2012 – Jerri Clayton – Suicide

SNHU MFA Prose Winner from the 2012 issue
Jerri Clayton

The note stated the victim was unable to continue with his life, because of a long list of illnesses. These included a bad heart, diabetes, lung problems, depression, and so on. ~ Manchester Police Department Report

I had heard when one person dies another is born. And this worried me. It was 1990. My father was dead, and I was pregnant. I fought off a dreaded certainty that the baby I would give birth to eight months after my father’s funeral would be genetically haunted by what killed my father and had afflicted and terrified me.

A few days earlier, life had maintained its normalcy. As far as I knew my father was alive, and I had no idea I was pregnant. I sat at my desk at the Credit Union, shuffling through paperwork and drinking too many cups of coffee. This was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Tom, what’s up?” I asked my brother-in-law, a city firefighter who worked alongside my husband. Tom stood in front of my desk, in his crisp blue, heavily creased uniform.

“I need to tell you something.” The usual discussion would have been how he had overdrawn his account. Again. And needed my help getting out of another financial mess. But I was concerned this was a bigger mess.

“Sit down, Tommy.”

His eyes shifted. He stared at the blue gray carpet under my desk, and he stuttered a bit. “It’s… your, uh, Dad.”

Tommy didn’t know my father. “What about my Dad?” Tommy remained silent and stoic as I searched his face for answers. Finally he spoke. “He died.”

Two words. Two words when in combination do not seem real. My Dad was sick; he was always sick. But he was on meds. He was going to senior aerobics. He was trying to take care of himself and was getting some things accomplished lately. He hadn’t had a manic high in a while; I hadn’t had to retrieve him from another state like the time in California. Hadn’t received any phone calls from strangers telling me to pick up my crazy father.

Tommy walked towards me as I collapsed back in my chair. I began to cry and shake. I stayed there, I don’t know for how long, in my office chair, trying to process the words. He’s dead.

Tommy put his hand on my shoulder, whispered, “I’m sorry.”

I was sorry too, I thought. I was sorry that my father led a life with an imprisoned mind. A life he had little control over because he was dealt a bad hand. I was sorry I did not have a chance to see him recently, to tell him I loved him no matter what. But it was too late, he’s dead.

My husband was away, vacationing with friends at the beach, not reachable by phone. The Fire Department sent Tommy in his place to tell me the news. I was the only one in my family that knew this secret. That knew my father was dead. And it was now up to me to tell them. I somehow managed to pull out my address book and look up numbers. I repeated the words first to my mother, then my three sisters, Cher, Brenda, and Jill: he’s dead.

Tommy stood stiff and uncomfortable in front of me while I made the obligatory phone calls. “Do you want me to take you home?” Tommy asked.

I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I wanted to do what I always wanted to do when things were dark. I wanted to run. I wanted to run back to my childhood where I could grasp a moment of laughter with my Dad. A single experience when he was happy, and I loved him for being my Dad. The memory that made me happiest was one of a vacation in Florida, when he was well enough to leave the motor home and even donned a swimsuit. A red suit that was too long for him. He held my hand, and we jumped the waves. When there was a small one, he would tell me, “The biggest wave is coming! Watch out for the huge wave,” and we would laugh because it was just a tiny wave. And when the biggest waves threatened to crash over my small body, he held my hand tight, and said, “It’s just a little wave Jerri-Lynn, smaller than all the others.” And we laughed some more as the wave pummeled us both, but we remained standing, holding hands, father and daughter.

My best friend Nancy, who had stuck by my side since childhood, came and picked me up from work. I asked her to stop at the store so I could buy cigarettes—I hadn’t smoked in years. Smoking, crying, babbling, she drove me around. She drove nowhere in particular. I had no clue I was pregnant.

Later that afternoon, I called Tommy to ask him exactly how my father had died. I assumed it was his heart. He had survived a triple bypass surgery not too long ago, and I thought that his heart must have stopped. Just stopped beating and he died. Yes, that must be what happened.

“He left a note,” Tommy told me.

“A note? What do you mean a note?”

“A neighbor checked in on him. He wasn’t able to reach him by phone and he didn’t answer the door. The neighbor used the spare key to go in and check on him. He found him…dead.”

“Where?” I asked, even though I didn’t really want to know.

“On the kitchen floor.”

“Did he have a heart attack? How long was he there? Was he alive when he found him?” The questions tumbled out.

“No, Jerri. He left a note,” Tommy said.

It hit me.

“He killed himself?”

He had left a note. He overdosed on prescription meds. He got all of his financial responsibilities in order before he did it. It was premeditated, and no detail was overlooked. He laid out his own suit for the funeral on the bed. Shoes and socks picked out. His Masonic pins attached to the shirt he would wear in his coffin. He meticulously put things in order, took his overdose, and sat at the kitchen table waiting to die. It went according to plan. He died at the kitchen table, and was found on the kitchen floor, where he fell. There was blood. I knew this because I had to hire a cleaning company that specialized in cleaning up after suicides. I didn’t ask where the blood came from. I didn’t need to know.

I didn’t read the note right away, not because it was too difficult, but because the police had it as evidence. Evidence that he wasn’t murdered. He was murdered. He was his own killer.

“He isn’t in pain anymore.”

“He is at peace.”

“It was his time.”

“God needed him.”

The list of things people say when someone dies is very long. None of those things are helpful. I was told I could pick up my father’s personal items at the police department. I drove myself there, and talked through a telephone to the woman on the other side of the glass. There was a small hole like a bank tellers’ window, only instead of withdrawing money, I was withdrawing my father’s last correspondence and personal items. I found this odd, since he was not a criminal. The woman slid me a plastic bag through the small opening in the glass. On the front of the bag was scribbled Case #90-54824. My father is dead and he is a number.

I walked back to the van holding what was left of my father’s tangible life in a plastic bag. I pulled myself into the driver’s seat and closed the door. I rubbed the plastic between my fingers, amazed at how completely a life can end, an animate, if not dreadful life, suddenly no longer. It was a muggy August day, and I felt myself perspiring, legs stuck to the hot plastic of the seat. I didn’t turn on the air conditioner; instead, I unrolled the window, and opened the bag. It felt like opening a present. I removed the rest of the contents: empty pill bottles, his current New Hampshire driver’s license, and police reports from the three officers who responded. I set them aside and read the note.

6:00 p.m.
I am so sick I cannot take any more of it.
Things that are wrong:
Dry Mouth
Poor Circulation
Enlarged Prostate
Please do not feel sorry. I am better off. Stomach pains and bleeding. I have been so sick for so long. I couldn’t go on.
Love you all

I felt there should be more of an explanation. If I was going to write a suicide note I’d do it up, lists of names, whom I loved, whom I loved more, how I resisted through all the suffering but finally came to some epiphany that I had to get out. But maybe if I really wanted to die, if life had become tedious, humorless, my note would look exactly like his.

I read in the police reports that he had everything neatly laid out. His license on top of his suicide note so they would have no trouble identifying him. Five empty pill bottles lined up precisely so there would be no question about how he killed himself. It was the one thing he seemed to have done perfectly. After all those terrible, relentless years, he pulled his shit together enough to make a clean exit.

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