Silently I watched the boy hanging, lifeless, from the thin line. The room was quiet now. Still. Almost peaceful at last, though none of it distracted from the awfulness of the scene in front of me.
It was horrible. It wasn’t at all like the TV shows, where carefully arranged manikins sanitised the viewing. And nothing prepares you for seeing someone like this, when it’s actually somebody you know. Somebody you’ve spent time with. Somebody you care about. That’s just indescribably painful.
I’d never seen a suicide before and the boy hung in the middle of the room, off the old oaken beam. He was completely motionless. Soundless now. The worst part was the face. Dark and twisted, his mouth forced into an obscene expression…..his eyes and tongue…..
Sorry…I don’t want to talk about that anymore.
I glanced at the letter on the table. The suicide note. It was short and to the point, explaining a few things and just saying sorry. It was a good letter I thought – as honest as it could be without naming names.
I liked it. But that was no surprise – it was me that wrote it!
Into a better place? by Riley Jericho
If anyone tells you suicide is an easy way out, you should be careful about believing them! Actually, it’s easy to decide to kill yourself, and even do it. No ... what’s hard - really hard - is dying. Dying can really get to you.
Trust me – I’ve tried it.
Though I really didn’t expect to be still here, watching!
Where was the bright light? Heaven? Peace and all that stuff? Even the other place? I’d always been taught in Sunday School that you went somewhere after it was over, not waited around in your own bedroom watching yourself. So, forgive the language, but what the hell was I doing here? I mean it was still my bedroom, it was still raining outside and my room looked exactly like it did, before I ..... well…you know….
Mind you, I still liked my room. I was on the top floor in our old house – one of those victorian ones that was spaced around the perimeter of the park, not far from the town centre. It always needed a bit of work doing to it though. The attic room was mine – it had been converted years ago and I’d been there for as long as I could remember. Years ago, Mum said I used to bounce in one of those springy swings that used to hang off the same oaken cross beam from which I was now hanging. I don’t remember that, but I do remember hanging a tennis ball off a string and smashing it around the room lots of times!
Those were better days. Days before I realised I was different. But even though I couldn’t hide it from myself, I never told anyone else.
I knew it was wrong. Everyone said it was wrong, and anyway I was the only one, so it had to be wrong. Even though they didn’t know the full truth at school, they called me ‘puff’ and ‘wanker’ anyway. All the time. I just felt guilty because I knew they were right. Even the Bible agreed with them!
Maybe that’s why I was still here? Maybe God didn’t take kids like me?
Anyone can have a bad day. Lots of kids get teased, bullied a bit – even beaten up now and again. But for me, it had gone on year after year and I just needed it to stop. Mum and Dad had come into school once, after Mum had found me crying one afternoon after I got home. It was actually a relief really, and I thought it was going to be OK after that. They came in and, with me tagging along, met the Headteacher.
Bullying? I really don’t think so, she had said. Our school has a zero tolerance to bullying! I think it’s probably just boys being boys – a bit of high spirits! But, I’ll be sure to look into it. And we were bustled away.
Everyone knew my parents had been in to complain of course, and the next day the Headteacher gave a speech in Assembly about being kind and respecting each other and being a team, or some crap like that. She saw me in the corridor afterwards and asked me – in front of everyone – if I was doing OK? She gave me a good maternal smile and told me to keep my chin up…sticks and stones, she said!
If she thought that she had put it all right, she was living in another world herself! It just went underground and became more spiteful and physical. And, the few friends that I’d had seemed to find other places to be. A good day was when nobody much talked to me and I could just get on with my classes. A bad day….? Well, I tried not to think about bad days.
I know Dad was frustrated with me too, and I just got the idea that he felt it was my fault I was being bullied. For a while they asked me how I was doing at school and stuff and I always smiled and said it was fine. Anything they did would probably just make it worse. And they were already much too disappointed with me, for me to risk admitting what really worried me. That I was different from other boys.
If you'd said a couple of years ago that I would start thinking about suicide, I wouldn’t have believed you, but it just kind of got on top of me. Day in, day out. Puff. Queer. And, to my secret shame, they were right.
I just wanted it to end.
I wrote the letter carefully, wanting it to make sense and maybe help when I was gone. I stared at it for the longest time, lacking the courage to sign it. I knew that if I signed it, I would have to go ahead. For three weeks I stared at that letter, keeping it safely hidden from prying eyes. I knew every word. Every letter was indelibly embedded in my memory. It just needed a signature. It just needed courage - but I’d lost that a long time ago.
Why it ended up being that day I don’t know. It had been a bad day, but no more than most. I think it was probably because I could see the days and weeks and months and years still to go, and I lost heart. And what could you say to all the vicious taunting that I had to be a gay homo, when I knew they were right?
And I signed my name.
I’d kept the washing line in the back of the wardrobe for a long time. Ready for when I needed it. I’d even tested it a few times lifting up my weight to make sure it wouldn’t break and mess everything up. I moved quite quickly now, as I wasn’t sure how long my resolve would hold. It had taken such a long time to sign – I didn’t think I could do it again.
The washing line was strong enough, but I still doubled it over and used the loop to bind it to the crossbeam. Standing on a stool in the middle of the room, I wound it several times around my neck and tied it tight with what I hoped was the right kind of knot. I stood balanced there for a brief moment. If I’d have prayed, I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to follow through, so I just did it – kicked the stool over and hoped if would be over quickly.
Almost straight away, I knew I'd made a mistake.
But I don’t really want to talk too much about it now – other than to say again, it’s easy to kill yourself, but dying is hard. More shocked than anything else, I grabbed at the line to hold my weight, but it was thin and shiny and my hands were slick with perspiration. And I couldn’t see or feel the stool.
Sorry, you don’t really need to know any of this, but I have to tell somebody for it to mean something. It wasn’t just about the pain, it was the fear. That’s what’s hard in dying. Knowing that any choices you still had were being taken away. Knowing that you would be unable to change anything and, even though it’s what you wanted, the terrible fear of it all actually ending. Perhaps it’s right when they say that people who commit suicide rarely actually mean it, and are only calling for help. And there’s something really scary when you know you’re in an empty house and no help is going to come.
Don’t let anyone tell you differently! It’s not like a bad dream, or walking into an exam without having done a scrap of revision. It’s so hard to die and it took such a long time before I couldn’t hold myself up. My fingers kept slipping on the line and…..
By the end, I didn’t struggle anymore and darkness finally closed in.
So why am I still here watching myself? And why don’t they tell you how much you’re going to hurt everyone else?
It was meant to be for me alone. Something I had to do, because killing yourself is actually quite personal! So I was dismayed when my little sister Liddy burst into the room laughing and looking for me. I stared at her and she stared at me, horrified. She screamed.
I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t meant to be like this. Nobody else was meant to get hurt. I hurried after her as she ran screaming from my room. I wanted to shout out that it was OK. It was just a joke – a silly mistake. I didn’t mean it. Why did anyone else have to be involved? Why did it have to be Liddy that found me? And then, at the terrible noise, Mum came rushing up the stairs and into my room.
I don’t want to talk about what that was like – watching Mum crying and little Liddy screaming. And Mum trying to lift me up. And Dad arriving. And then the ambulance and the police. I stayed out of the way in the corner, watching, and hating what I’d done to them. Hating it even more than I hated myself.
They pronounced me dead at the scene, though they could have just asked me - I could have told them that. Then they took me away to somewhere else.
I couldn’t bear to stay in the house. Everyone was really bad. Nan and Gramps, who lived nearby, came round and sat with Mum and Liddy, whilst Dad was with the police in the other room, trying to make sense of why I’d left.
Why did I do it? That’s what everyone seemed to be asking, even though they had my letter. I was really wondering why myself now.
I was there when Dad had to come and formally identify me at the place where they put me. Why did they make him do that? It was cruel! His face was hard and unyielding as he stared at my face when they uncovered me, and I just felt I’d let him down again. When it was done, I followed him out and got in the car with him. Let’s just go home now. Maybe if we go home, it will all be over and I can start again as if nothing had happened. Perhaps I’ll wake up and it’ll have been a dream? But he only drove a few streets before he pulled over, leaned over the wheel and began crying. I’d never seen my Dad cry before and I couldn’t bear it and fled.
Many people read my letter. I said that school was bad, and the authorities investigated, but nobody was letting on about anything there. I was disappointed at that. At school, I wasn’t the kind of student who did anything more than average – that’s what the Headteacher said about me in private to the police – although to the newspapers she said that I was bright and popular, with many friends, and would be sorely missed by everyone. Stupid cow. I wasn’t that good at exams and tests and stuff, and you had to work really hard to ever get an A* or even an A in anything – and for that you had to work your socks off! It had killed me to write my last letter, but even then, that was only worth a B in the end.
I was there too, when they did the autopsy. I knew what it was about and was a big fan of CSI. I much preferred New York, but Mum swore by Las Vegas. I think she liked the chubby guy. She said he was warm and cuddly, just like Dad. Nobody in our house really like Miami! NCIS was quite good to… Gibbs, Abby and Ducky. Ducky was English too. He was a legend!
I knew Mum and Dad didn’t want an autopsy, but it was procedure - even I knew that. But as I waited next to myself on the cold metal tray, I just wished someone could get a blanket to cover me up a bit. I looked so cold….and……lonely. Several medical type people bustled around, but I was quite put out that it was some lady doctor that started examining me. Couldn’t I have a bit of privacy and maybe a male doctor? I was embarrassed as she explored everywhere, even my private bits, and made notes into a microphone. When she picked up a scalpel, I’d seen enough. I watched enough CSI to know what came next!
The building that housed the autopsy unit was actually a hospital and I wandered the corridors alone. And that truth suddenly dawned on me. I was alone. Where was everyone else? Where had they gone? I mean the dead people – where were they?
Lots of people die – and not just because they kill themselves. Miss once said that every minute, 7 people are born and 6 people die. Or was that every second? To be honest, I wasn’t really listening much. She said it as if it were some sick scoreboard and there were people out there keeping count! So, surely some of those must have died near here. If not today, then yesterday, or even last week? Especially in a hospital. But there was nobody around like me. I always knew I was different, but did I have to be lonely in death too?
A trolley was pushed by at great speed and, on impulse I followed it. A boy – broken by a traffic accident was bleeding badly and his mother, looking little better, was looking on through the door, anguished, as the doctors attended her son in the Emergency Room.
He was unconscious to the world around him, but I sat next to him because we both knew he was in trouble. Knowing you’re dying is really, really frightening if you don’t know what to expect – even if you do, it’s horrible! I held his hands and talked to him, asking who he was and what he liked doing. Trembling with fear, he wanted to know who I was, and whether he was already dead! I told him not to be daft and that his Mum was just over there and everything was going to be alright. But he was bleeding internally, and they were losing him. Holding hands wasn’t enough and so I hugged him close through it all. And he gripped me so desperately tightly as, in the background, we could here his mother screaming and weeping. And as he slipped away, I stayed with him to the last.
And then it was just me again, and I cried for the very first time since I had died myself. Cried for him, cried for his mother, cried for myself and my own family. Such pain! You know, being dead doesn’t mean you can’t feel anymore. In fact every emotion was more potent; every anguish more distressing; every heartache more troubled.
I went down with him to the morgue and they laid him next to me. I waited with him for a while, to see if he might come back and talk some more, but there was nothing. Then they moved him to a quieter place and his Mum came and I left the two of them alone.
I cried at my funeral too. Not so much for myself, but for everyone else who was there. Maybe you think it might be cute to be at your own funeral. It’s not. If it's someone you know, like in your family, it's not about the nice sounding words. It's all about raw emotional pain. The pastor said we were here to grieve, but also to celebrate my life.
Celebrate? What was there to celebrate?
It was held in our church and lots of people were there, even though it was meant to be just friends and family. Even the Headteacher was there. I didn’t particularly like that. Mum and Dad and the others sat on the front row. I sat with them, though we never normally sat there, as the front row was usually for the keen ones! People said some nice things, and nobody actually said “he committed suicide”, and certainly nobody decided to mention what I’d said in my letter – that I was different. Everyone hoped I would be in heaven now, and the pastor made a point of saying that Jesus always looked after young ones.
I just wish Jesus had been around a bit more in my class at school.
None of them knew I was still waiting and watching, and I wept at the suffering and terrible sadness of Mum and Dad and Liddy, and Nan and Gramps. And for the unexpected sorrow of many more people, who I could see actually cared for me. I wished I’d known that before I did it.
They carried me out in the nice reed coffin. I liked that. It was better than some heavy wooden box, and they played Michael Jackson from one of my favourite CDs. I don’t know who chose it, but they played ‘Another day has gone’:
Another day has gone I'm still all alone How could this be You're not here with me You never said goodbye Someone tell me why Did you have to go And leave my world so cold
Everyday I sit and ask myself How did love slip away Something whispers in my ear and says
That you are not alone For I am here with you Though you're far away I am here to stay You are not alone I am here with you Though we're far apart You're always in my heart You are not alone All alone Why, oh …..
Mum and Dad took Liddy and walked slowly down the aisle, following those who were carrying me, and everyone stared at the family as they passed. But the song was too much for Mum, who stumbled in the aisle, and had to be held up by Dad, whose own face streamed with tears too. It was harrowing, and I ran outside ahead of them.
It was a cold day, but at least it wasn’t raining.
They took me outside and lowered me, reverently, into the ground. I was glad they didn't cremate me. I didn't want to be burned. It was just too.... final. The pastor said a few last words. It wasn’t my time, he said. What the hell did that mean? It wasn’t my time? When is your time? If you’re dead, it was your time, whether you planned it or not!
As people began to drift away, I heard one older lady whisper to another, "Perhaps it was for the best? They say he'd told them he had chosen to become a homosexual.” She leaned closer. “You know, I wouldn't blame his parents if they were relieved he committed suicide!"
"Don't say that!" whisperered the other, deliciously shocked.
"All I'm saying is that it's an abomination.... and maybe social services should be keeping an eye out for the little girl too! We all should – I mean, we don’t want her going the same way do we?"
I was so angry, and I raged around them helplessly. How dare they? What did they know? I wanted to hit them, but was as useless now as I had ever been when alive. But it was the final nail in the coffin for me. Abomination? How could anyone imagine that a boy would actually choose to be any of this? It seemed so unfair.
Once everyone had left, I stayed a while by my grave, thinking of the song.
Another day has gone I'm still all alone How could this be You're not here with me
I knew it was just a body – well, it seemed to be anyway – and that everything that was me was sitting hopelessly on the soft grass. But I just couldn’t leave me to be lonely once more. It rained a little, but I didn’t mind.
It just seemed to be over now. There had been a part of me that had kept a flame of hope alive, clinging to that hope - that it might just be a dream, or that there might still be some way of going back and starting again. But I’d made such a terrible, terrible mistake. Why didn’t someone tell me it was going to be like this? Why didn’t they warn me that it was so difficult to die?
After that, I wandered for a time, though I don’t know whether it was for an hour, or a day, or ten thousand days. I stopped going back to our house quite soon. It was just too sad there and the feeling that I’d let them down more in death than in life, was shameful. Other than Mum and Dad and Liddy, most people stopped coming to sit with me. But at least they came, and I was glad of it. I used to scorn people who would keep visiting graves and leave flowers and stuff. But now, I was so glad they would drop by, now and again. Even to do no more than just sit and chat a bit.
And then I saw the boy. Don’t ask me why I noticed him above thousands, millions, of others, but he had my attention. OK, so there was no doubt about it, he was really cute! What? Oh – come on, I was still human you know! But it was more than that. I followed him to his home and shook my head in dismay as he lay on his bed, reading his own letter.
It was just like mine. Well mine was better – even I knew there were two r’s in ‘sorry’! He hugged his pillow in pain and kept re-reading his message. I wondered how many times he’d read it. Out of the back of one of his drawers he pulled a big bottle of pills, opened it and counted them. Maybe he’d counted his pills as many times as he’d read his letter.
Looking back, I wish I’d have thought of pills.
And both he and I knew that, tonight, he planned to take them at last.
As he lay face down on his bed, weeping quietly, I slipped into him. Deep into his world, his memories, his feelings, his hopes and fears. None of it was a surprise really – finding that, as I explored him, he was just like me. He was different too.
Together, as I hugged him close, we dropped off to sleep on his bed and I ranged far and wide with him, feeling all his pain, his confusion, his isolation and loneliness. He was so beautiful! Oh, dear God, he was so like me. In his sleep we unveiled it all, and cried together.
And I emptied my soul into him. Everything I had left from what had remained from my passing. All my love, my passion, my comfort, my encouragement. All the hopes and dreams I could never have, but so wished for him. I sang to him – old words, but a new song. You are not alone, for I am here with you. Though we're far apart, you're always in my heart. I poured it all into him, until I was exhausted and bare.
I was still holding him when he stirred from the deep place we had been sharing. I hung on tightly, and it was me that needed him now! His warmth. His vibrant life. His strength and courage to keep going.
I had one last gift to give and I whispered it deep into his very soul. There is love. Waiting for you. Not far away. Not at the door yet, but soon. There will be someone. How I knew, I didn’t even question, but it was the one thing he needed to bring hope alive.
He took one shuddering breath, like an engine finally catching as the spark ignites the ready fuel, and awoke. Delicately I withdrew and, for long minutes, he just lay there. Knowing he felt different, knowing something had happened, but unable to identify where it had come from. Getting up and stretching, he wandered a little, before turning on the radio. He went to the bathroom to wash his face and returned in a few moments.
I used to have the Mariah Carey album, but the song was more poignant than I had ever known before. I was so consumed with the words, I hardly noticed that he too had frozen and begun to listen to the same simple words. He came and sat down on the edge of his bed and I sat next to him as we listened to “Heroes” together.
There's a hero, If you look inside your heart, You don't have to be afraid of what you are, There's an answer, If you reach into your soul, And the sorrow that you know will melt away.
[chorus] And then a hero comes along, With the strength to carry on, And you cast your fears aside and you know you can survive, So when you feel like hope is gone, Look inside you and be strong, And you'll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.
It's a long road, When you face the world alone, No one reaches out a hand for you to hold, You can find love, If you search within yourself, And the emptiness you felt will disappear.
Lord knows, Dreams are hard to follow, But don't let anyone tear them away, Hold on, There will be tomorrow, In time you'll find the way.
And then a hero comes along, With the strength to carry on, And you cast your fears aside and you know you can survive, So when you feel like hope is gone, Look inside you and be strong, And you'll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.
Don’t look at me – it was none of my doing! Perhaps there was a God who cared after all?
Even though separated by an un-crossable barrier we still sat close and I knew that, without doubt, that if I had been living, we’d have been holding hands. And in our own places, both knew that the words were meant for us. I know he couldn’t really understand I was there…….but it was enough to know that he was deeply touched by what I’d secretly shared. Inwardly, I smiled. It was enough.
Strength, that had been long diminished, returned and, with a new sense of hope, he carefully tore his letter into small pieces. Taking the scraps and the bottle of pills, he crossed again to the bathroom and flushed them all away.
Courage in hand, he went down the stairs to where his parents were sitting together as his Mum prepared their tea in the kitchen.
And he did it. He told them how he was different and how he was struggling, and about the things he hoped for in life and love. Of course, they were shocked, and it wasn't all easy, but they listened and asked good questions. And he cried again. And so did I. But, as the tears ran down his cute little button nose, I was so, so proud of him!
And though I really didn't want to, I left them, knowing now that soon it would be time to go.
Weary at last, I went back to the last place there was still something left of me. The small gravestone was older now, but it was still serene and the plot well tended. I liked it there. And on that warm summer's evening, my finger traced the smooth legible markings, clearly engraved into the grey marble face. An inscription that was as imbedded into my heart, as much as the words of my final letter had been.
‘Out of this world and into a better place’
Our Beautiful Son David.
The soft breeze blew like a sigh and, one last time - in memory of the many times, sitting here on the soft grass over where I’d been put to rest - I wept quietly. It really was my time now, and I finally understood what that meant. But, for once, my tears were mixed with a sense of peace. Joy even, as I took with me the memory that, at the last, even just for a few short minutes, I hadn't been alone.
And, because of the boy, I caressed that greatest of gifts that was now mine.