Brittle as a Bird

Chapter 5

God. The water is warm. My wet clothes are pulling me down. My body wants to struggle, but I can’t raise my arms. I close my eyes, and I’m drifting. I am so warm.

I can’t explain the feeling of complete euphoria. It is like I had been preparing myself for this all my life. It’s funny how we will lie at night and think of how we will die. Will it be from natural causes at 101? Will it be cancer at 67? Will it be an automobile accident at 38 or a heart attack at 50?

Perhaps, it will be something really weird. I read in the newspaper about a farmer who died at 62 from a farming accident. His coat sleeve got caught in the fan belt of a tractor and caused him to die of strangulation. Then there was the jogger who was exercising in the morning and got hit by a driver. She was only 32.

I often wondered if those people woke up in the morning and had a premonition that they would die on that particular day. Did they know something was going to happen? Did the driver who lost control of his car and ran head-on into a bridge abutment have any clue just seconds before the accident that it would happen? Did God say to him at the last minute, “Psst. Your time is up.”

I didn’t know an hour ago that I was going to make this fateful decision. I had no idea earlier that I wouldn’t be around to see the sun come up tomorrow. I had sealed my own fate. No cancer, no automobile accident and no tractor.

I’m holding my mouth shut tightly, but my instinct is to take a breath of air. But I know I can’t. I can’t open my mouth. There is no air. But I can’t hold it. I have to take a gasp. Then water.

Numbers. Suddenly, numbers. Fucking numbers. Eighteen becomes important. I wanted to see eighteen. That was to be my day of liberation, even though my old man intended to put me out of the house. Just four months away. And now.

Six. June 6. The day I was to graduate. Even though school didn’t mean much to me, it was a day I was looking forward to. It showed that Joey Carpenter, miserable fuck that I am, did accomplish something. And now.

And the funniest number- thirty five. My old man is 35. I wanted to accomplish something by the time I was his age. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be something better than that miserable fuck. And now.

I don’t want to die! This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end!

It’s too late.

The water is engulfing my lungs. I can’t breath. 18. 6. 35. 18. 6. 35. Fucking numbers. 18.…6.….35.………18.……………….6.…………………………….35.


“Doctor,” someone screamed. “I think we’re losing him.”

There is movement all around me. I can sense people poking and prodding my body. Someone raised an eyelid, and for a moment I can see light and a misty figure above. Someone else is putting something in my mouth, and I can feel a tightening in my chest.

Where the fuck am I? Why is my body motionless? It feels like my mind is one place, and my body is somewhere else.

People are still moving all around me. And that bright light in my eyes. I try to shout and tell them to turn out the light, but my mouth won’t open. And why are they shouting and looking so worried?

God! I’m dying! I survived the water, and now I’m dying in an emergency room at the hospital. God is cruel. He kept me alive just long enough to experience this.

“Stand back!”

Damn. What the fuck was that? It felt like a bolt of lightning surged through my body.

“Stand back!”

Fuck! It happened again. What is going on?

“He’s coming back!”


“Good morning, Young Man.” The elderly nurse was looking down into my face with a grandmotherly smile. “How are you feeling today?”

I turn my head away. It’s been about four hours since I regained consciousness. Since then, I’ve been repeatedly poked, prodded and undergone extensive questioning.

“Why did you jump?”

“Why were you trying to kill yourself?”

“Why would someone your age want to die?”

Questions. Fucking questions.

One good thing about being in a hospital bed, no one really expects you to talk. And I don’t. I turn my head whenever someone enters and begins their endless, stupid questioning.

“Why did you want to kill yourself?”

Read my fucking records, Dumb Shit. I’m seventeen years old. I’m gay. I was abused by an uncle. My mother and father hate me. I lived in a garage, and I don’t even have that now. I have absolutely no future ahead of me. Why the fuck do you think I wanted to die?

Wanted to die. How ironic is that? I wanted to die. Past tense. It was something I’d never really considered before, and I doubt I’ll ever consider it again. But for just that one fucking minute, I made a hasty decision that would affect me forever. Forever. I guess if I had succeeded, there wouldn’t have been a future- only a past.

You think of some strange shit when you’re alone after going through something like I just went through. For some reason, I tried to imagine just how my obituary would have read.

Joseph Aaron Carpenter, age 17. Town whore, cock sucker and outcast of Southwestern High School. Joey will be remembered for being sexually abused by an uncle at the age of 11, and then being physically and mentally abused by an alcoholic father until the day he took a flying leap off the Washington Street Bridge. He will be remembered by nobody. Due to lack of interest, a memorial service has been cancelled.

I guess that just about sums it up, doesn’t it? However, I still don’t understand my last minute remorse. Why didn’t I want to die? I know I didn’t have a lot to live for, but then I didn’t want to see it end.

I want my obituary to say that I accomplished something- anything. It doesn’t matter if I was a prominent brain surgeon, or a plumber who got up every day and did what he had to do. As long as I was successful at something. I want it to state that someone loved me, and that someone will always keep me in their heart. I read somewhere that if one person holds you in their thoughts after you die, then you will always be alive. That is what I want.

I remember the guy who came to speak to our psychology class last year. He was forty-two years old, and he said he had tried to kill himself when he was in college. He said that his life was reeling out of control. His grades were failing, and he was going through a break-up with a girlfriend. He said he took a gun and tried to blow his brains out. I thought I was going to vomit when he held up a large picture that showed the bathroom with blood splattered walls.

I kept looking at the scars on the side of his face. Fuck. Even the plastic surgery couldn’t completely hide the hole he had in his jaw. He joked that after seven facial operations, the doctors had restored his good looks. We laughed nervously; but looking at his appearance, it really wasn’t funny.

In spite of everything he’d been through, he admitted he was glad he had failed. Tears appeared in his eyes when he spoke of his life. After his hospitalization, he went back to school and graduated from law school. He became an attorney; and after four years, was an assistant prosecutor. He then met his wife, and they had three beautiful children. He even passed their pictures around for us to look at. He broke down when he said if he had died that day, then he would have missed out on the wonderful life he was now living. I think everyone in the room was moved by his story. I know I was.

I guess I felt like him. I was glad I hadn’t succeeded. I didn’t have fucking much to live for, but I guess I was curious. Someday, my personal hell had to end. It had to. The odds are in my favor, right? Even the worst storm ends, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t until days later that I learned that an off-duty police officer was driving across the bridge on his way home from a double shift. After seeing me jump, he pulled his car over, removed his shoes and followed me into the water. I resisted at first, but I soon passed out as he dragged my limp body to the shore. Unable to find a pulse, he performed CPR on me until the paramedics arrived.

Once in the emergency room, I again went into cardiac arrest. The doctors said that I did die briefly, and they had to give me electric shocks. It explained the feelings that I encountered.

Looking back, I am glad he was there. I hope I feel that way tomorrow.


Mrs. Fulton was sitting patiently in the chair, waiting for me to say something. We’d been at a standoff for over fifteen minutes. Again, the ever present question, “Why did you do it.” Everyone else had given up asking, knowing I wasn’t going to answer; but not Mrs. Fulton. She was determined she was going to get the answer out of me, one way or another.

“Fine then.” She arose from the chair and straightened her dress. “When we first met, I told you we could do it the hard way- or my way. I guess you chose the hard way.”

I had my eyes shut tightly and my head turned to the side. I could hear her walking towards the door. “When you are released from the hospital, you’ll be sent to a juvenile facility and remain incarcerated until you are eighteen. You have violated my trust in you.”

Her words were harsh and cold. It was true. She had spared me, and I had let her down. I had let everyone down. And most of all, I had let myself down. Tears started streaming down my face as I heard the door open.

“Because I had nothing to live for!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “Are you happy? I had nothing to live for.” I buried my head in my hands and wailed. I couldn’t control my emotions. Six years of hurt came flowing to the top, and I was overcome with an immense pain. I began shaking, and I screamed out like a wounded animal.

I felt the side of the bed sink as Mrs. Fulton sat down and pulled me into her. “Shhh,” she said comfortingly. “It will be all right.”

“No it won’t!” I wailed once again. I looked at her and saw tears in her eyes. “No, it won’t,” I replied emphatically. “Nothing has ever been all right for me.” I began to cry again. She held me tightly, occasionally whispering something encouraging in my ear.

She reached for the nurse’s buzzer, and a minute later the elderly nurse and a man, I presumed was a doctor, entered. Mrs. Fulton walked over and spoke quietly to the doctor. He left and returned a few minutes later and gave me a shot in my right arm. Seconds later, I was fast asleep.


“Hey, Mother Fucker!” Ticker came barging in my room carrying a bunch of flowers and what appeared to be a few weeds. “Here,” he said as he thrust them into my hands. “I picked them for you.”

“You dumb shit,” I laughed. “Half of these aren’t even flowers.”

“What do I know,” he grinned. “I stole them from the neighbor down the street.”

I had forgotten just how much the large, red head before me meant to me. His grin was infectious. I hadn’t laughed in days, and suddenly I couldn’t stop smiling.

“You look good today,” he said.

“I always look good,” I replied, rubbing the side of my face.

“Whatever,” he said sarcastically. He stood and continued to look down at me and grin.

“What?” I asked.

“You are now officially mine, Mother Fucker.” He continued to look down and smile.

“What in the hell are you talking about?”

“Mrs. Fulton gave you to me,” he laughed. “You’re my bitch now.”

“Fuck you,” I laughed. “What are you talking about?”

Ticker explained how Mrs. Fulton had called him and his Dad into her office and explained the situation. She either had to find me a home in which to stay or I would be put in a juvenile facility until I was eighteen, which was still four months away. After hearing my options, Mr. Wendelmeirer agreed to let me stay at their home, at least temporarily.

“I can’t do that,” I said excitedly. “You’re family is too large to take me in.”

“My Dad really don’t mind,” Ticker assured me. “He just says it’s another mouth to feed.”

“You eat enough for three people,” I laughed.

“What can I say,” he stated as he comically rubbed his enormous belly, “I’m a growing boy.”

“I think you forgot that at some point you’re supposed to stop growing.” Ticker walked over, pulled my head under his arm and started giving me a noogie. “Stop it, Fucker!” I screamed.

Suddenly, the door opened, and a nurse walked in with my medication. “I’m afraid visiting hours are over.” I looked at the clock, and it was after nine. I had lost all concept of time lying in the hospital. Days and nights became confusing, especially when the doctors kept giving me sedatives and sleeping pills. I found out later that I was on suicide watch, and that was the reason for the constant intrusions.

I awoke the next morning with my mind still foggy from the pills I’d been given. For someone who liked to stay high, I didn’t like the feeling of the drugs they were giving me. Weed makes you feel euphoric. The sedatives they had me on zonked me out. I was having trouble remembering things, and I couldn’t keep track of the time of day. At lunch I wanted dinner, and at dinner I was expecting breakfast.

I also didn’t feel a damn thing. When I would try to remember the events of the past few days, I was totally unaffected by the impact they had on me. The near drowning seemed like a movie on the television that happened to someone else. I even for a while tried to remember what it was like to be beaten by my father, but I gave it up after I realized that I couldn’t comprehend it. It again seemed like something that happened to someone else, not me.

I dozed off for a while, maybe sometime in the afternoon. I don’t really recall. I was awakened by someone entering my room and walking over to my bed. I didn’t even open my eyes because I was sure that it was only a nurse coming in to take my blood pressure or temperature. I could sense that someone was looking at me, so I opened my eyes.

“What are you doing here?” I asked surprisingly.

“I saw Ticker downstairs and he told me you were here,” replied Star. She had a worried look on her face as she stared down at me.

“You came here to see me?” We had formed a semi-friendship, but I didn’t think it was close enough that she’d visit me in the hospital. Besides, I wasn’t sure if I wanted anyone other than Ticker seeing me.

“No,” she responded. “I came to visit someone else. When I saw Ticker downstairs, he told me what room you were in. So I thought I’d drop by and see how you are.”

“I’m all right,” I replied. “I wish I could get out of here though.”

“When can you leave?”

“When they think I won’t hurt myself again.” I looked up and saw a sad expression on Star’s face.

“So it is true then?” she asked. “They said on the news you had tried to commit suicide.”

“Fuck,” I moaned. “I was on the news?”

Star suddenly became nervous. “Maybe I should go. I don’t think I should be telling you all of this. It’s obvious you don’t know.”

“Don’t know what?” I shouted angrily. “That I’m the biggest fuck-up in the city? I can’t even die right?” 

“I’d better go get a nurse.” Star hurried from the room and returned with a nurse. A minute later, I was sound asleep- again.

The next few days were emotional. I was interviewed by two psychologists. They wouldn’t be happy until I was a babbling idiot. What is it about them? They feel they have to strip you naked, and then leave you looking in a mirror at the ugly image on the other side.

Then there were the daily therapy sessions where I was forced to sit in a circle with other people who had tried to commit suicide. Do you know what it is like to sit for two hours in a shell and refuse to talk? After a while it became a showdown as to who would break first. Dr. Conrad was convinced she could get me to strip away the façade I had built around me and expose myself to a bunch of people I really didn’t give a shit about. Why the fuck would I want to tell a roomful of uncaring people my problems?

“They ain’t going to let you out of here until you talk,” informed Ticker after the third day of my protest.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I shouted. “Bunch of fucking morons.”

“They may be fucking morons,” he admonished, “but they make the rules, and you have to abide by them.”

“You mean I have to tell a bunch of fucking strangers I was molested by my uncle and that my life has been fucked up ever since?”

“If you want to get out of here, then yes,” he advised me. “Besides,” Ticker grinned. “I’ve got some excellent weed. You’ll love it.”

“Fucker,” I laughed. “You should be a psychologist.” He held his fingers to his lips and pretended to be taking a hit off a joint. We both laughed at his antics.

So the next day, I went into the therapy session and told them one of the most fucked up stories I could make up. I told them how a group of boys had dragged me into a forest when I was nine years old and repeatedly raped me. Then they tormented me for several years, threatening to castrate me if I didn’t do everything they wanted me to do. I told them how I had lived with the humiliation, unable to speak to anyone. Finally, out of desperation, I decided to kill myself in order to end the torment. When I was done, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Even Dr. Conrad had to wipe a tear or two away.

Naturally, Dr. Conrad wanted the names of the boys involved. However, I told her that it had happened several years ago and I never learned their names. I told her I never saw them again after I entered high school. Nevertheless, their behavior left emotional scars that had been hard to deal with. She bought it- hook, line and sinker. She was convinced that the rape and subsequent attacks had been the major factors leading up to my suicide attempt.

“You didn’t!” Ticker was holding his stomach and laughing uproariously. “Raped at nine by a bunch of horny boys!” He started howling with laughter again.

“Well, it worked.” I grinned broadly. “I get out of this fucking place. Are you sure your dad doesn’t mind me staying with you?”

“Would you stop worrying,” he assured me. “I’ve told you, he doesn’t care. Besides, when I told him you’d help me with my homework, he seemed pleased.”

“Help you with your homework?”

“Well, actually, do it for me.” Ticker stood and grinned at me. “No one gets anything for free.”

“Fucker,” I said with a smile.

“But you love me,” he responded with a grin. “I’ll be back at two. The doctor said he’d release you then. Dad’s coming with me. He has a bunch of papers he has to sign.”

“I still don’t like this,” I said worriedly. I knew Ticker said his family didn’t mind, but they knew that a troubled kid was going to be staying with them. My attempted suicide had been in the news, so I knew it would be something we all would have to deal with.

After eating lunch, I grew extremely restless. It was a beautiful Saturday, and I just wanted to leave. If I could break away for a while, I wanted to go to Sullivan Lake and spend some quiet time. The doctors could feed me sedatives all day, but one hour at the lake would be all the therapy I needed.

I walked out of my room and wandered around. Except to attend the therapy sessions, I’d really never seen much of the hospital. The nurses glanced at me when I walked by, but no one made an attempt to stop me.

As I wandered down one long corridor, I saw Star approaching. She smiled as she got closer. “Did they release you?”

“Not yet,” I replied. “This afternoon. I have to wait until Ticker’s dad gets here.”

She grabbed my hand. “Then come with me.”

We went to the elevator, and she hit the button to the fourth floor. When the door closed, she stood back and looked sheepishly at me.

“Where are we going?”

“I want you to meet a friend of mine,” she informed me. “I’ve been coming by every day to visit him.”

“Who is it?”

“A friend,” she replied. The doors opened, and once again she took my hand and led me down an empty corridor. When we came to room 810, she stopped.

“Now when we go in,” she warned, “don’t be alarmed. He doesn’t like visitors, so he might seem a little irritable.”

I asked, “Then why are you taking me in?”

“I think you two will like each other.” She looked at me with expectation. I don’t know if this was something she’d planned, or if it was just spontaneous when she saw me in the hall. I was beginning to feel anxious about going in.

“Come on.” As if she read my mind, she grabbed my hand and led me into a dark room. As we approached the bed, I recognized immediately recognized the sleeping figure. He slowly opened his eyes, and they filled with anger.

“What are you doing here?”