To some, a phone call can mean many things. A reconnection between old friends, sultry words from a lover, or news that can bring anything from elation to surprise.
Sadly, for Terry King, for him it was none of those things.
“Please, just let me speak to him. Just for a moment.”
“Terry, he doesn’t want to talk to you.”
The voice on the other end of the line was Carla, Terry’s ex-wife. Her intention wasn’t to be cold, but it was the only way to deal with his demands. Since the divorce he had become more unreliable and fleeting in his attention toward their son. These moments, where he became emotional and, truth be told, difficult, were the most awkward to handle.
But Terry wouldn’t give up. He’d call, and call, and beg to share a moment with his boy. Carla knew you couldn’t keep a man from his child, especially if it was his only son, but she also knew the day would come where he simply wouldn’t need his father anymore. As Terry continued to fall victim to his personal issues, maybe that time was best to come sooner rather than later.
“All I want to do is hear his voice.”
“I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“He needs his father Carla!”
“… are you drunk?”
The comment stunned Terry. Of course he wasn’t, he thought, but there was enough doubt there to say otherwise.
“I’m fine. I just want some phone time with my son. Is that such a huge ask?”
“You could have had some time with him on Sunday…”
“I explained that!”
Terry struggled to maintain his composure. His temper was quicker than normal and level of control shaky at best. He took a deep breath and continued.
“Please Carla. Just put him on the damn phone.”
There was a pause as Terry waited eagerly on the line. His fingers gripped the receiver so tightly that his knuckles had gone ghostly white and his hand was shaking violently.
Then, he heard his son’s voice.
For a moment Terry couldn’t form the words, the emotion of the moment overwhelming him. The relief, the joy, the pride. He swallowed hard, tried to maintain, before finally speaking up.
“Hello son,” he said softly, “how are you?”
Another pause. Terry slumped eagerly over the side of his bed, his body rocking as desperation stretched across his face. He sat there wide-eyed and hopeful, praying to himself that this would be the moment he’d finally re-connect with his boy.
“Daddy… I don’t want to see you anymore.”
With those words Terry’s world shattered. He tried to stop the emotion taking over, but the tears were already slowly moving down his cheeks.
“I don’t like you anymore.”
They were just the words of a naive child, without any knowledge of the weight behind them, but they struck Terry like an axe. He began to retch, the tears now in full flow. It was like drowning, without anything around to grab onto. He felt faint, and felt ready to fall when he heard Carla again.
“I’m sorry Terry. I’m really sorry.”
And with that, the line went dead.
Terry sat there for a moment, still gripping the receiver. Still slumped over the side of the bed that dominated his tiny accommodation. Still struggling to register everything that had just hit him hard. This was finally it, rock bottom. He had lost his job, lost his wife and now lost the last thing in his world which was keeping him alive: his son.
He remained there silently for what seemed forever. His mind replaying the memories of a humble home that shone with the veneer of domesticity. He had met his wife at a friends party and they went through a whirlwind romance that had bought them so much joy. They were kids at the time, but once his son was born they became adults. But Terry could never quite deal with the pressure. Even as he made motions in the force and kept faithful to Carla, the burdens never left his shoulders. He had to keep trying, keep his head above water even though he was safe, raising his standards to impossible levels. Naturally, over time, it all came tumbling around him.
And now, his home was a dingy flat in the grotty part of town. Three minuscule rooms with barely anywhere to manoeuvre. He lacked what his Father would have called ‘a woman’s touch’, and the place was a hive of dust and filth. Empty take-away cartons and, as a constant reminder of his fall, several empty and half-full bottles and cans. An old 80’s movie flickered silently on the small TV Terry used for entertainment. None of it mattered now though.
The phone finally fell with a thud to the floor, but Terry didn’t notice. His stare was weakening while a confusion of feelings twisted inside. A slow, dark, realisation was coming over him. It was beginning to consume him, embrace him and threaten to finally destroy him. To Terry, it was suddenly all so very clear, clearer than it ever had been. He had nothing, nothing left to have and nothing left to offer.
There was only one solution.
He had prepared for this day. He removed the several packs of painkillers from a side draw, poured himself one final shot of bourbon and sat there. Time became inconsequential as he sat in the gloom, looking at the pile of pills in one hand and the booze in the other. He began to break down, the sobbing coming thick and fast and hard. Without mercy, without relent.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered softly. “I’m so, so sorry.”
He began to psyche himself up. No matter how certain he was, there was enough doubt, enough forethought, holding him back from the brink. But he was close. So close to no more pain. No more misery. No more weakness to drag him down.
So close before the phone rang again.
For a moment Terry ignored it, squinting hard to try and block out the noise. But it continued ringing, an ironically jaunty tune that was refusing to let go of him. He tried to shake it away, all his emotions swirling within like a vortex pulling him into the abyss. He had gotten this far and was ready to jump and make it all go away. But the phone kept ringing, one last reminder of the world he wanted to depart.
One short deep breath, and Terry put down the pills and bourbon. Instead, he picked up the phone and answered silently.
“Terry? Terry you there? It’s Chris.”
And like that, there was suddenly light in the darkness.