For this piece, I need you to bear with me at first. What I have to say is important and extremely personal, but a bit of back story is necessary to fully understand.
When I was nineteen, I started working for a successful restaurant chain. I found that not only was I good at what I did, but that I also had passion for my work. It sounds a little ridiculous when you’re talking about waiting tables. Most children never say, “I want to be a server when I get older.” Nevertheless, the company had heart, promoted fun, and took pride in making everything from scratch. In addition, it knew how to take care of its people. Before I turned twenty, I was training new employees in the store. Shortly before turning twenty-one, I was asked to travel up north to open a brand-new store and train a group of seventy-plus servers (that’s the quantity of servers and not the age bracket, although that could be an interesting restaurant concept…assuming there would be extra restrooms and expedient service wasn’t a top priority). I loved working with entire restaurant serving staffs. Sharing the chain’s passion and knowledge was incredible. The people laughed and listened. I could see the same glint in their eyes that was in mine when I had been in their positions. From that point, it only got better.
At twenty-one years old, I was traveling the country. Corporate paid to fly me to Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, etc. Rumblings had started that corporate was looking at me for bigger things. After only a couple years with the company, I was promoted to Training Manager. I had a corporate job with a 401K. I was with a beautiful woman. I was moving out of Central Illinois for good. I was respected by my co-workers and friends. The sky was the limit for me.
I had failed to consider that this promotion was going to move me out of state away from all my closest friends and family. I was five and a half hours away from home. Shortly before I left, my car broke down and I had no money to buy a new one. The apartment that corporate had found for me was close to work, but also expensive. The beautiful girl who was coming to live with me decided that she couldn’t in good conscience leave her mother, who had issues in another state. Out of hurt, I ended the relationship altogether. The few friends I had in my new city, whom I’d met through work in the years before, were now no longer allowed to fraternize with me. Worst of all, although I was good at training, I had no clue what to do as a training manager. I received little to no direction from my department head. I felt like a fraud. This thing at which I was supposed to accel, I was instead failing. From that point, it only got worse.
The company went public and the passion of the company had changed. I proposed an idea to my department head as to how we could fix this. She told me that my idea was nice, but not feasible. As a result, I gave my resignation. I then found myself in a strange city. I had no money. I had no family. I had no friends. I had no significant other. I had no car with which to escape.
I started waiting tables for a different restaurant. To say it wasn’t as successful as the former chain would be an understatement. I was struggling. I couldn’t afford my apartment, or any apartment, for the money I was making. My days consisted of walking to work to make enough money so that I could walk to the Winn-Dixie on my way home and pick up a twelve-pack of beer. I would then sit alone in my apartment, drink most of a twelve-pack, stare at the TV while a movie played, and reflect on how far I’d fallen.
During those walks to and from work every day, I crossed an overpass. It began as something very subtle. It was like a whisper. “What if you just fell over the side?” Every day. Twice a day. I started to wonder if I would just fall and break my legs. Maybe my back. Would I have to lie helpless and hope a car would hit me? If I went over head-first, how could I guarantee that I wouldn’t put my arms up unconsciously to protect myself? These thoughts continued until they seemed like an old friend. Someone with whom I could have a conversation. And I did. Every day. Twice a day.
At some point, my mother randomly called me. She told me that I needed to move home immediately. She was sending money for me to get a moving truck. It wasn’t until I was home that she explained she heard something in my voice over the phone that she didn’t like. She couldn’t place it, but knew something was very wrong. I never told her that she probably saved my life. Thank you, Mom.
I’m writing this because I just finished 13 Reasons Why. It brought back a lot of that for me. Not the feelings of complete hopelessness and helplessness. Just reminders on how wholly we can embrace them. How a deluge of negatives can cast a shadow over any thoughts of better days. How tomorrow isn’t even a concept. Right now. This pain. This apathy. This desperation. This everything. This nothing. This.
If you’re feeling these things (or feeling nothing), I can’t tell you that it’s all going to get better. No one can. And not everyone comes by it the same way. Bullying has taken the headline these days. But “This” comes from so many places. I can’t say, “This, too, shall pass.” What I can tell you is some of what has happened in my life since I came home from the “This” that my life had become. More importantly, I can tell you what would not exist if I had ceased to do so. First and foremost, my daughter would not be here. Her smile. Her imagination. Her kindness. I have raised a daughter who is the very opposite of those bullies in the classroom. Despite all the ugliness and nothingness that I had inside me at one point, I created a brilliant source of light for this world. I would have missed out on thousands of bouts of laughter with good friends. Incredible sex with women who looked at me with love, lust, or both. Watching my family add in-laws and nieces and nephews. Overcoming my fears and riding roller coasters. So, so many smiles.
For me, intimately knowing “This” is what allows me to appreciate it all so much more than others. Will it get better? I don’t know. Is it possible to come back from nothing? Come meet my daughter and ask me that question again.
If you need help or just to talk, you can go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org or call (800) 273-8255. Sometimes, just a voice on the other end of the phone makes all the difference.