Martin's voice rang in Linzie's ear as he demanded, “Give me a reason to be excited about spending one more day on this earth!"
Linzie heard his desperation, and longed to make him see life differently, but had come to expect that she probably never would. Martin was an old college friend. They’d known each other for over twenty years. His promising career in advertising had petered out, his co-workers and supervisors at the last company he worked for had accused him of being cantankerous and far too contrary, and he'd been let go. Linzie’s husband Trevor couldn’t understand why she continued to have a relationship with someone so downright miserable.
“Marty, please,” she said, using her most practiced, soothing voice. “Give you a reason? What about Pinot Nior? What about those towering trees outside your window? What about Paris? What about me—you’re very best friend?”
“These pills they have me on, I’m not supposed to drink, so Pinot’s out, ” he said. “And the trees have been attacked by aggressive bark beetles, so the forestry is coming to chop them down next week. My bank account is so low I won’t be seeing Paris anytime soon. And you…well you’ve got your own life.”
“They’re chopping down the pines?”
“Yes they are. And the trees were the only reason I was renting this dump.”
“Fitting, isn’t it? My whole life is sad. I never married, never owned a house, never had kids, and I see a shrink that can’t seem to get to the source of my despair. He can’t imagine why I’m so negative. I grew up in a wonderful home with two successful supportive parents. I have a brother and a sister that didn’t pick on me. But still—I’m devoid of hope. Incapable of optimism.”
“Cut it out, won’t you?” For going on a year, any conversation with Martin served to put her in a state of melancholy, and her patience with him was running out. She had explored all this territory with him before. It was old hat, this depression, this sickening neediness.
“I’m just going to come out and tell you,” he said. “I plan on killing myself. I’ve rented a room at the Chateau Marmont, if it was good enough for John Belushi; well it’s good enough for me. I charged it to my VISA. Who cares if I can’t pay it off? I’ll be dead!”
Linzie pulled the car to the side of the road, so she could think up an appropriate comeback. In all the years she’d known Martin, he’d never mentioned suicide.
“You still there?”
“I am,” she said. “I'm afraid you caught me off guard with that one. Give me a minute.”
“Don’t strain yourself. I’m going through with this. It’s been in the works for quite a while. I’m ready to go away—yes I am.”
Her mind raced, what should she say? Was he serious or fishing for sympathy again? Still…suicide?”
“When a guy feels this way, he just feels this way. I haven’t smiled in weeks.”
“Maybe, just maybe, those meds are bad for you? Have you told the doctor that you’re planning on killing yourself?”
“The doc knows,” Marty said. “It’s the first thing I said to him when I walked into his office ten months ago. I asked him the same thing I asked you just now. You know what he suggested that I go on living for?”
“He said I should go on living so I might see what happens next.”
“Not a bad suggestion.” Linzie pressed her warm cheek against the cold glass.
“That’s a little too much essentialism for me. I just don’t care. If you objectively examine Martin Peterson’s life, then you’ll understand my reasoning. I don’t have anything to live for. Especially tomorrow. He wants me to live for tomorrow? Forget it. Not reason enough.”
“Okay then. What if I agree?” Linzie wasn’t sure that she was behaving responsibly, taking this tactic, but she was at her wits end. “What if I give you permission?”
His voice changed in tone and rose in response. “I don’t need your permission!”
“No. But you called me. You could have driven down the mountain, gone to Hollywood, checked in, and…wait…how were you planning on taking your life?” Linzie cringed to hear herself speak of such things.
“I have a gun, I’m going to make like Ernest Hemingway.”
“Marty, you could have gone ahead and done all that without phoning me. But you didn’t.”
She heard an exasperated sigh on the other end of the line, and then he said, “I wanted to say good-bye. Tell you that I love you.”
Martin had never said those three words to her before. She nearly lost grip or her tiny cell phone. What was he trying to say anyway? Did he mean that he loved her the way friends love each other? Or did he mean that he loved loved her? Linzie wasn’t ready to address that topic. No way. “What about God?” She’d throw the big guy out there, see how he responded to that.
“God? Please! God? Are you kidding me?”
“No, I am not kidding. You’d be taking your own life. People lie sick in hospitals fighting for their lives, they’re dying in accidents and car crashes every minute, and you’d be snuffing your existence out on purpose. Don’t you think that God would be pissed about that?”
“I’m an atheist, you know I am.”
“For real though? Think about it. You’re saying that nothing matters. How wrong is that? I refuse to look at life that way.”
“Well I don’t believe in God. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
She should have taken off her heavy coat before getting behind the wheel, now she was stifling, and the windows were fogging up, and it was beginning to drizzle. Linzie considered the Krispy Kreme Donut shop’s hot pink neon sign on the other side of the street through the wet windshield. A sugary glazed cruller and a cold drink would really hit the spot. This business with Marty was more than she could handle. Did he really think that she would dump Trevor? Because she would not. Not ever. She had two children, a beautiful home, a good life. If Martin had been in love with her back when she wanted him to be in love with her, well, things would be different. But Martin had never, ever even uttered any words of love to her before. Why now?
“You still with me?”
“So, do you understand?”
“No. I hate to tell you this, but I never will.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” he said. Then he hung up.
Linzie sat in the car out in the rain for a time. Then she fired up the engine and drove home to her family.