“I am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me.”
― David Levithan
Arnie was nervous for his first night on the job. It was Christmas Eve and the supervisor assured him of an active shift. Arnie could hardly wait until he saved his first life. He had trained diligently with the senior counselor for nearly two weeks, and had his cheat card at the ready. Wearing the sweater his mother knitted for him for his birthday, he considered the hours she spent sitting next to his father in the den, needles in hand, only half listening to the TV. A tuna fish sandwich and an apple sat in the paper sack next to the phone. His cubicle was the last in the row and next to the emergency door with the stainless steel bar release and a sign that read, When All Else Fails.
All the names of all the people who the Suicide Hot Line failed to save were printed by hand on a poster beneath the clock. Arnie had to wonder when a name might be added to that list on his behalf. He silently hoped it would be an old person, and not anyone he knew. The senior counselor had instructed him just to placate the old people who called, and to talk about God. Arnie had to stifle his enthusiasm. The senior counselor told him this, as well.
I can’t just sit here and wait, Arnie thought, clicking the browser button on his laptop. He decided to Google the word “suicide” out of simple curiosity and to perhaps learn something helpful in the process. Wikipedia told Arnie suicide in Latin is suicidium, from sui caedere, “to kill oneself”, the act of intentionally causing one’s own death, and that over one million people make this choice every year. Arnie found this fascinating, and hours rolled by before he realized it. The phone finally brought him out of his revelry and made him spill is bottle of Five Hour Energy. Before reaching for that black, plastic receiver he looked up at the clock. It was exactly midnight.
Arnie: Suicide hot line, this is, Arnie, ready to just talk or listen or anything that will help.
Voice: I have already killed myself.
Arnie choked for a second, and did a quick scan of the office for the supervisor or anyone who could help. It was empty.
Arnie: Can you hold for just a second? I can’t find my supervisor.
Voice: You must be new, Arnie. This has never happened to me before.
Arnie: It’s my very first shift.
Voice: Don’t panic. It tends to make people act rashly, which in your line of work, might not be prudent.
Voice: That is good, Arnie. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.
Arnie: I’m supposed to ask you what your problem is.
Voice: I know, and I am going to tell you.
Arnie: Did you really already kill yourself?
Voice: Yes, Arnie, there is little reason to lie about it.
Arnie: So, I suppose you didn’t call here to be talked out of it, did you?
Arnie: And there is absolutely nothing I can do to change your mind?
Arnie: Are you old?
Voice: I know what you are trying to do, Arnie?
Arnie: I’m supposed to tell all the old people who call about our Lord and Savior.
Voice: I’m thirty-three, Arnie. Is that old?
Voice: Good. I don’t like talking about God.
Arnie: Don’t you want to go to Heaven?
Voice: Arnie, talking about Heaven is like talking about God.
Arnie: Sorry. It’s just that I have never had to talk someone out of killing themselves who already has. The senior counselor never trained me on that.
Voice: I feel your pain, Arnie. Really, I do.
Arnie: So, how did you kill yourself?
Voice: The how is not important, Arnie. Ask me why I killed myself.
Arnie: Why did you kill yourself?
Voice: Because, Arnie, I want to die.
Arnie: Well, it is your decision, I guess.
Voice: Don’t give up so easily, Arnie. It’s a hard habit to break.
Voice: No harm, no foul.
Voice: Have you ever thought of killing yourself, Arnie?
Arnie: Yes, but not really killing myself. I just wanted to be dead.
Voice: I see. What happened?
Arnie: I got caught masturbating under my rain poncho in Michigan Stadium by the ushers, and they told my parents.
Voice: So, you wanted to die, but not by your own hand.
Arnie: And, painlessly, preferably in my sleep.
Voice: Me too, Arnie.
Voice: Because pain has driven my whole life, Arnie. I can see no reason to tolerate it any longer.
Arnie: Are you sick?
Arnie: Are you injured or crippled or something?
Arnie: So, its emotional pain?
Arnie: I feel sorry for you.
Voice: I hear voices, too, strange, cryptic voices.
Arnie: Did those voices tell you to kill yourself?
Voice: No, they told me to kill other people.
Arnie: I wonder why?
Voice: So do I.
Arnie: Good people or bad people?
Voice: Happy people, people who smile.
Arnie: Everybody smiles.
Voice: That’s right, Arnie.
Arnie: You wouldn’t kill someone who is trying to help you, though, right?
Voice: Suicide runs in my family, Arnie, and none of us has died alone.
Arnie: Who would want to die alone?
Voice: That’s right, Arnie, who would?
Arnie: Not me.
Voice: And, not me.
Arnie: Jesus, this is getting too heavy for me.
Voice: Calm down, Arnie. Remember your training. Breathe.
Arnie: Can we just not talk about death for a while?
Voice: On the suicide hot line?
Arnie: How about if you just tell me where you are, mister. I could send help.
Voice: The police?
Arnie: Or the fire department.
Voice: No go, Arnie. I like talking to you. You are my soul mate.
Arnie: But, I barely even know you!
Voice: You know me better than you think.
Arnie: If you say so.
Voice: Right now I am sitting here with ten pounds of dynamite strapped to my chest, connected to a digital egg timer which has been running this whole time. Do you want to know why?
Arnie: I guess.
Voice: Because I spent the last ten years listening to strangers tell me all their tales of woe and grief. Ten long years, Arnie. At first I was buoyant and compassionate. Then, as time wore on I guess I just didn’t realize the extent to which I was actually assimilating all the grief and misery I was hearing. After a while it became my grief and my misery. And, now, I am going to give it all to God.
Arnie: Just tell me your name, Mister. I promise not to tell.
Voice: My name is, Jack, Arnie. Jack Mehoffer.
Arnie: My supervisor’s name is, Jack Mehoffer.