Story by George Ian Thomas, Artwork by Matt Kuhlman
I’m clutching the steering wheel in a death grip, my right foot flirting with removing itself from the brake and slamming onto the gas pedal. The whooshing by cars moving south to north are magnetizing my messed up mind to end my life in a furious, brilliant, violent collision. My foot flirts in that in between space between brake and gas; I am torn between remaining on an earth with a mind I do not understand – or know anymore – or killing myself in a messy sprawl of metal and bone. There is no fear of a final pain before the end – I actually welcome the thought of feeling something besides heavy, dull, hurt. I scan the cars; feel my vehicle inching towards the danger line. I pick out a specific car – it’s about seven seconds away from entering the intersection. My car inches up, this beige car coasting at a good 50 miles per hour, is five seconds away. Everything is precisely defined. I take one humongous breath in, feel the wonderful, horrible intense energy impending suicide emits, and I offer a barely audible apology to my sixteen-year-old brother, who is hundreds of miles away – back in New York with issues of his own. It’s now or never. My foot lifts high off of the floorboard and comes down heavy.
Two days before, I purchased a pack of Camel Red’s and smoked the entire pack in four hours as I meandered in a pattern less daze around Lakeview and Uptown. Since I’m anti-smoking, this is a big problem. The act of buying a pack of cigarettes has always been a precursor to a breakdown for me. I’ve come to realize that that act is my announcement to the world-at-large that I have stopped caring about my physical and mental well-being. It is my final cry for help – the people who know me know I’m anti-smoking, so if they see me smoking they will know something is disturbingly wrong with the picture.
I find myself on the blue line platform, a cigarette dangling from my mouth and my eyes. I want to hurt something, someone. You, me, God. The evil, the innocent. It doesn’t matter. I am breaking – almost broken – and I want the world to know. A seventeen-year-old tough guy gives me a once over, and I lose it.
“You want to die? ‘Cause I don’t care if I do.”
I toss my cigarette at him, and I enjoy the shiver in his fear-filled eyes.
Minutes before I would find myself red-light-fascinating on killing myself at this typical suburban three-lanes in all directions intersection, I stumble into my restaurant gig with the lucidity of someone who hasn’t slept in two full days. The manager tells me that my shift doesn’t start until four; he says I must’ve read the schedule wrong. I tear the schedule off the wall, yell at the manager like he’s insulted my heritage, and storm out of the place past discombobulated faces of fellow waiters. I peel off in my car – which is a 2001 Toyota Echo, so by peel out I mean go 0 to 35 in a good twenty seconds – and begin driving erratically, half-aware, aimless. I fling a cigarette in my mouth, scream internally at everything that is this world, and pull up to the intersection.
It’s now or never. My foot lifts high off of the floorboard and comes down heavy. There is something so concrete and impersonal about this landscape – it fits with where I am mentally. I make a muffled scream; feel my face twitch. My scream turns into a word. “Go.” Or was it, “No”? My foot is stuck on the brake pedal; the car passes; the light turns green; I sob.
I somehow drive the car to a nearby shopping plaza, my hands shaking and every inch of my skin on edge, and I rummage through my phone for someone to call. I can only call one person. Sam. I pour my mercurial heart out to him, and he has me laughing in a matter of minutes. Sam, a friend back in New York, has been suicidal before. For hours, we talk about everything. He relates to everything.
He understood everything. And when I woke up the next morning without a clue as to how to function, Sam called me and coaxed me out of bed, talking to me the entire time I walked to an AA meeting, and then, after the meeting, as I wearily made it to the nearby health clinic.
Some days later, I was back at the clinic talking to a psychiatrist. “Why are you here?” I wait a long while before responding, and I can only do so with an on-the-verge face. “Are you okay?” He offers a kind, inviting smile.
“I’m done feeling like this.”
“Tired of being me.”
That was six years ago. Today, I’m relatively sane. I am an English teacher, the captain of a men’s tennis team, an avid cyclist, an always disappointed Raiders fan, and, most importantly, a man who is proactively responsive to having someone intervene before I buy a pack of cigarettes. If I’m looking at the cigarette display and feel that itch for a stick of dynamite, I immediately go, “Okay, time to call …” and instead of having to shakily search for Sam’s name, I can gratefully scroll the many names of my brothers and sisters in mental health and addiction recovery. I’m open with my thoughts, no matter how insane they may be. And that is what makes me sane.
Openness. Honesty. I talk. I listen. I lean on others instead of isolating.
Last year, I found myself, completely by chance – though I’m prone to believe that it wasn’t a random event – at that same intersection in Des Plaines. And yet, here I was content with being me. The cars passed. The light turned green. I waited a good second, making sure there were no cars sneaking in behind the just-turned-red-light. I looked over at the plaza where I shook years ago. I turned the music down, tossed my head out of the window, and threw a lusty, “Thanks, Sam,” into the air – for everyone to hear, so everyone could know.
Author George Ian Thomas, Chicago IL
Having barely survived, George has been in recovery for many years after being raised Irish-Catholic in Yonkers, NY. he is an English teacher and a tennis instructor who is currently working on a short story collection called, “Help Me Get It, Even if You Don’t.” George lives in Chicago with the ghosts of his past and the occasional future vision, which is likely a hallucination. Likely.
Artist Matt Kuhlman, Chicago IL
I am an artist, writer, and journalist originally from Lawrence, KS. As an artist I typically work in mixed media, focusing on architecture and man-made environments in juxtaposition with the natural world. As a journalist, I hope to promote art and cultural happenings that enrich and enhance people’s day-to-day lives. Currently in Chicago, I have also lived in Albuquerque, Milwaukee, New York City, the north shore of Massachusetts, and rural Kentucky. www.mattkuhlman.com