On Being Permanently Not Alive
You do realize none of this would exist, right?
When was the last time you fucked?
You heard me! When. Was. The. Last. Time. You. Fucked.
Ah, no response. Crickets. Well, I bet I got your attention.
He was right. I’d heard Mr. X was going to be a handful, but never did I think he’d have my undivided attention within the first three seconds of talking. But he did. And I had to say something. I switched the phone to my left ear and spoke.
Mr. X, I hear you’re going through some challenging times right now. Would you be willing to tell me more about them?
Some challenging times.
He imitated me.
Man, that is a candy-ass way to put it. They write that shit on a post-it and stick it to your computer? Did the center give you a manual for how to speak to people like me? I can’t take no more script guys. I need someone who’s gonna go off book. You gonna go off book with me? Naw, it’s probably your first day, ain’t it? Bet you wasn’t expecting this. Why don’t you hang up, and hand this one over to a veteran case worker? You can help Mrs. Carpenter schedule her Access-A-Ride appointment.
Little did Mr. X know, it actually wasn’t my first day.
It was my second.
My co-intern was on the phone giggling at her desk. My supervisor was in her office with the door shut. There was some braised oxtail in the oven, and the mashed potatoes were so pungent I could practically spread the butter.
Hold on for a moment, Mr. X.
I transferred the call to a private office phone. I got out of my chair, grabbed my notebook and pen, and walked to that office. Six post-it notes waved at me from my monitor.
Going off Script
I didn’t expect to hear your voice again. I’ll give you six more minutes. You’ll be gone soon. They all are. That’s how this goes down.
I’ve got a lot to learn and a little to lose, Mr. X. Whatever you’re going through, I’m here to help. And if not, then I’m at least here to listen.
Boy, you sound like you’s about fifteen. What makes you think you can help an old man like me?
I wasn’t fifteen. I was twenty-six.
Why does my age matter to you, Mr. X?
Because if you young, that means you fuck. And you know when the last time I fucked was? 2006. That means my 82-year old ass hasn’t seen pussy since you was born.
I’m pretty uncomfortable with language like this, but something told me if I asked Mr. X to take it down a notch, he’d cuss me right off the phone. So, I stayed stoic and continued to let him lead.
Lemme tell you something youngin’. There were two things I used to love on this earth. One was my wife, and the other was pussy. And when she.
When she. Shit boy. When she died, I lost both.
Mr. X didn’t say anything, but I heard more in that moment than I had the entire time we’d been talking.
Mr. X, have you felt like you wanted to take your life ever since your wife died?
Boy, you alright. Now we gettin’ somewhere.
Have you? I asked again.
Wouldn’t be fair to her if I didn’t.
His voice shook.
How could I not wanna die when everything I had worth livin’ for ain’t no longer here?
We sat with the silence.
Have you ever tried to kill yourself, Mr. X?
Don’t go askin’ me about no plan bullshit. I know that’s gonna be your next question. I never did try, but I do think about it. I think about it every day. And each day I get a little closer to doing it. So, guess what?
That means right now is the closest I ever been to putting a pistol to my temple.
Do you realize that then you’d be permanently not alive, Mr. X? You do realize none of this would exist, right? Your story would be over. Finished. Nobody to talk to. Nobody to listen. Forever. That’s it.
But I’d have her, man. I’d have her.
It was the first time he’d called me man and not boy.
Tell me about your wife, Mr. X.
If God had a daughter, they’d spell her name R-O-S-I-E. Rosie was the complete package. She could turn a spider into a friend. She could make bullies into angels. Everybody loved her. But she was mines. And she was proud to be. But I was even prouder. I was the luckiest guy to end up with her.
How did your Rosie die?
Man, shit. She had pancreatic cancer. Stage 4. Didn’t even last a round of chemo.
So, Rosie didn’t choose to die.
Fuck you sayin’? Course she didn’t choose cancer. Who the hell would?
But every day you consider choosing to die. You told me you think about it each day more so than the last. I’m saying that Rosie’s death was not a choice. But yours is. And I’m asking you to choose life. I’m asking you to continue your story. I think Rosie would ask that of you too.
Finally, a soft voice reappeared.
Thanks for goin’ off book.
And he hung up.
I never heard from Mr. X again, but whenever I answer a call at work, there’s always a sliver of hope it’ll be him.
Sharing personal development through creative storytelling