Lost

— Warning: Suicide, mental health, drugs, substance use disorder —

The text from my mother’s cellphone came through just as I was getting ready to go shower.

Im going to kill myself tonight…love Jason

Months had gone by since I last heard from my youngest brother, but it was no secret that he, like my two other siblings, had long been in the grips of untreated severe mental health and substance use issues. No amount of reassurances over the years that he deserved help, that he was worthy of compassion, could convince him to seek assistance. All that he knew of himself was his inability to maintain relationships, his estrangement from his two young sons and wife, his lack of job skills after years of living with our mother rent-free, and his addiction issues. His actions had hurt others, and he could not move on from that.

I immediately called our mother’s cellphone, and he picked up after a few rings, out of breath, manic. He put on an air of nonchalance, like nothing was amiss, and I could feel my hands shake, feel my throat tighten. I asked if he was okay and he said that he was ready to die, that he was going to end his life. He was alone, wherever he was. His voice raised when he answered my question about what had happened. A girl he had fallen in love with had hurt him, but he could not verbalize how she had done so.

I heard the rasp of a lighter cylinder rolling over and over, and as he spoke he was losing his breath. I asked what he was doing with the lighter, fearful of his answer. He was trying to light a fire. He had taken his girlfriend’s belongings to a nearby field to set on fire, but he was having a hard time talking to me at the same time as shielding the flame from the wind.

“Take a break. Just stop doing that for a minute, Jason, and tell me what happened.” I was trying to lead him back into his body, to become aware of what he was doing while also preventing him from setting a field ablaze. I was feeling around for how to handle a situation that I was not expecting to have before me just minutes earlier, clueless of all the details that had led to his text.

He went into an explanation that said nothing of what had led to his text. It was just a scatter of information. Stacy was someone he had known since high school and they had reconnected 3 or 4 months ago through Facebook. She was a wonderful person, someone who “literally stops to smell the roses, which I love except when I’m in a hurry to buy beer!” But now he proclaimed she was a bitch and he wanted to die. He wanted to die by using so much meth his “heart will explode” or “suicide by cop” if they showed up.

I visualized my brother standing alone in a field, a pile of his girlfriend’s belongings at his feet and emptiness all around him as he spoke in rapid sentences to me about a person I have never met who had crushed his heart. I remembered the time he visited us as a teenager when we lived in Seattle, his persona and look exuding his hero, Kurt Cobain. He had gone from a sweet, happy go lucky child to an angry, melancholic teenager since the last time we had seen him, the world heavy on his shoulders, the angst of his childhood shaping him into a lonely outsider to the world he struggled to understand. It was that image of him I saw standing in the field.

While I had him on the phone, my husband called the police to try to get someone to go check on him. We live 45 minutes away, and there was no way that we could get to him in time should he decide to end his life, and I am not sure that we would be able to stop him from hurting himself. We had no one else we could call for immediate help. I wrote notes to my husband throughout the call, letting him know where Jason was at that moment, that he was trying to start a fire.

I heard the sound of brush rubbing the phone and he told me he was in the woods. His narrative was all over the place, and I had to ask him to repeat himself over and over. My attempts to slow his mind down were not working as he spoke quickly, and I could tell he was walking fast by the rapid pace of his breath. For the past 10 years, he had spent most of his time on a sofa and so any fast movement would tire him.

“Where are you going?”

“To the interstate.”

He was near our mother’s apartment located on an access road of the interstate that runs through town.

“Just go home Jason. Go home.”

“Nah.”

The mental image of him jumping into traffic blinked into my mind. I could see a scared man staring into headlights just waiting for an impact that would bring him what he felt would be relief.

I wrote “INTERSTATE” on the paper to tell my husband, and he told the dispatcher where Jason was going.

I could hear the traffic passing him by. The interstate was busy at 10 PM, not unusual.

“I love you Jason. I love you Jason. I love you Jason. Please go home. I love you Jason.” I pleaded, scared that these would be the last words he heard. “Please go home.”

He did not speak. Did he drop the phone? Was I speaking to the air?

“I love you Jason. Jason!”

Cars and trucks passed by fast.

Finally, “I’m going to the gas station.”

I wrote “GAS STATION” down. My husband mouthed that the police were on their way.

My stomach lurched. What am I doing? Am I saying the right things? Will I make it worse?

I thought of the time when he was around 2 years old and he fell off of our neighbor’s swing. His bottom tooth punctured through his lip in the fall, requiring stitches. At the hospital emergency room, I held him in my lap while we waited for someone to close his wound, our mother too queasy from the sight of his blood. The staff thought he was my child, though I was just 16 at the time. It was common for strangers to think this about our relationship — I loved carrying him everywhere, pushing his stroller, holding his hand as we walked, comforting him when he needed it.

He told me how he and our brother got Stacy hooked on meth. They used a lot of meth together. She had bipolar disorder and had stopped taking her medication. The day before, she knocked the glass out of her car windows and stripped naked, had tucked her two kids into bed even though they were not there. She saw letters on the walls. But still he said nothing about what had happened for him to want to end his life.

His narrative broke and he laughed the same goofy laugh he’d had since a toddler, “I’m behind the dumpster! I’m literally behind the dumpster!” His voice sounded giddy, excited that he found a place to hide. Would this be where his final moments were spent?

I wrote “BEHIND DUMPSTER” down on the paper.

“Why are you behind the dumpster? What are you doing?”

He went into more of his story with Stacy, how much the girl meant to him, how her 9-year-old daughter was a “bitch” that took photos of his phone, then an about face to how wonderful her kids were, the books that his girlfriend bought him, the amazing journal entries his girlfriend wrote and shared with him. Nothing flowed, nothing made sense. I was standing safe in my kitchen while the brother I loved dearly was hiding behind a gas station dumpster coming down from a high.

“Shit. The cops are here. Shit.”

I told him to stay calm, just stay calm. I held my breath hoping that I would not one day have to view footage from a police officer’s body camera as part of an investigation. Why isn’t there someone else we can call?

I heard a male voice speak to him, ask him his name and date of birth, ask if he had any weapons (no), ask if he was planning to hurt himself (no). The voice asked him again about his intentions, and Jason reaffirmed that he was okay, just talking to his sister, and that he did not plan to hurt himself. He said he was going to walk to our mother’s apartment. This was enough to convince the police officer that there was no crisis and he left without an offer for help.

Jason swore, “Fucking police!” He was still on edge. The crisis was still in motion.

I heard the air move across the phone’s receiver as he spoke, and I knew that he was walking. He was likely going to our mother’s apartment. I asked if I could tell him a story, trying anything I could think of to keep him with me, to bring him back into himself, to convince him that his life mattered.

I told him about the day he was born, just a little over a week after I turned 14. I sat outside the labor and delivery room with my younger siblings, and we could hear our mother giving birth as the doctor and nurses gave instructions to push, to breathe. We heard his first cry through the mostly closed door. We heard our mom and dad. And then we followed him to the nursery where they placed him in an incubator near the window. He looked all around him, quiet, patient, serene. He was perfect. I told him that I fell in love at that moment.

He recalled the same feeling when he saw his sons for the first time, but he said they had been “ripped away” from him when his wife left with them. He had not seen them in years.

The background sound was different when he spoke, and I asked if he was inside somewhere. He said he didn’t want to tell me because he didn’t want me to call the police. I said I wouldn’t call the police if he would tell me where he was.

“I’m at Mom’s.”

Our mother was asleep and apparently could not hear all of the noise he was making as he searched for his possessions in the small one-bedroom apartment. Jason had lived here with her for years, but she had recently kicked Jason and his girlfriend out with no place to go. This after years of threatening to kick him out, after constant arguments and never-ending conflict. I asked where he had been staying.

“I’ve been sleeping in a storage unit.”

He had lost his job. Or, as he said, “I forced them to fire me!”

He had taken up a new hobby — soldering. I asked what he was soldering. Again, anything to keep him talking.

“I bought Stacy a vibrator and it broke. So I took it apart and soldered it to fix it.” It worked after that, but was “a piece of shit.”

This was far outside of normal conversations I have with any of my siblings. Our relationship was more of parent/child than brother/sister. I was the helper child, the one tasked with helping to take care of my three younger siblings. In 8th grade when Jason was born with multiple health issues and required repeated long hospital stays, I would sometimes miss school to take care of my then-4-year-old brother because our family couldn’t afford childcare. That brother took to calling me Mommica every now and then during that time period, confused about who exactly I was: second mom or sister.

He spoke about what drew him to Stacy. She was kind, a wonderful person, very smart.

“And she’s a good fuck. I’m just saying.”

I still had no idea if my tactics were working, whether our strange conversation would work to keep him from hurting himself. The only thing I could do was just keep him talking, no matter what he had to say. I could feel my jaw shaking, that fight or flight response echoing within me.

“Well, I have people waiting for me,” he said out of nowhere. I wasn’t ready to let him go.

He told me a friend was waiting for him at a nearby hotel, someone he has known since he was a kid. Without explanation, he said he needed to get his record player and the three records he owns.

“What about Mom’s phone? Are you going to leave that for her, or take it with you?”

He promised to leave it with her and said how she was going to be mad when she woke up because of the mess he had made.

I tried to get him to talk about his friend waiting for him. I tried to keep him from hanging up. But he kept coming back to needing to go.

“Call me tomorrow. Or text me. Find a way to contact me Jason. Please.” I just wanted him to have a task to plan for, even if it would not be possible since he lost his cellphone.

He said he would.

“I love you Jason. You are loved. Please stay safe.”

“I know you love me. I know people care about me. But I want her to love me and care about me.”

My heart broke. The baby I fell in love with three decades ago was hurting and was in terrible pain, was struggling with addictions to meth and alcohol, and I could only tell him how sorry I was that he was hurting. I told him help was available, but he said he didn’t want help. He wanted Stacy.

“Please don’t hurt yourself.”

He would not promise me, but he said that he wasn’t going to purposely try to end his life or do anything to stop himself from dying. Not then anyway.

“I love you Jason.”

“I love you, too.”

An hour after the text, we hung up.

I broke down in tears, afraid of the coming hours and days, and what would happen to him. Our family relationship is complicated, but nothing will ever take away the deep love I have for him.

Of four kids, I am the only sibling to break the cycle of abuse and addiction. Addiction has taken children away from our family, and abuse has made life incredibly hard for others. My sister and two brothers have struggled immensely throughout their lives, and the sorrow I feel when I think of what has been lost makes my bones hurt. The boundaries I had been forced to put up years ago shields me from my family’s day-to-day experience, but there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think of them and wish that our lives would have been different.

I feel helpless to stop the sorrow, to end the loss.

He did not reach out to me. He may have tried, but I doubt he remembers we spoke.

I hope he is okay. I know he is not. He is lost.

— — —

Names have been changed and details have been left out to protect privacy.

______

If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away.

Call your doctor’s office.

Call 911 for emergency services.
Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

Ask a family member or friend to help you make these calls or take you to the hospital.

Additional Resources

Crisis Text Line
Text 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor, free 24/7

Girls & Boys Town National Hotline
(800) 448-3000

National Hopeline Network
(800) SUICIDE

National Youth Crisis Hotline
(800) 442-HOPE (4673)

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ suicide help)
(866) 488-7386
Text (202) 304-1200

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