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The Sea Turtle

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A man is found dead in Central Park, and his suicide note explains why.

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The Sea Turtle

I found the body in Central Park at around midnight, hanging from a tree branch and swinging back and forth in the wind. There was a streetlamp nearby lighting up half his features every time the wind pushed him close to it. He was a white guy, maybe mid-thirties or so. Respectable casual suit, respectable haircut, respectable close shave. If I'd seen him on the subway, I would have pegged him as a businessman or a lawyer or, you know, something respectable.

I started to search his coat and pants pockets. My plan was to shake him down for cash and his cell, ditch the wallet, then go to a payphone and call it in. I'd hang up the second they starting asking for my name and address.

I didn't want to get involved. I do not like policemen, and they'd give me some hassle for finding a body. It's like a reflex for them. They all give you the stink eye like they know you done something, and they hope you'll slip up and give them something to arrest you for. I mean, I ain't paranoid, I don't think they'd bust my ass for finding a suicide. I just didn't want to get involved.

His wallet only had credit cards and IDs, and there wasn't any cellphone. But I found a notebook in his right coat pocket with neat, close handwriting. After reading the first couple of sentences, I realized I was holding his suicide note. Holding it with my bare hands, and my prints are on file fucking somewhere.

Now look. I know I'm not exactly respectable. But I got a conscience, man. This guy wrote down his last message to the world, then went and hanged himself. Maybe his story I'm about to tell you was his explanation to his wife or dad or something. I wasn't gonna just crumple that shit up and ditch it. That's why I'm posting this thing here. Maybe his buddies or someone will read what he wanted them to read. I'm pretty sure a Google search of the guy's name will lead here eventually, so word will get to where it has to be. And this is a throwaway account from a public library, so yeah. Good luck tracking me down.

So here you go, whoever cares. The last words of a man about to kill himself.

My name is Jonathan Franklin, I work at Washington Mutual. I live near 90th and York. My closest relative is my sister Julie, so please let her know.

Just trying to make things easier for the first responders.

And now, my story. The reason why I killed myself today.

Six years ago last month I was flying to Tokyo on business when my plane crashed into the Pacific. It was a private plane with just four people aboard, including myself. I won't dwell on the details since I know that a couple of new channels did a report on it at the time, so you can look up the details.

The pilot and copilot died on impact. The other passenger was my business partner Adam Thorn. I broke both of my legs. Adam got through without a scratch.

It was clear we were in pretty desperate circumstances. Adam dragged me inland away from the crash site on the beach so that we could be closer to fresh water, and the journey left me screaming in pain and blacking out every couple of feet. It couldn't have been more than a hundred yards from the wreckage to the pool, but it felt like more. Adam was so exhausted he couldn't muster the energy to go back to the plane and drag the dead pilots out to bury them.

The first few days were a daze to me. Thirst wasn't a problem, but hunger was. Before sunset the day after the crash we were ravenous. I slept in bit and pieces, often waking up from nightmares because of the agony from my broken legs, and then drifting back to sleep after a half hour of weeping. Neither of us knew how to set broken bones.

That first night was unbearable, easily the worst part of my time on that island. While I did suffer more later, I was at least prepared for it mentally, in a way. But nothing in my life had prepared me for that awful pain plaguing me through the night.

I remember one thing clearly. After I woke up once, Adam grabbed my shoulder and told me, "People can survive three weeks without food. We'll make it."

And I remember thinking to myself, "But how long can a crippled man last?"

I remember praying for God to let me die, because I couldn't bear another moment there, laying on my back on sandy roots, feeling my thigh bones twist and bend inside of me, my empty belly an aching hole.. But people can endure anything if you don't give them a choice. I managed to drift off for a few hours after our second sunset.

Every night Adam wold take a jagged piece of metal from the wreckage and saw off tree branches to burn as signal for any rescue team to see. Every morning he would extinguish it to conserve the supply of fuel.

Days passed. They were long, they were agonizing. We battled the heat with the water and the hunger with absolutely nothing. I discovered that I'd never really been hungry before. That empty feeling in the pit of your stomach when you skip breakfast and lunch is not you starving. It's just your body's way of nudging you to remind you to eat sometime in the future.

True hunger is cradling your own body, trying to comfort it as it dies in your arms. True hunger is fear behind your eyes. True hunger is not knowing if you'll survive, but knowing for sure that you will suffer as never before.

I remember begging Adam to kill me, but he refused. He kept swearing we would make it if we just held on a little more.

Around the fourth, fifth, or sixth day- that first week is a blur to me- Adam began muttering to himself, ranting and swearing under his breath. I couldn't hear him well, I was in my own world. It didn't seem important to me that my friend was rattled and scared. Why wouldn't he be? Might as well worry that the sun was too bright, or that the trees were too rough.

I suppose it was around the end of the first week that Adam found some food.

I awoke at night to find him cooking meat over the normal signal fire. The smell was torture. Like rich, sweet, smoke-flavored heaven. I almost started crying with desire. I was too weak to beg him to feed me, but I was jerking a little under my blanket and he noticed I was awake.

"Hey, Jonny, how are you?"

I croaked something out in response.

As he slipped strips of well-cooked meat into my mouth, he explained that he'd found a way to hunt to sea turtles that lived in the bay near the crash.

"I won't eat all of it," I said. "You need to eat your half." The thought of him starving on to give me more food was too bitter for me to stand. The meat was so rich and thick and utterly perfect in every way. I'd had steak dinners that couldn't compare to that half raw meat. A friend like Adam deserved his share.

Adam reassured me that he'd already eaten his half before I woke up. "I wasn't going to wake you. You haven't gotten more than an hour's rest at a time since we crashed."

Something in his face though... He was holding something back. He must be starving himself to give me more of it, I thought. The idea that he would sacrifice himself for me made me cry with gratitude

The days passed some more. The hunger, so gloriously beaten back, returned. Adam grew thin and wasted. By this time we both had scruffy beards and were sunburned so badly we could barely move without ripping holes in our skin. Our clothes were so sweat drenched they were running colors out onto the sandy roots.

I begged him to hunt down another turtle.

The meat saved us again. Adam joined me this meal, waiting to have his share till I ate too. He wolfed down his portion with animal ferocity.

The days passed some more. By now, misery and hunger and agony were nothing to be feared. They were as normal as breathing. I think we were stranded for just about twenty one days on that island.

One night- the last night, as it turned out- I woke up just as Adam was dumping an armload of branches onto the fire. The flames roared higher. He went and returned with another armload which he tossed into the inferno one at a time. The flames rose higher than ever, the heat of the fire pressing down with physical force onto my sunburned arms and face. I closed my eyes and drifted asleep again. It was hard to care what he was doing.

The Navy Corpsman who was taking my vitals when I woke up told me that Adam had sliced his wrists to the bone less than a half hour before rescue arrived. I thought I could reconstruct Adam's death pretty well. He had been driven mad with pain and fear, and in one last ditch effort to get out of this hell hole he'd built the fire up with all the wood in the area. When nothing happened, he killed himself. Given my state at the time, I had no doubt he thought I was dead already. And then the cavalry came at last, mere minutes after he'd given up hope.

I mourned Adam as the truest friend I'd ever had. I even had his name and his date of death tattooed on my side. My legs healed very well after being reset by a professional. I'd never be able to use them to run marathons, or even jog for longer than a minute, but I could walk with only a slight limp.

I was rescued six years ago today. I was walking down the Central Park West and stopped in a high end restaurant for dinner.

On the menu, they were serving South Pacific Sea Turtle. I was morose and moody, remembering Adam. As sort of a tribute to the anniversary, I ordered it.

The turtle I ate in that restaurant and the turtle I ate on that island tasted exactly nothing alike.

Adam did us no favors by keeping us alive, and he knew it. That's why he killed himself the moment he realized rescue was on the way and he didn't need to keep me alive anymore.

I begged you to just kill me, Adam. God damn you, you fucking coward.

Julie, I'm sorry. I hope you understand.


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