This is not something I want. It’s something I have to do.
As an undergraduate I read Sartre, who challenged the idea that anyone ever has to do anything. Sartre argued that this was a feeble excuse, put forward by people wishing to justify the most reprehensible deeds. I had no choice: I was only following orders. Rubbish! You are free, Sartre argued. To avoid doing what you claim you must do, you have the alternative of taking your own life.
Don’t imagine that I did not consider this alternative when I realized how I must behave toward you. I had occasionally considered taking my own life, anyway. But the reasons never seemed sufficient. No matter how profound the depths of my depression, I recognized that in time I would climb out.
During my undergraduate years those troughs of depression were the deepest. For this reason, one could argue that I read Sartre at the worst possible time (assuming that my survival has been on balance a good thing). Now, with the troughs occurring only at long intervals, and never taking me to the depths I used to experience, his argument is less attractive. Yet it retains its intellectual appeal. I promise that I gave it weight when I realized how I must behave toward you. Ultimately, however, Sartre’s argument was outweighed by considerations of the harm you would inflict if I did not discharge my responsibility.
Thus, I come to you today motivated by the intention to act. With the decision made, I see no reason to delay. I have heard, though I’ve never confirmed, that some of the Native American tribes once had an expression: It’s a good day to die. I don’t know what they meant by that, if in fact they ever said it. But if I may be permitted to give my own sense to the expression, today is such a day.
As an undergraduate I had, for almost a year, a girlfriend from California. She loved Shakespeare and thought she ought to study his work in his native environment. She invited me to visit her at her parents’ home, in a pristine suburb of San Diego, during the summer. On our own scepter’d isle one does not often see absolutely cloudless, perfectly blue skies such as I often saw during those few weeks. But on this day, the final day of October, our small corner of the green and pleasant land is blessed with a San Diego sky.
Melissa considered herself a good girlfriend. I know she tried. Candidly, though, her instincts were less those of a girlfriend than a therapist. My ups and downs concerned her, and when she invited me to visit, she said she hoped that the consistent fine weather would make me more stable. She had done one semester of university in San Francisco, where she said the weather is different from San Diego’s. It seems that San Francisco enjoys much less sunshine, though it’s also in California. She said that in San Francisco she had frequently been depressed, so maybe the weather here had a similar effect on me.
I don’t want to insist that she was wrong. Because my time in San Diego was brief, I have too small a sample on which to base a reliable conclusion. Yet the fact is that I’ve experienced plenty of happy days when the weather was awful.
Case in point: the day that Tony and Sarah introduced me to you. It was a far cry from today. December, so we had no right to expect something better. While driving to meet you I kept looking at the sky and thinking I ought to turn around and head home. Sitting in front of the fireplace, with a bottle of good Irish whiskey and a firm plan for what to select from Netflix’s prodigious library, was where I should have been. The drive to meet you was worrisome and the thought of driving home afterward, upon darkened roads made slick by ice, filled me with dread.
Then I saw you. Instantly, I knew that braving the storm’s wrath had been justified. You were as splendid as Tony and Sarah had promised, and I saw a gentleness in your eyes.
I had envied Tony’s intimacy with Sarah. By that I do not mean his physical intimacy, even though Sarah is a handsome woman. I mean his emotional intimacy. I sensed that sufficient trust obtained between them such that he could be himself and therefore reveal defects unknown to me, yet she would not repulse him. I had not enjoyed that measure of intimacy with Melissa because being myself had provoked her desire to change me. I do not deny that I needed changing. I only wished to bring it about with my own efforts.
In you, however, I sensed a willingness to accept me as I was. This does not mean that I sensed passivity. On the contrary, I admired your self-possession. I saw that the least unkindness on my part would have caused you to walk away. But you demanded nothing more of me than kindness, which I lavished upon you.
Unfortunately, as we grew closer, I understood that the gentleness I thought I had discerned was a ruse. You rewarded my caresses with violence. One of your love-bites broke my skin. Another time you threw me to the ground. Once you kicked me. You might have broken a bone.
I would walk away from you except I fear that you will harm someone else. If that person learned that I had thought to act decisively yet shirked my duty, I might suffer repercussions.
I will not shirk. On this day, October 31, for so many people a day for costuming, a day of dissembling and concealment, there have fallen from my eyes something like scales. I see what you truly are and I see truly how I must act. On this day, whose singular perfection will be the last thing to register on those soft eyes which do not betray your cruelty, I shall lead you far from your stable to avoid troubling your stablemates and then I shall put a bullet through your brain.
Don Stoll lives in the desert of Southern California. His fiction has appeared most recently in Punk Noir (tinyurl.com/3ut3m7e7, tinyurl.com/yckshbnj), Terror House (tinyurl.com/4tch459c, tinyurl.com/3dsp9b9m), and Jupiter Review (jupiterreview.com/issueiv). In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) which continues to bring new schools, clean water, and medical clinics to a cluster of remote Tanzanian villages.