Trigger Warning: Suicide
It was like when you're walking down a nearly deserted street, and it's just past midnight and you see a car with those unnecessary bright LED headlights coming in your direction and you're blinded by the immense illumination that your eyes weren't ready for.
It took a second for his eyes to readjust to the darkness, but when they did, he saw a silhouette in the shape of a bridge, shadowed by the moonlight directly above it. He couldn't be sure of it, for he did not know how long he'd been chasing the moonlight, but it was likely the Torensluis bridge. As kept walking towards it, he got more and more certain of it, until he was over it, finding himself standing underneath the statue of Multatuli, exactly a year to that day. He sat down on one of the many wooden chairs where tourists come together usually on summer days to get drunk on wine and conversations. Tonight though, he was all alone.
But he wasn't a year ago.
Memories are hazy of that time. Not a lot he has been able to retain after what had been a life-altering year for him, and that's being generous. Hitting rock-bottom, his accident, the pandemic, rehab, therapy, reconciliations. Parts of it come to him in flashes sometimes, but there are still a lot blanks, a lot of gaps in his memory. But he remembers the last time he saw her. He couldn't manage to wipe out that memory even if he tried, not that he ever would.
That image of her, sitting on the floor of his studio. The dim, yellow light from the overhead across the room providing her skin a facade of a sculpture just on the verge of catching fire. Her eyes, her dark brown eyes in the sunset-like illumination resembling shallow pools of honey. She seemed in deep contemplation, but likely it was just the opioids coursing through her veins. Juice Wrld's “Legends” was playing in the backdrop, and he wasn't sure if it was the encouraging lyrics, but he finally found the courage to speak what was on his mind.
Winter of 2020 had gone by in a haze. It was early January and he had just been fired as the field reporter for XS publications. Field reporter was a bit of a stretch to be honest. His main gig was to track B-list Hollywood celebrities who came to Amsterdam on holidays and, "report" what they were up to. That often meant following them to bars, being at the same high profile parties as them, spending nights at brothels which are, of course, legal in Amsterdam. For sure, a fair amount of activities taking place at these parties weren't always strictly legal, most often in the narcotics territory. But these were the stories that get them those precious journalistic clicks, back in Hollywood. And so, to fit in, and because he himself was hardly any different from the people he tried to get dirt on, he often found himself partaking in these activities. Opioids, crack, 'shrooms, the Breaking Bad stuff, were all part of his "business" days. It was the life he'd chosen for himself.
It was just after the turn of the year, that things really started going south for him. Having been let go, he had finally run out of excuses to keep him in Amsterdam, and it was time for him to head back to LA and face the music, so to speak. He had left behind a wife he wasn't in love with anymore, and a 6 year old son, Jack, who he believed deserved a better father than he could ever be, in his quest to find journalistic success. He wouldn't admit it yet, but all he wanted was to just run away. Be a ghost in a new city, new country, new continent. Where he could be completely anonymous, where no one could hold him accountable for his actions, except for himself.
“Guess who I get a call from today. You ready?” he said, as he came and sat beside her on the floor and poured out two glasses of cheap vodka.
“Yes?” she said. He waited a beat. Pulled out a cigarette from his box and lit it.
“A Mr. Donovan. Of Link, Johnson and Donovan. Specializes in matrimonial affairs. Divorce, specifically.”
Her expression didn't change. Likely because of the copious amounts of narcotics in her brain. “Uh oh, I'm sorry, man. What did he say?”
“That my wife has filed for divorce.”
“Well that's what you wante- she started, but he cut her off and added, “And full custody of Jack. I would never be allowed to see my own son. Ever.”
“That's ridiculous! Never? That's crazy. Is that even legal?”
“Well, the lawyer said that I had no case. They have ample evidence to prove to the court that I am no better than a failed junkie, and that I would be endangering the future of my own son's life by being in it.” He looked down at the floor, took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out the smoke with an exasperated laugh. “You know what's the funny part? I have to pay her legal fees, and mine if I decide to contest it, and alimony plus childcare until Jack comes of age.” She didn’t laugh.
She said nothing. She took a large swig off her glass and rested her head on his shoulder. That was when he finally found the courage and decided to just say it.
“I don't know Jean, I don't see the point anymore.”
She lifted her head and tried to match his gaze. “Point in what?”
The words were barely coming out of his mouth fluently, his voice cracking at every inflexion and high syllable. "In.. it all. Life? I don't know. Everything. I don't know Jean, sometimes I just feel like-”
He expected her to oppose this line of thought. But instead:
“I know. You don't need to say it. I know how you feel.”
“Duh, look at me. Look at my arms.” She lifted her arms and faced them upwards. Pale, full of needle marks, intersectional scars that were likely her own doing.
“If there's anyone who doesn't see the point of life, it's me. I don't have a job, I'm living off my dead parents' inheritance, I have no one waiting for me back home. Hell, I don't even have a home.”
“Oh, Jean. I don't know what to say.”
“Come on. You don't have to say anything.”
“Well, maybe we should just kill each other”, he said, only half-jokingly.
“Hah! Wouldn't that be a cool story for your Hollywood pals to read over a martini at a Sunday brunch pretending to give a crap.”
“Yeah, right. That really would be something.”
A few seconds passed by, and as if by some telepathic connection, both of them looked up and at each other at the same time as if to say are you thinking what I'm thinking?
Neither one of us was brave enough to say the words, but it was clear that both of them understood. They sat in silence for a few minutes, passing around cigarettes and the bottle of vodka – they couldn't be bothered with glasses anymore – and waited until one of them found the courage to speak up.
It was him.
“So.. do you really want to do this?”
“I guess so. I mean, yeah. I've been feeling like this for quite a while now, and I guess.. I just haven't found the courage to go through with it. Are you sure about this?”
“Yeah, yeah I am.”
“I mean we could just.. you know.. not let all this heroin go to waste I guess.”
“Eh, I don't know, I've done so much over the last few months I don't know if this will be enough to do the job. I don't wanna slip into a coma and be taken to a hospital and become a vegetable, or worse, make a recovery.”
“Yeah, yeah I guess you're right.”
“I got it. You ready? The Torensluis bridge.”
“Yes! That's perfect. No one would find our bodies, and even if they do, it'll probably be after such a long time that they'd just assume it was one of the criminals from the prison underneath the bridge.”
“Great let's go.”
“Hell yeah no time like the present. Come on let's go.”
“No, no. Hold on a second. Listen to me.. we're both pretty wasted right now. Don't you think we should see if we still want to go through with this when we're sober?”
“But- Yeah you're right. That makes sense. Okay, how about this? Tomorrow, sunset, Torensluis bridge. Meet me by the statue of Multatuli.”
“Okay, sunset, bridge, statue. And what if one of us wants back out?”
“I won't. Will you? I've never been stood up in my life, you know, are you planning to do so in death?”
“Jesus Christ, Jean.”
“God, man it’s a joke. Okay how about this? If either one of us doesn't show up, the other one doesn't go through with it as well. Okay?”
“Okay, that sounds good. Should we shake on it?”
She turned to him, sat up, knocked over the bottle as she leaned in and pressed her lips against his with a force that nearly smashed his head into the wall.
"A death kiss."
The next day. March 17, 2020. It was just past noon when he woke up. Hungover but sober. He stood up, went over to the sink, looked in the mirror and asked the reflection out loud: Do you still want to do this?
And the answer wasn't a resounded no. It wasn't even a timid no. And so there it was. He'd decided. He was going through with it.
He pulled out his phone and texted Jean: it's on. how about u?
He spent the afternoon writing a couple of letters, one to his wife, and one to Jack. He didn't expect Jack to understand, he was still way too young and had hardly spent any time around him to remember him. But maybe when he comes of age, he would learn of his fate and hopefully understand, even if not forgive.
By the time he was done putting his affairs in order, it was five past five. He picked up his phone to see if she had replied. Nothing. Oh well, maybe I'll just see her when it's time.
The sun set at around 6:30, and so he'd decided he would leave at six and take the fifteen minute cab ride to the bridge. He spent the last hour at his small, dusty studio apartment sitting by the window straight overlooking the Anne Frank house, with a beer and a joint. And that's when he had the thought. What if she didn’t show up?
Would I still go through with it, and break the pact? I'd be dead already, so who cares. Or would I not do it? This started an interesting line of thought in his head. He started wondering what he would do if he decided to not go through with it.
After a minute or so he snapped out of it, looked at this phone to see 5:58 and still no reply. He chugged the last of the beer, likely the last of his life, and headed out.
He hailed a cab and as began his fifteen minute ride, he thought about his life. He thought about his childhood, he thought about his parents, how at least they weren't alive for this. He thought about his marriage, how happy he was, dreaming about the perfect life somewhere in an eastern European country by the countryside, writing stories for a living, adopting a couple of dogs and growing old. What a dream. Sigh. He thought about his son, Jack, and the day he was born.
Just then, he was interrupted by his vibrating pocket. Immediately his mind went to Jean. What did she say? Yes or no? Endless possibilities running through his mind about the possible future. All in the half second it took him to pull out the phone and see that it wasn't Jean. It was his wife.
Nah, screw it, and put it back in his pocket, still ringing. Two seconds later, he pulled it out again and said, “hello?”
It wasn't his wife. It was Jack.
“Daddy? It's me, Jack. Are you there?”
His heart skipped a beat. He took a big gulp and said. “Yes, yes Jack I'm right here. Are you okay?”
“Daddy where are you? Please come home daddy I heard mama saying to this man in a suit that they will never let me see you again. Is that true daddy?”
Tears were rolling down his face. He knew in that moment that he'd lost the conviction. He wouldn't be able to go through with it now. He had to live and fight for his son. Just as he started speaking, the cab hit a bump and knocked the phone off his hands and straight out the window. “Stop the cab!” He opened the door before the cab could stop and jumped outside, falling face down on the concrete road. He got up, limped his way back to find his phone, picked it up and began speaking: “Jack? Jack are you there? Don't you worry son. I'll come back to you. Those men won't-”
He sat down on one of those wooden chairs and lit a cigarette. There wasn't a soul on the bridge with him that night, it was nearly freezing.
He took a long drag, held his breath for a second, let out the smoke slowly, and pulled out a letter from his jacket.
He opened it and started reading aloud:
It's been a year and I still haven't heard from you. I don't know if you're alive. And to be honest, I'm not so sure it matters anymore.
I am alive and, dare I say it, doing well. I don't know what happened to you that day, but it changed everything for me. I was on my way to the bridge when, call it luck or fate or whatever, I got hit by a bus. I woke up 6 hours later in a hospital, restrained, drugged out. They wouldn't tell me anything about you. It was.. terrible.
After my injuries healed, they let me go back to LA, but only if I checked into rehab. It was a long ol' road, a lot of dark days and nights, forced therapy, medication, but in the end I found the proverbial light at the end of my proverbial tunnel. I found the will. I had a couple of relapses, but I've managed to get clean again. For now. I've been clean four months now. I hope I can go on for as long as I can. Oh! And I have a court hearing next month, for Jack's custody. And my lawyer tells me my progress has allowed me a glimmer of hope to at least get custody of him every other weekend. It's not much, but it's the best for now. I am fighting for Jack.
Anyway, like I said, I don't know where you are Jean. But I do hope that you honoured our pact and didn't go through with it when I didn't show up. Actually, I hope that you never made it to the bridge either. That would mean something must've held you back, and maybe you found a reason to stick around a bit longer.
And if not, doesn't matter. Just me talking to a ghost. So in that spirit, I hope you're at peace wherever you might be. You were there with me during my rock bottom. Not sure if that's the best thing one could be, but I sure as hell appreciate sharing space with you when I didn't want to do so with myself.
Thank you Jean. Good luck.
A lot of love.
He stood up and walked over to the ledge. The moon was still shining, full and bright as ever, as he crushed the letter in his fist and let it fly in the Singel canal. He watched the crumbled piece of paper struggling to stay afloat on the pristine blue water, and as it slowing sinked to the bottom, so did the question of Jean's mortality in his mind.
He turned around and started heading back to the hotel, walking the streets of Amsterdam with spring on the horizon, and a pair of dark brown eyes on his back, watching him trot away from her, towards a new dawn and a life of potential fulfillment back home.