Lonely, Confused, Depressed, Suicidal? Call Ralph

“Hello? I…I’d like to speak to Ralph, please.”

“This is Ralph. Wait…don’t tell me. You saw my sign on the bridge!”

“How did you know?”

“By the hesitation in your voice. Don’t worry, ma’am. I am live, I am real, and this is a free call, absolutely no obligation. Now, when did you see my number?”

“About twenty minutes ago on my way home from work.”

“Cool! And your name is…? Don’t worry. Everything’s confidential. Or you can make up a moniker if you want. It’s just so we can talk.”

“Okay, I’m Mary.”

“Cool! Now, Mary, would you classify this as: a) an impulse call, b) a cry for help, or c) a long-simmering decision?”

“Please…I don’t understand. I’m not sure what made me call your number. You’re not with the Samaritans?”

“Oh no, no way. I’m an independent counselor. I just use the Samaritans’ sign when there’s one handy and add my name and number. Can you hang on a minute? My hot pot’s boiling over…Okay, got it. Go ahead.”

“I don’t know where to start.”

“Sure you do. You want to off yourself. Why? You sound like a nice chick.”

“If I’m such a nice chick, why does everything feel so hopeless?”

“Don’t ask me. All I know is you were driving over the bridge and saw my sign. Were you planning to jump then and there?”

“No, not exactly.”

“But you have given it serious consideration? I don’t mean to be rude, Mary, but in my business I get a lot of crank calls, and with so many people out there in genuine need of my services, I can’t risk spending time with you unless you’re really suicidal.”

“I’m just so sick of my life.”

“Awesome! That’s what I like to hear. That’s truthful, that’s honest. Okay, why? What do you look like? Are you ugly, deformed?”

“No. It’s…it’s hard to describe myself. I’m pretty. I have brown hair and blue eyes. I always dress nicely and wear makeup. I suppose I am a little overweight.”

“A little overweight? C’mon, Mary. How much is a little overweight?”

“One seventy-eight.”

“Jeez, lady, that’s practically heavyweight division.”

“No, you don’t understand! I’m tall, five nine, and everything’s in proportion. I’m big, not fat.”

“So’s a refrigerator.”

“Oh! How can you say that?”

“Because it’s the truth. Look, Mary, if we’re going to make any progress here we can’t waste time on denial. By the way, do you know how to make a hard-boiled egg? I got this hot pot going with an egg in it, and I think I put in too much water. How much do you use?”

“You’re asking me how to hard boil an egg? Oh, all right, an inch to cover.”

“Thanks, hold on a minute while I pour off…ouch! Shit! ‘Scuse my language. I am such a klutz in the kitchen. Any help for a burned finger, Mary?”

“Cold water. Hold it under cold running water.”

“Thanks…ahh, that’s better. Now, where were we? Oh yeah, we determined you aren’t going to qualify for the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.”

“Well, maybe I am fat, but why does everyone try to make a woman feel bad about it? All you have to do is look around, and how many really beautiful people of either sex do you see?”

“Boy, I’m with you there, Mary. Spend half an hour in a bus terminal and you’d swear Quasimodo had opened a cloning factory. But hey, is that enough reason to kill yourself?”

“Nooo….”

“So there must be more to tell. Wait…let me guess. There’s a man involved.”

“No. Not exactly. I mean, there was. We broke up about four months ago.”

“Cool! Hit me with the details.”

“His name was Graham. We’d been together three years. Okay, maybe it wasn’t perfect, but what relationship is? I’m thirty-nine, and I’ve never married. I wanted this one to be it.”

“Aha. The liquid crystal display of your biological alarm clock is glowing at you in the dark, and when you roll over there’s only yourself in the bed.”

“I guess. I wish you wouldn’t make it seem trite.”

“But it is.”

“No, it’s not! You don’t understand! I can live without a man if I have to. I can even resign myself to the idea of never having children. But it’s not what I wanted. It’s so much less than I dreamed.”

“Yeah, yeah. But listen, Mary, so far you haven’t told me anything earth shattering. Calls like yours are a dime a dozen. I’m lonely. Nobody loves me. Big deal. How am I gonna help you if you don’t spill your guts?”

“There’s nothing to spill!”

“Whoops—hot pot’s bubbling over again! Mary, do you mind if we digress a minute? I’ve had this egg boiling for, let me see, five minutes, and a guy I talked to last night said keep it bubbling for twenty. What do you recommend?”

“Twelve.”

“You only boil it for twelve minutes? Really?”

“No, no. You bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot, then let the egg sit for twelve minutes. If you just keep boiling it, it’ll taste like rubber.”

“Jeez, then that guy was a complete doofus. No wonder he blew himself away before I could ask him the best way to crack the shell. Okay, heat’s off, lid’s on. Back to you, Mary. Give me the bottom line. Why’d you really call?”

“Because I’m sick to death of fighting.”

“Fighting? Cool! The truth is out, the gloves are on. In this corner we have Mary, the challenger, weighing in at one seventy-eight. And in the opposite corner…C’mon, Mary, who’s the bad guy?”

“I don’t know! Why am I even talking to you? Are you really a certified suicide counselor?”

“Absolutely. Certified by the School of Life. Now tell me, who is it you’re up against?”

“The whole human condition, I suppose. Look, doesn’t it seem to you as if nothing ever gets better? In five thousand years of civilization what have we learned? Have we figured out how to end poverty or prejudice? Where’s the difference between street gangs with Uzis and Neanderthals with clubs? Why can’t we rise to a higher level instead of forever repeating past mistakes?”

“Because we stink, Mary. You don’t have to rack yourself for an answer. As a species, we’re lower than germs. Wait…don’t tell me. I bet you thought you could make a difference. You were going to save the world. Oh, this is rich!”

“Stop that! Stop laughing!”

“I can’t help it, it’s so funny. Let me get a tissue and wipe my eyes. Oh, Mary, first you tell me the human condition never changes, then you tell me you’re going to be the one to change it. What an ego! What do you do, anyway? Teach?”

“I’m a social worker. I counsel disadvantaged kids.”

“And how many have you saved so far?”

“Not many. I work so hard, and it has so little impact. They just keep coming through the door—pregnant, drug addicted, illiterate. Half of them have a criminal record and the other half are their victims. And the funding keeps getting cut. My job may be gone by the first of the year.”

“So on top of everything else, the unemployment line looms. Grim days ahead, Mary. Sending out resumes, getting rejected. You’re overqualified, you’re underqualified, don’t call us, we’ll call you. Being fat probably doesn’t help.”

“Neither do you!”

“We’re getting to that. But listen, about my egg. See, I’d already boiled it for about five minutes before I got your expert advice, so how much longer should I let it sit here now? Another seven minutes? Maybe less? Whaddaya think?”

“I don’t know. Try seven. You’ve already screwed it up.”

“Okay, thanks. Now is there anything else you want to tell me?”

“No. Where are you anyway? Do you even have an office?”

“No, I got a couch.”

“A psychologist’s couch?”

“No, a paisley sofa-bed from the secondhand store. But to summarize, it’s the whole picture that’s turned you off, the utter uselessness of life. It’s not because some bastard cut you off at the intersection this morning or you found one of Graham’s old socks under the bed?”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“Because that’s why a lot of people call. Oh yeah, they’ve got problems, but it’s one specific, recent event that’s bent them out of shape. Not that I can’t help. Hey, I always do my best. But it’s refreshing to talk to someone like you who’s really got a handle on what it’s all about.”

“I…I don’t follow.”

“Sure you do. You just told me: your life’s not worth living. And I’m with you on this, Mary. I think you should definitely commit suicide.”

“You think what?”

“I think you should do it. Jump, slash, OD on whatever’s in the medicine cabinet. I can help you pick out a method. Or check out Final Exit. I tell you, that book is my all-time favorite. And if you happen to have a terminal illness and can spring for a plane ticket, I definitely recommend Oregon. But here we are in New Jersey, which just may be terminal in itself.”

“Wait! You’re telling me to end my life? I thought…aren’t you supposed to…?”

“Talk you out of it? C’mon, Mary, that isn’t why you called me. If you wanted clichés, you’d have phoned the Samaritans. Their number was still there right above mine. Or I can save you the trouble. Listen: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Your death would leave the world the poorer. If it’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for. Et cetera, et cetera.”

“You’re crazy! Who are you?”

“I told you. I’m an independent suicide counselor. I’m an alternative. You wanted to hear something different, so I’m telling you: Depart this life ASAP!”

“But I called you because I’m desperate. I don’t know…maybe I thought it was a joke.”

“I’m not joking, Mary. And look, it’s going to be easy. You don’t have a husband or kids depending on you. What about your parents, siblings?”

“My parents are dead. My brothers and sister are married with children. They’re scattered around the country, so we don’t see each other often.”

“Then no one will miss you. Besides, human beings are hardly an endangered species. It’s not as though you’re depriving the earth of something beautiful or rare.”

“I used to tell the kids I counsel that each of their lives was special.”

“And you were lying. We’re all uniquely ordinary. If your life were a movie, you’d be so bored you’d have walked out of the theater by now.”

“But wait, what if…”

“Sigh, go ahead.”

“What if my life changed? What if I met someone new? What if I had children? It’s not too late.”

“Yeah? What if he left you? What if the kid was born retarded?”

“I’d love it anyway. I’d take care of it. And don’t say ‘retarded’.”

“Why not? It’s the truth. Besides, how are you going to take care of a handicapped kid? You’re going to lose your job, remember?”

“Maybe not. But even if I did, I’ve had to make career transitions before.”

“Mary, you don’t have a career. You have an underfunded job with—your words—minimal impact. Can we please talk straight?”

“Yes, let’s. Because now I see exactly what you’re doing. It’s reverse psychology. You’re telling me to kill myself so I’ll come up with reasons not to.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. I can’t believe I didn’t see through this. Me, a counselor. You’re making me face the negatives so I’ll accept them and get on with my life.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re…not?”

“No.”

“But you said…What is this? Who are you?”

“Calm down, Mary, it’s all right. Oh, no—ten minutes! I completely lost time on that egg! Now it’s going to taste like Silly Putty. Hang on while I…ouch!”

“Did you burn yourself again?”

“Yes.”

“Good!”

“Mary, Mary, Mary. I’m surprised at you. Is that any way to talk? Tell me, do you crack your eggs all over or just around the middle?”

“All over.”

“And which end do you start peeling from?”

“The big end.”

“I always get chunks of egg coming off with the shell.”

“Let it sit in cold water for a few minutes first. The egg will firm up, and the shell will come off easier.”

“Cool! I can run my finger and my egg under the water at the same time. Listen, Mary, there’s nothing wrong with reverse psychology. If it gave you a momentary lift, fine. But I’m sure you remember other times you were up, and it didn’t last, did it? So why not call it quits while you’re in the right frame of mind?”

“Because…”

“Go on. Give me one good reason why you should go on living.”

“Because…”

“Yesss?”

“I can’t.”

“Bingo! See, I’m not a bad guy, Mary. I just travel around, doing my thing, trying to help people face reality.”

“Then why don’t you? You’re a creepy loser living in some shabby apartment, and you can’t even hard boil an egg. Why don’t you off yourself?”

“Because my work isn’t finished. In fact, it’s just begun. Listen, Mary, can you keep a secret? I’m working on something really big, and I wouldn’t want it to get around.”

“What is it?”

“I call it Suicide Promotions, Inc. Here’s the concept: Your life’s a disaster, you’re better off dead, but you don’t want your passing to be in vain. So we arrange for your suicide to benefit the charity of your choice. You worried about the homeless? Use your suicide to raise pledges for the local soup kitchen. You want to fight pollution? We’ll make your final exit a fundraiser for an environmental organization.”

“That’s crazy!”

“Not at all. It’s what made America great. It’s creative thinking, venture capitalism, marketing strategy, target audiences. Why, it could even go to franchising. And how’s this for a slogan: “Suicide Promotions, Inc.—Way To Go!” Picture a mass jump off the Brooklyn Bridge with music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Or Russian roulette in the Astrodome. Every lucky participant would wear an “SPI—Way To Go!” button featuring our mascot, the lemming. And think of the entertainment value. Don’t tell me people wouldn’t line up for tickets.”

“This is sick. They probably would.”

“So you can see why I want to keep this confidential until I’m ready to roll. Now, what say we give this egg a try? Hey, look, the shell’s coming right off. Cool!”

“It’ll never work, you know. What you’re proposing is illegal.”

“At the moment. But that will change. See, I’m collecting all this marketing data, Mary, and it shows a real consumer demand for my services. Why, in the three days my number’s been on the bridge I’ve had twenty-eight calls, and I’ve been successful in seventeen cases.”

“What? You mean you’ve convinced seventeen people to commit suicide?”

“No way. I don’t have to convince anyone. I just agree with their conclusion.”

“You’re horrible!”

“Hey, you’re the one who called me. Shh, shh. All right, go ahead and have a little cry. Sniffle, sniffle. Dab, dab. Chin up. Now we’ve got to wrap this up, Mary, ‘cause I got a call waiting and people can only listen to ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ for so long. So what do you think? Will you do it?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No, absolutely not! I’m going back to work tomorrow, and if I save just one damn kid, then that’s something.”

“Aw, c’mon, Mary. You were that close. I know you can do it.”

“NO!”

“Well, I must say I’m disappointed, but if that’s your decision, hey, I’m cool. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Mary. One last thing—do you have a recipe for egg salad? I think I’ve been using too much mayo.”

(Copyright©Arliss Ryan, 1994)

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