I settled on hanging for my second suicide attempt.
My parents were to return to the apartment to help me with moving the heavier boxes - as I could still not lift weights - later that afternoon but by the time I made up my mind and began wrapping the rope around my fingers to tease the strength, I had forgotten. It was as if though the moment I envisioned my lifeless body I detached that day from the yesterdays and the tomorrows and severed the flow of time entirely.
The flow of time returned to me in the form of amber eyes with slit pupils.
It was one of the last summer days, characterised in its finality by the redness spilling across the sky as wine, the melancholic chirping of cicadas. Bicycle wheels whirred on uneven cobblestone streets as they spun and wrapped around the equally uneven hills to give a semblance of a town - designed for purpose before appearances, frequently interrupted by sharp turns, dead ends. You have to see this! So I had been told by one of my classmates as the child blinked sweat from his eyes. You have to see this! I had been told that and an address; my friends made their way to the place - they needed only the name of the house’s inhabitants, street names and numbers were superfluous - but I lagged behind. I was not in a rush, I wanted to take a more scenic route.
By the time I made my way to the house I found an array of bicycles strewn about the path with such chaos as to almost block traffic. Not that there ever was much, the street too narrow to fit most cars, drivers too afraid of the unpredictable cobblestones. I dropped my bicycle there too and followed the sound of childish chattering inside the garden.
It was there that I met with the fox’s eyes.
The fox had tried to leap over the wooden fence but one of its hind legs caught in the wedge-like space between two wooden planks. It thrashed about madly, deep indents were left by its claws in the earth and at regular intervals it would emit low growls. Sometimes one of the children who had gathered about it would approach the fox: in such cases, the house’s owner (a tall woman with greying hair) would pull him back from the barred fangs lest they shred skin. I was immediately informed that the fox had been stuck there for hours because none dared approach it, the animal control people had been called, the house owners had tried to offer it a bowl of water but the combative thing tossed it aside. Combative. It was terrified.
The memory of those eyes had a tendency to resurface every now and again. Vaguely, like a whisper uttered through clenched teeth not by necessity but by choice, as though giving that image any more power would paradoxically weaken it. That was how I remembered it for almost twenty years. As I lay on the parquet, broken rope around my neck, broken nose bleeding down to my cheek, the image of the fox’s eyes was as visceral as the day I met them.
I could not say how long I lay on the floor thinking about the fox’s eyes. It was certainly not hours, because whenever I found it in me to glance out the window, the sky remained the same sickly blue, the colour of hospital bedsheets. My parents are going to come back soon. That thought finally drove me to sit up, the newfound verticality making blood pour from my nose as though a faucet. I sneezed and found my hands covered in red. The thought of trying again - maybe double-fold the rope, as I overestimated how much weight it could handle - did not even occur to me, just like during my first attempt. I am not a resilient man. I never had to deal with failure, never developed the skill to grit my teeth and promise to try over and over again.
It is impossible to extricate the sight of the fox’s eyes from the context of those days. A sort of melancholy hung over St. Jerome with a presence so thin that it dissipated and clung to every aspect of our lives as fine dust. Before the oppressive heat of noon bathed the town, the plaza was alight with humanity - the complaining of pensioners, the rambunctiousness of children - but it was always alight in a dimmed way… As though the intensity of an oil lamp had been toned down. No, that is not right. It was not the intensity of the lamp to be altered, but the darkness of the room had deepened to such extent that what was enough to light it was no longer so.
My parents returned some time later. I had cleaned the parquet with towel paper and water because I did not yet have cleaning supplies and my face in more or less the same way. My nose had stopped bleeding and instead the blood pooled at the bridge and underneath my eyes, forming dark bruises.
“Oh Cris! What happened?”
My mother was the first to notice. She lifted her arms to hold my face in her hands, thumbs brushing over the cheekbones with a hesitation that could have only indicated fear.
“I fell. It’s fine.”
My father’s mouth sloped to the side as did his posture. There was no rope nor chair nor signs of what had transpired left on the light fixture. Even so, he looked sad.
“Be more careful next time. How’s your arm?”
I could have moved it to show them but chose not to.
“His arm! Love, look at his face! That’s the only thing that hit the floor I reckon! Oh we’ll need ice for those bruises… Give me the car keys, I’ll go to the store.”
Over the next days the bruise grew and did so unevenly, the blood gathering mostly on the left side of my face. I was still seeing the physiotherapist for my arm. He referred me to someone else who took a look at the bruises and broken nose, prodded the most tender parts, let out a fastidious sigh when informed I felt little pain. It should heal by itself, come back if you find you have trouble breathing. I had a job interview later that day and wore a turtleneck sweater to cover the rope burn around my neck: it itched and irritated me all afternoon.
The melancholy that haunted St. Jerome all throughout my last summer there did not leave when I later visited for Christmas, nor in the biannual visits that characterised the rest of my childhood. That melancholy turned into a fog in which I sometimes saw ghosts of Greylake, of asphalted roads and rising skyscrapers and neatly-trimmed shrubs. The air I expected to liberate instead asphyxiated just like the city I despised and thought I could escape from - maybe it was Greylake’s way of punishing me, tainting St. Jerome. St. Jerome - there never was an apt way to describe it outside of its name.
And I never thought that strange until an interviewer asked me, following my victory at a tournament, how I felt about my hometown. It happened long enough for her exact wording to have left me but what I do remember was her expectant expression, with alert eyes and snappy head tilts reminiscent of birds, her energy in handing me the microphone. What was it like growing up in St. Jerome? I think at the time all I mustered was an alright and no further prodding could garner a better answer. The fox’s eyes came back to me then too, reflected on the camera lens as the interviewer fretted with filling the programme’s hour. My manager after the fact took me aside and half-jokingly said you need to talk more! If only you put as much effort into interviews as you do in archery!
I was hired at the publishing company and began working with a broken nose and bruises covering half my face. As I was given a tour of the office floor came the inevitable averted gazes and uncomfortable smiles. My boss noticed too, gave an embarrassed little laugh and asked me when I thought my face would heal, then realised the question’s tactlessness, apologised with another little laugh, changed the subject and told me it must have been a very bad fall and reminded him of when he had a door slammed open in his face. At lunch later someone asked me what I had done before publishing and I just said athlete. The surgery scar was fresh on my arm still, they could interpret the rest as they chose.
My brother asked me, after I had been working for the tabloid a number of months and my nose had fully healed, how I liked it.
“It’s so different from archery!” He wanted to make his smile contagious. “How did you adapt?”
“It’s not very different.”
“But no, how?! You sit behind a desk all day right? It’s totally different!”
Any job that could keep me busy was the same, I had wanted to say but refrained. By the time I returned to my apartment later that evening it had started to rain. I turned on the boiler, made some tea. I sat by the kitchen window and thought - would my life have been different had I stayed in St. Jerome? The kitchen window fogged up. The boiled hissed. Rain outside fell still, a shiny curtain falling onto the city I used to think of as the one to ruin me. I saw the flashing of blue and red lights, heard an ambulance in the distance.
It was years later that I took time off work and returned to St. Jerome. My arm had healed as much as it would - said the physiotherapist - but I could not rely on it to hold my weight as I hung onto the handle on the bus leading up the hill. The fog remained but within it were no longer ghosts of Greylake, ghosts of anything. I ordered coffee and sat down at the far end of a cafè where the elderly owner paused, looked at my face attentively, shook her head and muttered under her breath and did not press further. My hands shook as I held the cup.
I took the scenic route because I had never been in a hurry. I walked to the house owned by the tall woman with greying hair, where no bicycles lay strewn on the cobblestone path leading up to it. There were no voices urging me on, telling me you have to see this. Because what was there to see? The house lay unsold with the price having been lowered multiple times by a desperate seller. The wooden fence with the uneven planks had been stripped away from the earth.
All those years ago a semi-opaque filter had begun to form between myself and the world. The fox’s eyes were the last thing I saw before the filter became wholly opaque.