As the lugs of my sneakers bite into the soft earth of the trail, I begin to compose the letter they would read should I die. The wilderness wraps around me, the river calls to me–two old friends welcoming me back. It is the letter telling them that I am now at peace because I have gone to our Heavenly Father. Telling them to hold fast to the belief that I’ll always be with them, waiting for them. My heart leaps at the prospect of seeing my dad again–I list the places I want my ashes scattered, all the spots I’ve loved and we’ve loved together. I tell them to have the kind of funeral party they want, encouraging a more joyous than dour one.
A mile on, standing in the middle of the suspension bridge that straddles the Big Branch, I watch the water weaving through car-sized boulders, cascading into a deep clear pool, and think how wonderful it would be to bring the boys here. My eyes flit to the spot along the shore where, when I was a boy, I camped with my dad and brother. We slept in a maroon and tan tent that a few years later succumbed to the elements after being set up in the backyard for too long.
When I left for this run, I thought this would be a good place to die, a peaceful place. From the bridge, I pick out a rock to lie down on, and like the old tent, allow the elements to take me.
I call out to Dad, for at that moment I know he is there beside me. I can feel him; I can see his kind and understanding face. I tell him I don’t want to die. I know, he says. I miss you every day I tell him. I know, he says. For the moment, the knowing comfort of his voice fills the void his death left in me. No matter how hard it gets, I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My eyes overflowing with tears, I continue on for another mile. Here the river is wider and calmer. I stop for a moment wipe the salt streaks from my cheeks, take a few deep breaths and turn back.
As I draw nearer to the bridge, I think that if I committed suicide I wouldn’t deserve to see my father. No matter how painful daily life gets, in killing myself I am only transferring my pain to the boys and Erin and that, in my eyes, is selfishness beyond forgiveness. I am red-lining with effort, vainly trying to outrun the darkness that threatens to consume me. But there is no way to do that. I slow my pace and let my old friends comfort me as I put one foot in front of the other.