This story is by Shawn P. Burke and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This is your third suicide attempt in the past year, Mason,” Dr. Bradford said while sipping his steaming tea.
Standing by the towering window of the office, Mason pondered below on the city block and gawked at the people strolling through their day. “I want to be with them,” Mason whispered. “I just want to be normal.” His mind drifted to a cloudy haven, daydreaming of everything, yet nothing. He imagined being among these strangers and mused, I wonder if they would let me.
“Did you hear what I said?” Bradford asked calmly.
Mason looked over his shoulder to Bradford, whose chair faced away from the window. “Yeah, I heard you,” he sighed. “But no one seems to hear me.”
“Perhaps you’re not ready to be heard.” Bradford wiped his bushy brow. “I have to ask, do you think I’m the right person to continue your care?”
Mason thought on Bradford’s question as he slowly shuffled and fell in his place on the couch. He glanced around the room that he had sat in for so long, but everything still felt foreign. Just like everywhere I go, I don’t belong. He had memorized its layout from his spot on the couch, to Bradford’s self-righteous throne, and the circular coffee table between them. Academic achievements lined the walls in massive frames but despite all of this knowledge, Bradford lacked an answer for Mason’s madness. He only felt defeat from this unsolicited insanity.
Bradford curled his lips and sighed. “If you decide it would be better for you, I would personally see to it that you receive the best care possible.”
Mason noticed the doctor’s practical professional poise beginning to slip. Mason adjusted his posture and folded his arms. “I don’t think there is anyone that can help me at this point.”
“I believe that everyone is saveable, Mason. People have to be willing to put in the work or—”
“—or we stay in the unmanageable world we’ve built for ourselves.” Mason scoffed. “I know all of your affirmations.”
A welcomed silence lingered.
“It would appear so.” Bradford crossed his legs as his face flushed fluorescent red. “Take me to this last attempt. Did you identify any trigger?”
“Yes, but I’ll just sound crazy.”
“Some things aren’t meant to be understood, Mason. I will listen, though.”
“Fine,” he uttered while his tension built. “There’s something that keeps me alive. I have no fuckin’ clue who or what they are, and they never speak, but I can always feel them.”
“Interesting…” Bradford pierced his lips. He hiccuped some noises from his seemingly perplexed position. He leaned over and grabbed his little leather journal from under his chair.
Bradford wrote his scribbles while Mason reflected on his life’s story that was likely paraphrased on those pages. What’s it say? Mason was orphaned at age nine. Mason suffers from incurable mental illness. Mason is a mess. He was certain that Bradford was now writing: Mason is certifiably insane.
Bradford urged him to continue, and he reluctantly obliged. “I only feel them when I try to end it. This is the third attempt on your record, but I’ve tried probably a dozen times.”
Bradford stopped mid-stroke of his writing, leaning in closer. “Do you think your diagnosis is wrong?”
“No, I don’t think it’s wrong. It’s just something I feel, like a little warm tingle when I’m seconds from death. I don’t know, but there was a book at the hospital. It talked about free will and how the universe has our fates determined.”
“Yes, that is called determinism, but there are a few levels of it. On one hand you have those that believe that free will is an illusion, and on the other, there is conscious choice.”
“Do you think it’s right? Determinism, I mean?”
“I’m here to talk about you, not me. Tell me some more details of your last attempt?”
“I’ve given you detail after detail!” Mason snapped. “Do you not pay attention when I talk?”
Dr. Bradford let out a saddening sigh. “I am here to give help, but I will not be insulted in my own practice.” Mason readied to continue this war of words, but Bradford cut him off before he could huff. “And don’t even try to say something smart or get up and leave because frankly, I hate that.”
Mason’s eyes went wide. “I…” he took a breath. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Weren’t expecting me to set a boundary with you? Or perhaps that I’m human and not some infinite source of knowledge to cure your every flaw?”
Bradford dropped his psychologist persona. For the first time Mason saw a fellow person sitting across from him.
“I’m sorry,” Mason said with genuine humility. “I just get so frustrated…”
“The mind is a frustrating thing, my friend.” Bradford leaned back in his chair, relaxed in his appearance and tone. “And learning to manage it can be a real bitch.”
Mason gave a short lived little laugh. “But how can I manage it, or get people to understand when I don’t even know what’s wrong?” He hung his head. “I sound crazy. ”
“I’m not those people, Mason. I’m your therapist, and my job is to help you get where you need to be.”
“And where is that, Doctor?”
“I guess wherever the Determined want you to be.”
Mason mulled on the doctor’s statement. “Hmph. The Determined does sound better than they.”
“I’m glad you approve.” Bradford gave a smirk. “Do you know why I became a psychologist?”
Mason shook his head no.
“I usually don’t tell my clients about my past since this space is supposed to be for them. But, I’ll make an exception. I also deal with depression. I went to therapy for years, but with group therapy, I felt a satisfaction I never knew. I was helping my peers, and I realized my purpose was to help others. Now, here I am fulfilling that purpose.”
“That’s all you had to find? Purpose?” Mason felt that tingle warm his body.
Bradford nodded slowly, “Exactly.”
Could it be that simple? He fidgeted. “Do you mind if I open that window a little bit? I think I need some fresh air.”
Mason leapt from the couch and Bradford stood himself up. Before he realized it, he was by the window. Once more, he beamed down at all of the busy people below. Fear shook his heart to his stomach as he realized how much height separated him and the street. He flipped the sash lock and lifted the window all the way open, inhaling a lung-filled whiff of the warm air through the screen. Will they let me? He looked back to Bradford, whose eyes were narrowing.
“What are you thinking now?” Bradford probed.
“I think the Determined won’t let me.” His tone was laced with a newfound bliss.
“Won’t let you do what…?” Bradford sounded more concerned.
He turned back to the screen covered window, embracing the breeze. “I’ll show you.”
He pushed the screen out with all of his might, and watched it fall to the sidewalk and shatter. Bradford rushed to the window, begging for him to stop, but his pleas faded as gravity pulled Mason to the earth. His bones broke with the impacted pavement, and the people whom he strived to be with now surrounded him with grueling gasps of horror.
Mason could scarcely breathe nor feel his body, but his other senses stayed intact. Then, that warm tingle began to develop and engulf him. Goosebumps crawled up his arms and his physical functioning slowly resumed. He turned his neck and saw Bradford frantically running toward him. He knelt beside him and took his hand and squeezed.
Swift disbelief came to his face as Mason squeezed his hand back.
“I…said…I would sh-show you.” Mason grunted as he worked through the pain to sit up, but thereafter the pain dissipated.
“This…” Bradford uttered in confusion, “…it doesn’t make sense. I…watched you fall…”
Bradford peaked at the gallery of onlookers seeming to search for validation. Given their reactions and their cries to help, it was not hard to achieve.
“They won’t let me die.” Mason confirmed. The emerging sounds of sirens became a whispering white noise as that feeling of hopelessness faded along with the warm tingle. “I have a purpose—”
“—A purpose that you haven’t fulfilled.” Silence followed. His glossy green eyes then became full. “The reason why the Determined won’t let you die…”
Mason’s cloudy mind cleared and with resolve he asked, “Can you help me find that reason?”
Bradford placed his hand on Mason’s lap. “We will, together.”
A tear slid past his cheek as he came eye-to-eye with Bradford; he saw him not as his doctor, but as his friend. Mason discovered an answer for death’s determination to keep him alive. But more importantly, he found his will to live.