Clown Music By D.I. Jolly
It was late Thursday evening when Billy finished his letter to himself, just in time to get ready and head out. During the summer, the meetings were held in a high-school, which always seemed too brightly lit for his taste. It made the whole world seem to clear and too exposed. Which, when he thought about it, made a weird kind of sense. The host was a nice, un-threatening guy who had a certain charm, but his personality came across as thin and Billy could never work out why he did what he did. But there he was week after week, smiling and making bad coffee which Billy poured into a Styrofoam cup. Their homework had been to write a letter to their past selves, telling them a bit about who they’d grown up to be. It was specifically left vague for people to be as open as they wanted to be, or could be. As the letters started being read out, Billy found himself thinking he might have misunderstood the assignment. Everyone else seemed to have written a list of justifications for bad behaviour, for decisions that had made sense at the time. They explained specific instances from their own point of view. When it came time for him to read, he thought about just shaking his head and lying, saying he hadn’t finished. But he had started attending the meetings to change something, to not be the person he was, so he sipped the stale coffee and unfolded his letter.
Hi, how are you? It’s… it’s been a while… Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about suicide. Not because I want to kill myself, but because I like the idea that I could, technically, do it. I’m actually not sure if that’s true but I do think about it a lot. I wonder about what it must be like in those final moments. Do the people feel helpless, frantic and afraid, or do they feel confident in having made a truly final decision that they’re following through? Are they proud of themselves for finally doing something? I wonder if I have the strength and confidence to make a decision like that. Those thoughts often lead me down a long dark rabbit hole that I don’t like to go down. When that happens I try thinking of other things to distract myself.
Billy stopped for a moment while he turned to the second page. Feeling too afraid to look up at the people, he focused on the Styrofoam cup his coffee was in, telling himself that that’s who he was reading the letter too. He also took another sip of the coffee to help with the desert his throat had become, and then he continued.
I like to wonder about things that people know and don’t know at the same time, like pieces of music that everyone will recognise but don’t know the name of, Entry of the Gladiator’s by Julius Fucik is one of my favourites. Almost everyone knows it, but none of them really knows it at the same time. I like that sort of thing. I like knowing and thinking about things that I believe most people don’t know. It makes me feel smarter and more powerful than I am.
I know you feel the same way too sometimes, so we still have that in common.
I think most other things have changed though, over the years. I remember I used to think that the future was bright and full of possibilities. Well, the future is bright, but it turned out to be the light of screens and war fires, not possibility. I’m sorry that you grow up to be me, but as I said at the start of the letter, I don’t have the strength or resolve to make the decision to do anything about it. And I’m sorry.
Billy folded up his letter and put it back in his pocket, still trying to tell himself that only the coffee cup had heard him, but after a moment he had to look up at the room of people. Most of them seemed awkwardly preoccupied, except for the host who smiled, thanked him for sharing and moved the onto the next person without opening the conversation up for questions. Billy knew that he was trying to be nice, to save him and the rest of the group from a topic that might trigger a few of the others, if they weren’t already triggered.
Which was nice, and maybe a little disappointing. He didn’t actually want to talk about it, but he also didn’t want to or mean to be the exception. So, he went back to staring at his coffee cup, imagining that it really had been the only thing that had paid any real attention.
When the meeting was over the host tried to catch Billy before he left but some of the others had stopped him with a few questions and Billy got to his car and drove off without having to say another word for the rest of the night.
The next morning, he got himself ready, went to work and sat at his desk thinking about suicide as he stared at the Styrofoam cup he’d brought with him from the meeting and listening to Entry of the Gladiators, which most people just thought was called clown music.