Ch. 80: Raccoon
TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE
Before you read this chapter, I need you to know that you can get help to prevent situations like described in this chapter from happening. Nobody should have to be alone with their struggles no matter how big or small they are, and you can help yourself or others by talking to professionals, a family member, or a friend. Or maybe it’s easier to talk to a stranger online? Whatever you choose, it’s the importance of starting that one conversation with someone that counts.
You are worth so much more than to be a number of the statistics!
UK: 0300 1020 505
Norway: +47 116 123
Or search up the mental health care system for your country. Or a friend.
I was running until my lungs stung and a moist fist of nausea clenched my stomach. But I kept going. I had to get there before it was too late. If it wasn’t already. When Martina’s friend asked where I would go in a similar state of mind, the answer was horribly clear. The only difference was that I’d been too apathetic to actually go there.
I spotted the world-famous tall pillars that made the orange-reddish painted Golden Gate Bridge into the landmark it was. It was a suspension bridge which had inspired me in my work more times than I could count, and I’d always been fascinated by the architectural beauty of it. It was a true marvel of modern engineering, but right now I hated every inch of steel it was made of. It was a suicide magnet. It had been ever since the day it was built, and the number seemed to be breaking records each year.
The suicide net barrier wasn’t completely done, but did its purpose. Still, I’d always found it unbelievably stupid because I knew it wouldn’t stop those who really wanted to jump. It only made them have to make that decision twice. At least I thought it was stupid at the time I considered doing it myself. Now it actually gave me a tiny glimpse of hope for one reason only. Rocco was scared of water. Deciding on jumping twice to get to it was possible but unlikely.
“Fuck. Where are you, Rocco?” I mumbled to myself. Then I picked up my phone and saw a text from Hunter, saying that he didn’t find him at the first hideout, and that he was on his way to the next. I could only imagine how hard he was crying when we weren’t there. Fucking cry baby. Nevertheless, he seemed to be genuine and was obviously just as head over heels in love with my son as I was in Bambi. Then why wasn’t his love enough to keep Rocco from wanting to end everything?
Maybe because everything else is wrong in his life, Aaron? His childhood was a scam. He struggles with his identity. He’s traumatized and in shock, and you’re not even his real dad. No, you are! And you’re gonna fucking prove it to him! If only you could find him...
The bridge appeared intimidating and cold, and I suddenly felt like the smallest man on the planet as I started to walk. It took four years to build that damn colossus, and right now it felt like it would take at least four years to walk across it. But I didn’t dare to hitchhike since I easily could get distracted and miss it if Rocco was standing close to one of the stiffening trusses. Instead, I counted every support strut as I walked, in an attempt to stay sane long enough to find him.
I walked past one of the many phone booths where you could call in times of crisis, and letters and numbers were pounding your eyeballs with a plea of not doing anything stupid. I don’t think it would have mattered to me back then, but hopefully it had helped others. Maybe even Rocco? If so, did they help him in time? And where was he now?
My phone vibrated in my pocket and played a tune that told me it was Martina.
“It’s too late, Aaron,” she sobbed into my ear even before I said anything, and a chill ran down my spine and made me stop in my tracks.
“What do you mean ‘it’s too late’? Did you find him?”
Please say no!
“I just know! We found his bags behind some bushes, and we brought them inside and...”
“Oh, thank God!” I exclaimed without hearing her out. I couldn’t allow the doubt to fight through. Rocco had to be alive. He just had to.
“Bambi! Listen to me. We’ll find him! And it won’t be too late, because...”
“But there’s a letter, Aaron!” she cried, and I couldn’t help the hopelessness I felt as I jogged toward the middle of the bridge. He had to be somewhere around here. Right?
“He’s saying that things are too much to handle, but that he loves us and...”
I barely understood what she was saying because she was choking on her words, and eventually Jessica grabbed the phone from her. But even she had the typical sad tone of resignation in her voice when she spoke.
“Stop!” I yelled, and I didn’t care that I was short of breath.
“I don’t wanna hear! He’s still alive and I’m gonna find him!”
My running came to an abrupt halt when I discovered an object I recognized. Or what was left of it. And as I came closer, I knew. It was Rocco’s phone, completely broken from desperation and rage, and all I wanted to do was to pick it up and put it back together as if that would bring him back.
“Aaron? Are you there?”
“Fuck,” I mumbled, and I fought against the tears that were pooling in my eyes.
“FUCK!” I shouted from the top of my lungs.
This can’t be it. There’s no such thing as ‘too late’. You can always fix it. Hell, Martina managed to fix you, the most broken and hopeless case on the planet. Rocco didn’t...
I cleared my throat and put the phone back to my ear to finish the conversation.
“I’m gonna find him,” I said with a determination that didn’t match any of the feelings I had inside my chest.
“Take care of Bambi, Jessie, and I’ll find Rocco and bring him back.”
Then I hung up.
I slowly moved towards the fence and felt the panic trying to pull me over the edge when I realized exactly how far down it was. It didn’t help that there was a fence, because even in the darkness I still felt trapped in the sensation of falling, and I knew the feeling was worse in broad daylight. But eventually I managed to force my eyes closed and tried to convince myself that it didn’t end here. Rocco didn’t jump. Then where was he?
I started walking again. Then I increased the speed to jogging until I was full on sprinting for quite a while. Then I suddenly felt so nauseous that I hunched over and vomited before I continued running. There was only one thing in my mind, and that was to find my son. He was to be somewhere on the other side. I would find him sitting on a bench or on the grass or something. He would be sad, but he would be alive, and we would fix this so he could go back to Hunter and receive the love he didn’t get in his childhood. He would be the best uncle to our daughter, and I would tell him time and time again how much he meant to us and how proud we are of him, and I...
I groaned when I suddenly crashed into someone.
“Hey! Watch it, man!”
The words pulled me back to reality and I found that I already was on the other side. I didn’t even bother to apologize to the guy, because I instantly searched my surroundings for any sign of my missing son. And when I didn’t see anything other than the usual, slow night traffic and a few people walking past, minding their own business, my attention was drawn to a group of homeless people hanging outside a 7-Eleven.
Nope. Definitely not Rocco.
“Bloody scraggly mutt,” the guy I crashed into grumbled with a thick British accent, and when I looked at him, I realized that he probably belonged in that same group. Long, matted and greasy hair was partially covered by a dirty baseball cap, but his clothes were even dirtier and with several holes in them. And the smell...
Focus, Aaron! Oh, right. But now your eyes are stinging for different reasons than tears. Whether that’s positive or not...
“Have you seen a man with dark straight hair, a little shorter than me and with... Shit. I don’t remember what he was wearing,” I babbled, and got annoyed when the dickhead snickered.
“...clothes? He was wearing clothes?” he suggested, and even a preschooler could tell he was mocking me.
“Jeez, I don’t know, mate. But I saw a wicked, naked guy waving his knickers in the air while he yelled for his dead granny to come pick him up.”
I stared at him for a moment and contemplated punching him, before I decided to pick up my phone instead. Beating up drug addicts was a waste of energy.
“Here. This guy,” I said and showed him a picture of Rocco on my phone, and the guy studied it with all the slow-motion concentration a hard-core heroin addict could muster up. And eventually something seemed to click.
“Oh, that guy.”
“You’ve seen him? Where? When?”
“Around half three or something.”
“Half past three. You bloody Americans can’t fill in the blanks, can you? Just like riding. You need to spell it out in full. Horse-back-riding, as if it wasn’t...”
“SHUT UP!” I exclaimed and took a step forward and literally breathed in his face. He gulped.
“I need to find my son! Where did you see him?”
“Sitting right there,” the man said, and his smirk was completely gone. And as soon as I looked in the direction he was pointing, he was quick to back away.
“Sitting?” I asked and tried to envision the situation.
“Yeah. He was bawling his eyes out while he complained about the security of the bridge making it impossible to jump. And when I made him aware that most people just climb past them, he cried even harder.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake! He was scared. Stop making it sound like he’s a retard.
“So I felt sorry for the guy, and...”
He suddenly stopped talking and refused to look at me.
“And what?” I asked and stepped up in his face again. The sooner he told me what he knew, the sooner I could find Rocco and bring him home.
“And nothing,” he mumbled, and I grabbed him by the shirt and almost lifted him off the ground.
“What did you do to him?” I yelled, and he fought to get loose.
“I told him that there were other ways to kill yourself than jumping from that bloody bridge!”
I put him down but kept a tight grip on his collar and tried not to breathe through my nose. The stench of bad hygiene was down-right brutal.
“And that you might as well succeed with a couple of pills...”
I pushed him away so hard that he fell to the ground with a groan.
“You gave a suicidal man advice about efficient ways to kill himself?” I exclaimed in disbelief. Then I paced back and forth, while I rubbed my forehead.
He’s not worth years in jail, Aaron! Use the adrenaline to find Rocco.
“Bloody hell, man?!”
“Where?” I yelled and ignored the verbal protests and name-calling.
“Where did you send him?”
I glared at him as a visual threat to elaborate, which he was smart enough to do.
“Prince Jasper on Amity Street.”
He clumsily got back on his feet and wobbled a bit before he found his balance. It was shocking to see the damage drugs can do to a body. I couldn’t even tell the guy’s age, since he acted like he was seventy.
“I hope to God that you’re not a copper,” he mumbled, but continued talking.
“Amity Street is an MC shop.”
“Motorcycle, you fag! I swear Americans...”
But I was already on my way. I was pretty sure I’d been there once, but that was a long time ago. And I say once, because it wasn’t a place I wanted to visit more than that one time. This was clearly just an exception. And the rage that filled my veins compelled me to beat the shit out of every single person in that shop.
Well... That rage vanished when I saw the face of a monstrous man appear in the tiny window of the backdoor, after I’d been pounding on pretty much every surface outside the building. And when the door opened and he told me to enter, not a single cell of me wanted to obey. Then I remembered Rocco and did anyway. To make my tongue work was a different question.
“What do you want?” the man grumbled in broken English, and I felt pretty sure he was from some place in Eastern Europe. That’s how he looked anyway. The fact that he was tall and massive as a Silverback and was covered in tattoos, even in his face and entire bald head, made my voice sound like a whimper when I asked if he’d seen my son. And I swear I almost pissed myself when I reached for my phone, and he threatened to attack me because he thought I was grabbing a gun. But after a lot of stuttering and showing him my phone, with hands that were trembling so badly it was hard to see the picture, he still didn’t give me any answers. I didn’t dare to challenge him either, so the disappointment when he pushed me out of the store without a word moments after, was crushing.
“HEY! TELL ME WHERE HE WENT!” I shouted at the closed door, but the store was just as dark as when I entered.
I paced back and forth for a while and tried to find out what to do next, and when I came out completely blank, I tried to find something to take my anger out on. I couldn’t even find that. Beating the shit out of a concrete bench was kind of doomed from the beginning, and a guarantee to end up in the ER with a broken fist.
I cursed while I stomped down the street. There was nobody here except for a raccoon on a raid through some trash cans. He didn’t even look up, even though I directed my verbal assault to him. As if that helped. Then I remembered my phone and picked up to see a new message from Hunter. I already knew he didn’t find Rocco, because I was closer to him than any of them. But he was still out of reach. So I kept walking without any destination at all, and just hoped it was taking me in the same direction Rocco walked a little over an hour ago.
The street had narrowed down into a long back alley, and the lights were far apart, and some weren’t even working. A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and a couple of rats ran along the wall of one of the houses. To be honest, it felt like I was walking between two everlasting buildings, since they were placed so close it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. But at least it made it easier to tell that Rocco wasn’t here. And then…
I found out that it was a blind street.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I groaned. And I was about to turn around and walk back when I spotted someone curled up, half-sitting, between two dumpsters. And the person had shoes that had been standing in my hallway a few hours ago.
“Oh, no... Rocco!” I choked out and ran towards the lifeless man. I couldn’t express the relief I felt the moment I could hug him. Then I realized how cold he was, and that he didn’t wake up when I talked to him. And he was completely limp and unresponsive when I tried to shake some life into him.
“No. Rocco, please wake up.”
But there was no reaction at all.
“No, no, no! Wake up, dammit!”
Carefully, I put him back on the ground to see if he was breathing, and I noticed that his eyes were only half closed.
“No! You can’t be dead!” I shouted and felt a wave of sorrow and despair consume me.
Ambulance, Aaron! Call 911! And start CPR! Yeah, but how the hell did you do that again?
I quickly dialed the number and put the phone on speaker next to me, while I started pumping on Rocco’s chest. And the moment a lady answered with the standard phrase, I let all my frustration out.
“HOW DO YOU PERFORM CPR?” I yelled. Then I tried to blow some air into his mouth, and groaned when it didn’t work.
“Two blows and thirty compressions, sir. But what’s your name and where are you?”
“Two blows? But it doesn’t help. The chest’s not moving.”
Or does it?
I tried once again, with the same result.
“Is the person lying on his back on the ground?”
“Okay. Good. Tilt the head back and pull the jaw up and forward. Then blow just enough to make the chest rise.”
I tried to do like she said, but I felt completely useless. I just knew I had to do whatever it took to save him.
“Is it working?”
“Yes! Fuck! Yes, it’s working. And now I push... How many times?”
I could have sworn my brain was made of syrup, because nothing was working the way it should.
“Thirty. Stand on your knees and keep your arms straight. Don’t push too deep, because then you’ll break his ribs or chest bone, which can puncture his lungs.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake! How much is too deep?” I huffed and tried my best to do as she said. But when she told me to start humming on Bee Gee’s ‘Stayin’ alive’, I wanted to hang up. She had to be kidding!
“That’s the rhythm you need to keep enough blood to circulate from the heart and throughout the body. If you do it faster, it won’t get the time to refill with enough blood. If you do it slower, there will be lack of oxygen and he can risk getting brain injuries. Now may I have your name, sir, and a quick description of what’s happened?”
“I’m Aaron Cooper and I think my son has overdosed on some pills. I don’t know. His name is Rocco and he’s twenty-five years old, and... Shit. I don’t know where we are. Some back alley somewhere not far from Lime Point.”
I made two rescue breaths and was relieved when Rocco’s rib cage expanded both times. Then I continued doing compressions.
“Next to Golden Gate Bridge?” she asked, and I replied with a mixture of anger and frustration that made me want to apologize. I just didn’t have time to focus on that right now.
“Just track my phone or something!”
“We’re already working on it, sir,” she said, then asked me a couple of questions to make sure I continued trying to keep Rocco alive.
“How long has he not been breathing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay. Do you know what type of pills he took?”
“I don’t know!”
“We found you,” she said, and I wasn’t sure if it was to calm my anger or as a reassurance. But it worked.
“There’s an ambulance about four minutes away. I gave them the address, but you need to keep talking to me until they arrive, okay?”
“Okay,” I panted. This was fucking exhausting.
“Can you stop for a moment and try to see if he has a pulse? Do you know where to find it?”
“Yes,” I replied and reached for Rocco’s wrist. But she told me to search for the artery in his neck instead, and managed to instruct me before I snapped when I couldn’t find it.
“Nothing,” I said, and my voice was hoarse with emotions.
Please, Rocco. Stay with me. Please...
“Okay. Continue doing CPR. You’re doing a great job.”
“How can it be great when he doesn’t wake up?” I yelled, then blew two new puffs of air into his lungs. My knees were hurting like shit, and both my back and my arms were screaming with exhaustion, but I ignored it.
“Two more minutes,” the lady said, to encourage me to keep going, and when I finally heard the sirens in the distance, I was crying while I gave everything I had left of energy. The rest of what happened when the two paramedics took over was like a blur. The only thing my brain registered was when I picked up my phone and put it to my ear.
“What’s your name?”
I don’t know why that suddenly was so important to me, but I needed to know.
I didn’t say anything for a while. I just watched the two strangers placing several kinds of medical equipment all over my son, before they gave him an electroshock to bring him back to life. It didn’t seem to help. Not after the second, either.
“Thank you, Rita,” I said eventually. Then my hand fell to my lap, so the phone slipped out and fell to the ground together with my heart.
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