Many years ago, a man I barely knew stepped off a bridge. Not the first to do so. Not the last. I can’t say I had a particularly special bond with this particular person. We might have brushed shoulders half a dozen times in half a dozen busy rooms. When he stepped off and into the wind, leaving wife and children to mourn his sudden act of goneness, it didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t overcome with an unbearable sadness.
I attended the man’s wake. Fancy clothes pulled from the back of the closet. The ones you wear once a year like weight trackers. Praying they don’t suddenly stretch or bulge in all the wrong places. The blacks reserved for sorrow. I wore those. Stood silent in corners, awkwardly wishing condolences while eyeing the neon red ‘EXIT’ sign.
His friends, family, and coworkers made their way through the processions. Hands shook, hugs, and kisses. The tender moments we shed our outer toughness for because sudden death suddenly reminds us the mortality we all suffer from. Someone taking their life reminding us all we may never truly understand each other. The type of act that causes every person to question if they are in a room full of family or strangers.
The man in question, the one who took his life on a windy night. The one who we gathered to mourn. Or celebrate. I don’t know, I am a creature built of miscues. Nevertheless, we were gathered on this somber day. I took my hands, uneasily clasping them in front of me. As people spoke, sharing fond memories and sniffles, I clasped my hands over and over. Again and again.
They spoke of a man. Hard-working and kind. He went to work and returned home. Raised his kids. Drank his beers.
They laughed at funny moments. Like how the man was well-liked at work but you’d never know it talking to him. They recall how he used to believe every day walking into his job might be his last. It might be the day his boss greeted him and booted him on his ass.
The laughs fill the room. I clasp my hands. The lump in my throat so dense and thick. As if phlegm had rolled into a baseball, catching in esophagus. Threatening to put me gasping on the floor. Endearing me to turn this wake into my grave.
I clasp my hands tightly. This is not a dream. There is no Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Yet, here I am, entombed in the moment. Hearing a eulogy of a man sounding so eerily similar to me. As if it were I in the ground on this date in time.
The man took flight, forgetting his wings at home.
Laughter filled the room. I eyed the red neon ‘EXIT’ sign.
Flash forward to every single day of my life. I go to work before returning home. Raise my kids. Drink my beer.
Live in my fear.
My boss walks towards me, and I scream internally. Will this be the day he greets me and boots me on my ass?
I shake haunting memories of a stranger’s family and friends gathering in his remembrance.
I couldn’t laugh that day. Not with apprehension sitting on my chest. As the depression killed me slowly inside. As they enjoyed the story I knew they didn’t fully understand, I unclasped my hands and gripped the seat. The neon red ‘EXIT’ sign threatened to pull me from this world and into the annals of time.