On Monday morning I decided to kill myself. To do this I would leave my wife sleeping in bed, sneak upstairs past my sleeping dog, fill a water bottle and walk to the canal. When there, I would remove my clothes carefully, lay them by the side of the canal (the one that my dog loves to jump in) and wade out into the middle of the water. From there I didn’t really have a plan. Probably just wait for the cold to consume me.
The walk to the canal is approximately two miles and takes me past the Taco Bell in Albion, my local town. They recently brought back the Breakfast Quesadilla – a truly obnoxious collision of breakfast and cheese that tastes like God might taste were He to offer Himself to you. When I say they brought it back, I am talking about my local branch. Nationwide it’s a thing. But here, in Albion, they took it off the menu because no one was ordering it. See also – the Tuna Sandwich at Tim Hortons.
On Monday morning, the Monday morning, I stood at the drive-thru speaker and ordered a Breakfast Quesadilla. I could have gone in – probably should have gone in – but I sometimes like to pretend I’m a car in the drive-thru. If I am feeling specifically fruity I will queue up with the other cars, my arms stretched out, hands at ten and two. I make little motor noises. It annoys literally everybody, but like Job said, you can’t take it with you. He was talking about gold, but I am talking about experiences.
I ate my Breakfast Quesadilla on the way to the canal. As last meals go, it’s no Lobster Thermidor. But then, only one thing is. Ted Bundy’s last meal was steak and eggs. He refused to touch it. He became such a whiner in his last days. It’s the pornography. It’s the church. Take some fucking responsibility for your actions.
The canal entrance is on the left side of the road, just before the large iron bridge. I have been here hundreds of times. My dog likes to swim in the water despite the fact it’s freezing cold and full of microscopic terror. But she isn’t to know that. You understand that? She couldn’t possible know.
As I made my way up the scree of the entrance ramp I saw some clothes laid out by the side of the waterway. They were so similar to mine that I had to look down and make sure I hadn’t already taken mine off. Red shirt. Black shorts. Worn-out running shoes. The only difference was the orange cap that neatly lay on top of the pile. Mine was blue.
A man lay in the middle of the canal. He was naked – ass in the air like a terrible monument. The heels of his feet also stuck up above water-level. The water was gray and his feet were dirty. The entire thing was awful but his heels, like that, the way they stuck up. You understand. They looked a lot like the ears of a hippo. Just making its way along the canal in New York State. Probably escaped from the zoo. I thought all this while the man was dying.
Because he was dying. Not dead. I could see the bubbles. The tiny sputum of life. I slipped off my shorts and shirt. Removed my cap. Kicked off my running shoes. I lay the whole thing out in the same way he had done. That became very important. To make a similar pile. Nearly identical. Two piles. Two lives reduced to the arrangement of cloth. I thought all this while the man was dying.
The water was intensely cold as I waded out. I had no plan beyond turn him the right way up. That was a start. The water is dark. The sky is light. Turn him to the light. Like a death doula. Except. The opposite of that. I placed my hands on his back and pushed slightly. He turned easily in the water. I expected to see my face. You understand that right? That’s where this story had been heading. I find myself in the water and it’s such a profound experience that I return home and tell my wife I love her. Tell my dog I love her. Shower – probably shit out the Quesadilla – and crawl back into bed. Dream of our Lord and Savior. Wake up. Go to work. Thanks everyone.
That isn’t what happened. What happened is that the face staring up at me, clinging on to the last vestiges of life, was the face of a similarly terrified man. I don’t mean terrified like ‘watching a scary movie on your own’ terrified. I mean terrified. Terrified of the way everything is going. Terrified of the future. Terrified for his loved ones. It’s all burning around us, isn’t it? It’s all going wrong. And we act OK. Most of us do anyway. We act like it’s fine. Like we will adapt. But you know a lot of us are going to die before our time and the weight of that. The weight of that…It’s not something that we can deal with. Not properly.
The man spat tainted water. I did not know what to do. I had stopped him from drowning. Now what? Was I responsible for him? Would I need to swaddle him. Nurture him? Tell him every single day that there was a reason for him to be alive? I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t be in charge of another person. I didn’t have the strength. I had come here to die and now I was telling another man it was worth living. The hypocrisy. I sat back in the water. Let my legs float. Lay back. Looked up at the sky. The man was alive next to me. I reached out my hand and took his. His skin was a little loose. The pads of his fingers seemed more densely textured than normal, dry fingers. You think these things when you are really living. He gripped my hand tightly. The current moved us slightly. The water dipped in and out of my ears. I enjoyed the sensation. I lay in the water. Naked. Hand in hand with the man I had lied to with my actions. Expecting judgment but finding a strange comfort. Two men. Drifting.
Stuart Buck runs the Bear Creek Gazette and lives in New York with people that love him.