The Small Thread

Except for isolated observations drawn from personal experience, characters and events in this story are entirely fictional. Narrative on serious, life-threatening issues includes suicidal feelings, gay coming-out issues, firearms, and societal reactions to all those issues. The character “Patrick” narrates how he once faced a life-threatening crisis alone, and had no idea how accessible crisis intervention resources really were. Like a surprising number of people, he survived it alone, but others are not so lucky. If such an event should ever confront you or someone you know, we have today an abundance of dedicated hotlines and resources. One of these, for life-threatening crises affecting anyone, anywhere across the country, is 1-800-273-TALK.

The Center

It was one of those rambling old three-story things. No doubt it was once  a stately home in some long-ago style, subsequently converted over the decades to multiple uses. As far back as any of us could remember, the Center had always been home to small office spaces and spacious meeting rooms. For all we knew, this building might have had quite a history. But nobody knew what it was.

Here we pass through, in and out of creaky, stained old wood and cut-glass doors. We learn a bit about each other, yet we are all temporary here, like the state of repair.

Here, our Center looked much like the weather that day. Tell me, what does “Light Rain, Feels like 63F, Humidity 82%” really feel like? Weather affects mood here more than most. What are we all about, if not about feelings of self, circumstance, and mood?

It was always a volunteer thing, every patchwork effort. Here were our cultivated weeds in what passed for a front yard garden. There, passers-by are greeted by lopsided grayed cedar shingles. On the downstairs bathroom door, handwritten note paper  announced, “Toilet does not flush, please use upstairs bath”.

At least we can see a visual history: years of not quite enough volunteers, not quite enough donations, and sporadic resources, all spread too thinly. Most of us are transients, paying whatever we can afford to donate weekly , for a safe space to visit and talk.

Our aging doors were always kept open, at any reasonable time of day or night, even on Christmas day. If I ever burn out on volunteer work, there will be two more fresh faces applying to take my place. It’s not the place, it’s the people.

Shouldn’t people and places have histories?

Even long-time directors like Amos probably wouldn’t offer an answer. Nor would he be amused at the irrelevance of such a question. He would redirect: had we prepared a topic outline for tonight’s meeting, he’d ask, and would we mind terribly letting him see it, please?

“I only want to know that everybody’s prepared, you know.”

We didn’t ask Amos a lot of questions, for reasons just like this. That might have increased his distance of isolation, while serving other purposes, whatever they might have been. It still seemed almost wrong. Amos was a founder, one who had shepherded this organization so far along its journey.

That Center was my salvation in the early days. But when I thought about it, it was still much like one of those nondescript thrift shops, becoming entrenched in the same crowded quarters in a poorer part of town. Staff and inventory trends churn constantly. Through the revolving door we enter. We pick out what we are looking for; we leave. Others go on shopping sprees. A few may even linger and apply for a position. Few of us are here for the long haul.

Having said all that, we wouldn’t go there if we didn’t get visible results. We do good work.

Yes, there’s our continuity of purpose, in the same sense that we’re all somehow born, come here to acquire skills, and help others to learn what they seek, just as we ourselves learned it at some period in time, and then, passing those skills on yet again, we move on.

I am sorry to take up so much of your time with such reflections. The story really begins with what Patrick told me.

Patrick

You can call me Patrick. We don’t talk out of school here. Let’s just call him “Kerrigan”.

Kerrigan wandered into my I’m Glad I’m Gay group back in about 1994.

There were maybe 18 men in my group that night. We pulled in $18 in donations. We don’t hover while the coffee can goes around the room. I would like to say I saw Kerrigan put a buck in the can, but I don’t think I saw that.

I noticed him almost right away. Kerrigan stood out in a group. He was a big guy. He looked assertive even when he wasn’t saying anything, and he wasn’t.  He was a little on the heavy side, built solid, like he was in the construction trades. Not bad looking, mid-30’s maybe, this Kerrigan. And he looked like he might have had a bad day. He didn’t smell of booze. He did have the poached-egg eyes, and the nicest bar tan you ever did see.

Kerrigan looked uncomfortable.  He didn’t talk, or look at the others. He slouched down in his chair. That’s the way we all are the first time.

When you see a new face, you are a little extra careful. If you find crisis intervention might be called for, you can’t usually say that, but you do take note. I started out with our usual rap group rules and guidelines.

I always tell them: we don’t get to criticize. We don’t make others uncomfortable. What goes on in group stays in group. You speak to your own experience. You don’t get to say “it seems to me” or “what you need to do is …” You say “what happened to me was …” and you leave it at that.

I finish my opening monologue and introduce my topic:

“I thought tonight it would be fun to do ‘Yes, I’m Glad I’m Gay’ because … hey, did everybody read Ann Landers’ column?”

We get the “smiles and nods” and some raised hands. If you don’t get any responses, you get to choose: do I just keep running on with my monologue, or do I shut up? If you just let it get awkward enough, someone always breaks the silence.

Our Kerrigan fellow said, “Is that the same as the Coming Out group?”

I thought, wait a minute. Have I misread him? It might not be the bar tan after all.

“No, that’s Andrew’s group in room 8. They’re just starting, too, down the hall around the corner. I think you can still make it, if you want to join them, but you’re sure welcome to stay here, if you’d like.”

“OK, well, it sounds close enough. Are you guys all gay?”

I raised up my hands and stopped the laughter. “Guys”, I said, and I started my little spiel.

“This is a safe space for everybody. Can I see a show of hands of everybody who didn’t wonder the same thing, the first time they came in here?”

No hands. So, I tell Kerrigan this question is OK for after we start. I explain:

“What we do before every group is to go round-robin and just introduce ourselves. Just say your name – first name is fine – and just tell us, very briefly, what interested you about the topic tonight. No one has to stand up, or give a speech, or anything special. When it’s your turn, just share your name, say why you liked the subject, and pass it on to the next guy. OK? I’ll start with myself.

“I’m Patrick, and I picked this topic for us to do tonight because I just thought it was really cool of Ann Landers to run that column. I’m gay, and I’m glad I am.”

I gave them my best reassuring smile.

Folks lighten up once somebody else starts. I’d launch the circle with the guy seated just to Kerrigan’s right. That’s so a newcomer doesn’t have to start first.

“OK, why don’t we go … counter-clockwise around the room tonight, and … Roger, you’ve been here before, so do you want to start for us?”

“Hi, I’m Roger, and yes, I’m gay. I thought it was wonderful how many people wrote in proudly to Ann Landers. Besides, Patrick’s groups are always cool.”

We often get an unpaid shill, but it was nice anyway. The guys started passing the baton around the room. It’s easier to watch the group dynamic when you don’t have to talk. And I thought I noticed a little problem pattern right off the bat.

Every single guy in the group was including the words “yes, I’m gay” in their intro. Was I wrong, or was this smart-ass? You wouldn’t think anything was wrong — unless you’d been here before. We’re all gay here!

So they might be having a little fun with Kerrigan. I raised my hands in the “stop!” motion, and I laughed.

“Guys! We can go over that when discussion starts, OK? Maybe the cat’s out of the bag. Tonight is ‘Gay Men’s Rap’, so, you know, we don’t all have to say we’re gay at every chair around the circle. You can, of course … but it’s not like we’re at some AA meeting, you know.”

I was expecting laughter, but seeing frowns. People were sizing Kerrigan up for his reaction. If they were thinking what I was thinking, they might have a point. The facilitator is supposed to set the example. I’d have to bring up the incident with the other facilitators, so we can discuss how it might have been handled it better. I shouldn’t have made my AA crack.

Kerrigan

I admit I wasn’t prepared for this guy Kerrigan. He stood up and said to me indignantly,

“Patrick, what do you mean, this isn’t the AA meeting?”

OK. It’s not often you hear a group go so quiet.

“I’m really sorry if there was any misunderstanding about our meetings. What’s your first name, friend?”

“Kerrigan,” he said, standing up. He’s staring me right in the eye. I wondered how much of a problem we had on our hands. I explained to him it would be OK to sit down. We don’t have to stand when we talk here.

“Well, no, Kerrigan. I hear they do have AA meetings at the ‘Y’ down the street, but I don’t know for sure. The front desk would probably know. My job means I can’t remind everybody too often: this room is a safe space for all of us here, partly because we all come here to share our experiences as gay men. If that works for you too, like I said, and if nobody feels uncomfortable about it, you are still sure more than welcome to join us.”

“Hell yeah, that would be fine, if it’s OK with you guys. I think I might be gay, too.”

Most people laughed politely. I didn’t think they were laughing at Kerrigan. If he was pulling my leg, you couldn’t tell for sure. I decided to hold off on our rule about cuss words.

So we got through the rest of the round-robin. It was Kerrigan’s turn.

“Like I said, I’m Kerrigan. I just came to hear what the others have to say.”

Maybe Kerrigan should have gone to the Coming Out group. If he had coming-out issues, and my experience said he would, he wasn’t saying.

Once in a while you have to override a meeting topic plan for the good of the group. Sometimes you have to throw out the whole book for the sake of one individual.

Groups do stop working if they see someone in our midst is not “one of us”. Once a year, maybe, somebody who’s not gay but just curious somehow still finds his way, past the all our signs and announcements, into a gay men’s rap group. I tell them this is a safe space for gay issues, so we don’t have observers, and if they have any questions they can wait in the lobby and ask me after the meeting breaks up.

I think I might be gay too” can work the same way. I needed to try to draw Kerrigan out a bit.

We all take turns facilitating the Coming Out group, so I decided, let’s take a few minutes and put this issue right out on the table.

“OK, thank you all, and Kerrigan, welcome to our Center, then. Before we jump right into topic, before we can be ‘glad we’re gay’, it sure helps to be comfortable with our own coming-out process. We normally do this in the other group, but would anybody object if I start out with a few words here?”

If you want to draw a participant out on a touchy issue, sometimes a good way is to get everybody else to talk until it’s all just so much second-hand news. This opens the door for the newcomer:

Sexual orientation issues come to us all differently, guys. They show up on our doorsteps at different stages in life. Most of us generally know we’re ‘special’ early in life. Some of us are fortunate enough to have supportive parents and peers. Some of us deal with it later in life. Some of us, sadly, never do, but that’s much rarer than I hear you would have found forty years ago. Me, I came out later in life. I thought it was very painful at the time, even though not many called me any names. Then I came here. It was like somebody turned on the lights. For the first time in my life, I was glad I am gay.

That’s just my own experience. Everybody has a different experience, but you could still be surprised how much the same they really are. Anybody else?

Timmy and Joe

One of the younger guys raised his hand. Call him “Timmy.”

“I came out in high school. I used to be real popular. All of a sudden I had no friends anymore. People spat on me and called me “fag”. The school didn’t know how to deal with it, and maybe didn’t care either. My parents were fit to be tied. My dad said I could be any orientation I wanted, but not in his house. My mom asked how I could do this to them. I cried and cried and cried.”

Timmy smiled and continued. “Some aunt talked my folks into going to PFLAG – that’s Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. My old man went with my mom, kicking and screaming. Then they went to a second meeting. The next time, they asked me to go with them. It took a couple of years, but we finally became a family again, and my mom and dad are my best friends now.”

We got murmurs of agreement and thanks to this kid. It’s nice to hear a story with a happy ending.

A tall skinny guy with an unhappy face, call him “Joe”, raised his hand. He’d wanted to study for ministry, he told us. Instead, they kicked him out of the family church. Joe said he didn’t know whether to renounce his orientation, because of his belief was that lying was just wrong. Anger made him think of renouncing his religion. He told us he didn’t see why the way he was born had anything to do with being eligible for his chosen faith. They told him, Joe, you made your own choice. He went into a deep depression for over a year, Joe said, and admitted that he tried to kill himself.

We hear these stories in groups so much. But the freshness of pain in one individual human is a show-stopper. People were stunned.

There’s nothing in the guidelines to tell you exactly how to handle this when it happens. We facilitators have discussed it many times. You just do what you have to do, to keep it a safe space for everybody.

So what I did is, I moved into the center of the group. I sat on the floor in front of them. I kind of bowed my head a little.

“First of all, we all thank you both, Timmy and Joe.” I said it real slowly and calmly.

You shared some real powerful personal stories. Even though we know there is pain, it is always hard when it happens to us, and it is always hard when we hear it has happened to others. Joe, do you mind if I ask, and don’t answer if you don’t care to, is everything … OK with this crisis now?

“Yes, Patrick, and, well, thanks to everybody for being so understanding about it. I joined another church, so I’m pretty happy now, though I still wonder why it had to be so hard. I’m sorry if I got … too serious here.”

Our sincere thanks to you, Joe … I can only say how glad I am, we all are, you know, you seem to have gotten through it OK. Here at the Center, we want to remind each other that when a crisis occurs, it’s really important to seek counseling right away. There’s no stigma to it, nothing to be ashamed of. For ourselves, or folks we care for, a trained counselor can help us through issues in weeks or months that might take us years on our own, or even … well, let’s just not go there. I’m not qualified to be a trained counselor, but our own front desk has those resources available. Anybody can reach a crisis hotline anywhere in the USA, just by picking up the phone.

Show-stopper

Kerrigan raised his hand. “OK, I have one … “

“I had a long talk with my .357 revolver just last week. It really didn’t last long at all. It just seemed to. There wasn’t no argument. I was all set to end it all. I was squared off in my mind and everything. And then I put the gun down. It was my favorite gun, too. And for the life of me I don’t know why I put it down.”

The group went into shock: more suicide talk, and now … guns.

I caught Kerrigan’s eye. He looked earnest enough. Not wild-eyed. He betrayed a tiny hint of a smile, like he was proud of getting all that out at once. Was there a fuse, still burning on this bomb-shell?

“Kerrigan, I gotta tell you, you’re a brave man to tell us this, and that sort of life-threatening crisis is exactly what I was just reminding our group about. Have you talked to anyone yet?”

“No, man, but I will. I suppose this isn’t the room for that either?”

I shouldn’t have chuckled, but when I did, so did Kerrigan, and then everybody else did too.

“Are you sure you’ll be OK? I can help you get a counseling appointment right now. I mean, it’s personally important enough to me I’d be glad to …

“You see, I’ve been there too, a long time ago, guys, and I didn’t know how to ask for counseling, and as far as I’m concerned it’s just pure luck I’m here at all tonight.”

Now Kerrigan looked concerned. “Naw, I’m OK. Sorry, I sure didn’t mean to upset nobody. I just thought, if I had something on my mind, this was the place.”

“Unfortunately … we can listen, but we don’t have the kind of experience you want in a listener. It honestly isn’t fair to you or the others. I’ll tell you guys that, straight out.”

I asked Roger to stand in for me, if Kerrigan and I could just step down the hall for a minute. I’m hoping we can catch the front desk before they go home for the night. It was OK with the group. Would Kerrigan agree?

“I trust you, man. Let’s go talk to your desk people.” We got him his appointment.

Facilitators

Next week brought a decent break in the weather. We had a warm breeze on the assembly porch. We even had some daylight. I announced my new group would be When We’re Feeling Sad, which bombed out. Patrick did the Coming Out group that week. Actually, we announce that group every week, for the benefit of the newcomers. If no one shows at a group, we just go to someone else’s session.

Kerrigan wasn’t at Patrick’s group, but I went.

Now, Patrick had earlier brought up the Kerrigan incident, in our facilitator’s meeting. For the Center, the individual, and the well-being of the others, on this sort of issue we really have to. Several of us praised Patrick for his overall handling of the unusual situation. With a dozen or so seasoned facilitators critiquing each others’ professionalism, it can get touchy sometimes.

Nobody busted Patrick’s chops for interrupting Group for one participant’s special issue. It was that issue. Under the circumstances, nobody really faulted his decision to hand over discussion to Roger, though Roger wasn’t trained as a facilitator — a requirement.

Amos pointed out there is almost always another facilitator on site who didn’t have a group that night. The rest of us reminded him: you can’t hold up a whole group while you interrupt every other group in the building looking for an extra facilitator.

Amos said, “Then we’ll make that a topic for the next Workshop. Patrick could have sent one of the other participants and maybe that should be in our plan.”

Several of us asked for more discussion on this kind of incident. Amos pointed out we only have a half hour left. That should be part of Workshop. I have to agree.  And I added:

“It would be helpful to get some real high-level training on crisis intervention and suicide prevention. I wouldn’t know how to handle a situation like that, but I’d probably do what Patrick just said, because it worked.”

Everybody liked my idea. Amos put it on our June Workshop agenda. It was hard for him to drum up a good turnout on these Saturday workshops. Amos looked pleased we were actually asking for topics for his workshops.

That evening, we did spot Kerrigan in assembly and announcements.  He looked better, more relaxed, and his bar tan might have faded a bit. He didn’t attend Patrick’s group. And he didn’t attend mine.

Morty’s

When they wrote about a clean, well-lighted place, they might have had Morty’s Deli and Bistro in mind. A lot of us go up the street to Morty’s after Group. Favorites are draft beer and those famous, late-night, three-decker sandwiches. Anybody can go with us, and everybody is invited along.

Morty’s is where I first asked Amos, those years ago, how I would go about applying to train for a facilitator position.

Patrick was nursing his mug of dark beer. I was working on my usual steaming cup of Morty’s great black coffee. I was telling Patrick how I don’t drink anymore, though I’m not religious about it. I quit some years ago. Nothing dramatic, it was just a really horrible hangover that did it, not my drinking history – which was pretty bad too. I don’t have one of those “when I hit bottom” stories. On one particularly dreadful morning, I just got tired of it, I said.

I’d gone to an AA meeting once, and they do good work, I’ll grant you, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I also did some volunteer support group work for a halfway house, for a short while, a group of ex-cons kicking heavy alcohol and drug dependencies. Hard jail time was a requirement for them to even qualify for this program. I was way out of my element, so I just listened a lot.

Did that have anything to do with why I quit?

Possibly, I smiled.

On the other hand, we were saying, there are plenty of other folks with drinking issues in any walk of life. Patrick said it would probably be surprising if many guys walked through our doors with just one single issue.

Given that’s what we were working around to all along, don’t you know, into Morty’s walks Kerrigan.

“Hi Gang!” he called out to everyone, flashing gold caps. After ordering, Kerrigan put down a pitcher of beer at our table. He sat down. He only brought one mug.

He poured himself a beer. For him, it could have been all of several hours since his last one. We exchanged light-hearted pleasantries, telling Kerrigan how good it was to see him again.

“Yeah … well, me too. I’ve been fine, kind of busy, you know how it is, talking with folks and all.” He took a long slug of his beer. A third of the mug was already gone.

“Super!” Patrick said, “You mean that … appointment we talked about?”

I kept out of this; this would all be Patrick’s.

“Yeah …” Kerrigan beamed. “I got a second one, and then I got a third, tomorrow!”

“Well, this kind of stuff is confidential, of course …” Here Patrick lowered his voice a little, almost conspiratorially.  “But naturally you know I’m hoping for the very best, so do you think, is this working for you? Do you feel good about it, Kerrigan?”

“Hell yes, man! Hey, that lady could read me like a book, but she didn’t say much, I guess you’d know that. Mostly she just asked questions and let me do the talking.”

“That’s what it’s all about. It’s supposed to be that way. Whose group did you go to tonight?”

“I went to, what’s his name, the group he did about who talks about what and how we feel when they do.”

“How did that go?”

“OK, I guess. There are sure a lot of assholes in the world, huh?”

“How’s that again?”

“What I mean, there’s too many people sticking their nose into other people’s business. Present company excepting, of course. Anyway, I was working up some real resentment issues, like that lady calls it, and she tells me, when I react to it, they’re controlling me even if I don’t care jack for them, you know?”

“Makes sense to me. That’s what happened to most of us, in one way or another.”

Here, Kerrigan slowly and deliberatively refreshed his beer, and he leaned forward to us on the table until his face loomed about two feet from mine.

“What I want to know,” he growled, “is why do they go out of their way to make it so bloody hard for us?”

Joe had said that too. Patrick asked, “They, Kerrigan?”

“You know: The teachers, the preachers, the papers. I’m a working man, I don’t want to change the world, I don’t want to tell people what to think, I just want to live, you know?”

And then he leaned forward even closer.

“I wanted to tell this in your group.” He looked at Patrick. “But you’d of thought I cut one in church.”

“It’s a college town, Kerrigan. Folks around here don’t like to hear about guns.”

Patrick continued: “did you discuss it with the counselor?”

“Yeah … but she brushed it off. She said the important thing was, I made the decision to live, and … my way of ending it all, it just wasn’t important any more. But I still think it was, and I’ll tell you why.”

It’s always noisy here at Morty’s. That’s because everybody comes here to have a good time. Nobody could hear what we were saying anyway. I looked at Patrick. I saw a nod.

Amos

I stirred my coffee and took another sip. It was cold.  “Kerrigan, we aren’t trained like she is. Are you sure you want to tell us this?”

“Look, what I’m saying, she couldn’t figure it out because she didn’t want to hear it. I know you guys are nervous” – he looked at me – “because you’re not supposed to hear about cases like me, you’re supposed to pass me on to ladies like her.”

At this point, Amos sat down next to me with his cup of Tetley’s tea.

“I just finished up some work in my office. Do you fellows mind if I sit down here, if I’m not interrupting anything?”

 “By all means, a pleasure to have you join us, Amos,” Patrick beamed. He is always good at handling surprise situations like this. I always feel like the cat caught with the canary.

We don’t have that old military rule about fraternizing with the enlisted men, but we’re constantly reminded: “The guys look to you as role models for behavior.” We avoid situations that give any appearance of favoritism or conflicts of interest.

None of this fazed Kerrigan, who had no idea anyway who this Amos fellow of ours was. Kerrigan was refilling his mug, and he gave signs of being about ready to resume his thread. I introduced them both.

“Kerrigan, meet Amos. Amos is on our Board of Directors. Amos, this is Kerrigan. Kerrigan’s new to the Center. He just came over to join our table a little while ago.”

Amos can actually be quite gracious when he wants to. With what was left of his silver hair, if he was in a pinstripe suit, he could be anybody’s ambassador for all you’d know. You have to present yourself that way, I’d think, just to get on the Board. Then, of course, you can wear the blue jeans.

Amos smiled, eyed Kerrigan’s pitcher of beer disapprovingly, and launched into his soliloquy about why Tetley’s is the Great English Tea.

“But please don’t hold yourselves up on my account.” Amos looked around at the other tables, as if sizing up where else he might be welcome.

“Hey, OK, that’s fine, don’t go. I was just trying to tell these guys about something even my counselor didn’t want to hear about. I have a question. Maybe you’d know.”

Counselor? Do you mean one of the referral services from the Center?”

“Well, yeah, sure!” Kerrigan nods.

Amos knows this perfectly well, of course. He is very cool about it. He offers a good-natured laugh.

“Well Kerrigan, you know, the client-counselor relationship has to be very confidential, or it wouldn’t work at all. It wouldn’t do any more good to tell us what you discuss with your counselor, than if we allowed them to sit in on our group raps.”

“OK, let me ask you this, then.”

“Yes, Kerrigan?”

“You hear about this all the time, don’t you? I heard about it in my very first group. So what are you going to do, just push them off to shrinks who tell them to take two aspirins a day and go get better?”

Amos actually laughed. “I think I see what you mean, but I really must insist …”

“No, no, hold on, you still don’t understand. You guys are trying to do your jobs, but if it’s not OK for you to listen, I’ll never know how to find out the answer to my question. I’m OK now, I swear I am, and I’ll keep going back to that lady …

“But all I want to know is, how do I understand why I’m really even here to ask you my question?”

“OK, Kerrigan, I think maybe I do see how this is playing out. If I’m right, I once had a question similar to that, a long, long time ago. Go ahead. I’m listening.”

Something to Hang On To

Kerrigan didn’t go into all of life’s events that end up at his own crisis. So we don’t know exactly how he got there. But we don’t have to know. The details are always different. The crisis is usually pretty much the same. So I always thought. This is what I remember of how he spelled it out to us.

Kerrigan told us about what they call the out-of-body experience, in which he said he saw directly, rather than by rationalizing it, that all of the good in his life was finally used up. He was not frightened, he said. He simply saw a path, as clear as daylight, and he walked the path that he saw.

He told us how he went home and pulled out that loaded magnum handgun. He stressed this to us: if it were to be an overdose, or the train tracks, or the Golden Gate Bridge, he had no question that he would have gone through with it.

With this particular handgun, he said, it all became very different. The odd thing is, he told us, this handgun was an old friend of his. “We’d been through so much together,” he said, and poured himself some more beer. He made that point again: “It was my working gun.”

He kept this gun of his in a bush-scarred, worn leather dress holster. He said it had punched tens of thousands of rounds through paper targets at the range, and spent many years as his sidearm of choice, hunting on the coastal ranges. He said his model was such a fine piece of machining. The action is hand-honed and has the smoothest trigger pull in the industry. With marksmanship training and the proper trigger squeeze, he promised, “you won’t ever know when it is actually going to go off.”

It is so often said that people, dying, experience Kerrigan’s “out of body” sensation before seeing a white light. I don’t know how they know this. I wouldn’t know about the white light. Kerrigan said he found some strange, calming certainty that his vision would be here soon enough.

“And I would not even be the one pulling the trigger”, Kerrigan told us. “I would just be a witness …”

Amos put his cup down. “See here, Kerrigan, it is just as I said before. Now, I liked to plink a .22 when I was a lad” — Kerrigan’s eyes twinkled when he heard this — “but I still simply don’t see the point in telling us all this.”

“Well, what I thought next , Amos, was what a shame to use such a fine gun for such a deed.”

I thought I was starting to see part of the point. This happened. That changed everything, forever.

Kerrigan concluded: I had myself a good long cry, and then I put the gun away.

None of us said a word. You’d think by now all of Morty’s would be listening in, but the other tables were still busy carrying on the din of enjoying life. Here we sat, secure in this little bubble of our own making.

“Now, Amos, do you see what my question was?”

“I think I do, Kerrigan, I think I do, but why don’t you go ahead and try to open that door for us?” Here, Amos smiled like an old uncle in whom you could confide almost anything.

“That gun had lots do with how it came out. I just want to understand why.”

“If your counselor doesn’t feel comfortable going down that path with you, I can find somebody who does. Come up to my office tomorrow, or any afternoon you like, and we’ll make some arrangements. I just so happen to know a fellow who likes hunting, although I don’t care for it myself … anyway, that shouldn’t be a problem for him.”

Amos confided, “But you know, I think I know what he would be likely to say.”

We all leaned forward.

“It didn’t have to be the gun that turned you around. For others it could be loved ones, or some creative outlet, or a career, or just anything we love that keeps us going.

“The important thing I’m seeing here, Kerrigan, is that you did find something to hang on to, that small thread from your old life that you still loved. After all, I should know.”

I scooted my chair closer to Amos to make sure I could hear him.

“For me, it was model airplanes.”

 

short story by Alex Forbes, copyright May 8. 2009

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