage.
    That wakes up Ryan a little. By Cal helping Ryan, Cal
    helps himself by thinking about things his doctor said,
    and he tells Ryan about his just now understanding of the
    doctors advice.

    Cal convinces Ryan that he should see his doctor and Ryan
    seems agrees to try-----the laugh at the mention of a
    burger suggests that.

    Cal realizes now that he had nothing to do with his
    brother’s death.

    A captivating story exploring the world of a grief
    stricken man, and his struggle to find a resolution. Many
    readers can relate to this story, most are probably older
    readers.

    Nice job.

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  5. Grief and/or guilt can be a tricky labyrinth that most will become tangled up in at some point in their life, too often becoming the last point in their life. The story pulled me in right to the end. Nicely done.

    Jim

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