My uncle killed himself one morning. It was years ago; I should be over it by now. He just lay down on his bed and shot himself right in the stomach. No pun intended, but that took guts. We didn’t know it until the evening came. My Pappy went to check on him, to see if he was okay. You see, my uncle had problems. He had done lots of drugs in Nam, and when he quit doing them, his brain just stayed where he left it. His brain stayed where he left it for over seven years. When your brain stays one place, and your body goes another, it can be pretty scary.
Deer can be rather sensitive to the smell of blood. I think that they smelled Uncle Tom’s that night because every night he threw corn to the deer that grazed alongside the creek next to his cabin. When he didn’t show up at the usual time, those deer started to wonder and sniffed around his place. As Pappy walked through the woods and down the rocky trail to check on him, the deer almost ran him down. Their eyes had the same wild look that a mouse has when it’s fed to a pet snake, which to me, is a damn sick thing to do to any living creature... Pappy moved out of their way, and quickened up his pace. I think we all knew then.
I remember watching from Granny’s front porch swing. She and I shelled conk peas and watched the whole thing come to pass like a bad Biblical prophecy. I remember swinging... wondering...speculating... The deer just kept running, through the woods, and out of sight. They disappeared into the evening’s mist, and I watched them go until the mountains swallowed them whole.
Pappy shouted for Grams. It was a peculiar sound, a broken sound that echoed throughout the valley. He just called her name; he called it methodically; he called it in a voice that sounded as dead as Uncle Tom. She started to scream and scream and scream. The chickens got all stirred up in their roosts, the barn animals bleated, mooed, and carried on something fierce. The ambulance took an hour to get up the mountain, and what did we need one for anyway? That is what I recollect about Uncle Tom’s death.
I guess by now you are thinking, so what. What’s the secret? I am getting to it. Shhhhhhhhhh....The secret is something I have kept inside for a long time. I kept it even after Grams and Pappy passed on; honestly, there isn’t anyone left who would care one way or the other. But I will give it to you because you don’t make a difference to me, no offense, and my sad stories don't make any difference to the "Gods" either. I imagine this node will wind up in heaven where Uncle Tom is, unless those Bible-thumping Christians at the First Baptist Church are right when they say suiciders go to hell.
The secret goes something like this: no one wants to die. Oh, you might say that you do and that “life sucks” or that you don’t care one way or the other, but deep inside, you are just...only...an animal. Have you ever seen an animal that didn’t run from the hunter’s scent or freeze in terror when trapped by your car‘s headlights?
Here’s what I learned from Uncle Tom. Before death’s final rattle, the animal part of him, the section of his brain that was controlled by instinct and that wanted to live, well, it started to scream out for a second chance. Too bad, so sad, too late.
My Uncle Tom didn't die an instant death. Oh, our town’s coroner, old man Schafer, not his real name, told Grams and Pappy that it was fast, like sixty seconds fast, but that wasn’t entirely true. Schafer was a drunk if you want to know the truth about it. And anyway, from the looks of Tom’s contorted, twisted grimace, even an idiot could tell that death didn’t come soon enough. After all, he even had time enough to jot down one last request written with his very own O+ blood, on his very own blood soaked sheet. He wrote, “Ma, sav.....”
He didn’t get time to finish his sentence, but mentally, I filled in the missing letters while physically, I took that sheet and fingerpainted over his red S.O.S.
See, I was where I wasn't supposed to be when I heard the shot. I was playing in the creek, by myself, which was against Gram's rules. My eleven year old body froze stiff when Tom fired his sawed off shotgun . At first, I hid behind a pile of rocks. I figured that I was being punished for being such a disobedient youngun. After awhile, I got curious, I poked my head out and looked around. All I saw was Tom's cabin. I wondered; time started to slow down. It does that; you know. Little by little, I walked towards Tom's place. I climbed his wooden steps expecting to hear his voice call out to me. I waited a bit more on the porch, and still, no Tom. My hand turned the knob of his front door. I put my head in and whispered, "Uncle Tom?" No answer. I left the door swinging back and forth in the wind. I tiptoed around and called out louder, "Tom?"
Imagine lying there with your guts blown straight through your mattress. You lie there and you think to yourself, “Hey, I changed my mind.” Imagine my knowing that to be the truth and keeping it a secret from all the grownups.
It happened a long time ago; i should be over it by now. Even though I washed his blood off in the creek that day, sometimes, I can still see it on my hands.