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I pulled my jacket closed and huffed out warm air as I walked. It was the middle of a long winter storm, and I was sick of being alone. My parents were getting a divorce, my boyfriend had just dumped me, and my friends and my brothers were going off to college and leaving me behind. In about four months, I would be utterly alone, and I couldn’t handle it. So I wasn’t going to handle it. I had already hidden a letter in under my pillow. I had cleared out my locker before the break. I had visited the cemetery and looked at the headstones, and had written in my letter just to cremate me. Now all I had to do was keep walking until I felt exhausted, and then lie down in the snow and close my eyes. I wish I had a companion to be out here with, like a dog or a child or even a forgotten toy, but I don’t.
I am alone.
I keep walking
I walk for a long time before I get tired and feel like heading back as I pass by the depleted bench that means I’m a long way from home. I know I can’t head back and try to keep walking. I suddenly hear snow crunching and soft panting beside me. I look to my side to see a small brown dog with golden eyes and an old man wrapped in a large, aged coat with yellow eyes and a hat full of holes walking beside me quietly. The dog looks up at me and wags his tail, and the man stops and looks at me for the first time.
“Can I pet him?” I ask bashfully as I look at him. The man nods absent-mindly, looking straight ahead as if he sees something I can’t. I bend down and pat the dog. I like how his warm, scrappy brown hair feels in fingers. I scratch behind his ears, and he rolls on his back and wriggles around before getting back up.
“What are you doing out here?” the man ask as he sits on the bench and pats the spot next to him. I hesitate, and then sit down. He just talked to me more than my mom has talked to me all day.
“I’m killing myself,” I say. The dog hops onto the bench. I’m surprised the bench does not fall from all this weight or even creak. The man coughs and tugs at the scarf around his neck, revealing his rugged beard.
“Want to die, huh?” the man says as he pulls a pack of cigarettes out his pocket.
“I’m tired of being lonely,” I say to defend myself. The man chuckles and pulls out a cigarette. The dog crawls over to me and lays his dirty head on my lap. Rather than being mad, I pat his head and let him drift off to sleep.
“Aren’t we all?” the man says as he fumbles with a lighter, “But you won’t be lonely forever.”
“How do you know?’ I mutter bitterly, “If you’re trying to convince me to stop what I’m planning, then stop wasting your time. I’m all set to die.”
“I’m not trying to stop you,” the man said as he finally lit the cigarette. He took a deep puff, and then coughed so violently that I instinctively struck him on the back.
“Do you want to die quick and painfully, quick and painlessly, slow and painfully, or slow and peacefully?” the man asked as he looked at me mischievously.
“I just want to die,” I said. The dog shifted on my lap.
“But you need to be creative with it!” the man exclaimed, “When you die, do you want them to say that you were just another stupid kid who died or a genius who can’t be beat, even in death, especially in death!” I looked at the man like I was talking to a lunatic. What kind of complete stranger helps a kid commit suicide?
“Walking to death isn’t creative enough for you?” I asked, somewhat intrigued and horrified.
“Yeah, if you were a lemming!” the man laughed, “Do you know how many people just walk to death on accident?”
“Then what do you suggest?’ I asked, pondering about my death. The man stroked his chin and puffed on the cigarette again.
“Jump out a tree and fly to your death! Go dig up a grave and bury yourself alive! Sit in a burning building and breathe in the air! Cover yourself in meat and go to the pound! Go hit a bear and wrestle him! Jump in a tank of leeches and snakes! Jump out a plane with no parachute! Drink some shots of moonshine! Go on the run for the bulls! The possibilities are endless!” the man said with excitement, a crazed look in his eyes. The dog woke up and stretched. I pictured myself listening to this crazy man and dying painfully, or being alone but alive with the possibility to meet new people.
“I’m choosing to live,” I whispered to myself.
“What did you say?” the man asked as he got up.
“I’m choosing to live,” I muttered.
“What?” the man said as he adjusted his hearing aid.
“I’m choosing to live!” I screamed at the man as I stood up. The dog barked as he hopped off the bench. The man covered his face with his scarf and bowed his head.
“Very well,” he hissed, “But you will pass through my gates eventually.” The man walked on up the path, and the ground rumbled and shook violently. I fell down and watched as the ground split open in front of him, and black smoke and fire and piercing screams rose from the crack and into the cold winter air. The man was engulfed in the blackness and came out holding a sickle, and then climbed down the crack, followed by the dog, laughing manically. I trembled as the ground rumbled closed and was still, as if nothing had just happened. I noticed a glint in the snow and rushed over to it. I picked it up to see it was the dog’s collar. Fumbling with it in my numb hands, I turned it over in my hand and head the tag:
DEATH’S BEST FRIEND AND CREATOR: SELF-PITY
I tucked the tag in my pocket and shivered and sobbed with relief that I was lonely but alive.
Everyday in the America, 84 people will kill themselves, with the help of the stranger and his dog.
Don’t be a statistic.
Don’t let a friend be either.
If no one else loves you, I am the first to say that I earnestly do.
Live. It’s a gift.