I’m not a crisis hotline, but I try.
The first time I talked to Leon, I had no idea who he even was. I just knew that he had a problem. I happened to be awake really late on a Tuesday night because I was suffering from insomnia: in and out of bed, counting sheep, drinking warm milk, and watching bad TV. Infomercials, mostly. Anything I could think of to get a little R.E.M. Then, laying in bed, I heard my phone ring.
“I think I want to kill myself,” said the caller.
There was only silence on the other end of the phone.
“Who is this?” I asked, sitting up in the bed.
“I thought this was supposed to be anonymous,” said Leon.
I was standing in my bedroom, in the dark. Maybe I’m dreaming, I thought. I pinched myself just to make sure and then said, “I think you have the wrong number.” I yawned next as it crossed my mind that I might actually be getting a little tired.
Leon ignored what I’d said. He continued, giving a list of reasons why he wanted to die despite the fact that I wasn’t licensed to help. I won’t list his reasons here because—well, they’re things most people ignore most of the time. Leon can’t, so I’ll say he gets stuck in a rut and can’t see his way out.
I listened and then when Leon finished, I made a suggestion. I said, “If I get down I watch a movie.” I yawned, again. “Sometimes that works,” I added through the yawn. Standing in the kitchen in my boxer shorts, scratching my ass cheek with my free hand, and hearing Leon breathe, I continued, “I take bike rides, too. Exercise is really good for depression. I know that for a fact.”
There was more silence.
“I’m not really trained for this, you know?” I said, finally. “I think you might—“
“No,” said Leon. “No, I need to talk to someone like you.”
“Well, if I wasn’t suffering from insomnia,” I said, smiling, “you would’ve gotten my answering machine.” I was seeing some relevance to this because Leon wasn’t talking to my answering machine and now I was saving his life.
“Are you feeling any better?”
“I don’t have a bike.”
I didn’t talk to Leon again for a few weeks. And it wasn’t Leon that I spoke with next. It was actually a referral, someone Leon knew. His name was Andrew and he was thinking about using again. I was happy to talk to him. I couldn’t sleep.
Andrew was young, maybe 18 or 19, and apparently having a serious issue with heroin. I told him that he should try other things like skydiving. He was obviously some kind of thrill seeker. It had never occurred to him. Try adrenaline. It’s legal, man.
Then, one night, Leon called back.
He talked as I watched a diet pill advertisement. After the third set of before/ after pictures, I interrupted, saying, “Have you ever considered joining an organization or some kind of group for this?” Then I suggested a few places he could go.
Leon said they didn’t work for him, and he mumbled through a few excuses.
Then, I don’t know why, maybe I’d had enough. I said, “Well, what exactly is keeping you from ending it? Don’t, but I’d like to know.”
Leon didn’t have much to say about this. No surprise.
“I’ll miss you!” I said. “Who’ll keep me company in the wee hours of the night? That’s a reason to live, isn’t it? I’m one reason, aren’t I?”
Leon opened up that night. I learned that he worked as a night-time security guard, and that he usually called me in the middle of his shift. And that I really was becoming a reason he had to live.
For selfish reasons, I guess, I wanted to ask Leon what he looked like, but I didn’t. I thought Leon was a pseudonym, so I imagined him as I lay in bed staring at the popcorn ceiling. I thought Leon was a portly young guy with a tuft of red hair and a thick orange goatee. Can you see him? I could. That was Leon.
Andrew, the heroin addict, called back a couple times, too. He was using again, but I got him off the drugs and found out where he could attend NA meetings. Andrew told me he was going to try skydiving, but the backsliding made me nervous.
I might not have a second chance with some of the other callers. Namely, Leon. Or Bobby, but Bobby is a different story.
The next week Leon called when I was out with my fiance. He called me in the daytime, now, too. We were friends that never meet like the kinds you have on some social networks. We talked on the phone, at least. I told my fiance to hold on a sec and crossed my legs. I had a long list of people that I helped and took it all very seriously. Shelley understood and began texting.
I asked Leon how he was doing, and he said, “I really think this is the end.”
Into my smart phone, I joked, “The end of what?” But, I already knew. Leon and I just had that kind of rapport.
Read more words and see more illustrations by Chapel Hill creative spirit Justin Meckes.