L: Are you saying suicide would be beating the depression?
M: It’s the only way to totally get rid of it. Open a vein, drain the pool, you know?
M: No, Doc, it’s okay. I used to think the only way I could beat this thing was to wipe it out completely. And the only way I could wipe it out was to get rid of myself. I mean, the depression, it’s a goddamn part of me. Like, okay, I was on a date with this girl last weekend and she told me her parent’s divorce was a ‘significant part of her life,’ like it’s something she can never forgot or never put in her past and it doesn’t even directly involve her. The depression, it’s years of my life I can’t cut out of my past. I can’t get it out of my memory. It’s got me marked.
L: Not necessarily in a bad way.
M: I didn’t say in a bad way. I’m just saying, it’s who I am. So all of the sudden, I just knew, the only way I could beat this part of myself was to die. Give reincarnation a go. Take a risk and see if I come back. Leave this life full of depression and headaches and thoughts and thoughts about dying and go to a new life where I’m a moth or a jellyfish or a goat.
L: Unless you turn into a goat someone eats for dinner.
M: But then I would move on again, Doc. I’ll never stay a dead goat or the shell of a dead depressed 20-year-old. I’ll move on to something more beautiful.
M: Ideally. I know I’m risking becoming a crazy-lady’s cat or an abused Rottweiler or my soul could just… end. I know it could be crap. I was trying to keep a little optimism, Doc.
L: What about your family? What about your friends and everyone else who cares so much about you? Can you honestly say that when you tried to take your life, you didn’t think about how it would affect them?
M: Of course. But not in a melodramatic, ‘oh, won’t they miss me so much,’ kind of way.
L: But, according to your own logic, if you’re saying that aloud now, isn’t that evidence you’ve thought about it before?
M: Not at all. That was one of the things people at Steadbrook kept asking me. ‘Did you do this for attention?’ ‘Did you do this because you felt like a disappointment to your family?’ I swear, all their other patients must have been cheerleaders and gay kids.
L: So then, what did you think about your family and friends?
M: I thought, ‘if they know me, they’ll be happy that I’m happier, that my suffering is over.’ I had a girlfriend at the time, I don’t know if you knew that.
L: I didn’t.
M: She’s moved on—all that time I was locked up in Steadbrook with visits only on Sundays was a bit of a relationship killer. But anyway, that first time she visited, she didn’t ask what I was thinking or how could I or didn’t I know how much I had to live for, or anything like that. She just held my hand, looked into my eyes and said she was sorry. God, that girl just understood, you know? She knew how much pain I was in at the time. She knew I’d have been happier in my next life.
L: You think so? I’m sorry, but to me, it sounds like she didn’t know what else to say.
M: No, Doc. She cared enough to understand. Like my parents, they were the ones that got upset—
L: Rightfully so, I think. Their son just tried to kill himself.
M: Tried to sever that Mansford lineage. God, these cheekbones wouldn’t be passed on to offspring! The inhumanity!
L: I’m sure they would have hated if you’d succeeded in taking your life.
M: From them, that is. They think of it as taking myself away from them. It’s selfishness, really, the way they want me to stay alive.
L: You don’t think they want you to be alive for your own good?
M: Yeah, I mean, they want me to have a grownup life, because for them, that’s been great. They don’t know me well enough to realize that for me, it won’t be so great. The only thing I know is that it’ll contain more depression.
L: This whole conversation is getting pretty depressing, Michael.
M: I know. Sorry. Think of it like this, and I’m sorry if I step over the line at any point. Let’s say your cancer takes the worst possible course. Do you know anyone that’s died from intestinal or pancreatic cancer?
L: Not personally, no.
M: Me neither, really. But I had a roommate my first year at NYU whose mother died from it, and from how he described it, it’s horrible. You mind if I get graphic?
M: He said his mom lay in bed, got skinny in the limbs while her gut puffed up with fluid like she was carrying triplets, and her skin got loose. She’d try to eat, but the food would go to her stomach, then it’d get to where her tumor pressed up against her bowels and then, voom, it’d go right back up.
L: Okay, I get the point. Where’s this going?
M: Pretend your cancer follows the worst course—this is where it goes.
L: I don’t like this.
M: And you shouldn’t, but give me a minute more. I’ll keep it clean. Your wife, beautiful, faithful Shannon—
M: Sharon cleans up after you every time you lose your lunch, she helps you into the shower, she sleeps next to you even though the sight of your decomposing cancer-sack of a body disgusts her. She watches you get sicker and sicker, wasting away slowly.
M: You get the idea. So, the question is: At this point, would you take your life?
L: Would you?
M: I asked first, Doc. You know it’s the end. It’s either end it yourself with some dignity, or stick it out as a financial and emotional burden to your family.
L: Are you talking about assisted suicide or the simple, do-it-yourself kind?
M: Doesn’t matter.
L: Of course it matters.
L: Doctors sign off on assisted suicide. They don’t make mistakes like—
M: Like I did? They get the job done the first time, huh?
L: I didn’t say that. I was going to say they don’t make the mistake of letting healthy people with their whole future ahead of them jump ship before their time.
M: Who has the right to say when it’s another man’s time?
L: You don’t see the difference between the two of us? Someone with stage four cancer versus someone with depression?
M: You know how cancer kills you? I mean, we say all the time, ‘they died from cancer,’ but do you know what the fuck that actually means?
L: They’ve explained it to me.
M: From what I understand, the cancer spreads from cell to cell, brainwashing your proteins into becoming the cancer themselves. It literally takes over your body, one cell at a time. The cancer gets big enough, they call it a tumor, it takes over more and more until organs forge what they were made to do in the first place and think they’re nothing but cancer.
M: I’m sorry, but I’m almost to my point. This hasn’t happened to you yet. You’ve got a small little tumor in your gut, but it hasn’t taken over yet.
L: Michael, I’m serious.
M: I am, too, Doc. I’ve been taken over already. My disease isn’t cancer; it’s not as immediately fatal, off the bat, at least. But my disease has spread. Depression hasn’t just taken over every cell of my brain, it’s spread to my neck, got caught in my throat so I can’t swallow without conscious effort. It’s taken over my smile, moved down to my lungs, weighed down every breath, into the pit of my stomach. It’s everywhere, Doc. The only problem with my disease is that it feeds off me while I’m still alive. Cancer can do that for a while, but eventually, it wants you dead.
L: Enough about cancer.
M: Depression, not cancer, wants you alive and feeling every twist in your gut, every fucking sliver under your thumbnail.
L: You want to trade places, I suppose? You want this tumor and I’ll take the depression?
M: God, no. I don’t want to trade. Sure, I’d take your cancer today, but I’d have to keep the depression along with it.
M: If I didn’t have this sadness already killing me, no way in hell I’d wanna die this young.
L: In that case, maybe I should just take the depression away from you and skip all my chemo treatments.
M: Believe me, if you had this, five more months would seem like a life sentence.
L: Instead of the death sentence it is now.
M: I hope I haven’t pissed you off too far.
L: ‘Eh,’ don’t worry about it. I never have to see you again, anyway.
M: Don’t say that. You’ll see me when you come out of retirement.
L: That’s sweet. You know who else is sweet? Dr. Sanders.
M: Not following.
L: I’m transferring you to her.
M: I thought we agreed! I pay, you pretend—
L: You suggested. I never agreed.
M: I was hoping.
M: I was hoping.
L: I have five more minutes before my next appointment. Are you okay with Dr. Sanders or do you want to hear about the other doctors again?
M: Sanders is fine. I haven’t gotten laid in a while, to be honest.
L: Please be nice to her.
M: Oh, I will. I’ll see you when you come out of retirement, right?
L: Sure. That means you still have to be around as well.
M: Don’t worry. I’m done with suicide for now. My new thing is taking off-colored cabs. I figure one of them eventually will be a serial killer.
L: That’s the spirit.
M: So…should I hug you now, or do we just shake hands? The therapists at Steadbrook were into hugging.
L: A handshake’s fine.
M: Kind of a cheap ending to our time together, isn’t it?
L: Eh. I think it’s fine.