[Content Warning: Homophobia, self-harm, suicide]
I decided to kill myself after a nasogastric hospital stay. I’d lived in the closet for so long that it had started to close in around me and I was shrinking myself to fit.
One day, I woke up with a shadow that I just couldn’t shake. Meals turned to poison on my plate. I started carrying my closet with me everywhere I went. Soon, my melancholy mornings turned to melancholy months and no amount of therapy could bring me peace. My father made AA meetings more like family reunions and stumbled home angry each night. He’d catch a glimpse of my closet and try to beat it out of me. But I didn’t leave, because you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, even when it’s clenched into a fist.
So I purgatoried myself in Sunday pews and begged to get better – begged God, Buddha, Allah; anyone who would listen – to make me straight. I was a carcass picked clean by prayers left unanswered. No amount of confession cured my shrinking closet, and it was so dark in there that I couldn’t see the gun pressed to my head. Eventually, I stopped asking for an afterlife and decided to die. My days in the dark became a countdown.
This is what brought me to the bridge.
This is how I met Mason.
Mason had turned dying into a daily occurrence. He’d tried everything from pills to paint thinner, but he could never quite make it stick. Every morning, he clawed back into consciousness and each night he was lulled to sleep by the flatline wail of his heart.
I knew this because everyone at school knew this.
Everyone had heard of Mason Mitchell, the infamous faggot, the reluctant defeater of death.
It was locker room talk and hallway whispers. The jocks had found him at the station, watching the trains go by at suicide speeds. The teachers had caught him on the roof again. The laundromat had cleaned the blood from his bedsheets.
They said it was only a matter of time.
The most recent rumour was that he’d tried to give himself an urban-legend lobotomy. Mr. Jenkins found him in the nurse’s office with defibrillator pads on each temple and his tie between his teeth. It turns out the newer model doesn’t work if it detects a heartbeat.
I dangled my legs over the bridge’s edge and searched for the courage to jump. This was not the quiet end I’d expected. According to the internet, drowning is the most peaceful way to die. The fall splinters your spine and you sink. You hold your breath until the water fills you head with hypoxia and your life fades to black.
I thought dying would be a magic trick; now you see me, now you don’t. I’d slide over the edge and disappear, living on in hashtags and Facebook feeds, eulogised by glowing screens. I’d be the epitaph on everyone’s lips. And no one would care about my closet.
“Lovely view, isn’t it?” Mason asked. Abracadabra, and he appeared beside me without warning.
“Go away,” my voice trembled. He swung his legs in time with mine.
“You don’t want to do this.” His voice was too gentle for his jagged edges.
“Leave me alone,” I squeaked, but the pleading in my voice said the opposite.
We sat in agonising silence as the day bled into night. He stuck a cigarette between his teeth and burned down to the filter. His breaths escaped in tattered sighs.
“Those things will kill you,” I said, my voice a little stronger. He coughed out a cloud of laughter and offered me a cigarette.
“Fuck it,” I said. I tried to light it between trembling lips, but the flame just wouldn’t catch. Mason had to light it for me.
I took a long drag and struggled against the cough. My insides stung in new ways.
“You don’t want to do this,” he said again.
“How the hell would you know?” I growled.
He raised an eyebrow and pointed down to the waters below. I could see the bloated body floating on the surface. It shared the features of his face.
“How is that possible?” I gasped.
“I don’t know. I’m as clueless as you are, but I’m gonna milk these last moments for all they’re worth.”
I realised my mouth was hanging open and closed it, “You’re dead?”
“I guess I finally stuck the landing,” he punctuated his words with a wink and a flamboyant flick of the wrist.
“You look like you could use a drink,” he said. He fished a flask from his pocket and handed it to me. “Vodka; the cure for everything”
I took a sip and counted the calories as they singed my tongue. The alcohol pulsed to my head.
“Whoah, that was fast,” I slurred.
“Yeah, you’re a medication-made lightweight. Like me. Or maybe I’m a lightweight because I’m dead,” he laughed.
“Hasn’t anyone noticed that you’re missing?”
“As if anyone’s gonna give a flying fuck about another dead gay kid,” he said, then added, “No offence.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“I had a hunch.”
“So,” he said, “why are you here?” He tapped a hand on the nearest bridge beam.
“That’s a stupid question.”
“No, I mean – why do you want to die?”
“Well I guess I just don’t want to live like this.”
“Ah yes, another self-hating gay from a small town.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“It was never about that for me. I died because chemicals in my brain were broken. I never hated that part of myself.”
He smirked, taking another swig of vodka. His sleeve slid up as he drank. I couldn’t help but stare at the scars. He caught my eye.
“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” He winked. He lifted his sleeve and told me about all the times he’d tried to unzip his veins.
I lifted my shirt and showed him all the bruises. His façade faltered, his face crumbled.
“Jesus…who did this to you?”
And I told him about my closet.
And I told him about the skeleton I’d become, hiding inside it.
And I told him about all the times my father had put his fist to my face to destroy the feminine inside me.
I purged my pain until the Vodka ran dry and the cigarettes were all ash and I was empty. By then, Mason had started to fade. His edges had smudged; his skin had turned transparent. I knew he didn’t have much time left.
“If you could do anything – no limits, no laws – what would you do?” he asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said, my throat still raw from spilling my guts.
“I’d take a bath in a beer,” he said.
“I’d eat a whole cake,” I replied.
“I would learn to play guitar,” he countered.
“I would stand up to my dad, and to every asshole who ever called me a fag. And I would kiss the first boy I saw and not be scared about it.” The words exploded out of me. Mason sat in stunned silence.
“Do you where the word faggot comes from?” He asked me. I shook my head.
“In medieval times, the word meant a ‘bundle of sticks’. They used to burn people like us at the stake; throw us in the fire with ‘the rest of the faggots’.” He paused.
“Do me a favour. If you decide not to jump, light a bonfire for me. That way the next time we’re treated like firewood, us faggots will set the world alight. And every scared kid will see the light through the cracks in their closet door.”
“Okay,” I said, and he kissed me. Or at least his lips levitated above mine, but by then he was no more than a trick of light and shadow. Even so, I felt his mouth curl up at the edges against mine. The kiss left my skull swimming in oxytocin. I was floating.
I felt the door of my closet coming unhinged.
“Do you regret it?” I asked.
“You know…” I gestured to the body below us. There was nothing human about it anymore; just an empty vessel, another piece of debris polluting the pond.
“I do. I thought when I died all my pain would go away, but dying was the most painful thing I ever did. If I could take it back, I would.”
“Do you think I should do it?” I asked.
“Someday you’ll die, and it’ll hurt like hell. Just not today.” Mason’s mouth was a straight line. He knew his time was up. Abracadabra, and he disappeared; a homosexual Houdini disintegrating with the rising sun. All that was left of Mason Mitchell was the vacated corpse, sinking beneath the surface.
I pulled myself up with wobbling limbs and stepped away from the edge.
I went home, kicked down my closet door, and turned it into kindling.