Amy isn’t going to school today. Through her bedroom window, she watches the yellow school bus pass her house. She gets out of bed, brushes her teeth, does her makeup, fixes her hair. She goes downstairs. The house is empty. Her parents have already gone to work. She goes into the kitchen and opens the fridge. She takes out eggs, ham, onion, green pepper. She makes an omelet. She spreads cream cheese on a raisin bagel. She pours a glass of milk, a glass of orange juice. She takes a seat at the kitchen table and eats her breakfast in silence, savoring each bite.
I watch her go through this routine. She can’t see me. She doesn’t know I’m there.
And I’m thinking, is this me? Am I her?
She finishes her meal and washes the dishes. She goes into the dining room and uses a hairpin to pick the lock on her parents’ liquor cabinet. It doesn’t take long. She’s done this before. She extracts a bottle of red wine at random. She goes back to her bedroom and pours herself a glass. And another. And another. While she’s drinking, she’s reading the last pages of her book. A cheesy romance novel. Thirty pages and half a bottle later, she closes the book and frowns. The ending was a disappointment. She wanted the heroine to choose the other guy. Oh, well. She shrugs and giggles and stands up. The room sways, and she grabs the end of her dresser to steady herself.
She stumbles down the hall into the bathroom. She plugs the drain in the bathtub and turns on the hot water. As the tub is filling, she places candles around the room and lights them. She puts a boom box on the toilet lid and presses PLAY. Chopin emanates from the speakers. Amy takes off her clothes and folds them neatly, placing them on the bathroom counter. She takes one last look at her naked body in the mirror above the sink and then lowers herself into the tub. She sits back and relaxes in the warm water, watching the candles flicker behind her closed eyelids, listening to the beautiful melodies fill the room.
And then she takes the blade out of her father’s razor. Under the water, she carefully slices through the blue vein in each arm. The smart girl she is, she cuts down rather than across. She opens her dominant arm first so she’ll have enough strength to do the other one second. With the warm water and alcohol, she can barely feel a thing. She stretches out her arms in front of her, relieving them of any pressure. She elevates her legs to move blood down to her heart. The warm water will keep the blood flowing, keep it from clotting. She’s planned everything to the last detail. In fascination, she watches the redness pour out of her veins. It clings to the water like thick ropes, like the insides of a grotesque lava lamp. In minutes, the entire tub is tinted red.
Amy closes her eyes, relaxes, listens to Chopin. I sit on the edge of the tub, watching her. She’s so young. So pretty. I reach out a spectral hand to caress her cheek, but it goes right through. She shivers. I try to tell her that it isn’t worth it. That she can work out whatever problems she has. I tell her it isn’t too late. She can still save herself. But she can’t hear me. They never do.
And I’m thinking, is this me? Am I her?
Before Amy was the man who jumped off a fifty-story building.
Before him was the teenager who drove into the side of a Wal-Mart at a hundred miles per hour.
Before him was the eight-year-old boy who jumped out of his bedroom window into the alley below.
Before him was the skydiver who didn’t open his chute.
Am I one of them? Maybe. Maybe not.
I could be anyone, anywhere, at anytime. I’m not even sure of my gender. My memories were left with my body when I died. I could be a caveman who bashed his own head in with a rock. A samurai who committed seppuku. A convict who hung himself in a French prison. A Japanese kamikaze pilot in World War II. A businessman who drove his car into a bridge support. I could even be someone famous. Judas Iscariot hung himself. Nero stabbed himself. Cleopatra hid two poisonous snakes in a fig basket. Adolf Hitler shot himself while biting into a cyanide capsule. Virginia Woolf weighed her pockets with stones and walked into a river. Kurt Cobain took a shotgun to his head. I could be a great leader, a great writer, a great artist, and not even know it.
I’m a lost soul, a wandering spirit. I can move backward and forward in time. I can go anywhere in the universe in the blink of an eye. I can hear and see, but I can’t touch or taste or smell or speak. I’ve seen the Big Bang, the evolution of life, the downfall of humanity. I’ve seen the universe grow cold and die. I’ve read millions of books, watched millions of movies, witnessed millions of historical events. I’ve seen the building of the Great Wall of China. I’ve seen Christ die on the cross. I’ve seen Shakespeare pen his masterpieces. I’ve seen the first landing on the moon. I’ve seen nearly all that God has seen, and yet my existence is no more significant than that of an ant.
I’m sure there are many others like me, but I can’t sense them, and they probably can’t sense me. How long I’ve been roaming through space and time, searching for myself, I don’t know. How many people I’ve watched die, I’ve lost count. All I know is that I took my own life. I don’t know how I know, but I do. That I am certain. Why or how I killed myself, when or where, that’s the mystery. That’s what I’m trying to find out.
If you hang yourself, it’s better to die by snapping your neck, which is instantaneous, than by asphyxiation, which may take five to ten minutes. Make sure the rope is tied to something strong and you jump from an appropriate height. Too low and your neck won’t snap. Too high and you might decapitate yourself.
If you live in the twentieth century or beyond, death by inert gas is a less violent option. Go to a party supply store and buy a tank of helium. You should probably purchase a pack of balloons too, so it doesn’t look suspicious. Then go to a hardware store and get about four feet of rubber tubing. Attach one end of the tubing to the tank and the other end to a plastic bag around your head. You’ll be dead in five minutes. Quick. Painless. Guaranteed.
People who blow out their brains indoors don’t realize that the family members have to clean up the mess. The cops sure aren’t going to do it. The bits of bone and tissue splattered on the wall, your family has to scrape that shit off. Years later, there are still pieces of your skull embedded in the carpet.
This is stuff I’ve learned traveling through the centuries, witnessing suicides, looking for a hint of recognition, a pinch of familiarity.
When you die, your soul either goes upward or outward. My soul went outward. I wonder if this is what God felt like before He created the universe. Wandering alone in a dark abyss, longing to be heard, to be loved. And so He made man, and He gave each of us a choice: When you die, you can either wash yourself of your sins and join Me, or you can travel alone. Upward or outward, and I chose outward.
This is my punishment. This is the price I have to pay. There is no fiery underworld. There are no demons with whips. Hell is just a shitty version of life. It’s having wisdom without anyone to share it with. It’s knowing a million jokes without anyone to tell them to. It’s infinite freedom with infinite loneliness. Hell is not knowing who you are or where you came from, only knowing what you’ve done. Only knowing the sin that brought you here.
Eventually, I’ll find myself. It may take me a million years, but sooner or later, I’ll recognize the body I once possessed. There’s no doubt about that. There are only so many people in the universe, and I have an eternity to sort through them. What will happen when my search is over, I don’t know. But something tells me that this is what I’m supposed to do. This is the task that has been given to me, to all of us who have strayed off the path. Perhaps then I will be forgiven. Perhaps then I will be allowed to enter the gates of His kingdom. I can only hope.
I stay with Amy until the very end. With every second, she grows colder and number. The tub is so red now that it looks like she’s bathing in tomato juice. Later her parents will come home and find her. They’ll pick her cold, naked body out of the water. After they drain the tub, they’ll have to get on their hands and knees and scrub the blood out of the porcelain. And they’ll blame themselves. For not paying attention. For not loving her enough. The guilt will plague them for the rest of their lives. Whenever they hear Chopin, they’ll see the dead stare of their daughter’s eyes. They’ll remember the feel of her cold, wet skin.
Is this me? Am I her?
No…no, I’m not her. I don’t think so.
Poor Amy. Upward or outward, and she chose outward. Her soul is probably exploring the far reaches of the universe by now. How excited she must be, flying through nebulae, soaring along the rings of distant planets. But soon she’ll realize, like I did, the emptiness. The loneliness. She’ll long for things she can’t remember. Tastes. Smells. She’ll long to communicate, to speak to anyone about anything. She’ll be a mute yearning to sing, a blind man yearning to paint. And then she’ll start her own journey, her own search for herself. For redemption.
I look at her face one last time. So young. So pretty. With her eyes half-closed and a little smile on her lips, she almost looks peaceful. Finally, I glide out of the bathroom. A candle flickers as I pass through it. And then I move on to the next person. And the next. And the next. Trying to remember who I was. Yearning for the life I so carelessly left behind.
There are some who might envy my condition. I’ve gone places that no man will ever go. I’ve seen things that no man will ever see. I know things that no man will ever know. But I’d give it all up for the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies…for the feel of a cold pillow on a hot summer day…for the taste of a lover’s kiss…for the greeting of an old friend.
I’d give it all up for one last chance. At life. At paradise.