It isn't what you think it is.

A long time ago, in the summer of 1994, I met a vampire. Well, she wasn't really a vampire, but she liked to go around believing she was. It wasn't some kind of psychosis, it was a little game she played with herself. She worked in a bookstore where I was spending some time reading what I could on subjects from near-death experiences to alternate universes to weird, trippy occult ramblings. I was looking for answers as to how I survived a suicide that I could not have survived medically due to the all-night cocktails of poison I had ingested.

Then I realized why I had been drawn to this particular bookstore. At first I was convinced they would have some book that would explain my continued existence. Then, after several visits to this bookstore I came to realize the only answer I needed was to be found in this vampire girl.

She asked me, rather boldly, to buy her a cup of coffee down the street at a diner after the store closed. So, as it was, I took her up on it and the first thing she asked me was, "How long have you been dead?"

It had been a month or two since my death on June 6, 1994, so I told her that. I withheld the part about it being a suicide for as long as I could, but she managed to get me to talk about it. Over the years I've learned that we corpses have this ability to get people to tell us their deepest, darkest secrets.

"Suicides don't come back," she said very matter-of-factly. Then she drew down the last of her coffee and stood up. "I thought you meant you really died. If you were an attempted suicide that's near-death at best."

"Oh, I went all the way. Poison control confirmed what I took was enough to kill a water buffalo."

"They really said that? A fucking water buffalo?"

"Yeah, that was exactly what she said."

"Suicides don't come back."

"How did you die?"

"Suicide," she said with a shrug and walked out. I never saw her again. I went back to the bookstore but never saw her working, and I never asked because there was no reason to.

I realized later, as I travelled up and down the east coast of the United States, always on a mission to find someone and help them save themselves from going down a dark and lonely path, that I had been one of the vampire's missions. Suicides don't come back, but when they do they find themselves serving a sort of penance to atone for their crimes against themselves. You see, in the end, we have one judge to face. We are our own judges and we live in a world of our own creation, of our own perception. It gets a bit confusing when the self seeks justice from the self. It cannot be revenge. It cannot be a punishment. It is penance, and to achieve it we have to be at our best, emotionally committed to the task at hand while remaining emotionally distant from the people we feel the closest to because in the end we will leave them. The journey is more important than any destination.

Except, perhaps, for the stage of the journey I like to call redemption. It happens when we satisfy our penance, completing those missions that were most important to us, and satisfying our judgment that we have done enough to love ourselves again.

Suicides don't come back. Taking one's own life is an act of hatred, in most cases, and it is always done to alleviate some form of suffering. Often the pain of being who you are, which is actually about the pain of being who you have become, is so great that feeling nothing is preferable. Most foolish people believe death will end their suffering. It actually magnifies it. I'll swear upon anything you find holy that I left this world twenty years ago and went elsewhere. After telling the story for about a year I stopped caring if anyone believed me. We exist in a universe of our own perception. You are free to believe there is nothing after this life ends. I am absolutely certain existence is eternal.

At the end of that summer I met a woman named Chris. She was the beginning of a long string of woman whose name was some variant of "Christina" who entered my life between 1994 and 1999. Chris met me on Cape Cod while I was inexplicably hanging out in a lesbian book store. She ended up taking me to a concert about a week later. It was there I had my first experience with an overwhelming feeling of empathy. I could feel the emotions of all the people around me and it freaked me out. I went outside the concert hall. She followed me and sat next to me on a bench.

"Are you okay?"

"Suicides don't come back," I told her.

She rolled up her sleeves to show me deep scars that led from her wrists up her arm. "Yeah."

I went back to her apartment, which was more of a room in the basement of a house, and the apartment was empty. I've learned since then that in my existence here people stay as long as is necessary and then go. This is a big reason why I now work with teenage girls in a residential psychiatric facility. They have admit dates and discharge dates. It is like playing with a model train set after being a conductor for so many years.

And that was the nature of my retirement. There was supposed to be one last Queen of Hearts to complete the major cycle of three queens that have been the structure of most of my missions over the past two decades. The thing about this particular queen is that I have to deal with having them help me without being able to help them in return. They help me find myself again after I get lost and then their lives always fall off a cliff without me being able to grab their hand in time. It is a mission that represents a fatal flaw in my character. The biggest trigger to my suicide, what drove me to hate myself and who I had become with a burning passion, was that I could not let go of people. And I was very cold to their private disasters.

I had become a very bad man in the years before my suicide. There is a reason my penance has brought me to where I protect teenage girls from the big bad wolf. I used to be the big bad wolf. Before my death my worst crime was letting a girl drive herself home blind drunk instead of driving her home. I told her there would be a price. She slammed her car into a bridge support and died less than an hour later.

And I didn't really give a fuck. "She should have taken my offer."

I was so numb to emotion in the last couple of years before my suicide that I got engaged to a young woman I didn't even really like that much because I felt having a wife would make my life normal. I was a guy in his mid-20s who still went to high school parties, supplying the booze and the drugs along with my partner, because it was always easy to get laid there.

When I came back from the dead, I tangled up my own history. The woman I came to call The Muse, and most of the stories I wrote about her, was not the girl I had fallen in love with and lost when I was still a teenager myself. The inspiration that drove me, and who I had constantly anguished over before I became numb to my emotions, was a girl named Veronica. The woman I came to call The Muse after my death was once a girl who I had taken advantage of when she was barely turned 16.

When I went to New Hampshire to unite with the woman I believed was The Muse, my angel Anastasia told me, "This will be the hardest thing you ever do."

Her three suicide attempts on my watch, her incredible depth of self-abuse, and coming to realize she had become a sociopath with a need to destroy me from the inside out, was only the beginning. Neither of us realized who we represented in each other's lives. I thought she was my so-called true love. She thought I was someone who truly was pursuing his boyhood crush.

I remembered before she did. She only remembered during intense therapy after I had her committed to a psychiatric hospital.

We had no heat in the house that winter. And then everything died. Her mother came to take her to South Carolina where her family had moved to. Her sister, who had been through the depths of hell herself in an unrelated case, knew the secret. She hugged me and told me, "That isn't who you are anymore. You know that, don't you? Everything you did, you did to help her."

Everyone knew I wasn't going with, except for the woman I called The Muse. She thought I was moving with her until the last minute, but when she realized I was staying behind, she wasn't surprised.

"Do we really want to spend the rest of our lives trying to destroy each other?"

It took five years and a very special Queen of Hearts, who taught me how to be myself and how to start feeling again before I recovered. Then my very special queen went back to her abusive husband who always deserted her whenever things got too tough. I wasn't able to grasp her hand in time. At that point I realized I wasn't supposed to grasp her hand in time. I had to know when to let go.

Everything during my penance was supposed to be temporary. The nature of these kinds of missions. Most people who came to know me knew I was the man who didn't stay.

I fell madly in love with a woman named Victoria during my journey. She had known who I was for almost two years, a friend of friends of mine who always kept to the background whenever we were all out somewhere.

At a party for our mutual friend Crystal, she finally introduced herself to me. I had heard of this woman, mostly by her nickname, which was "Toad." When she approached me all time stopped. I never used to believe in love at first sight but she holds the distinction of being my first experience with it.

"I've been watching you for a long time. I know you are moving away in a couple months. All I want is that time." She knew what it was to be with the man who never stays. She never expected me to.

Not staying with her was the second hardest thing I ever had to do.

I'm still in love with her to this day, although she'll tell you I'm in love with what we created during those two months. It is amazing what you can do when you know you are short on time and have no future.

The thing is, I've completed my required missions. I am now free to choose my own path, to take the journey I've always wanted to take.

I want to be the man who stays.

The woman I used to call The Muse used to always put on the same song after we'd make love. It was a weird obsession of hers, but I tend to think it was meant to be a message for me to figure out later.

If you twist and turn away
It you tear yourself in two again
If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would let it go
Surrender, dislocate

If I could throw this lifeless life-line to the wind
Leave this heart of clay, see you walk, walk away
Into the night, and through the rain
Into the half light and through the flame

If I could, through myself, set your spirit free
I'd lead your heart away, see you break, break away
Into the light and to the day

To let it go and so to find away
To let it go and so find away
I'm wide awake
I'm wide awake, wide awake
I'm not sleeping

If you should ask, then maybe
They'd tell you what I would say
True colours fly in blue and black
Blue silken sky and burning flag
Colours crash, collide in blood-shot eyes

If I could, you know I would
If I could, I would let it go

This desperation, dislocation
Separation, condemnation
Revelation, in temptation
Isolation, desolation
Let it go and so to find away

Lyrics "Bad" copyright belongs to U2. I hereby respect that copyright.

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