A different perspective
Thomas Calabrese….Tyler Hutchins was twenty four years old and had joined the Marine Corps when he was eighteen, right out of high school and was coming up on his six years anniversary and discharge date. He had four deployments during his enlistment and each one was rougher than the previous. Tyler was broken inside although he had maintained a fragile façade of control and normalcy.
He had survivor’s guilt for all his lost comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice and that manifested itself into a variety of negative symptoms that included; nightmares, hypervigilance, loss of focus and a general feeling of alienation and hostility. Tyler hoped that after his discharge and when he was out of the military culture that he would feel like a human being again.
That was a noble wish, but it was not to be, for even after he left the Corps, Tyler only felt worst because now he was carrying the additional burden that he should have done more to save lives. His life was spiraling out of control and he felt like he had been strapped in a roller coaster that never stopped running; one second he was rising into the skies with unrealistic hopes and the next, he was crashing to the earth when faced with the reality of his situation.
He cursed himself for making the decision to join the Marine Corps and should have known better, after all he grew up in Oceanside, saw Marines around town from the time he was a boy and drove by Camp Pendleton more times than he could count, but somehow it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
His parents, younger brother and sister were happy that he made it back safely and for the first few days, he was the center of their world, but life has a way of moving on even when you would prefer it to stand still so you can catch up and by the next week Tyler’s family was back into their regular routine, but where was he? His mind was still back in combat and his body was here in Oceanside.
As the days passed, Tyler struggled to keep his problems to himself, but the task had become insurmountable so he finally decided that today would be his last one on earth. After dinner, Tyler went back to his room and wrote a letter to his family that detailed his reasons for ending his own life and made it emphatically clear that his decision had nothing to do with them. He claimed full responsibility for what he was about to do and it was the best for all concerned. In his mind Tyler felt dead already and he was only reuniting an empty vessel with his heart and soul.
He placed the letter under his pillow and went into stealth mode as he tiptoed out of the house, got in his car and drove to the Oceanside Pier. He parked on a side street and looked at his watch. It was 11:40 pm and Tyler wanted to be at the edge of the pier by midnight, for he did not want to spend one more day in pain. He didn’t even remember walking to the edge of the wood structure that stretched out into the Pacific Ocean. The darkness engulfed him like a comfortable blanket and the sea beckoned to him like a long lost friend. Tyler knew that the sanctuary that he craved was on the other side of the railing so he slowly climbed up on it and balanced himself. He looked back toward shore and felt a sense of relief that he would never have to deal with the problems that ambushed him at every turn. Tyler felt the rhythm of the waves rolling to shore then drifting out again and when he looked upward, he saw a shooting star and then he stepped off. There was the initial jolt of hitting the water and the coldness, but after that, only peace and solitude and he slowly sank into the abyss. A hand reached out from nowhere and Tyler felt compelled to grasp it.
When he opened his eyes, the warm sun was shining on his face and Tyler was sitting on a bench at the edge of a cliff. He looked to his left and saw a man about the same age as himself dressed in Marine Corps camouflaged utilities next to him.
“Nice day, huh?”
Tyler hesitated to ask, “Am I dead?”
The man sitting next to him smiled, “Do you want to be?”
“I’m not sure,” Tyler stammered.
“You were pretty sure when you climbed up on that railing last night, but you had second doubts later on. Which is it?”
“Who are you?” Tyler asked.
“I don’t really have a name, but my occupational designation is “Transitioner.”
“Transitioner, what’s a transitioner?
“Some combat veterans have a little bit of trouble transitioning back to civilian life so I’m assigned to assist them in making an informed decision rather than one motivated by pain and suffering.”
“How do you do that?” Tyler questioned.
“I’ll give you a guided tour of your own life from the outside looking in instead of the other way around, it’s a different perspective, sometimes it helps…interested?
“I don’t know,” Tyler responded.
“It won’t take long…the ocean will be patient, you can always go back to it later,” The Transitioner smiled, “What’s the worst that can happen, you already feel that things are hopeless.”
“What the hell, go for it,” Tyler shrugged.
“I prefer the term what the heaven, let’s get started then, eternity waits for no one.”
A young man walks into the Marine Recruiting Office and the Transitioner commented,” remember him?”
“That’s me going in to sign up. If I knew then what I know how, I sure would have done things differently,” Tyler reflected.
“Maybe…maybe not,” Transitioner responded, “here’s some guys you might remember.”
Up ahead and standing on the edge of a cliff were a group of Marines with big smiles, Tyler immediately stopped when he saw them, “Those are….those are,” he couldn’t quite get the words out.
“The Marines who you served with during your deployments that didn’t make it home, they wanted you to know that they are alright and there is nothing you could have done to have saved them.”
Transitioner and Tyler were walking down a street until they saw a car stop and a man get out with a pizza and walk up to the front door of the house, “That’s my brother, Jimmy, what he is doing delivery pizzas?” Tyler asked.
“He had a scholarship to UCLA for baseball, but after your death, he lost interest in a lot of things and when he went to school, he drank too much, didn’t study and eventually flunked out. Since that time, he’s been arrested several times for assault and delivering pizzas is the only job he can get anymore. He’ll die in a few years after overdosing on a combination of drugs.”
They continue walking and saw Tyler’s sister, Julie with a man and three kids playing in the park.
“At least my sister seems happy,” Tyler sighed.
“That is how things would have turned out if you were alive,”Transitioner said, “After your death she met a Marine Corps helicopter pilot and fell in love with him, but broke it off when she became too fearful of losing someone else she loved. Now she only dates men that she doesn’t really care about or don’t care about her,” the family at play slowly faded before Tyler’s eyes.
Next stop on the tour was the kitchen of Tyler’s house, watching his mother, Brenda prepare dinner, “What about my mom, what happened to her?”
“She goes through the motions like everything is normal, but she doesn’t go to the fitness center anymore or volunteer at the women’s resource center like she used to, she just basically stays at home and tries not to think about you, but that has proved to be impossible,” Transitioner said.
The next stop was Tim Hutchins’ small plumbing business, “How’s my dad’s business doing? He’s a great plumber and always had a lot of work.”
“Nowadays he does just enough to keep the doors open and pay the bills, but nothing more than that,” Transitioner continued, “he prides himself on being the rock, but the rock is crumbling on the inside,” Tim Hutchins looked up at a photo of Tyler on the wall and broke into tears.
The next stop was a large stadium filled to capacity, “Who are all these people, I don’t know them.”
“These are the people whose lives that you would have positively affected during your lifetime and the people that they would affected and on and on through generations. Look at it this way; each human is a part of an ever changing giant puzzle and when you remove even one piece, the other pieces that are connected to it either have to adapt, contract or expand to fill in the empty space. You are that missing piece and your family are the connecting ones and they’re going to spend the rest of their lives trying to fill that empty space in the big puzzle and in their hearts.”
“This whole thing seems every reminiscence of my favorite Christmas movie; It’s A Wonderful Life with Clarence the Angel giving George Bailey a tour of his life,” Tyler commented.
“An astute observation, where do you think Frank Capra got the idea for the screenplay?”
“You’re kidding?” Tyler marveled.
“When Frank Capra got out of the Army after World War One, he experienced bouts of depression, similar to what you’re going through right now, because he felt like a failure, his brothers and sisters had steady jobs and he felt lost. Aren’t you glad that he chose to finish his life and not take it early? The world got the pleasure of seeing some uplifting movies when they were going through some difficult times including films that helped keep up the morale of our troops and citizens during World Wat II. It all would have been different if he had made a different decision.”
“I guess that’s part of the arrogance of human nature, we all like to think we’re unique and so are our problems , but I do know one thing for sure, I’m no Frank Capra”
“Like I told Frank, how will you know what you can do if you don’t stick around to find out. It’s not my assignment to convince you to stay or to go and there are no guarantees in life except that nobody ever gets out of it alive so if you decide to end yours, you can bypass the pain, suffering and heartache, but you’ll also miss the joy, happiness, contentment and the pleasure of your accomplishments. That concludes our tour and I thank you for your patience and patronage.
A school bus drove up and stopped next to Tyler and the children looked out the windows at him with desperation in their eyes.
“What’s with the school bus?” Tyler asked, but before he got an answer he was back standing on the railing of the Oceanside Pier.
Tyler stepped off and the scene repeated itself exactly like before, but only this time when the hand reached out, Tyler saw that it belonged to the Transitioner. He thought for several seconds on whether to continue sinking to his final demise or to reach out. At the last split second between life and death Tyler took hold of his lifeline and was pulled to the surface where he took several deep breaths and began swimming to shore.
Five years later, Tyler Hutchins was now an Oceanside Police Officer on routine patrol when he responded to a call that a school bus was involved in a collision with a truck on Pacific Coast Highway. He rolled up to the scene of the crash scene and saw that the fuel tank of the truck had ruptured and was pouring gasoline under the wreckage. Tyler reacted without hesitation and began getting the children and injured driver off the bus and no sooner was the last person out of harm’s way that a spark ignited the flammable liquid and both vehicles burst into flame.
When Tyler glanced to his left, the Transitioner gave him a salute and a big smile, but when he looked again, no one was there and at that precise moment Tyler finally knew in his heart and soul that he had made the right decision.