I’m smack in the middle of the suicide when the power goes down. Immediately the Characters begin to fade, and with them go my hopes for a “resolution.” I feel the pressure of the virtual shoes loosen and I hear Edna whimper somewhere in the descending darkness.
“Hello? Are you there still?”
“Yes, Jerry, still here,” I answer.
“Good,” he says.
There is a moment of silence and then a “click” and the sound of the barrel sliding into place and locking. I press the phone closer to my ear, and turn up the volume on the headset. His breathing quickens and I can hear desperation in each staccato breath. I remember with clarity at that moment, the time I was taking a Regents math final in high-school, and my calculator died. The same feeling of panic that flooded me then, begins to rise up in me now. I take a breath and then do what I did back then; I go back to old ways. I had to remember the processes of addition and multiplication. I had to recall all those operations that had been replaced by tapping a few buttons on my H.P. calc. No more buttons, I had to use my brain.
But now, as the Characters faded, I had to remember something more basic than basic math facts. This was not about a grade, the stakes were much higher and I had to remember my humanity. I shook my head as I considered that: I had to remember how to be human. How odd. I look to the monitors as Edna’s shoes fade, and Quincy’s Question Icon shimmers out of focus. Fred’s lights lose their luster; the red, blue, green and all other emotion bulbs fade to dark.
“Put the gun away, Jerry. There’s no need…”
“Don’t tell me what to do!” He yells back. Fred’s red light bursts bright one more time, like an ember in a camp fire, and then dies just as quickly.
“Put it down, you can always pick it up again if you want to.”
Silence again, and then I hear him place it down on a table. His breathing slows and I close my eyes and press the phone closer to my ear. A longer silence follows and I recap what he has told me so far.
Like many, he has recently lost his job. He was in the construction business for a small company that was developing small shopping lots in Southern California. Things were going well and many projects had been started, but with the downsizing of the economy, consumer spending nosedived, and the construction business had taken a hard hit. Jerry’s call was typical for the time, until he’d taken it up a level with the clicking of that gun. He had means, motive and right now, opportunity; a bad combination in desperate times.
I became aware of my feet for a moment and the fact that the Empathy Shoes had shut down. It was hard to remember what it was like to be as depressed, anxious and frustrated as Jerry was, without having Edna’s full download of emotions. I wasn’t in the mood for depression, but that didn’t matter...it wasn’t about me. It was about him. I tried to imagine his pain and frustration and shot a feeling probe out…
“Must be so hard for you right now…to the point where you feel you need a gun…” I said.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he cut in. “I just can’t. My wife, the baby…how am I going to provide? How am I going to take care of my family? What am I going to do? I have no skills, I have no training... I never went to college. I’m a construction worker for god-sakes.”
I didn’t need any of Fred’s Feeling Lights to see his building desperation. His depression was growing, and that overwhelming feeling of anxiety was building fast. He was a train wreck waiting to happen.
I needed to get him to switch gears, fast. The more he thought about his situation, the more he was going to spiral down. Thoughts can do that to a person; either lift them up or take them down. It was time to go Ellis on him; change the thought, change the feeling.
“Why’d you call, Jerry?”
“What?” He demanded.
“Why’d you call?” I repeated evenly.
“Because. I don’t know.” He said quietly.
“Because you don’t want to die, Jerry.” Silence.
“No one does, really. You called because you wanted to talk this out. You called because you were…hopeful. That maybe…maybe something could change. That you would learn something new, that somehow you would be…helped.”
“Let me tell you a truth, Jerry. There is a part of every human being that hopes, that believes in something good…better than himself. Everyone has things that they deal with. No one has a life without problems.”
I heard him breathe deep. Silence and then,
“So then…how does anyone make it? How does anyone survive, all of…that?”
“Hope, Jerry. A faith that there is a light at the end of it all, no matter how bad it gets.”
“Is that what you believe?”
“Yes. Yes it is.” I said.
“How do you know…really? How do you really…know?”
“I just do. There is a book…” I started. Not yet. He needed a connection…a reason.
“Let me ask you…what is the most important thing right now in your life?”
“My wife and baby.” He answered.
“I love them...so much.”
“They are very important to you.”
“Yes, the most important thing in my life.”
“You would miss them...if you ended your life.”
“Yes. I wouldn’t…I…couldn’t.”
“No…you couldn’t.” I agreed.
“But…the job. The pressure. How am I going to provide?”
“I don’t know, Jerry. But it sounds like you want to.”
“Yes… I do. My wife and kid need me. Manpower is looking for day workers. It pays minimum…but it’s better than nothing.”
“Is that something you feel you could do?” I asked.
“Yes. If…I have to. I can do that.” Silence.
His breathing was steady now “Thanks, “ he said.
“Let me know how things go.” I said, and gave him the next time I would be on the line.
“I will,” he said. . It was over...for now. I didn’t know what else would happen to Jerry. But I knew that he would survive. I didn’t need the characters to know that.