It was before calls could be identified, so it was next to impossible to trace. He called the 1-800 crisis line number in the middle of the night, and it was my night on call to cover the phone.
He went into great detail telling me he wanted someone to know everything he was thinking before he put a bullet in his head to end it all.
His voice was a deep, tired voice, one that had felt things, done things, known things that shreds a heart like lettuce.
It was 2:00 AM when the call woke me. His first words were, “I have a gun in my hand and I’m about to use it.” His words instantaneously took from me from deep slumber to hyper vigilance.
“Tell me about it.”
He began to talk, subject to subject, thought to thought, often jumping, sometimes not making any sense. He’d made mistakes, been betrayed, at odds with family, distant from friends. He had slipped into the deepest, darkest days of depression and saw no way out, no relief from the trapped, hopeless feeling that imprisoned his mind. The pain inside just kept gnawing away at a bleeding heart that had no hope, no end in sight, no end, except the gun.
I tried to draw him in, to personalize our phone conversation. Maybe he would feel he was talking to a friend who cared, but at that point, I was nothing more than the mechanical, faceless voice of an unknown stranger on the other end of the phone somewhere off in a distant place.
At one point, he became so terribly despondent that he began to describe the gun, a 38 Special loaded with hollow points. He talked about the ridges of the grip, and wondered out loud if his hand would slip off after he pulled the trigger. He had everything planned out, even to the point that he put his handwritten note in an envelope on a counter so it wouldn’t get blood stained or splattered. His only question left was whether he should put the bullet up through his mouth, temple, or try to hit the brain stem in the back of his head.
It was as if he were a horse with blinders over his eyes. All he could see was what was right in front of him, and for him, it was his pain, with suicide as his cure. I tried to give him hope, to help take off the blinders, to at least move them back, even if only a little bit, just enough so a glimmer of hope could shine through the night.
I tried everything I knew to say, everything I knew to do, to offer hope, help, options, any options, to a desperate soul about to send himself to eternity.
He told me his palms were sweaty, his hands were trembling, and he was eerily cold. Ironically, my hands were sweaty and trembled too, so much so that it caused the ear piece on the phone to rub back and forth across my ear. I feared that at any second a gun-shot would blast across the line, followed by the sound of nothingness.
We talked an hour, and unexpectedly, he began saying he was going to hang up.
“Will you promise me you won’t kill yourself?”
Quiet on the other end.
“At least for tonight, will you promise me you won’t do this. There is hope. There is help. There are answers. I don’t even know what they are, but there are answers. There is hope!”
He simply said, “I’m not sure.”
Usually, suicidal people are poignantly honest, yet he wouldn’t promise. That wasn’t good. Not good at all.
He wouldn’t even promise to call back any time that night if it felt really bad again.
He hung up, and then it went silent.
I sat in the silence for a long time, thinking, wondering, worrying, questioning what I had said, replaying the conversation over and over. Maybe if I had said…what if…I should have asked….
It didn’t matter. Our phone call was done. He was somewhere out in the night, alone, desperate, hurting, holding a 38 Special with hollow points.
It’s been many years ago now, but sometimes, sometimes out of the blue I still think about him, whoever he is. Or, was. And I wonder. I wonder, but I’ll never know.