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A Veteran Speaks of Dismay, Agony, And Living

Dying Is Easy, It’s The Living That’s Hard

By One Representing Many

It sits on the coffee table just waiting for me to use it. Black, cold steel, compact and efficient, it is clean, oiled, and ready to serve  its one purpose. A small box sits alongside holding the second part of this simple and very personal equation.

I sit on my small couch taking long pulls from a 42-ounce bottle of Milwaukee’s Best Ice, a very cheap bottle of “premium” beer that features a high alcohol content. It has been fortified by two nips of Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka which are quite affordable at one dollar each. I taste nothing at all, it just wets my mouth and helps to bring me to a moment that has been coming for many years.

Twenty-Five years earlier I had endured a few periods of time when horrible thoughts had begun to dominate my mind. The thoughts were confusing, but clear in a colorful and vivid manner. It was difficult to control them and they would emerge forcefully and unannounced at all times of the day and night. Sleep became difficult, and working became almost impossible. There were times when I would just walk out the machine shop that I ran, and just wander into the city, a very rough, drug and crime infested city. Sometimes it would be hours before I would regain control of myself. On a few occasions I initiated confrontations with characters that no sensible person would even approach. These were short and violent moments that seemed to relieve whatever it was that drove these thoughts.

I began to carry a hand gun with me. I was licensed for a part-time job that I held was and quite proficient in its use. Firearms and I went back to when I was 10-years old and my father would take me to the range to shoot targets. They had never been a problem for me, but I had never carried except when I had been paid to carry. Something profound had changed.

One night, while at home alone drinking some good beer and a nice whisky, I found myself staring at one of my revolvers while watching an old show called Crime Story. In the episode one of the cops falls in a depression over gambling losses and tries to kill himself. He is eventually rescued by his buddies. At one point I picked the pistol up and put it in my mouth. The taste was cold, acrid, and wonderful. I could feel the front site as it touched the roof of my mouth, and the barrel touching the soft palate. It actually felt good. My finger never touched the trigger as I held the gun in place for what seemed forever. Finally I put it down, swigged some more beer and whisky, and fell into what had become the normal fitful sleep that never provided any rest.

Over the next few weeks I either sold or gave away as gifts my entire collection of firearms. I don’t recall being scared overenjoying the feel of a gun barrel in my mouth. Maybe I just knew it wasn’t time for me to leave.

A few weeks later I started a fight with a behemoth in a bar called Smokey Joe’s. It was good sized club and was filled with patrons with a live band wailing away. I don’t recall what precipitated the fight, but whatever I did was incidental to the fact that I wanted the fight and chose the biggest dude I could find. I got hurt a little, my right hand was hamburger, and I was bleeding from the head, but the big guy was taken out by ambulance with an arm broken in two places, and a bruised liver. I managed to leave without being bothered, but when I went to the ER someone pointed me out to the police. I was questioned as to what happened. Due however, to my being much smaller than the other guy, and probably because I was white and he was a Dominican or Puerto Rican man, I was not arrested or charged. They butterflied my head and wrapped my hand before I signed myself out.

One night, during a hurricane season storm I walked to the back of my apartment complex and watched as the small river behind it raged. This river was usually a trickle, but tonight surged powerfully past me, It was about twenty feet wide and with the storm probably 4 – 5 feet deep, but the waters were running fast and powerful. I watched as big and small branches traveled quickly by. Suddenly, with no real thought I stood up and jumped in. The next few moments are surreal. First I’m underwater and my clothes and shoes get heavy quickly. My mouth and nose fill with water, and some gets in my lungs. The current carries me away as I bob up and down like a log. Thrashing and gasping, I feel removed from the moment, as if I am watching from the river bank. I strike some rocks, try to grab ahold, but get swept further downriver. The next thing I know, I am laying across some rocks, surrounded by some large tree branches and various pieces of trash. Fate has intervened. I lay there and gasp until I can get myself up off of the rocks to the ground above. I walk to a roast beef stand that is about 1/4 of a mile from where I live, and ask for the key to the rest room. A terrified teen boys gives then to me. Once inside the bathroom I look into the mirror and see a face that looks like it’s been in a terrible fight. Rocks and branches had pummeled me, When I come out of the rest room the police are there and I get a nice ride to the ER.

Time moved on and now I find myself many years later back in my hometown sitting in my attic apartment, staring at a .38 Special. It is a cheap Spanish knock-off of a 5-chamber Smith & Wesson, but it works and is ready to do what I ask it to do. I acquired this handgun when an Uncle died two years earlier. I knew I should have gotten rid of it as soon as I touched the damn thing.  Instead I put it in a drawer, with the box of shells and forgot about it, until tonight. I call a friend so as to ask him to take the thing from me, but he never answers the phone.

The Soprano’s are playing as I binge watch on my television. I have moved on to my second 42-ounce vodka fortified bottle of premium beer. The gun still sits on the coffee table. We stare at each other, the gun and I, each knowing what has to be done, and each waiting for the moment to arrive. The beer, handgun, and I commune further as Richie Aprile is shot to death by Janice Soprano on my TV screen.

Picking up the box of shells I open it up and select three .38 Specials. Lining them upright on the table, I look and see three proud soldiers prepared for duty. They don’t ask what the duty is, they just stand ready to deploy and perform when asked. They are good soldiers.

Black, cold steel and shiny brass bullets present a unified front on the coffee table. The equation is closer to being solved.

Putting the beer bottle down I pick up the gun and flip out the cylinder with a quick flick of the wrist. It is a practiced move that I have done thousands of times. It feels familiar, it feels good. It feels right. I switch the gun to my left hand and pick up each of the bullets one at a time, and place them into one of the five chambers. The gun is then returned to my right hand and I flip my wrist again to return the cylinder to it’s proper place. I give the cylinder three good spins. Staring at the gun, a feeling of relief and finality comes on me. I actually feel at ease as I put the gun back on the table and reach again for the beer bottle.

After some time passes, I return the bottle to the table, pick up the gun and reverse it in my right hand. I stare down the barrel to the back sight for a moment and then place the barrel into my mouth. It finds the back of the mouth, the soft palate. This is where a bullet can do the most serious damage. The brain stem will be obliterated and death will be instantaneous. That at least is the theory if the gun is held steady.

The taste of cold steel is familiar. There is an acrid bitterness, it seems to fit the moment perfectly. No thoughts run through my head as I experience the taste and sensation of a gun barrel in my mouth. I have no plan, this series of moments came together on their own and have culminated now, with the gun in my mouth, three of five chambers loaded with a bullet, and my finger on the trigger.

I am numb, almost unaware of myself, while being fully aware of the situation. It is as if I am across the room watching. I am removed from the emotional void and misery of my existence.

A very loud “CLICK” is heard. I have pulled the trigger without thinking to do it, or knowing that I did it. Nothing has happened. My hand, holding the pistol had not moved at all. The aim would have been true, should have been true. I begin to shake and cry. Putting the gun down, I curl myself up on the couch and sob the sobs of a thousand years of agony. There are still no thoughts, just wailing and sobbing.

Somehow I sleep.

The next morning when I wake up, I walk to the river with the handgun, three rounds still chambered. It is low tide and the mud flats are exposed. I throw the gun overhand as far as I can and watch as it’s cold black form spins and tumbles through the air and into the cold, salt infused mud. I do the same with the shells a handful at a time.

Every time that I walk by that part of the river now, I look to the exact spot where my old friend lies in cold, black repose. There are days when I wish that I, and not he, was the one lying in the briny mud.

The equation still awaits it’s solution.



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