It’s the smell of burnt hair that stays with you. You forget their faces and you forget that they were once flesh and blood and family, but you never forget the way that burnt hair smells. I was sitting in my light blue pickup truck that night and picturing the day I’d gotten the call that my Uncle had committed suicide.
We’d worked together at the factory for two decades until my Uncle retired; then, one day, the Sheriff’s office called me and told me that I needed to come in and ID the body. So I showed up at the scene expecting some spark of recognition that would confirm that it was Dennis. But Dennis had sat in the back of his car with two jugs of kerosene and had set himself on fire. There was nothing left of him to ID except pieces of his car, license plate, and dental records.
As I swiped the long cords of rope through my fingers like a rosary, I thought about what I was about to do. I thought about my wife or kids being called to the scene to identify me. I thought about the person who would discover me hanging from some tree, and about how maybe that would fuck them up, too. I thought about it, but I had made up my mind.
Earlier that day, I spent a few hours poring over my financial records. What the market crash hadn’t taken, I had spent on booze and weed and women with questionable morals. The only thing left was my life insurance policy, which fortunately for my family was pretty hefty. I’d gone through and read the fine print a million times: if I committed suicide, my family would still get the money as long as the policy was taken out more than three years ago. So I looked at the date of the policy again, and again, and again, and again.
My object permanence had vanished, and as soon as I’d confirm that I’d taken it out in August of 2005, I’d panic and go back to check. I even thought about asking a lawyer to look the suicide clause over, but was afraid of setting off a red flag. I just kept thinking that it would be a shame to kill myself and then have my family not get any money just on a technicality. Then my life would really have been pointless.
I played with the rope some more and looked around the empty parking lot. There was a patch of woods in the back of the lot, and I planned on finding a sturdy tree. I’d packed on some weight in the last few years from drinking. I thought about the insurance policy again and had to exercise some restraint to not go back to the office and check the dates one last time. Then, I reached into the back seat and grabbed my stool, pulled on the car handle, and ambled towards the woods.
That moment of decision will always stand out to me as one of the clearest, most crystalized memories. I felt no fear at all; on the contrary, I walked with a sense of hope. It was the first time I had thought of the future without feeling doomed. But I also knew myself well enough to know that I was a fickle man in life — a man filled with doubts and weaknesses, and that I needed to do this quickly, before I had a chance to change my mind.
I wanted to be somewhere in the middle of the woods — not so close to the lot that people would see me immediately, but also not so far back that it would take a while to discover my body. I didn’t want to stink the place up, and I didn’t want animals to find me first. I walked for about a minute, and then took out my phone and activated the flashlight feature.
I felt oddly calm and resolute, and there was a certain matter-of-factness with which I studied the trees. It didn’t take me long to find the perfect branch and tie the knot I’d looked up on a YouTube tutorial. I’d spent about an hour practicing the knot in the office because I read on an online forum that hanging yourself was a tricky business. If done incorrectly, it could result in some serious pain. And I didn’t want to feel pain, anymore.
I stood cautiously on the stool and put the rope around my own neck. Then I fiddled on my phone to deactivate the flashlight that had been illuminating my way. I didn’t want people to see it through the woods and interrupt me before I was done.
As I held the phone, the screen lit up and my daughter’s name flashed across, pulsating in the darkness.