“Where are your pants?” I awoke with my wife hovering over me. Her voice was strained, schizophrenic, trying to be two things at once: helpful and hurtful. It was Monday and she was going to work. I was sprawled out, pointed at the TV. Her question shocked me for a moment. Where were my pants? But then cool reason settled in. Where ever they were, I didn’t need them. There was nowhere I was going. I hadn’t had a job for a year, hadn’t had an interview for months, try as I may. I closed my eyes. Time was on my side. She would have to leave for work soon.
She fluttered around our house, doing the million tiny tasks required for her departure. Picking out socks, ironing her hair, choosing shoes, choosing a hat, choosing a scarf, looking at her painted lips in the mirror as time drained away. She continued until the last minute, and then rushed for the door. I saw all of this without opening my eyes. As she padded down the stairs she barked out “itte kimasu,” which is Japanese for “go, come” and means I’m going. She shut the door, leaving me with the echoes of her activity in my head. My eyes opened and I dragged myself to the TV like an infantryman under heavy fire. I switched the TV on and the world blasted into our living room, chasing away the glum morning shadows. sleepy and already bored just thinking of the day ahead, I laid my head back down on the pillow, dumbly stared into the light and sound of the TV and faded into welcome, time-killing unconsciousness.
On top of a coffee table, nearly hidden by unemployment papers and a calendar turned to the wrong month, my cell phone came alive. Buzzing and jittering, it dropped from the table like a lemming, bounced off my forehead and onto the dusty carpet. Awakened, but blinded by the beam of sunlight coming through the window, I felt around for the phone as it scurried away like a cockroach fleeing for its life.
My eyes adjusted to the light and I picked up the phone. The person had hung up. I redialed. It was a volunteer from the Incident recovery team, a group I had joined to stay busy while I looked for a job.
“Richard, there’s been a suicide. Can you respond to it?”
Like some kind of uncontrollable burp, I felt the word ‘yes’ rocket up through my throat and out of my mouth. I didn’t feel like being a hero today. I grimaced and shut my eyes tight for an instant in silent self-hatred. I wrote down the address. Traffic would be a pain. Part of me was angry that I accepted and the other part of me was angry for being angry that I had accepted.
I found my official shirt with emblem and ID, but the pants would be harder to find. Our bedroom looked like a bombed-out Salvation Army. Finally, under a beaver’s dam of underwear and socks, I found them and pulled them on. They were tighter.
The place was easier to reach than I thought. The man had shot himself on his driveway so the police were making a big deal about it. They had stretched yellow police tape around the property. Something that drove many of the neighbors crazy with raw curiosity. A nagging middle-aged stay-at-home mom persuaded her husband, who had just settled down in front of the TV, to go and see what was happening. In another house, a young mother strapped her toddler into an expensive, sleek baby cart for an innocent jog around the neighborhood. And an older couple leashed their small, mixed breed, shelter-saved dog for “walkies.” But they were all too late. The police had already tossed a tarp over what everyone thought they wanted to see but really didn’t — a crushed, seedless, gray-haired pulpy watermelon tenuously attached to a body dressed in business casual. The police were protecting the neighborhood’s innocence, something the cops had lost long ago.
In less leafy , less pricy neighborhoods, the “looky-loos” would be pressing themselves against the tape, joking and craning their necks for a better view. But not here. These were clean, quiet streets with ample parking. Where thin, golden-haired trophy wives jog-walked in black spandex under blue skies. Where one had to stealthily collect bits of information, craft them into well-spun rumors and then spread them like warm butter during chance meetings.
I parked my car and walked towards the tape. A young police officer waved me through. He gave me the name of the deceased and his wife, who was inside. I followed him into the house. He jingle jangled as he walked. It reminded me of Christmas.
The wife sat at a table in a large dining room. They hadn’t been expecting company so the room was a little out of sorts. She looked at us and the officer introduced me as a volunteer from the recovery team. “He had been looking for work every day,” she said as I sat down. “It just wore him down. After awhile, he just stopped trying.” Hearing this, my psyche chimed a dark tone.
Dave, the other responder, came in and told us the coroner was with the body now, and he’d be in soon to talk. Silence ensued. Sacred silence is what my instructor would have called it. The wife broke her silence. “This isn’t really happening is it?” she asked. “He’s not dead, is he?” She was looking at me, expecting an answer. “I am afraid he is,” I replied. She looked down and picked at something on the table top. She looked back at me. “Who are you, again?” Just then, the coroner investigator came in. He was followed by a bone-crusher mountain of a cop who made the room seem small. I got up. nodded to them both and walked outside.
I stood next to Dave on the porch. The coroner van pulled up. “Best not look when they wrap up the body.” Dave said. I heeded his advice and kept my eyes on the van. “You know,” he continued, “this is my seventeenth suicide.” His statement seemed to freeze in mid-air.
Soon, a woman in a blue coroners jumpsuit appeared. She had raven black hair and wore a bored, faraway expression on her long face. She opened the van’s door and deftly slid her cargo into the back of the van like a loaf of bread into an oven.
We went back in the house and Dave gave the newly minted widow a folder of information. We said our farewells and left her alone at the table. Her family would arrive soon. Outside, a police officer was wrapping up the tape.
I walked back to my car, a true symbol of poverty. I was embarrassed to get in it. I pulled out and drove down the street, the woman’s voice still echoing in my head. It would be awhile but I knew it would fade.
I turned onto a main intersection. Around me, tense, restless commuters were racing through yellow lights and changing lanes as if their drive home was some kind of race. I began to think of myself again and my troubles. I passed a Burger King. Someone swerved in front of me. Someone else honked. I welcomed these things. Death had once again become abstract. A fairy tale told by priests and life insurance salesmen.