A little over 3 years ago, when I came out of retirement to start this blog, I wrote the opening post: Start. It was in that post that I outlined the particulars of this blog and what it would be about. The Flashback Friday series is an integral part of this blog…perhaps the most important to me as I share my vantage of certain things from my past. In that opening post, with regards to the Flashback Friday Moment of the Week, I wrote that it would feature “a couple of mandatory flashback posts highlighting seminal moments in my life”. Today’s post is a temporary departure from the Black history theme reserved for February…I’ll resume that next week. This week’s post is about the darkest moment of my existence, of which I just passed its 10-year mark earlier this week. It’s the first time I’ve ever shared this part of my life experience publicly. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series and the first of the mandatory posts: the aborted suicide attempt in Jacksonville.
How I first came across this moment? The night’s sky had long fallen upon Jacksonville, Florida on a cool February 7, 2007. Earlier in the day, my then-girlfriend, against my wishes and all of the concessions I offered, decided to go through with the abortion of our child. Not only did her act of selfishness—and perhaps spite towards me—punctuate the end of our relationship, it absolutely crushed my spirit. As the day progressed on from the morning to the afternoon to the evening, I had experienced all 5 stages of grief. But it didn’t make me feel better. In fact, I felt “like absolute s***”, according to what I wrote at 5:19pm in my February 7 entry of Triumphs & Tribulations VII. I was seriously wounded in a place that I had never felt any kind of pain in…a spot deep in my heart that I didn’t even know existed until 5 weeks earlier, when she revealed that she was pregnant. It was a pain so painful that I couldn’t describe it in words at the time…and truthfully, I can’t describe it in words now. All the while I had this agonizing pain that had me crying uncontrollably, thoughts about my worth as a man popped into my head. There I was…an American military servicemember. I was part of the 0.5% of the American population who answered the call to national service to protect the freedoms of other Americans from all challenges, foreign and domestic. And while I was expected to surrender my life in exchange for the continued right to those freedoms enjoyed by my fellow countrymen, I was powerless—and perhaps inadequate—as a potential father trying to stop a woman from prematurely ending the life of my child. I didn’t feel worthy of being labeled a man in that moment. That combined with the pain I just wanted to rid myself of drove me to the most impulsive decision I’ve made in the 32 years, 3 months, and 18 days I’ve been able to take breaths on God’s green earth: I decided I was going to end my life. As I sat there with my then-girlfriend in her own physical pain, I told her that I was going to go grab something to eat. It was around 9:30pm. I made the drive from her residence in the East Arlington area of the city to Downtown Jacksonville. I could see the illuminated lettering on the Modis Building along the Jacksonville Landing as I found a parking spot. I sat in the Midnight Blue Express for maybe 20 minutes or so before I got out and walked towards the John T. Alsop, Jr. Bridge—more commonly known as the Main Street Bridge. I walked about ¼ of the way up and stopped. I just stood there, thinking about my life to that point. And then it happened. My T-Mobile Motorola RAZR, which I forgot was still in my pocket, receives a call from a Philadelphia exchange. It was Chantelle Bateman in the 1st of her 2 pivotal moments of perfect timing. I’m not exactly sure why I took the call but I answered. She had called to give me some kudos on the Kansas Jayhawks absolutely smashing Kansas State. The story behind that is that a few days earlier, I took an absolute beating on the sports boards of the MilitaryVibes forum for the Kansas loss to Texas A&M. Chantelle had called to tell me that the Jayhawk performance against Kansas State simply proved what I was trying to stress on the boards about the Texas A&M loss: that it was more aberration than a changing of the guard. We talked for about 10 minutes…mostly about the game but also about a recent decision I had made to turn down a post-military job at HSBC in Vancouver. I’m not sure exactly what moved me to do so but I found myself walking back down the bridge to my Jeep. And that was the end of my closest encounter with death. I was maybe a couple minutes away from my story ending in the St. Johns River.
What it meant to me then? In the moment, I felt this weird rush of emotions overcoming me. Like I was really that close to taking my own life. When I got back to Chavon’s house, I couldn’t sleep. Part of it was still the hurt from the abortion but a lot of it was the adrenaline from what almost happened. In the early hours of February 8, I was writing away in Triumphs & Tribulations VII about the experience. I wrote about how my mind felt so empty in the moment before Chantelle’s call and how I was overwhelmed with all kinds of thoughts immediately after. I wrote about my baptism, which occurred a month before, and how I owed it to myself to make the most out of a 2nd chance. I wrote about how I felt that Chantelle’s very timely call was God answering a prayer that I prayed on New Year’s Eve 2006 to bring the right people into my life at the right time. I honestly didn’t sleep a bit that night…I was too amped up. Heck, you could probably say I was afraid to go to sleep because knowing that I was awake was my guarantee that I was still alive. As the sun rose over the River City, I made my way back on I-10 and I-75 to Valdosta. But it was different. I felt different.
What it means to me now? It’s been a whole 10 years since that moment. Obviously, I’ve come a long way from my darkest moment. A few months after that night in Jacksonville, I made my way to Japan, where one could say I found the truest version of myself. I’ve excelled professionally and academically. I’ve been able to travel the world over. I’ve met interesting people and done interesting things. I even got married. I’m in a much better place with so much to live for…not just for me but for the people around me and even the strangers I meet in everyday passing. That incredible and indescribable pain I felt that night: it’s still there. It’s not as bad as it was then but it still hurts every February 7th. Someday soon, however, when Mercedes and I complete Item 42 on the bucket list, I don’t think that part of me will hurt again. I think, at that point, I can say that I’ve moved completely past that cool night in Downtown Jacksonville.
EDITOR’S NOTE. As the old saying goes, “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. I’m of the belief that absolutely nothing in life is that bad to where ending one’s life is the best option on the board. For those of you on the fence about life, back away and SEEK HELP IMMEDIATELY. There are many people and resources out there who can provide you with assistance. Taking your own life should never be an option. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org