Suicide’s common tale: ‘If only I had spoken with him’
I first met “Ted” when I was barely 18, both of us transients in a city of transients where superficial friendships were the common social norm. Ted was about 10 years older, and although we never dated, we had maintained casual contact with each other. We never discussed our personal history or hopes for the future, but I had sensed a deep, quiet loneliness about him that meshed with my own.
One night, a phone call from Ted woke me from my sleep. He never called late before. He was at a pay phone and stated that he needed to talk to me, right then, that night. He said it was urgent or he would not have called. I refused despite his pleas. I was tired and had to rise early the next day for work. There were always other times to talk. He never said why he had to talk with me, and I didn’t ask. I explained that I would be glad to talk with him the next day, or next weekend, but not that night. He apologized for calling late, said he understood, and then gently hung up the phone.
I never heard from Ted again.
‘Ted tied a rope around his neck and jumped off the end of the pier over there. They found him the next morning.’
He didn’t have a phone, and it was not unusual for several weeks to go by without a call from him. When nearly a month went by, I decided to look for him at the sailboat rental center where he worked. He wasn’t there. I went back several times and finally saw Mahlon, his supervisor, and asked where Ted was. I was told simply that he wasn’t there. When I asked when he would be, Mahlon responded that Ted wasn’t coming back. I asked why, adding that he had called me and wanted to talk. Mahlon turned and looked me full in the eye.
“Ted tied a rope around his neck and jumped off the end of the pier over there. They found him the next morning.” And there was nothing more to say.
And yes, I did learn that Ted had committed suicide the very night he had called me. Many well-intentioned people have told me that it is not my fault and that he may well have taken his life, even if we had talked. And I do know that. But I also know that a few caring words can sometimes prevent suicide.
It would be a few more years before I learned how dangerous an isolated, transient life could be and that we all need to be ‘connected’ to someone, something. Connectedness gives life its meaning, and meaning seems to be something we cannot live without.
I am so sorry, Ted.