We had a bench by our pond. A pine-log bench. It sat near the edge of the water. Daddy called it the Thinking Bench. I remember the day he built it—using only a sharp axe and cuss words.
It’s funny, how I can remember things like benches, but not the last words he ever said to me.
Weeds grew around his bench. He trimmed the grass using a jack knife. Cody, his dog, would sit beside him.
One December morning, when the weather was unusually cold, I found him there. He’d been sitting all night. He wasn’t moving. Eyes open. There was a thin layer of frost on his back and shoulders. His red hair stiff from the cold.
Mama ran outside with a blanket. He didn’t want it.
“You could’a froze to death,” she said. “You need serious help.”
“Help doing what?” he’d say with vinegar in his voice.
He didn’t trust shrinks. Besides, nobody seemed to know what professional help was. Fewer understood depression. Back then, these were modern ideas used by folks who ate snails at dinner parties.
Daddy was the kind who made log benches. The kind who liked to sit.
Toward the end of his life, you could find him sitting in his workshop, shirtless. Lights off. No music. Staring.
Or: on the hood of his truck, parked on fifty acres. Leaning against his windshield. Or: in the corner of the barn, on the floor, knees pulled to his chest. Eyes pink and wet.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?” I’d ask.
He’d wipe his face. “I don’t know, dammit.”
“Will he be okay?” I’d ask Mama.
“I don’t think so,” she’d say, giving honest answers—she was through pretending. “He needs help.”
The day of his funeral, people with phony grins lined up to shake my hand, saying things like, “Your daddy was just sick…”
I heard that a million and three times. It offended me. These people hardly knew the man they were diagnosing. And it offended me even more that they were right.
He was sick. He quit his life with his hunting rifle. Only someone sick could do that.
Anyway, I’m not sad—and I don’t mean to make you sad. You deserve to be happy. In fact, that’s why I’m writing this.
I don’t know whether you cry when nobody’s watching. I don’t know if you get so sad you can’t do anything but sit. Or if you have a young son who thinks your log benches are the best things since sliced tomatoes.
If you do, I want to tell you something:
Swallow your damned pride before it kills you. And get help.