CW: Suicide

I was recently driving home from the dry cleaners when I saw my first boyfriend’s number light up on my dashboard. It was the middle of the day. In the semi-annual calls he’s placed to me over the years, my ex hardly calls during daylight hours. I knew something was very wrong. We have been in touch intermittently since I wrote him a condolence note a decade ago. His mother had died too young at 62, and I was moved to tell him so. I loved her dearly when my ex and I were together.

My ex and I met when I was 16 and he was 18. He wore rugby shirts. I wore ribbons in my hair. Now we’re almost the same age that his mother was when she died.

My ex’s latest phone calls began like this: “I’ve got some bad news,” he said in his halting way. In the past, this one-size-fits all preamble signaled he was divorcing, his sister had stopped speaking to him, or his son had once been missing for a week. Through it all his radio voice hadn’t aged. It was a slow mellow voice, smooth and dreamy. If things were not so consistently sad for him, he could have been delivering a version of “Bedtime Magic,” a radio show local to me that plays easy-listening, chaste songs hovering on the edge of sexy.

I always wondered if he had inherited his voice from his father, whom he hadn’t seen since he was 12. My ex never talked about his father so I was left to conjure him in my imagination. But I had seen my ex a few times in our middle age, and his still youngish deep voice didn’t match his ever-balding head and stooped posture. Yet there were traces of his once handsome face, which made me sad.

“Like Rock Hudson,” my mother used to gush.

She and I and his mother were his adoring fans.

This phone call, however, began differently.

“I just bought a cemetery plot for my 31-year-old son,” he said.

No stammer. No emotion. Just raw fact.

“And I bought the plot next to his for me.”

I never met the son, but I knew from these phone calls that his son had been a troubled little boy who grew up into a troubled man.

“I keep a lawyer on retainer for him,” my ex once told me.

This essay was originally published by Signal Mountain Review. To read the rest of the piece please go to: