I'm Jack, and I'm here. A bed stands between me and my life. My life is a 5'3" Norwegian woman with smudged mascara and a mound of blonde hair wadded up behind her left ear. She is shaking; she has been crying. She holds my destiny in her hand. My destiny is a gun, and it's pressed against her temple.
If she pulls the trigger, I will never want to see the sun again.
"Shannon," I say, holding out my hands. "Shannon, it's Jack. Your husband. I'm here. I'm here." I'm not sure how many times I repeat it, but it's the only thing I know for sure. I've stopped her once before. Before it was a knife. She said it was an accident. She said she wouldn't try again. Those two statements are obviously at odds with one another.
It's December 23rd, and The Accident happened four years ago today. I should have called someone. I should have known this would happen today. That's another thing I know for sure: if she pulls the trigger, it will be my fault.
"Shannon," I say again. "Just put the gun down. Talk to me. I'm here." I start to walk around the bed toward her.
"No...no!" she says, her teeth gritted and her eyes bloodshot. "Stay back!"
I stop walking, my heart beating in my ears.
"I should have been watching her," she continues. "It eats me alive. It won't leave me! It's here now, tormenting me!" She gestures wildly with both hands before jamming the gun against her head again. Fresh tears squeeze out the corners of her eyes.
When she tried the knives, I caught her in the middle of it. She said she was cutting vegetables, but I don't know how the underside of her forearm would have gotten in the way. I took her to the emergency room. I was glad I was there.
I feel myself start to cry, too. Crying is okay, as long as I don't panic. I wonder if I could call someone. But I know if I reach for the phone, it will set her off. She is determined this time.
I try to relax my stance. "It wasn't your fault," I say. "You couldn't have known! You know—Jenny—liked to get into things. It wasn't your fault." It is still hard to say her name.
Shannon lets out a sob. "Don't say that!" she yells. "I knew she liked to get into things! We needed another gate. I should have been there. It is my fault." She looks around the room as if there are others here, as if they are all pointing and accusing her.
I don't know how I can convince her. We went to all kinds of counselors and therapists and pastors. We did yoga and meditated and went to church and moved to a different town. We even lived with her parents for a few months. I held her while we sobbed. I let her throw things at me and scream. I lived alone even though she was there. I worked 60 hours per week because she wasn't fit to work anymore. I came home to her, and I came home to no one. I came home and set down my papers and took off my jacket and looked at her, sitting at the table, exactly where I left her. It was like she didn't even know I was home. I am Jack, and I have always been here.
"You're all I have!" I say. "You're all I want. Put it down. I love you. I'm here."
"I don't want to be here!" she screams. She presses the gun more forcefully into her head and squeezes her eyes shut.
I consider leaping over the bed and tackling her. But what if she pulled the trigger once I grab her? What if I could have changed her mind? I can't do that. That will never work. "She wouldn't want this," I say, feeling the panic rise in me.
"Jenny was 3! She wants her mother!" Shannon says through her teeth, shaking worse than ever now.
Four years ago, our daughter wandered into the backyard and somehow opened the child safety lock on the gate. She fell in the pool and drown while my wife was making dinner. I wasn't home. Every year this day is hard, but this is the worst it's ever been. I have never brought up trying to have more children because I'm afraid of what she would say. Most nights she goes to bed early, and I sit and watch TV until my mind is numb, and I can't keep my eyes open. She can sleep because she takes those sleeping pills the therapist gave her. I just run until everything hurts, and then I can sleep.
"That's not how it works," I say. "I'm here. I'm afraid. Don't leave me." I don't know how many times I've told her it isn't her fault. I had to go to a therapist, too, because I couldn't bear to tell her that I saw my daughter's round blue eyes in my own every time I leaned close to the mirror to shave. I don't know how many times I've made two plates of food and thrown out one because she won't eat. I don't know how many times I've begged her to leave the house for something other than therapy. I don't know how many times I've sped down the highway, screaming at God and asking why He had to take my daughter and my wife, too. I just wanted her to try to heal with me, but it's like she's not even here.
I'm Jack, and I'm here. I'm here, and yet this is her choice. No matter how hard I tried the past four years, in this moment, I cannot stop her from killing herself. I repeat empty words and beg her to stop. I tell her the truth: that I love her, that I need her. I'm here; I'm here; I'm here, I say over and over and over. Stay with me. Don't do this. Stay with me. If she's here, there's hope she will come back to me, even if it takes years. If she's gone, I am lost forever.
"I'm going to do it, Jack," she whispers. "I'm so sorry..."
"Please..." I'm panicking now. I can barely see because my eyes are making tears faster than they can escape down my face.
"I'm sorry..." she whispers. I see her hand tense, and I know I'm about to watch my wife take her own life.
And then I turn my back to her. "I can't make you live," I say, "but I'm not going to watch you die." I hear her ragged breathing continue. She cocks the gun.
I sink to my knees and start to sob. I want to cover my ears, but I know I'll hear it anyway. The next few moments feel like an eternity, and I wish I'd never been born. My human soul does not have enough room to contain the pain it will have to hold in a few moments.
Then I hear it. It sounds less like a gunshot and more like a clatter. She dropped the gun. Footsteps. My wife is beside me. She's touching my shoulder. I look over at her through my tears. "Jack?"
I take her in my arms. "I'm here," I say. "I will always be here."