There was an incredible sadness in his heart. He could blame it on the change in the weather, the holidays, work, the straining relationships but he knew it was much more than that.
He sat on the couch and waited for his wife to come home. He put it off for months now but it was finally time to talk. He was ready to open up to her.
She came home unloaded whatever she was carrying onto the floor in front of him and sat down on the love seat adjacent to the couch he was sitting on. He took note of this, as there was more than enough room for the both of them to sit next to each other.
“You would not believe the kind of day I had today. Work was a nightmare, then running around trying to get everything ready for tomorrow night. You confirmed with the Davidson’s today that they were going to be able to make the dinner party for tomorrow night, right?”
He nodded towards her not saying a word.
“I don’t understand what you’re doing. Use your words. Are the Davidson’s coming tomorrow night? She asked again.
“Yes.” He replied.
“Okay good, because I don’t want all of this food I got to go to waste.”
“I’m sure it won’t. Phil has a healthy appetite.”
“I’m sorry I forgot to ask how was your day?”
“Pretty uneventful. I did get to thinking though -”
“Hold that thought. Do we have any diced tomatoes?”
“Diced tomatoes. I think I forgot to pick them up at the store.
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Okay, no worries. I’ll go check the cabinet. I’m sorry; you were saying that you got to thinking today? What does that mean?”
“It means I can’t do this anymore.”
“What do you mean you can’t do this anymore? What’s this?”
“I mean this funk I’ve been in.”
“I told you it’s just the weather that’s making you like this, couple that with work – which I told you will get better – you’ll be out of this “funk” as you call it in no time.”
“No it’s more than that.”
“More than what?”
“I’m just so tired.”
“Take a quick nap. Dinner won’t be ready for at least 20 minutes.”
“No I don’t mean physically tired. Mentally. I just can’t do it anymore.”
“Okay, you’re starting to scare me.”
“I don’t mean to scare you, I’m trying to tell you how I feel.”
“And you will feel fine in a few weeks. You’ll be good as new. Trust me.”
“I don’t think you understand. I’ll say it again. I can’t do this anymore.”
“Wait… Are we breaking up? Are you asking me for a divorce?”
“No, I’m not asking you for a divorce. I’m not breaking up with you.”
“You’re not making sense. Talk to me.”
In that instant, all of his hate, pain, sadness, rage, and feelings of inadequacy seemed to rise up out of him like smoke streaming out of a chimney.
“It’s like I said, I’m not breaking up with you. I’m breaking up with me.”
With those last words, he took the gun he held at his side under the cushion pillow, pointed it to his mouth and did the most selfish act he would ever perform. He pulled the trigger.
He awoke on the couch with the gun still in his hand. The bright light shining through the windows must have woken him. He looked around the living room but his wife wasn’t there. She hadn’t been home yet. It must have been a bad dream, he thought to himself.
He walked into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. He was not happy with what he saw. He saw his discontent, his failures, and his meaningless existence staring back at him. He didn’t even realize he was still holding the gun when he went to splash water on his face. He put it down on the sink and proceeded to try and wash the insecurities away. He looked back up at his reflection and he saw Stan behind him. Startled, he turned around and saw that no one was there.
His mind was playing tricks on him. Stan died years ago in an accident. An accident that he felt was avoidable. He thought that he should have been with Stan when it happened. He scooped up the gun and put it back in the safety box from where it came. He remembered his last conversation with Stan. He was leaving for vacation and told him, “I’ll see you in a week.” Stan never made it out of the hospital. The injuries he sustained in the car accident proved to be too much for the doctors to repair. He died during surgery.
A great sadness fell over him as he remembered his friend. If he were still around he’d tell him to stop feeling sorry for himself. He’d quote his favorite Rocky movies to him for inspiration. “Life isn’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” He could hear Stan reciting the words.
He became confused because Stan didn’t live long enough to see the movie that he was quoting from. The last one that was made when Stan was around was Rocky IV. It was at least a 20-year difference. He shrugged it off as a false memory and started remembering Stan.
Stan was a few years older than he was when they first met and bonded over music. Stan got his license a few years before him and didn’t mind driving him around to record stores, concerts, fast food places, and the like. Stan also became of legal drinking age before him and because of this there was never a time when he would have to hang out in front of liquor stores and beg a stranger to buy him beer.
There were a few other people that Stan and he ran around with. He lost touch with most of them through the years, hearing about their exploits every now and again, reading about them in the crime section of The Bergen Record or worse, reading about them in the obituaries. Stan and he never lost touch. Sure, as they got older they didn’t see each other every day but they did manage to make time for one another one Sunday a month – Fun Day.
He remembered their last Fun Day. It was right before he was going on vacation with his fiancée. They hit up the burger joint and stopped at garage sales looking through other people’s garbage in hopes to find treasure. One of their jaunts had Stan find a piece that brought him right back to his childhood. It was a Batmobile complete with a plastic Batcave with secret entrance. It was missing the detachable road that connected to a small hand pump with “KAPOW!” emblazoned on it. When you depressed the pump it would break the plastic road apart allowing Batman a clear escape. Stan wanted it but was put off by the $20 price tag.
“What’s the best price you can do on this?” He asked.
“Twenty dollars.” Came the reply from the lady sitting on an old folding chair. She was seated at a foldout table guarding her black metal lunch box, which acted as her cash register, along with other assorted bric-a-brac. “Come on really. What’s the best price you do for me?” Hr asked again.
“Just what the sticker says. Twenty dollars.”
“That’s a little exorbitant. How about five dollars?”
“Five dollars is way too low. I’m asking for twenty.”
“While normally I would gladly give you the full amount for this particular item, I cannot however offer that as it’s not a complete set.”
“No it’s not. You’re missing the break-a-way roads and the pump for it. The packaging is banged up, ripped, and dented pretty badly.”
“It’s over 40 years old.”
“Yes and while in remarkable shape for such an old piece, it’s still dented and ripped and pieces are missing from the set. If you accept my original five dollar offer I will gladly take it off your hands.”
“Five dollars is too low. She repeated.
“This late in the day, I’d hate to see you just pack it back up into the garage unsold. What do you say? Five dollars and we have a deal?”
“I’m sorry what?”
“Ten and it’s yours.”
“You, my dear lady, have a deal. Have a nice day.”
“You too and thank you.”
Stan and he walked away with Stan beaming at his find.
“Why are you so happy?” He asked his friend.
“Just got a steal of a deal.” Stan replied.
“But you said the box is all ripped up and it’s missing pieces.”
“Ah yes, but what you and that silver-haired young lady don’t realize is that I couldn’t care less about the box. I’m just going to throw it away anyway.”
“But what about the missing parts, the pump and the roads?”
“She also didn’t know that I have those already. Just lost the car and the cave years ago.”
“Frugality at it’s finest.”
“Come on let’s go test it out.”
“Aren’t we a little old for it?”
“Never too old. Let’s go. I’ll be Batman.”
“But you’re always Batman.” He said feigning a whining voice.
He snapped out of his flashback and walked back over towards the couch. He hadn’t noticed the blood splattered across the walls behind it, nor the puddle dripping from the couch to the floor. He was confused and staggered backwards into a solid object. Slowly turning around he was face to face with his dead friend, Stan.
“Stan?” he asked in bewilderment.
“But how? How are you here? You’re dead.”
“As are you my friend. As are you.”
Tried as she might she could not get the bloodstains out of the couch. The walls could be repainted, the floors could be washed, the carpet could be replaced, but she was having a hard time with having to get a new couch. It was the first thing that they bought together for their “new” home when they decided that it was time that he should move in with her. She started to cry.
He gathered his clothes into the duffle bag and headed towards the door. She walked with him about to kiss him good bye when she blurted out, “Don’t go.”
“What do you mean don’t go? I’ve got to get home and take care of a few things. I’ll be back tomorrow.” He replied.
“Yeah, but what if today was tomorrow?”
“What do you mean?”
“If today was tomorrow, you’d already be here.”
“I’m not following.”
“What I’m saying, ya big dummy, is you should move here.”
“Yes, you’re always saying you hate your neighbors and your place is too small. Move in here with me.”
“Are you sure? I snore.”
“I already know you snore.”
“I can’t think of any other reasons why I shouldn’t then.”
“So you’ll do it? You’re really going to move in with me?”
“Yes, I only have one condition.”
“You get rid of that couch. It’s not comfty at all.”
“Comfty? That’s not even a word.”
“Yeah, comfty. It’s short for comfortable.”
“I think you mean comfy and it’s pretty suspect that that’s not a word either.”
“I’m going to have my hands full with you, aren’t’ I?”
“You wouldn’t have it any other way. So… new couch?”
“Yes, I’ll get a new couch.”
“We’ll get a new couch.”
She continued to try to clean the couch but it was proving to be a lost cause. She was angry at him for leaving her. She was angry with herself for not realizing that the signs were there for her to see, but she was too consumed to notice before it was too late. Her mind wandered.
He was lying on the couch covered in a couple of blankets when she came home from work. She put her purse down on the coffee table and scooted him over so she could sit with him.
“I’m gathering that you didn’t go to work today?” She asked.
“No, I’m never going to work again.” Came his reply.
“And may I ask why you are never going to work again?”
“Because I’m dying. The dead don’t have to go to work.”
“Well you better become undead because we have bills to pay.”
“You better hope I don’t become undead.”
“Why is that?”
“Because then I’ll want to eat your brains.”
“Cute. Seriously, you need to go to the doctor. You’ve been getting sick a lot lately. Your job can’t be happy about you taking all these days off.”
“They’re slave-drivers and they are the reason that I’m sick.”
“You still need to take care of yourself better. Go to the doctor.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I understand just fine. You’re sick. Again. You need to see the doctor so you can get better. It’s not science.”
“Actually it kind of is.”
“You know what I mean. I’m worried about you. You’re not taking care of yourself.”
“I’m doing the best that I can.”
“You need to do better.”
“Get off my back.” He said as he flung himself off the couch, almost knocking her to the ground. Still wrapped in one of the blankets he stared at her and said, “Don’t you understand? I don’t care if I die.” Tears welling up in her eyes she pleaded with him, “Don’t say stuff like that. You’re scaring me.”
“It’s true.” He replied. “I really don’t care anymore.”
“You’re starting to make me feel like a horrible girlfriend.”
“This isn’t about you. It’s about me. My failures. My complacency. My regrets. I really don’t want to go into it now. I’m going upstairs to lie down.”
“I love you.” She said to him as he walked away.
Her words were not reciprocated. She sat there for a moment wiping the tears from her eyes. She’s never seen him behave like this before. She was scared. Scared for him and scared for herself. She wanted to fix this. She didn’t know how but she still had to try.
Standing right in front of him was his friend Stan, his dead friend Stan. He looked the same as he did 20 years ago. Death suited his friend Stan well.
“What the hell is going on? I don’t understand.” He said to Stan.
“You killed yourself.” Stan said.
“No, it was all just a dream. I didn’t go through with it. I didn’t have the guts. There were so many times I’ve thought about it but never did.”
“This time you did. Look for yourself.” Stan said as he pointed over to the couch. He saw himself slumped over, blood everywhere.
“No, this can’t be real. It was all just a dream.”
“No it wasn’t. It really happened. I died. You died. Now here we are.” Stan said to him.
“Where is here? Is this purgatory?”
“Purgatory? No. This is more of a salle d’attente.”
“I’m sorry a what?”
“Think of it as a waiting area.”
“A waiting area? A waiting area for what?”
Stan opens the door and instead of the normal street view there is a vast area of green grass, streaming waterfalls, and piercing blue skies. He saw children and animals playing in the fields. The scenery had a strangely calming affect on him.
“I’m still not understanding.” He said.
“Summerland is where you go after you’ve completed your education.” Stan replied.
“School’s been out for a very long time for me.”
“No, not just yet. You have to go back.”
“Go back for what?”
“Until you’ve done it right.”
“So I’m being punished?”
“Punishment? No, you’re getting another chance.”
“Yes, it’s more like a do-over.”
“I don’t understand.”
“In order for you to enter The Summerland, you must successfully complete your life. You haven’t done that yet.”
“So I guess you did?”
“Yes and no.”
“What do you mean yes and no, and what is successfully completing my life?”
“I died too soon by my own doing. I had to go back too, but I got it right.”
“I don’t understand. You died in an accident, you didn’t kill yourself.”
“Yes it was an accident but it was avoidable. You don’t know the true story.”
“What’s the true story?”
“The night I died I was drunk but that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to get higher. I was on my way to buy drugs when I got into the accident.”
“You were looking for weed?”
“No, much stronger. I kept it a secret from you, everyone really. I was a drug addict.”
“I never knew. I couldn’t even tell.”
“That was the point. I didn’t want anyone to know. Skeletons, we all have them hiding in the closet. I had to go back again and again. I did so until I got it right.”
“Something like that.”
“So I can come back as a frog or something.”
“No, it doesn’t work like that. I know what you’re feeling right now. You’re unsure of what’s happening. You’re trying to take it all in and it’s all very confusing.”
“What I am is angry. All those years I needed you, you weren’t there. I learned a long time ago that I was truly on my own.”
“You were never alone. I was always there watching over you.”
“Watching over me? Not once did I ever feel that way. Not once. I hear religious people saying all the time that they’re looking for a sign. You didn’t think to throw one my way?
“I’m sorry. It doesn’t work like that.”
“So when you left it really was ‘until we meet again’?”
“I didn’t leave. I died. You did too. It’s almost time for your next chance.”
“How many chances will it take?”
“As many as it’s required.”
“So when I go back will I remember any of this?”
“No, It doesn’t work like that either. You won’t remember me, this life, or that this conversation ever took place. Not directly anyway.”
“You ever have Déjà vu?”
“Yes, everyone has.”
“Sometimes, every now and again, you will get the feeling that something has happened before.”
“Yes, but with Déjà vu your mind tells you that it’s never happened before but you think it has.”
“So? I’m not following.”
“It’s really just you remembering one of your other chances.”
“So this will never end?”
“No, it will eventually end.”
“You’re given lessons throughout your entire life. They’re always going to be there and they keep repeating themselves until you’ve learned them. They’re hard and trying but you have to keep going. Keep fighting like Rocky did. Dust yourself off and keep moving forward.”
“This ain’t the movies. Life doesn’t work like that.”
“No, you’re right it doesn’t… but wouldn’t it be something if it did? I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not. What’s hard for us to remember is that every single person is going through something at one time or another. They are all going through their own personal war. On your next trip find peace within yourself. Once you do that, everything else will line right up.”
“What if I can’t?”
“Then you’ll do it again. You’ll do it as many times as you need to until you’ve learned all there is to be taught.”
“Sounds like it will take a while.”
“Time does not exist in Summerland.”
“Now that sounds cliché.”
“It does but time is not the same as it is for the living.”
“When do I go back to be among the living?”
“Soon. You’ll start to forget things slowly until you don’t remember a thing.”
“Then what happens?”
“You’ll be born again.”
“Will I see you again?”
“Eventually. Once you make it to Summerland.”
“I’m feeling a little groggy.”
“Your time has come. Your next chance is waiting.”
As he said his last word, he started to see Stan disappear in the fields. Slowly the grass turned back into the sidewalks and streets. He looked down at his hands and saw that he too was slowly disappearing. Fading away into nothingness.
She stopped scrubbing at the couch and jolted up towards the cabinet drawer. She had forgotten all about the glass jar that she made him and wanted to see if it was still there. It was. Lying underneath old magazines. She opened it up and a very faint smell of her perfume was still on the papers. She went to go read one when there was a knock on the door.
She answered the door not realizing she still had the jar in her hand. It was Reverend Fletcher from the church. They exchanged salutations and she invited him in. She showed him to a seat at the dining room table. She placed the jar she was holding back onto the table.
“I just wanted to check up on you and see how you’re doing.” The Reverend said.
“Thank you. It’s a rough go, but I’m doing okay, all things considered.” She replied.
“It’s not going to be easy but you have a great support system that you can lean on. You have me, your family, and all your friends that will help you through this terrible time.”
“I appreciate that. It’s just all so overwhelming. There’s so much to do.”
“If you need any help please don’t hesitate to ask. ”
“I don’t even know where to start.”
The reverend looks over at the couch in the living room noticing the stains. “You know, a donation came into the church. We can get rid of that couch for you and replace it. I can have someone deliver it this afternoon.”
Tears welled up in her eyes as she said, “That couch was the first thing we bought together when he moved in. It’s going to be really hard to let it go.”
“I know but trust me keeping it can only do more harm than good.”
“What do you mean?”
“Even if you can get the blood stains out, it’s going to be a constant reminder to you of the last time you saw him sitting there and what he did to himself. That’s something you shouldn’t have to endure day in and day out. You need to remember him during the good times.”
“I know it’s just hard.”
“It’s not going to be easy.” He glances at the glass jar of hearts sitting on the table. “What’s that jar you have there?”
“This is something that I made for him. It’s little paper hearts with reasons I love him.”
“That is what you should keep. Not the couch.”
“Maybe you’re right. Let me ask you something. Where is he now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is he burning in hell? Will God ever forgive him?”
“Even though he killed himself?”
“All sins can be forgiven. When I was younger a close friend of mine committed suicide. She had grown discouraged and no matter how hard anyone tried, nobody could get through to her to let her know that things could change. Things could eventually get better.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“During that period of mourning, someone gave me a card that I’ve held on to for all these years.” He reaches for the card from his inside pocket and hands it to her. “I want you to have it. Every now and again I would take it out and look at it. It helped me sometimes. It might help you.”
She reads the small cards inscription aloud:
Dear God, Bless those who chose life and forgive those who did not.
“It’s not much but sometimes it’s the small things that help. I have to be going. Let me know if you want me to take care of that couch for you.”
“Yes please. I think you’re right.”
“Okay, I’ll have some of the workers bring the new one and take the old one this afternoon.”
“Thank you for everything.”
“Like I said earlier, if you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I will. Thanks again.”
With that exchange the Reverend left. She felt a little better but was by no means all the way there yet. It will be a long hard road for her, but the Reverend was right, she had a great support system to lean on.
She walked back to the kitchen table and took one of the paper hearts out of the jar. It was larger than the others and looked different. She unfolded the piece of paper to find it wasn’t a heart at all, just a folded up piece of paper tossed into the jar. On it was not her handwriting. It was his. She wondered if this could be his suicide note. She was afraid to read it but she knew she had to do it. She struggled back the tears while reading it:
Let Me Go
That was it. Nothing more. His last request was to let him go. She knew she could never fully comply with his wish. A part of her would always love him forever. She again started to cry.
He was still slowly fading away. Stan was gone completely. He felt as if he was all alone again. This must be what Stan was talking about, being born again. More and more of him kept disappearing. He was slowly starting to forget until there was nothing left but blackness.
Somewhere in the city, a baby boy is born and the city muffles out his first cries.