The mountain bike flips on its side, front wheel still spinning, as the boy hurries up the two cement steps to the trailer. The screen door has barely enough life to creak shut.
“Hello?” he yells, his prepubescent voice cracking. But the only other sound is the numbers flipping to seven AM on the old GE clock.
In a long arc, his arm sweeps across the coffee table spilling ashtrays filled with Camel butts, some stained with pink lipstick. Placing his backpack in the cleared space, he rifles through its contents until he finds the red marker and looseleaf paper. Tears pool at the corners of his eyes. He roughly wipes them away, leaving wet streaks through the dirt on his cheeks.
The ceiling fan directly overhead spins weakly with audible whirring from the dust-covered blades. In this main part of the 10-foot wide mobile home are crammed the living room, dining room, and kitchen, along with a naked twin mattress taking up what little floor space does not contain furniture. A Chicago Bears fleece blanket bunched up in the corner of the bed marks it as his own. Surfaces of counters, tables, and appliances are covered with rumpled clothing, dirty dishes encrusted with bits of rice, pans with hardened grease, and empty 2-liter soda bottles.
His breathing is labored as he pens a note, then tears it off the larger paper and stuffs it in a pants pocket.
The afternoon sun casts shadows through the broken plastic blinds at the sole front window. The mechanism of the timepiece turns over the numbers from 3:29 to 3:30 PM. The boy’s mother pushes open the main door with her foot as she balances his favorite — pepperoni pizza — in her outstretched arms. She calls his name tenderly, ready to forgive his earlier transgressions. While heading to work this morning, she had found her son and his slightly older 13-year old friend, lolling at the park. He wasn’t at the friend’s house where he promised to be and he wasn’t headed to school, as he also assured her. She had slapped him hard; her hand stung for several minutes. After lecturing and swearing at him, she grounded him for a month before heading off to her 7-3 shift at the hospital.
Now, turning into the room, her eyes adjust to the interior darkness. The pizza slides from the box as her hands let go. It lands with a splat onto the floor. The air fills with her screams. The boy is hanging from the fan, his back to her, with a dog leash tightened around his neck.
I see all of this a few hours later, after the emergency medical technicians and the police have done their jobs. My role is the forensic pathologist, the doctor who examines the dead.
Eyes, wide open and bulging, he looks afraid. His tongue protrudes from his mouth, caught between clenched teeth, the tip dried. The skin above the noose is purple-blue, the color of a pale plum. His arms hang straight down at his sides. There is a dejected slump of the shoulders. Though this is simply the effect of gravity, the posture conveys hopelessness. The legs are bent at the knees, balanced on the coffee table. He would only have had to stand up to relieve the fatal pressure on his neck.
I feel grateful he is turned away from the door, because then maybe there’s a chance his mother didn’t see his face.
An uncapped pen is next to white lined paper near his bare feet. One of the sheets has a torn edge. Red ink smears the ends of his right thumb and index finger. My eyes search the room but no suicide note is apparent. With a flash of intuition, I reach into the pockets of his jeans and find the note folded in half and then half again. It was tucked away in a secure location, not lost in the detritus that surrounded him.
My hands are tremulous as I unfold the paper and read the messy block print-
I HATE MY LIFE.