an attempt at penance

Non-fiction, 10/1/08

I pick myself up off the ground, numbly taking in the grass stains on my knees. Walking into the house, vision blurred by angry tears, I close the door slowly, calmly. The dog peers quizzically at me, unsure of how to react. Then I scream. Screamed louder than I thought myself capable of screaming, just roared like a banshee until my voice cracked and my ears rang. Shattered that afternoon silence, but good. The dog was long gone, probably hiding under someone’s bed, fearing for his life. I walk into the kitchen, turn off all the burners, have a brief moment of indecision: Toss all the food now, or leave a mess for roommates to discover later? My dinner, interrupted? Fuck it. I make to leave. No, wait. Came back, punched the bathroom door, kicked the wall with all I had. My God, I can’t feel anything. I grab shoes and head out the front again, walking steadily, head down, squinting in the sunlight. Heading south, I mentally run through all the morbid scenarios: leaping from an overpass, stepping in front of a speeding train, drowning. Drowning. Fuck. This is going to be hard. Gotta think this through. There’s plenty of time to think; beach is still a couple miles out. I’m just out for a stroll, see? It’s a nice day. Along South State, at the entrance to Boulevard, I approach an intersection. There’s a truck pulling up; I assume he sees the stop sign and blithely cross. Apparently he doesn’t, or he does but doesn’t see me, and drives straight through, narrowly missing my stutter-stepping form. Mere inches away. I saw the guy’s dumbstruck expression as he sped off. Like I appeared out of thin air, an apparition, a ghost. This is ironic, I realize: Here I am trying to end my life, and someone very nearly runs me over. A sign from God, perhaps? A jarring near-death experience to shake sense into me? Duly noted, friend, thanks for looking out. I continued on. The arch of my right foot starts to ache from the wall-kick, like maybe a muscle or ligament is strained. It’s not bad though, so I put it out of mind. (And why would it matter anyway, this corporeal pain? I only need to get as far as the beach, right?) The breeze feels nice; I can already smell the briny air coming off the bay. It suddenly occurs to me that in death, I wouldn’t be able to muse while jaunting aimlessly around town, as I’m doing now, because I’d be dead. And I don’t think rumination in the afterlife (if such a realm exists) would be of much use, because I couldn’t act upon it, being dead and all. This realization gives me pause, more so than the truck incident: I wouldn’t be able to think, reason, cogitate, ponder—ever again. For an eternity. Eternity is a long time—interminable, I imagine—to not formulate any thoughts. I decide this isn’t what I want. But I keep walking, because right now, no matter how sensible and appealing life may sound inside my inner dialogue, I can’t think straight for more than a minute or so at a time before my mind clouds over in blackness. Evil, ineluctable thoughts. I just need to get down to the water, feel its iciness, its palpable, uncompromising depth. When I arrive at Marine Park there’s a handful of beach-goers lounging on the grass or ambling along the shoreline, having a fine time, by the looks of it. Tide’s way up, lapping at the boulders under the railroad tracks. I take the cross-ties two at a time, going fast, really flying down the tracks with huge strides. Foot’s getting sore now. Gotta slow down. I hope no one’s out here today. There’s usually a couple people on the tracks, especially in weather like this, but I see only one girl pass me going the other way. After half a mile or so I hop off and start clambering on the sandstone to find a prime spot. It’s chilly here, sitting on a rocky throne at the water’s edge. I watch a sailboat cut through the waves, and I start to cry, shamelessly, uncontrollably. My tears fall into a weathered sandstone niche already brimming with dirty rainwater. I’m not going to drown myself today. I don’t even put my feet in the water. It’s too cold. I watch an orange starfish slowly crawl deeper, deeper, until all I see is a wobbly brownish smear through the blue-black abyss. It’s going to be alright, I tell myself. Life will be OK. Fuck, it hurts though. The loss, the shame, the loathing, all will pass in time. I get up and head back. My foot is a throbbing mass of pain at this point, and by the time I reach downtown I’m limping. I call my mom later that night, ask for advice on my foot, start crying again because I simply hurt all over. (Turns out I only strained a flexor muscle in my foot; feels decent now.) The other wound—all self-inflicted, of course—will heal more slowly. Here I am. This is what I get. Time to stop fucking around.

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