Tuesday, January 29, 2008


As Howard stood atop the Montgomery building and looked out and saw nothing but an endless sea of lights, he couldn't help but wonder how this had happened. In a city so full of cars and buildings and parks and subways, stuffed with hundreds upon thousands of people; what was the likelihood that it would be him who would sit on the edge of a skyscraper, about to end his life. He wondered if he were the only person on this particular night who was about to do this, and maybe if this wouldn't be happening if only they knew each other. It seemed likely to him that if anybody understood why he was about to jump off of a building, it would be another person who was in the same situation; but he realized that by then it would be much too late. If they were as committed to their fate as he was to his, there would still be no question; but it would at least be nice to feel like, for the first time in his life, that someone understood him, however short their existence might be.

Howard was in no way doing this for attention. He had known a guy a while back who “tried” to kill himself a few times, but found resolution in the new found love and care from his family and ex-wife. Howard was much too old for that type of child's play now, not only because he actually wanted to kill himself (and hoped that a 300 foot drop would make that clear), but because there really wasn't anybody who would care.

Despite that, Howard still wondered what the papers would read the next morning. It was possible that they would not mention him at all, for this type of thing was a common occurrence during the holiday season; but he wondered what if anything it might say. The few obituaries that he had read in the past tried to say something good about the deceased, like “loving father and husband” or “committed professional”, along with a list of things that they had accomplished. Howard couldn't imagine his obituary being longer than two sentences.

“Howard Thorton commits suicide at age 47. He worked as a Janitor at the Montgomery building for 26 years.”

It was a warm night for winter. The snow had mostly melted, and there was only a slight breeze; even as high as Howard was. He was pretty gratefully for that, as he was worried that he would have to fight a strong wind and slick ice that would make it difficult for him to sit on the ledge and survey the city as he had planned.

Down below, the city was pulsing. The streets were backed up with traffic that for the most part had come to terms with the fact that it was going to take a while to get where they were going. People moved in herds of warm coats, scarfs and mittens from one street corner to another, holding shopping bags full of Christmas cheer. Light posts were adorned in a blossom of red green and gold, and strung strands of white lights that hung like icicles against the backdrop of the city. Volunteers from the Salvation Army rung brightly toned bells every few blocks in an attempt to siphon as much sympathy out of the bustling masses as possible.

Howard knew that people would assume that it was the holidays that made him jump. They would think “Poor guy, he must not have anyone to share the season with.” They would assume that Howard jumped because his life was bleak and empty, and that the Christmas season drove him mad with loneliness and despair. Although it was true that Howard would have spent Christmas completely alone watching old Jimmy Stewart flicks, Howard actually found comfort in the worlds indifference to his existence.

Five months ago, this wasn't the case. Five months ago, Howard was about the most miserable person you could ever meet. At the tragic end of just the possibility of connecting with someone, Howard could be found every evening at 5:07 at Steve's Bar across the street, drowning the blatant worthlessness of his life in a tall glass of iced over disillusion. He used to ask himself “Why? Why me? Why can't I just be like everyone else? Am I incapable of finding happiness, or am I just not supposed to have it?”.

But that was five months ago; that was before he figured out that he needed to kill himself.

Since then, people noticed a change in Howard. They didn't tell him that he seemed happier, or that he somehow looked different, but they wanted to. Only Howard's supervisor said something.

“Howard!” he said excitably. “What's going on? You've been acting really different recently. Are you seeing someone?”

He wanted to say “No, actually I decided to kill myself in a few weeks. December 17th to be exact”, but he was aware of the trouble that would cause, so he simply replied “Oh no. Thanks,” at which point he remembered to ask “Would it be okay if I traded Don for his top floors?”

“I don't see why not” replied the supervisor. “Any reason why?”

“No, not really. I guess I just like the view.”

It was moments like that Howard typically wished he could tell someone about; little things that made him smile.

Noticing that queer smile which Howard didn't realize was evident, the supervisor paused for a moment. He pursed his lips slightly, squinted his right eye, and wondered why Howard had that ridiculous expression, but as he did so Howard quickly recalled his usual face, and successfully thwarted further suspicion.

“I'll talk to Don about it when he comes in.” He turned and walked away and mumbled “Later” as if he was too busy to attempt carrying on further conversation, much less say goodbye in a decently audible fashion.

As the day grew closer, Howard had to try harder and harder to hide his excitement. He was eager for his last day of life like a school child awaits the last day of school, or an overworked nurse pines for her vacation in the Bahamas. It got to the point where Howard made a conscious effort to pretend to look sad when he was at work, so that people wouldn't get suspicious.

He waited for four hours for the city down below to quite down. The shops closed and the inner city exhaled it's inhabitants in a tide of cars that washed out of it's streets and parking lots. Fathers and mothers came home and tiptoed through their front doors, as to not wake up their children and be discovered with arms full of gifts. Young men gazed into girls eyes as they made light conversation and tried to find the appropriate goodnight. Little todlers fell asleep in their car seats after a long night of exploring an inexplicable universe of sound and light. Howard looked over the city one last time, and decided that it was time to close his eyes.

He hadn't thought about the afterlife much. He figured that he was inevitably supposed to kill himself anyway, so whatever happened, happened; but at that moment, he hoped there was nothing. That was, after all, the reason he was doing this. His life was nothing, so it only made sense to stop fighting it. Living any longer in a perpetually worthless existence was pointless. The reason that he was so unhappy before, is that he thought that everyone had a shot at having a good life; but Howard eventually realized that was not so. He knew it as sure as if it were a fact that he would not get that. Not only that, but he wouldn't make a difference to anybody else. He wasn't at all attractive, charming, loving, wealthy, spiritual, talented, or intelligent. He wasn't even that great of a janitor; after 26 years. He once thought that he could change himself, and somehow become valuable, but the truth was unavoidably evident. Howard was just Howard. Nothing more, and impossibly anything less. He wasn't born into this world because he had potential, or because he was going to make any difference. He was born into this world because his mother and father were determined to take full advantage of the same Happy Hour.

Howard took a deep breath. It was time. No longer would he wait for his fate to find him; he would go to it.

As the air left his lungs, Howard was overwhelmed with joy. He leaned forward and gave a gentle push off the ledge that he had been sitting on, smiling as the wind ran through his hair.

He waited for his life to flash before his eyes, to see a montage of the few happy moments that he had experienced earlier in his life, but much to his disturbance they didn't. Flustered by the lack of euphoria, he accidentally opened his eyes and saw the ground swiftly approaching 21 floors below him.

“No” he thought. Something wasn't right. He couldn't figure out what it was, but all he could do was think about it. All of the sudden, he was overwhelmed with a new extreme of emotion. His muscles locked up as he tried to shout words without any form or function. The ground was approaching now at a mortifying rate.

This wasn't what he wanted. Ideals of fate were now being replaced with that of doom. Why was this happening? This was to be his last happy moment, a gateway to eternal peace, but now, it was like a bad dream. Tears floated from off of his cheeks into the vacuum of previously occupied air. By floor 9, Howard managed to let out a a scream from the inside of his now convulsing body. The scream was cut by a dull thud, as Howard collapsed into a tangled mass of flesh and blood roughly seventeen feet from the front doors of the Montgomery.

That Sunday morning, Howard's obituary was released in the City Times. It read:

“Howard Thorton commits suicide at age 47. He worked as a Janitor at the Montgomery building for 26 years. May he rest in peace.”


Brock said...

Wow, powerful story. As determined as the protagonist was, it was interesting to see change in his thought process as he fell.

lindsey*jane said...

Thanks so much for your comments :) they make me feel like there's someone worth writing for.

I'm not exactly sure if this was intended or not, but I really loved the concept of life being more beautiful through eyes that had so little time left to see it. It's as if his whole purpose in wanting to end it was to find pleasure in the time running out, moreso than if he would have kept living indifferently to his surroundings. Obvious, maybe? I dunno..that's just what I got from it.

Anyway, keep this up, Grant! I remember your poems from Xanga times, and those were amazing, too. I'd like to see some more of that :)

I love you!

kent*j said...

If all the janitors jumped then who would clean it up?