Had there been someone else in my place, they wouldn’t have used the word “scared” to describe the essence of the place. I know I should have said something like “beautiful” or “picturesque” instead, but with one foot barely rooted to the ground and the other in the air while you stand at the edge of a cliff, your mind ceases to see the beauty in anything. On any other day, I might have found this place rather painfully gorgeous, maybe, I don’t know, but not today.
I had driven all night watching streets giving way to crossroads, and crossroads opening up on the highway, Too exhausted, I hadn’t stopped to see where I was going and it didn’t matter either. All I felt was an overwhelming pain and I couldn’t even tell where it was emanating from. So, I drove like crazy, desparate to bring as much distance between my world and myself as possible, but even running away didn’t offer any balm to my withering soul.
After 13 hours of driving, I found myself by the side of the road. Leaving my car there, I walked up to the ridge.
Standing at the tip of the cliff, watching the magnificence of the ocean engulfing everything in its vicinity, I realized how inconsequential I was in the scheme of things. Perhaps that’s why I never really mattered to anyone in my life.
What would you do with a life as trivial as mine? Why would you even want to go on living like that?
I closed my eyes, breathing in the proof of my miserable existence, one last time, breathing in the life that gave me nothing, life that I didn’t want anymore.
I was ready to let go now, and so I took a step towards my freedom.
“Umm, sorry, I..I wasn’t expecting anyone.” my internal dialogue was interrupted by a hesitant voice.
Distracted, I brought my foot back to a little stone mound and witnessed it slide off the cliff, and felt my heart skip a heartbeat.
I turned around to follow the strange voice, and found a frail looking dog standing in front of me, appearing apologetic and perplexed both at once.
The animal was a sad sight to behold. His fur was missing at many places and he had an unhealed wound on his back, which was hard to miss.
I was at loss of words, so I kept gawking at the creature that could talk!
The dog took a few cautious steps in my direction.
“I am Sam.”
“I want to die too.” he assured.
Is that what I was doing? I thought to myself.
“You were planning to jump off the cliff, weren’t you?” Sam mentioned the obvious, still unsure.
“I guess, I was” is all I could bring myself to say.
“ummm,” he limped his way to the rim of the cliff and settled down,looking into the distance.
Here’s the thing about committing suicide, It’s always done in privacy. With an unexpected arrival of an unwanted companion, I was stopped in my tracks.
I walked up to the stranger and took my place next to him.
With my feet hanging down the ridge and a deep abyss all around us, the height still didn’t spook me for some reason.
Both of us were looking straight ahead with nothing in focus. In fact, we weren’t looking at anything at all.
Sitting there I wondered, why silence makes us feel uncomfortable. We are always filling the air between us, stuffing it with words, words that aren’t needed, words that don’t particularly mean anything, words which are often just said and heard and words that never really reach the depth of our hearts.
I wasn’t new to the silence though. It had been a constant companion, sometimes growing up, sometimes in my marriage. The world I had tried so hard to fit into all my life, even that world never spoke to me.
So gradually, I went silent too.
But here, in this moment, the silence felt different. Guess, we both shared the silence. We both understood it.
“Loneliness is also like dying, you know.” Sam broke the silence while still lost in his thoughts.
“It kills you slowly, eating you from within. I don’t want to die a slow agonizing death.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I kept looking away.
“What has been killing you?”he asked without looking at me.
“Life” I said, taking my time.
“I don’t know how to explain. It’s…”
“Complicated. I understand.” Sam chimed in.
“ Sometimes, we don’t know what’s killing us. Heck, sometimes we don’t even know that we are dying.”
He was right. I had been dying for years. I just didn’t know.
“I never knew my parents.“
“I was raised in an Orphanage and got adopted by my foster parents when I was 13. I thought I found my forever home, but it wasn’t the family anyone would wish for.“
“My father was an alcoholic. His negligence at work and erratic behavior cost him two jobs. My mother worked as a nurse in the community hospital and was never home. She would do extra shifts to support the family as my father couldn’t retain his work.“
“There were fights all night and mother would show up all black and blue in the morning. I was no exception to his atrocities. Once he tried to sell me to one of his drug dealers for 50 dollars to settle his debt.“
“I ran away that night and never went back.“
“Since I was still a minor, I was released into the system again, this time I was adopted by an affluent family with 2 daughters, 15-16 years each. The girls detested me and didn’t want me in their home. So, they left no stone unturned to bring me down in front of our parents. And eventually, they won. My parents got convinced that I was a bad influence and gave me up.“
“At 18, I was homeless, with no money, no family, and no food.“
“A nun found me and brought me to a convent.“
“Though they weren’t my family, but for the first time in my life, I felt at home. I was accepted and cared for, despite being different.“
“I began working as a part-time waitress in the evening and would attend the nursing school in the morning. In no time, I completed my course and got appointed at a nursing home. Of course, my roommate sister Angie put in a word for me, which helped.“
“Soon after, I met a man, a good man, and we got married after 3 months.“
“I had never thought I’d ever have a stable life and here I was – I had a job, a husband and a home to come to. It felt like life was compensating for all that I was deprived of, until one night when God decided to pull the rug from under my feet.“
“It was my husband’s birthday.“
“I had been doing night shifts for the entire month and knew Gorge wasn’t very happy about us not getting enough time together. So, I had arranged for Mary to fill in for my late shift that night, as I wanted to surprise my husband.“
“I bought Gorge’s favorite pineapple cake from the corner grill and a bottle of wine. Drive from work to our home that night felt unusually long. I wanted to see the smile on my husband’s face after finding me at home that early.“
“I quietly shut the car’s door and walked around the back of the house, towards the kitchen.“
“I didn’t want to alarm him by ringing the door bell, so I had carried the keys of the back door, before stepping out in the morning. I opened the door and put the cake and the bottle of wine on the kitchen cabinet.“
“Sometimes when we are planning a surprise for someone, life is parallelly planning one for us too. And then it leaves it to us to decide whether it’s a good or a bad surprise.“
“That night I caught my husband with another woman in our house.“
“I was still trying to bring myself to senses, when my husband told me that he had fallen out of love with me and didn’t want me anymore.“
Suddenly I couldn’t speak, so I paused and swallowed the lump in my throat.
Sam patiently waited for me to continue.
“Betrayal – that felt like dying” I said that out loud as if I had just now diagnosed the cause of my slow death.
But it wasn’t really.
Betrayal alone wasn’t eating me from inside. It was a long life of disappointments, getting let down, rejection and yes, loneliness – all of these were killing me. All of them!
“So, when the only person I had, told me that he didn’t want me anymore, I didn’t cry or fight. I just felt tired.“
“I couldn’t go on anymore.“
“That night, I gave up on myself.“
“With nothing in tow, I picked up the keys from the kitchen cabinet, lying next to the cake and the wine bottle, and quietly slid out of the back door in the dark nothingness.“
“I kept driving that night not knowing where to go, until I found myself stopping at this rock face.“
The tears that I hadn’t shed all my life were now flooding my face quietly.
Somewhere in between my story, Sam had moved right in front of me, his eyes teeming with compassion and understanding, I had seen only in the eyes of the nuns in the convent.
I asked him with teary eyes, “Will you tell me your story?”
“My story? Hmm..” His face turned into a grim resignation, yet he agreed.
“I was raised by a homeless man – a beggar. I don’t know why he took me in as feeding one stomach in his situation, in place of two, would have been a logical choice, but he took me in anyway.“
“He found me at the mouth of a sewer on one of those unforgiving cold December nights. I was frozen to my bones and couldn’t move, he had heard my howls and brought me with him. I was one month old then.“
“We would beg during the day, sometimes in the scorching sun, the other times under the drizzling rain. Shrunk under an old, torn sheet we would somehow manage our days and whatever little he earned, he’d spend that on food for both of us.“
“Our home was a dried up sewer. Summer, inside our tunnel home, was easy on us, it was winter we used to dread the most as we didn’t have much to stand the harsh cold, except for the shredded old sheets and our bodies, so we would sleep close, keeping each other warm.“
“It wasn’t a life any dog would dream of, but I was fed and taken care of and I was grateful for that.“
“One morning, I woke up, but my master didn’t.“
“I didn’t know why he wouldn’t wake up. I waited all day and night siting by his motionless body, but he didn’t open his eyes or move an inch. When he didn’t wake up the next day too, worried, I ran to the main street to get help. I followed anyone who would pass by, but my desperate cries for help fell on deaf ears.”
“Defeated, when I came back, I saw two men carrying my master. They had covered him in a black bag and were sliding him inside a van.“
“I barked at them, even ran after the van, but lost them on the way.“
“That was the last time I saw my master.“
“I hadn’t known life on my own, but I tried as I had no option.”
“I would eat, whatever I could, off the ground. Some days I ate leftovers from the trash, by the grill and some days, I‘d sleep on an empty stomach.“
“One day, I found a few cookies lying in the middle of the road. I hadn’t had anything the whole day, those cookies would have kept me going for a couple of days, so I rushed to pick them up, but got hit by a fast moving car. The man drove over my leg and didn’t look back.”
“I laid on the roadside for two days, in my own blood and with a broken leg.“
“An old lady gave me some water and food, but mostly I was on my own.“
“Sometimes, I wonder how my life would have been had I been like other dogs. What would it feel like to have a family to love you, warm food to eat and comfortable bed to sleep in. But who would want an old and damaged dog like me?“
“So, I came here to reunite with my master, for I have no place in this world.“
Sam fell silent and his gaze, distant again.
He hadn’t cried a single tear, may be his tears had dried up, but his pain was oozing out of him.
I could see the wound on his back, still fresh from the accident, had started to fester. But it was not just the wound on his body, it was the wound on his heart that was more worrisome.
Wound that nobody had seen.
I looked away.
“Were you going to jump?” Sam finally spoke again.
“I don’t know” I said after a long pause.
“But, I don’t want to anymore.” This I was certain about.
“I am ready to go home now.”
I guess, sometimes we just know when a conversation ends. There are no goodbyes or closures, they just end and that’s okay.
I got on my feet and dusted myself off.
Running my eyes over the surroundings, it still didn’t appear beautiful to me. Maybe it never was.
I got into my car and adjusted the rearview mirror, in preparation for the new journey ahead.
Pushing the door to the passenger seat open, I called out to my companion –