Mark, Laura, and the Short Ribs Saved My Life Tonight

People who know me well will recognize that parts of this story are true.  Let me assure you, everything about the suicide is purely fictional.  No need to call and see how I’m doing.  If you call and I don’t answer, I’ll be in the back yard putting out ant killer.


What is it in a person’s mind that moves them to contemplate suicide?  The last time I thought this seriously about it I was a teenager.  I was lost and alone, or so I thought.  It felt that way anyway.  Standing in my  daddy’s closet doorway surveying the multitude of guns, I wondered if I could point his 12 gage shotgun at my head and still reach the trigger.  If I removed the gun from the closet I knew I would do it.  I held the shell in my hand.  It was the load we used for squirrel hunting.  Six shot at that range would blow a hole right through my head you could run the 12 ga.’s cleaning rod through.

Of course, I didn’t do it.  And I had a lot of good years after that.  Now I’m glad I didn’t do it… then.  I would have never married my wife.  My children would have never been born.  For sure there was some pain, but there were a lot more good years than painful ones. But now…

My wife was taken by a brain tumor.  During the deepest throes of her suffering, I had triple bypass heart surgery, she died and then I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  And there’s more I don’t have the energy to add.  Then I broke up with my girlfriend who I had dated for 11 months.  I thought the breakup would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  But I hung in there barely able to put one foot in front of the other.  I had handled everything with such a positive attitude up to that point. I was determined to get through the break up, too.  Although at times I was fairly certain after all the other tribulation, it would do me in.  I walked on.

And then I got the news I had been denied long term disability.  My doctor practically begged me to retire and take disability.  I was the general manager at the sole satellite plant left in my industry.  It was extremely difficult walking away from a company where I had worked for 30 years and the people there I had come to love.  But my doctor said the cancer would not stay in remission, only 4 out of 100 make it 5 years.  I talked it over with my boss, co-owner of the company, and he strongly encouraged me to take the time now, while I still had a modicum of health, and spend it with family.  I did and have traveled and spent precious time with my children.

Now this.  I’ll lose insurance, a very good monthly income, and have only my immediate savings to live on.  That’ll last for a while if I don’t pay medical bills.  If I pay medical bills, it will be gone in a matter of months.  Then I’ll have only my 401K.  If I knew how long before the cancer took me that might be okay.  But I don’t.  Pretty sad when you hope the cancer kicks in before the money runs out.

And I’m tired of all this!  How much does God expect us to take before we throw in the towel?  He said he would never give us more than we can handle, that he would not leave us or forsake us.  Really?  I know he loves me and he’s true to his word, however, I’m thinking this may be the first time in all eternity he screwed up.

I imagine hell may be full of people who have thought likewise.  So damned sure of their point of view they refuse to look at an alternative reality.  Although it may not be alternative, it could just be reality.  So be it, I’m in that line coming to the door waiting to hand over my ticket and go through the turnstile… to wherever.  I’ll find out when I get there.

I was at the hardware store today and forgot to get the ant killer.  My yard is full of ants.  Before I came down with cancer I kept a beautiful yard.  Now I imagine my neighbors are ready to evict me from the community.  I don’t want to be sprawled out under my oak tree in the back yard with a hole through my head and have those damned ants crawling into every body crevice and cavity.  So I sat a kitchen chair and a ½ “ anchor rope by the trunk of the tree hoping if I tied the rope around my body and around the tree trunk it would keep me upright in the chair and away from the ants after…

I still needed to write the note.  I am loved by a few, and there’s a lot more who say they love me but I know they really don’t.  But that’s okay, there’s a lot of people I feel the same way about.  I just don’t want people thinking they’re somehow to blame or there’s more they should have done.  Especially not my children.  I love them dearly.  I’ve spent a lot of quality time with them lately and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I hope they feel the same.

This is no one’s fault.  My old girlfriend may think that if she had handled our relationship differently I might not have taken the drastic steps I have.  Well, that’s absolutely the truth, but she’s not to blame.  No one should be held hostage that way.

So with the chair and the rope in place by the oak tree and only the note and loading the gun to go, I was beginning to feel more at peace.  I decided to use my .38 instead of the .45.  That .45 is almost 100 yrs. old and rusty.  I’d rather do it with a newer, shinier gun.  It will look better, a bit more stylish for whoever finds me.  They’ll be dispassionate and matter of fact over the radio as they call in the apparent suicide .

I wonder how fast the news will get around town.  Who will my closest friends call first?  They’ll understand why I did it I think.  Some will wonder why I didn’t do it sooner, others will wonder, after handling all the other crap so well, why I did it now.

I’m just worn down and worn out, that’s all.

I got the gun and the shells out of the locked closet upstairs.  I put one shell in the revolver and made sure it was in the correct chamber.  When I pull the trigger I don’t want the hammer falling on an empty chamber.  I‘m not up for Russian roulette.  And I don’t want some kid to wonder into my back yard and find a loaded pistol.

So finally I wrote the note.  A lot of the elements of the note are included in this story.

I put on nice clothes and thought about whether I should cut a hole in a piece of plastic and wear it like a poncho so I don’t get my clothes bloody.  I decided not to.  It would just look silly.

I checked my look in the bathroom mirror.  I was wearing a $100 blue checked Mountain Khaki brand shirt and a stylish pair of khaki colored stretch jeans. My shoes are a $135 pair of Polo loafers, one of the most comfortable pair of shoes I have ever owned.  I smoothed out the cow lick that has cropped up when my hair came back after the chemo.  Even after cancer and chemo, for being 60 I think I look good.  It had become extremely difficult to lead 125 plus people at the plant considering my health, but I certainly looked fit tonight, or so I think.  And what I think is all that matters, right?

I had the same feeling I get when the car is shiny and clean, the grass is cut, and the garage is organized.  It was time to relax.  The only other thing I needed to do is sit in the chair, wrap the rope around me a couple of times, make sure I had the gun pointed at my temple but in a direction that wouldn’t hit a house… and pull the trigger.

This was it, finished.  This is what it feels like at the end.  Much better than the slow demise of cancer.  I would soon find out if there is a heaven or hell or if you just slid away into nothingness.  I have believed most of my life in Jesus Christ and what he did for me on the cross.  But none of us really know for sure, do we?  Otherwise we wouldn’t have that saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.”  I am betting there is a God and he will forgive me for taking my own life.  I would get to see my wife again.  Just as soon as I pull the trigger.

But I was not in a big hurry.  It was barely 5:00 PM.  Why not go to my favorite restaurant and have a glass of Pinot Grigio before I go.  I hadn’t seen my old girlfriend since we broke up months ago.  Maybe I would run into her there and I could say goodbye in a cryptic way that would make her think twice.  Then when she found out about what I had done she would know for sure what I meant.

So I drove the 2 miles to the restaurant in a strangely good mood.  As I drove around the parking lot I saw that my old girlfriend’s vehicle was not there.  A quick glass of wine and maybe an appetizer and I would be out of there.

There was one seat left at the end of the bar.  I asked the gentleman sitting next to the empty seat if it was taken.  He eyed me up and down and said, “Have a seat, we’ll let you sit there.”

I ordered a glass of wine and looked at the menu.

As I looked at the menu the gentleman turned to me and said, “I’m sorry but if you’re going to sit there I’m going to talk to you.”

“Fine,” I said, “if you’re going to talk to me I’m going to talk back.”  He turned to say something to the lady sitting next to him.  She appeared to be with a rather large, mean looking man on the other side of her.  They both wore red shirts.  If my wife was wearing red when we were going out, she would have insisted I wear another color.

My wine arrived and I took not a sip but a couple of gulps.  I couldn’t decide which appetizer to order, the short ribs which are messy to eat or the duck confit.  I settled on the short ribs.

The gentleman next to me asked what I did for a living.  I told him I retired at the end of May.

“Your boss is an asshole,” he said.  I assured him my old boss was a great guy and the company I worked for was great, too.

“No,” he said, “I mean your new boss.”

“My new boss?  You mean my wife.  She died over a year ago.”  The comment struck me wrong.  I’m from West Virginia and my mother was the biggest hell raiser in Logan County.  If I didn’t take up for myself when I was a kid, she would put me in the car and track down the kid who bullied me and threaten to kick his butt herself.  I would sit mortified in the back seat.  Then she would go to the parent’s home and threaten to kick the parent’s butt if they didn’t get a handle on their child.  And on 2 occasions their mom gave my mom lip and she put a whipping on them.  Mom was 5’2” but fit and one of the prettiest women in our home town.  But nobody messed with her.  She had been committed to what we referred to as the crazy house at Radford, Virginia not once but twice.  She always said she wasn’t afraid of going to jail, that they don’t jail crazy people who have the papers to prove it.  Nobody messed with my mom.  And I’m a guy.  Do you know what it was like as a kid trying to live up to that?

If the big, mean looking guy sitting next to the pretty lady with the red shirt had said that about my wife, I would have felt intimidated and been obligated to throw a punch.  But this guy was not intimidating in the least.  I would have regretted it the moment he hit the floor bleeding.  Not so with the big guy.  I would have kicked him in the face.

“No, no,” you misunderstand me the guy next to me explained as he read the look on my face.  “I tell people my boss is an asshole.  I’m my own boss.”  He laughed.

“So you’re saying I’m an asshole,” I said, standing up giving him a level stare.  And then I smiled and introduced myself.  The best jokes are the ones on the edge, which have a possibility of being taken as wrong as they are otherwise funny.  Mark was funny.  I would have had no chance keeping up with him in a verbal spar.  Now I was making a new friend.

A lot of people who came into the bar stopped to give Mark a hug and share a few words.  He told me he was in the restaurant business.  He didn’t elaborate but he was evidently well known and seemed to be well liked.

When my food came I was disappointed.  I was expecting ribs, not what looked like thinly sliced pork roast sitting on a slice of who knows what.  There was a sauce spooned on the side that resembled hollandaise sauce.

I was expecting a portion of ribs with barbecue sauce on the side.  What was this fru fru appearing dish?

“Is something wrong?” the waiter asked.

“He ordered the short rib appetizer, and that doesn’t look like short ribs to me,” Mark answered for me.  Mark said he was in the restaurant business, I assumed he knew what he was talking about.

“That is the short rib appetizer,” the waiter explained.  “The meat is thinly sliced off the short ribs.  Can I get you something else?”

“No, I’ll give it a try,” I said.  From the look on Mark’s face, I got the feeling he would have sent it back.

I started tentatively with a small piece of pork neat, no sauce or whatever it was sitting on.  I could have cut the meat with my fork, the taste was smoky but not overpoweringly so.  Tender but with enough heft so it didn’t fall apart on my tongue but fell apart perfectly as I messaged it with my teeth.  I could not identify the spices but they fit perfectly with the almost nutty, smoky taste of the pork.

Next I cut a larger portion and included whatever it was the pork was setting on.  Whatever it was had been fire grilled and was almost white.  I gently patted it in the sauce like you would pat an old girlfriend on the back when meeting her with her new boyfriend.  Then I wrapped my tongue around it and bit into the thing the pork was sitting on.  No explosion of flavor but the taste gave the feeling something akin to seeing a pretty girl walk in a room and realizing you knew her, she rushes right over to give you a big hug, her body pressed against yours from the waste up with her firm breasts crushed into your chest.  The pork was sitting on grilled pineapple and together with the sauce it was love at first bite.

I ate more and offered Mark a piece declaring how good it was.  Like I would have done, he declined but I insisted and he finally took it.  The look on his face said it all.  The chef had created a masterpiece. I knew I had to have this dish again.   But…

As I ate, the big, mean looking guy sitting beside the pretty girl got up to leave.  He paid homage to Mark like so many of the other patrons before he left.  The pretty girl stayed behind.

When I saw she wasn’t with the big guy, I said to Mark, “Introduce me to your friend”.  Was she Mark’s wife?  His girlfriend?  I didn’t pick up those vibes between them.

She introduced herself.  Laura is her name.  Laura something, I’m terrible with names.

The three of us talked.  She is Mark’s best friend and evidently very fond of him.  Part sister, part mother sounded like but not related.  Laura’s husband was at a local golf course playing a scramble golf tournament.  As we casually talked I said I would have to have Laura, her husband, and Mark over for dinner, that I love to cook.  The invitation came out without fore thought.  It was just the natural thing to say, the words escaping in the natural flow of conversation.  And they were enthusiastic about the dinner.  I ended up telling them a couple of stories. One about the first time my grandmother died and another about my mom threatening to burn down the VFW club which was full of people to flush my father out.  The cops looked on and did nothing because mom is such a nut.  Mark and Laura looked surprised at the appropriate times and laughed at the appropriate times.  These were my kind of people.

I had 2 glasses of wine.  Even though I enjoyed the company I knew if I stayed and had another, I’d eventually end up drinking a double shot of bourbon neat.  Who knows where that would lead?  I did not want to see my wife again after being drunk like that.

As I drove home, I thought about the meal I would have prepared for Mark and Laura.  I’d have to pick up a good bottle of scotch for Mark and find out what Laura and her husband drink.  I wondered if I could get the recipe for those short ribs from the chef at the restaurant.  Those ribs were delicious.  It would almost be worth hanging around just for them.

When I got home I grabbed a rag and walked out back underneath the oak tree and wiped the dew off the chair.  I left the rope and brought the chair back into the kitchen.  After all, I had appealed the insurance company’s decision to deny my claim.  Our company’s comptroller thought there was a very good chance their decision would be overturned.

It won’t hurt to hang around long enough to cook that dinner and besides, I really want to have those ribs one more time.

And then I checked my phone.  I had set up a website to share my stories and I’ve been inundated with calls from web developers. So I hadn’t checked my messages all day.

There was a message left earlier in the day by a Dan Jenkins from Connecticut.   He said he was the claims appeal specialist from my insurance company.  The purpose of the call was to let me know that they were reversing the decision to deny my claim and I would immediately begin receiving benefits.

I had made the preparations, even wrote the note…after the call.  Sometimes our biggest fear is just that.  Fear.  For sure a possibility, but so often no basis in reality.

The dinner won’t just be a dinner.  It will be a celebration!  God is good all the time, how could I have ever doubted him.  Mark, Laura and the chef who prepared those short ribs have no idea the role they played in saving my life tonight.  Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.

You just never know.  And that’s reason enough I guess never to carry through on a plan as stupid as what I was contemplating.

As for the dinner, short ribs served as an appetizer or the entree?  The wine?  Maybe that French red, Canet-Valette from Saint-Chinian, or that full bodied Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon from Mapuche…


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