Jason let out a slow breath, his legs starting to shake. The pavement was a long way down.
He closed his eyes and tried not to think about that. All he had to do was jump. That was the plan. He had to do it. He took another deep breath and exhaled, fogging up the night air.
“Is this really what you want?”
Jason stumbled on the edge and took a step back. He looked over his shoulder to see a man, probably in his mid-50’s standing there, hands buried in the pockets of a gray overcoat. No, that couldn’t be right. He was supposed to be alone. Nobody else should have been there that night. Was he a custodian? Or some poor sap working late?
“W-what are you doing here?” he asked.
“I think you ought to be asking yourself that.”
“Look, this is none of your business. I’ve got my reasons, alright? I’ve made my peace, said my goodbyes, and I’d just like to go.”
“Then why are you still here?”
Jason thought about that. Why was he still there? He didn’t need to worry about that man, or anyone else. He just needed to jump. He moved to the edge again.
“I think you’re here,’ the man said, “because you want to live.”
A laugh forced its way out of Jason’s throat, but it was devoid of any humor. He fixed his dark green eyes on the man. “You think I wanna live? You don’t know a goddamn thing about me.”
The man nodded. “You’re right, I don’t. Let’s fix that.” He smiled, the lines standing out on his lean face. “My name’s Robert. And you are?”
“I wish we could have met under different circumstances, Jason.” Robert looked around at the snow-covered buildings surrounding them, taking in the bleak environment.
“So you never told me why you were here,” Jason said. “Are you supposed to be my ‘guardian angel’?”
“You could say that.”
Jason laughed again. “So you’ve come to stop me from jumping? Why? Why does it matter?”
“It always matters,” Robert said, looking somber. “Throwing away your own life like that always matters.”
“I threw my life away a long time ago, pal. This is just a way to finalize it.”
Robert shook his head. “Why? What brought you to this point?”
Jason sighed, rubbing some warmth into his arms. “Look, things haven’t really been looking up for me. I’m a bit of a screw-up. I disappointed my parents, my teachers, my bosses, and now my wife and kid. I can’t go on letting people down. So I figured I’d let myself down instead.” He chuckled at the cheap joke, though Robert didn’t seem to appreciate it.
“I’ve lost my job,” he continued. “I’m about to lose my house, and my wife is pretty much done with me. I’ll be out there for a while, knocking on doors to try and get hired. Who knows, maybe someone’ll take me on. And then what? I’ll screw up again, I always do. And I’ll end up right back here. So may as well just get it over with.”
“And what about your child?”
“She’ll be better off without me. Amy’ll find her a better dad, someone who can actually take care of them both. They don’t need me anymore.”
“So that’s it then,” Robert said. “You’re just going to give up because life’s knocked you down. You’re not going to fight at all? I mean, come on, Jason! You helped bring a child into this world! Does that mean nothing to you? Is that just someone else’s responsibility now?”
“Look, I don’t need a therapy session, ‘kay? I don’t know why we’re even talking about this. I came here with one single purpose. So why don’t you just forget you were here and let me get on with it?”
They both stood there in silence. Snow was falling; a soft breeze blew the flakes around, turning the city into a giant snow globe. Jason was almost there now. Just one final plunge.
“I was like you once, Jason.” Robert’s voice was soft, but seemed to slice through the air. “I was lost, unable to find any meaning in my life. I thought I wasn’t meant to be happy. Ever. No family, no friends. I was completely alone, trudging through the pathways of life. One night, I found myself with a razor blade pressed against my wrists, ready to end it all. But I didn’t.”
“What stopped you?”
“Fate, you might say. Someone came along and showed me a different path, one where I didn’t have to inflict pain on myself. Life never leaves us completely without purpose. I found mine. It gave me the will to go on. I was able to really live again after a long time. Don’t do this, Jason. Don’t give up so easily.”
Jason could see Robert’s eyes shining in the moonlight.
“You can turn it around, my friend. Find your purpose. Live!”
Jason hovered near the edge of the roof, feeling less sure than he’d felt earlier that evening. He was a screw-up and he knew it. There was only one thing for him to do. But what if he was wrong? What if he’d screwed up when weighing his own life? How could this stranger have so much faith in him when he didn’t? And what about Bethany? She was his daughter, after all. Could he just leave her like that, hoping that the next man who came along would take care of her?
He felt ashamed of himself for even considering such a thing. No, he wouldn’t go just yet. He’d fight. For his family, for his home, for his life. He would live and reclaim what was once his.
“You’re right,” he said, stepping away from the ledge. “I’m not done yet. I’ve still got so much to live for. I will turn things around. I will get my life back!”
Robert smiled. “I’m glad you’ve found a reason to live again.”
“Yes, yes I have. And it’s all thanks to you. Thank you. Seriously.” Jason was grinning now, feeling rejuvenated. “I guess it’s just like your story. Pulled back from the brink of death by someone else.”
“It’s not just about saving your life, Jason. It’s about saving your being. About giving your life purpose.”
“Oh, I have a purpose alright. I’ve got more of a purpose than I ever thought.”
Robert nodded. “Good.”
It took a second for Jason to register the pain in his ribs, and a second more to realize it was being caused by the knife Robert had shoved in there. He couldn’t believe it.
“Wha…why?” he asked, his voice weakening.
“It’s what I do, Jason. It’s my purpose in life. To end it. Now if I had allowed you to jump off this roof, if I had allowed you to defeat yourself, what purpose would I have? None. But by giving you a reason to live, I gave myself a reason to take that life.”
Jason staggered back, feeling the knife slide out of him. His knees buckled and he fell, clutching his side.
“As I said, I found myself in a place not unlike yours. Ready to end it all. But then a man came to save me. And he did, just not in the way he’d expected. He tried to stop me from slitting my wrists, attempting to wrench the razor blade out of my hands. I only wanted to push him away, but ended up running the blade across his throat. As he gasped his last breaths, I felt like a new man, Jason. Witnessing death truly teaches us what it means to be alive.”
Robert was staring down at him now, his eyes lit up. “So whenever I find myself feeling depressed or directionless, I go and find my purpose again. I find life. And I take it.”
Jason looked up at him in disbelief, not fully hearing him anymore. He started to lie back on the ground but felt himself being picked up. Robert carried him to the edge of the roof. Through his blurring vision, Jason could still see the streets below. The pavement was a long way down. It was the last thought he had before passing out. He didn’t get to feel himself falling 90 stories, or his body smashing into the ground.
Robert looked down at the body with satisfaction. It was so much better when they had something to fight for. He’d never felt more alive.