Love was a prison. No, that wasn’t right. Love was the trap that led to the prison. But maybe he placed blame where it didn’t belong. How Will wished his issues were due to some simple, off-center emotion he’d experienced fifteen years earlier. And if he was being honest, which, at this point, he really tried to be, falling for Dana had been a calculated endeavor. He’d approached the relationship in the same way he believed she had, where emotions were at best a secondary consideration.
He swirled the ice in his highball, drank it down, and was for the millionth time grateful for the effect of the alcohol, which allowed him to think about his life without the accompanying despair he felt when he was sober, which was almost never. He’d tried at first to simply avoid his troubled feelings, but that hadn’t worked. Eventually, his restlessness won out, resulting in multiple trips to the men’s room during the day, where he hid in the stalls for minutes at a time wrestling with his anxiety.
He found relief one evening when he’d stopped at an old watering hole on his way home from work, a place he and other up-and-comers went for happy hour before everyone married and started their families.
“What’ll it be?” the bartender inquired.
“I don’t know.” The gin and tonic the bartender proposed proved just the ticket, cooling his throat and sending caressing rivulets of calm through his veins. Ah. The relief was so sweet.
He’d gone home that evening feeling more hopeful than he had in ages. Everyone gets stuck in a rut, he reasoned. Nobody’s life is perfect, everyone suffers. Especially people with smaller bank accounts, he thought with a dark smile. His choices would surely be worth something in the end. He and Dana made love that night for the first time in months.
He made his stop at the bar a nightly habit. He wasn’t after oblivion, just numbness, which differentiated him from actual alcoholics, he believed. He just needed to consider his situation objectively, something he could not do while his heart raced and ridiculous tears threatened behind his eyes.
For a while, a very short while, the two or three drinks he threw back on his way home from the office carried him through. Then he found he could cope with an additional cocktail at lunch, and then later again, with a nip of something at breakfast.
Eventually, he blamed Dana for his malaise. She was just so one-dimensional and serious all the time. He’d found her attractive, of course, back when they first met; although he’d known better than to rely solely on physical appearances. At that time, he shopped for the whole package, the pretty, smart, accomplished, ambitious woman who wanted what he did, which was success in the business world and the life of affluent couples he admired. He’d been smitten with Dana’s appetite for advancement and impressed by her seemingly tireless dedication to her goals. He proposed when she graduated with her MBA.
But she was just so… inhumanly steady. She never wondered, as he did, if they were like gerbils on a wheel, running and running to no purpose. He decided she was the reason he felt unfulfilled. He tested this theory by having a couple of affairs when he was out of town, but like the alcohol, his pain was still with him when the buzz wore off.
And he was ashamed of himself. Not for his sexual indiscretions, of which he was not proud, but for his cowardly willingness to blame his wife for his own inability to tame his feelings. Dana, after all, had not been the one to renege in their marriage; he had. With this understanding, he realized he loved and admired his wife. He saw her as beautiful, diligent, and misguided, and he genuinely loved her. But he could not ask her for what he needed. Instead, he drank more in order to feel less.
When he got it right, the balance between consciousness and numbness, he considered his role in society as a man, as a husband. He’d been a gifted athlete growing up, which initially defined his masculinity for him and he was happy for it. His romances throughout school were also loosely predicated on his physical strength and speed. But business school had changed the game for him, when prowess at his desk became the key to his power and identity. In order to gain back that feeling of strength and competence, he’d swallowed the sales-driven notion money was power was success was happiness, swallowed it whole. By the time he questioned this premise, he was too far down the road to disengage, too old to play the athlete but too young to endure the pointless cycle of work and empty achievement any longer.
If only Dana would talk to him, maybe he would feel better, get better. If only his life were not quite so small despite its expansive trappings. He could not see a way out that made sense.
He remembered a conversation with a former college classmate at a reunion several years back. His friend lamented how his wife had changed from being willing to take on the world with him, to insisting she work part time when they had kids. “Man, if you’d told me she’d switch like this back when we were dating, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Will’s problem was the opposite; Dana had remained steadfast—in her commitment to build an admirable life outside the house, of foregoing having children. He was the one who wanted something different. His fantasies—not his wife’s—for a more personal home life, with a child or two and all the interrupted sleep and mess they seemed to bring with them, drove him into the men’s room stalls.
What he was living for was not worth it. Moreover, he could not hope she would change for him, and he could not tolerate his own depression any longer. He pondered his condition for what he hoped was the last time. In lieu of a letter, he wrote his wife a list.
Suicide is a cowardly act.
I drink because I’m suffering.
I can’t figure out how not to suffer without compromising you.
I truly love you, although you may not believe me.
I’m a coward.
More than his drinking or his affairs, this decision gave him the relief he sought. Peace was finally, definitively close at hand. He researched his options on the internet. He was not surprised to read white men were three times more likely to commit suicide than anyone else. Superman, indeed, he thought grimly.
In the end, he went with the method that felt right, not what was quickest or most efficient. He decided to jump. Maybe he would feel exhilarated and alive one last time. Maybe he would feel as sorry as he should for what he was about to do. Whichever, he wanted a conscious, physical death, not simply to fall asleep and never wake up.
He flew to Maine on a morning Dana traveled for work. They’d stayed at a bed and breakfast there near a magnificent cliff early on in their marriage, and he’d never forgotten a particular view. The house sat on an out-jutting high above the ocean, the water below free of the boulders punctuating the shoreline elsewhere. He could not be sure, but the inky blue color of the sea in that place suggested deep water. He smiled as he imagined the icy liquid closing around him, a powerful tide carrying him deeper still. He was not a strong swimmer.
On the cliff, the flask he’d brought in case he needed courage lay unopened at his feet. For the first time in five years, he’d gone almost an entire day without a drink. He could barely suppress the craving in his body and the shake in his hands, which, had he not been about to do what he was, would have driven him to consume even more than he usually did. He wanted to die sober.
The sun started to descend along the western horizon but was still casting light when he stepped to the very edge of the cliff. The wind seemed to whistle the most inviting, uplifting tune. He closed his eyes and listened, the sound lulling him as he contemplated the ocean below. He inhaled deeply, proud to finally be taking action against his misery. He jumped soundlessly from the edge and plummeted into the crashing waves.
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