[Feeling a little lost? Let the map of the previous chapter guide your way.]
We hadn’t known each other so well back then — this wasn’t far after I’d met him for the first time — and I was going about my shift with the rain pouring down outside, blattering against the windows, the thunder crashing like artillery. I had a book out in front of me, I don’t quite remember which one, and anyway I wasn’t really reading it. My eyes glazed past the words as if they were trying to focus on something just behind the surface of the page.
And then, from somewhere outside I heard a car door slam. I looked up and saw it was Angelique’s car and for a second my heart soared with the prospect of seeing her. But when I saw who was with her it fell long and hard shattering against the cold ground of reality.
It was a guy. Not a guy I knew, but with a face familiar nonetheless because it was movie-star perfect. Perfection is always familiar isn’t it? He and Angie sprinted in through the rain and burst into the shop, both of them soaking wet and laughing as if they had just been told the world’s funniest joke — you know…the one about the time Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went camping?
They didn’t even acknowledge me; instead they meandered toward the coffee machine still giggling and cavorting. They weren’t just friends. I could tell by the ways his hand rested casually on her shoulder, nothing too overt, but utterly casual. He was used to touching her like this. I watched as his fingers rubbed at the nape of her neck under her coal-black hair and I burned with the rage of jealousy.
Of course it made sense. I’d be a fool to think that a woman as beautiful as this could be unattached, but up until now such an attachment had always been theoretical. I could imagine that perhaps if she did have a boyfriend, things weren’t going so well for them. Maybe he was crazy or possessive. Maybe he was cheating on her. Maybe one night she’d break down and tell me the whole sad story, just the two of us alone in the station, and I’d put my arms around her, and she’d cry on my shoulder.
But now reality was staring me straight in the face, and it was laughing. They both checked out and Angie flashed me one of her shining smiles, that smile that lit up my life, the sweet look I practically lived for, and it was in that moment that I realized that smile was nothing special. She smiled that way at everybody. At the old lady who rang up her groceries as the supermarket, at the bland bank teller, at the fat pathetic slob that worked overnight at the gas station.
The smile was nothing special. I was nothing special. Never would be.
Just after they left my cell buzzed in my pocket. I looked down, recognized Frog’s number and didn’t answer.
And outside the rain came down.
When my shift was over I went home and I ate. I stuffed my face with breakfast burritos until I was sick. But today it didn’t help. Today, filling my stomach did nothing to dull the ache of the void in my soul that I knew I could never fill.
I sat on the edge of my bed for a long time, just staring at the wall. I wish I could tell you I kept thinking about what a sham my life was, but the truth was I couldn’t think about anything. My brain seemed like sludge. I just kept playing the scene of Angelique and her magazine-cover-perfect boyfriend over and over in my mind, each time digging my pit of self loathing a little deeper. After a while more memories started to pile on, bullies at school, the hatred of my father, the complete contempt of my half-sisters and their mother. I sank lower and deeper into my self than I had ever thought possible. And finally I realized the truth:
Things would never get better. I would never start that diet or exercise regimen I had always told myself would help. I would sit here in this tiny apartment for the rest of my life, alone with my video games and my self-pity. I would never make an impact on the world. When I died there would be no evidence that I had ever lived. I was nothing more than a meatbag, destined to live and die and rot, utterly without purpose.
So why wait?
And then there was a box cutter in my hands, and I was sitting on the edge of my bathtub turning the thing over and over looking into the dull gleam of the blade. I couldn’t quite fit the whole of my bulk into the bathtub, but I figured if I positioned myself right I could still keep the blood from getting on the floor.
That was the second-strangest thing I remember about that night: I didn’t want to leave a mess. I didn’t want anyone to be inconvenienced.
But the strangest thing though was this: I didn’t want to die. Not really. I simply couldn’t bear to go on living.
I brought the blade up to my wrist, remembering that someone had told me that you have to cut with the length of the arm rather than across. Why do you suppose someone would share that kind of information? How did the correct methods of committing suicide become harmless trivia?
I grasped the knife and started to push down.
What? Why are you looking at me like that? You think you know what happens next don’t you? Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on in your head.
“Well he’s sitting here telling me this story, so I know he survives. And he told me that Frog saved his life so his phone is going to ring or maybe there’ll be a knock at the door.”
Well you know what? You’re wrong.
What happened was the blade was so dull from opening boxes that I barely managed to scratch myself. So I had to get up and find a screwdriver so I could open up the box cutter and get to the fresh blade inside. Only there weren’t any screwdrivers because, as I’ve mention before, I’m not really much of a handy-man, so I had to make do with a butter knife instead.
I sat back down at the edge of the bathtub feeling even worse because I couldn’t even get offing myself right. Then there was a knock at the door.
Yes, congratulations; it was Frog.
I almost didn’t answer. But of course you know I did. I left the box cutter on the sink and went to the door. I opened it to find Frog on the other side, standing in the pouring rain and grinning like an idiot.
He looked at me, and I looked back at him, and both of us knew exactly why he was there. But he didn’t say anything. Didn’t mention Angie or her boyfriend or the bleeding scratch on my arm. Instead he just said, “Well I figured it was about time to try out those world-famous made-from-scratch pancakes you’ve told me so much about.”
That’s the kind of friend Frog was. He didn’t judge. He just did what needed to be done. I didn’t fully understand it at the time. But I sure do now.