He was just a kid. Not an adult. And even though he’s a man now, even though he has a family, he’ll always be a kid when he tells this story. I can see it on his face.
The kid had a father—a man who was forty-one. Tall. Handsome.
That Sunday, the kid’s family threw his father a birthday party. It was a grand affair, with steak for supper.
There was singing, joyous voices, card games. The kid’s mother made a cake with blue icing. The room went black, the candles were lit. He took one breath and blew them out.
Monday was sunny. The kid’s father loved yard work. He lived for it. So, by God, they did plenty. The kid mowed near the barn. His father changed a belt on the tractor.
Tuesday, the kid’s father came home late from work. A blue collar man, he put in long hours. Overtime. Then worked more.
The kid noticed his father’s face had changed. Something behind the eyes. The kid will never forget this. How can a kid know a father his whole life—really know him—but not know him? How?
But then, he was just a kid.
There was a fight. A big one. The kid says he remembers how bad it was.
His father’s mind was not working normally. His mother pleaded. The father screamed things that weren’t making sense. The forty-one-year-old tossed furniture against walls. Spit frothed at the corners of his father’s mouth.
The kid tells me he does not want to talk about this anymore. Because after all, this was not the kid’s father. This was a sickness.
The kid’s baby sister was terrified. She buried herself in the folds of the kid’s clothes. The man they called “Daddy” lost his mind.
There are too many things that happened on that night. Far too many. And the kid doesn’t want me to write bad things. This is just a retelling of a sickness. That’s all.
To the kid, it was the worst night ever. There will never be a worse one.
The kid remembers that the air itself was strange. It was not like normal air. It was an eerie calm before a tornado. A dead atmosphere before a hurricane. It was pregnant with violent thoughts.
And it was the last time this kid ever saw his daddy.
The kid remembers the final scene. He was watching his father’s lanky frame, walking toward the police cruiser—fingers laced behind his head. The glow of red and blue lights.
Deputies tackled his father. They shoved his father in the backseat.
There were cop cars in the driveway. Deputies in uniforms lingered near radios, writing on clipboards. Blue lights illuminated the side of the kid’s house.
One deputy said to another, “That fella almost kilt his old lady, coulda kilt the kids, too.”
And the kid hated that deputy. He hated him for many, many years for that one sentence.
Because that officer didn’t know the kid’s father. He didn’t know the kid’s mother. He didn’t know anything. How could he talk like that?
The kid’s father wasn’t evil. He was no killer.
The sick man in handcuffs was a good man. He liked singing in church. And changing tractor belts. He was a practical joker. And funny.
His father had a disease. It was an unseen illness—almost like a tumor. And tumors, no matter how big, no matter how aggressive, no matter how deadly, are not people. And people are not their tumors.
Wednesday—the kid’s uncle posted bail. A few hours later, the kid’s father used a hunting rifle to remove himself from this world. The handsome man was gone.
That was a lifetime ago. On this exact day. The 14th of September.
The last thing the kid wants is for you to read this and feel bad. There are too many things in the world to feel good about.
But perhaps you are a handsome person with a beautiful family. Maybe your wife made you a cake with blue icing for your birthday.
Maybe you know there’s something wrong inside you. You feel it. It’s there. You hide it. You overcompensate for it. You act falsely happy. You laugh too much. You’re a good actor. Mental illness is funny, that way. But I beg you to hear me:
It will kill you if you don’t get help.
Anyway, someone told me it was National Suicide Prevention Week. But for some people, it’s a lot more than that.
Take me, for instance. Today is the anniversary of my father’s suicide.
And I am the kid you just read about.