My neighbor likes to kill himself with guns. Different types of guns. I’m not a gun expert or anything like that—never even shot one—so I can’t tell you the exact brands and stuff, but he’s used handguns and shotguns and AR-15-type guns. He’s even used one of those Civil War-looking guns you have to wheel around and crank. Once I took a photo of a gun he used and then looked it up and it was a “Colt Python.” So that’s one brand I can tell you: “Colt Python.”
My neighbor also likes to kill himself with things that aren’t guns. I’ve seen him kill himself with a knife, a sword, pills, water, a plastic bag, rope, a ball-peen hammer. I’ve seen him jump off his roof and kill himself with gravity. I’ve seen him abstain from food and fluids for an extended period of time. I’ve seen him cover his body with fire.
After my neighbor kills himself, he usually lies limp for a couple of minutes and then gets up and makes a glass of Lipton iced tea. He puts a little powder into a clear glass, pours in some hose water, swirls it with a spoon, and then sips it while sitting in his white plastic chair (the type of white plastic chair everyone in America seems to own). He only kills himself once or twice a day and the rest of the time he drinks his Lipton iced tea and sits in his chair. His backyard is just grass and guns and other killing items and his chair.
I’ve only met my neighbor once: when he first moved in. The moving people were moving boxes into his home, and he was standing in the lawn and watching them move the boxes. I walked over and said hello. He said normal things. He didn’t seem like the type of person who would kill himself many times and then drink iced tea. He asked me if I was a Cowboys fan because I was wearing a hat that said “Dallas,” and I had to explain that no, I’m not, it’s just like a souvenir from when I drove to Dallas with my ex-wife a few years ago, and that I don’t watch football really. He was disappointed. He said the Cowboys looked good. I said, “Oh, maybe I’ll have to check them out,” even though I knew I would not be checking them out. He smiled and started saying a bunch of football things I didn’t totally understand until one of the movers asked him a question and my neighbor had to go over and he said, “I’ll see ya,” and I said, “Nice meeting you.”
That’s the last time I’ve talked to him. That’s the last time I think he’s been anyplace other than his backyard. I have not been in my backyard since he began killing himself because I think it would be awkward.
I’ve said my neighbor likes killing himself, but I’m getting worried I may have to start saying my neighbor liked killing himself. He’s been lying dead in his backyard for the past two days. Usually he lies dead for two minutes, but now it’s been two days. I’m looking at his corpse through a crack in my blinds. His head lies a few inches from his body. He decapitated himself with a butter knife. It’s not like he hasn’t decapitated himself before, so I don’t think the decapitation is the problem. This morning I tried opening my window and shouting, “Are you okay?” but in a woman's voice so if he heard me he wouldn’t know I knew he killed himself. He did not respond. I haven’t called an ambulance because if my neighbor is going to just get up and make some iced tea in a few minutes then I don’t want to make his life more difficult. But now I’m starting to feel an ambulance is necessary. It’s been two days. I don’t think I have any other choice. I take out my phone and dial 911.
The 911 dispatcher is a woman and she says something generic like “What is your emergency?”
“A man’s decapitated himself and I think he needs an ambulance,” I say. “He’s killed himself before, but now he looks really dead and I think he needs an ambulance.”
“Why does he need an ambulance, sir?”
“Because he’s dead or dying?”
“Aren’t we all dead or dying, sir? Sorry, sir, just making a little joke, sir.”
I feel very uncomfortable with the dispatcher’s joke. I look at my phone quickly to make sure I have dialed 911 and not some other number. I can hear the dispatcher giggling at her own joke while trying to muffle the giggles with her hand. Now she, completely serious, asks, “What is your relation to the decapitated man?”
“I am his neighbor.”
“And do you live alone? Is anyone else aware of this situation?”
“No. I live alone.”
“For how long have you lived alone?”
“Is that relevant? There’s a man who’s decapitated himself with a butter knife and needs an ambulance.”
“Sorry, sir. It is extremely relevant. Please answer the questions. Any time spent not answering the questions means more time until we can send an ambulance.”
I squeeze my chest and turn away from the window. I now feel enormous pressure on my performance. “Okay, sorry,” I say as quickly as I can while retaining audible clarity. “I have lived alone for a year.”
“And who lived with you prior?”
“My ex-wife. But, I mean, when she lived with me, she was my wife, not my ex-wife.”
“Why did you get divorced?”
“Sir, please answer the question. Please answer the question in as much detail as possible. Your neighbor’s life depends on you answering the question in as much detail as possible. Depends on you answering the question in a semi-formal manner, as if you were giving a TED Talk. Please answer the question in a semi-formal manner, sir. Please do not let your neighbor down, sir.”
“Shit, shit, okay, okay.” Some sweat comes out of my hand. I begin to answer the question in a semi-formal manner. “So basically, my wife and I spent about a decade working toward financial independence. We wanted to reach this goal of financial independence and retire early and then enjoy life to its fullest. We wanted to be free to do whatever actions we wished without concern over how many dollars they created. We wanted to be free to—is this the level of detail and tone you’re looking for?”
“Yes sir, please continue in this manner, sir.”
“Okay. We wanted to be free to learn to paint, or sail, or rub our toes in the sand, or make a baby and spend time with it. We ate more rolled oats than we would like and scoured for coupons and rode our bicycles instead of cars and worked overtime. We watched YouTube videos of other couples who had already reached financial independence and listened to their tips like ‘Eat more rolled oats.’ All our shared energy went into this goal. It was all we talked about. Then we reached financial independence. We both quit our jobs. We were so happy. We drank a ton of champagne and made love for many days straight. But when the champagne was gone, we tried to talk to each other and struggled to communicate. I would say something like ‘Let’s hit the beach,’ and she would respond with something like ‘Beaches are a waste of time.’ We had been becoming very different people and the shared goal had masked that. I felt like I was talking to a stranger. I felt like our values no longer aligned. She said she felt the same. It was distressing. We discussed having a child anyway, because then we’d have another shared goal and maybe that would work. I thought this was a good idea. I wanted to try this. But my wife thought about it for a while, and then said she’s not so sure she would ever like to have a child, because then the child would just have goals that if they didn’t reach, would cause them much pain, and if they did reach, would ultimately be unsatisfying anyway. She said she had other reasons too but didn’t want to say them. We divorced. It’s what had to happen, but still I became very depressed. I ate plain rolled oats, now not out of an attempt to save money, but because I didn’t care whether the things I put into my mouth tasted good or bad. The thing that knocked me out of my depression was watching my neighbor kill himself in many ways. But now it looks like he might be dead and I’m starting to feel depressed again… Is that good enough?”
“That was perfect,” says the dispatcher. “Thank you for the background.” I hear someone who seems to be far away from the dispatcher’s phone say something, and then the dispatcher whispers something, and then the someone says something else. I can’t make out any of the words. The someone sounds like a man.
“Hello?” I say.
“Sorry for the wait, sir. Now, sir, considering this, are you sure your neighbor is not merely a stand-in for your own mental state?”
This is not a question I’ve ever thought about. I look through my blinds again. My neighbor is still lying there. I say, “Yes. I’m pretty sure. I’m looking at him right now. I met him once and he told me things about the Dallas Cowboys I didn’t know. He also owns many guns, and I know nothing about guns. I’ve never even shot one.”
“Can you name any specific type of gun, sir? Like specific line of gun for a specific brand?”
“Not even on—”
“Well, well, okay, I can name one: ‘Colt Python.’ But that’s only because I saw my neighbor kill himself with it.”
“Are you sure, sir?”
“Am I sure, what?”
“Are you sure that is how you became aware of that brand of gun, sir?”
“I am extremely sure, ma’am.”
More whispering. “Okay, sir. Thank you, sir. But are you sure that both you and your neighbor are not merely stand-ins for the mental state of some third-party?”
“Yes, sir. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, your ex-wife, a supermarket bag boy. Any third-party, sir. Please do not get held up on the details. Are you sure you are not merely stand-ins, sir?”
This is also not a question I’ve ever thought about. I think about it. “I’m pretty sure,” I say. “I’m touching my face right now and looking at my neighbor and we both seem to exist as separate and real beings. I don’t think we’re projections of some third-party’s mental state.” I pause and think about it more and shake my head and then say, “In fact, I think that suggestion is a little unhinged. In fact, I think your behavior on this call in its totality has been a little unhinged.”
“Okay. Thank you, sir. We will send an ambulance.” The dispatcher hangs up.
I look back out my window and my neighbor is sipping Lipton iced tea in his white plastic chair. I sigh. I dial 911 again so I can explain the ambulance is no longer needed, but all I get is a busy tone.
Tyler Plofker is a writer in NYC. He likes to eat water. He tweets badly @TylerPlofker.