It was a cold December night. Snow was falling in mad torrents just outside my den window. When the phone rang, I answered it and the mother on the other end broke down and started crying, then asked me to go find her son who was wandering around Havelock with a loaded pistol.
I found 16-year-old Josh down at Havelock Park, seated in the middle shelter, his pistol clutched in his grasp. “Hi, Josh,” I said, stopping ten feet from the shelter. “Can I sit down?”
He raised the gun, waving it carelessly in my direction. “That depends,” he said. “You gonna try and stop me?”
I glanced at the gun. “You know I am. That is why I am here. Can I sit down?”
“Suit yourself,” Josh said, pointing the pistol at his head. “But you try to stop me and this gun will go off.”
I crossed those ten feet, thinking any second that he would pull the trigger. But he didn’t, and as I sat down across from him I said, “What seems to be the problem?”
“I am all fucked up,” Josh muttered, tears in his eyes. “My whole fucking life is all fucked up, and I just want to die.”
I said, “Tell me about it. But do me a favor while you’re talking. Put the gun down.”
Josh cocked it, placed the muzzle beneath his chin, and said, “Promise you won’t try to grab it from me?”
I held my breath. I made a slow gesture with my hand. “Put it down, Josh. I promise I won’t touch the gun.”
And he did, thumbing the hammer back in place, and putting it on the table between us. He talked then about his mental illness, Bi-polar Disorder, Manic Depression, Obstinance Defiance Disorder. Josh was plagued by demons, and they were legion. “I just want to die,” he said with a heavy sigh.
“Okay,” I told him, “I get that part. But what am I going to tell your mom if you do that? How am I going to explain to her that I failed to stop you?”
“Is that who called you?” Josh asked. “My mom sent you out in this snow storm to find me? How did you know I would be down here?”
I told him, “Lucky guess. And now that I can no longer feel my feet, I don’t know how I am going to manage to get out in the street to my van. Got any suggestions?”
Josh eyed me blankly at first, and I thought for a moment that I had lost him. He then reached down and picked up the gun. And for long moments, his life hung in the balance. I could not grab for it, because I had promised him I wouldn’t touch it. No, I could only sit and watch as he finally handed it across the table to me and said, “It’s loaded. Be careful.”
I unloaded it before we climbed into my van. We talked some more on the ride back to his house. His mom was relieved when he walked in the door and I handed her the gun and the six bullets. Josh went on down the hallway to his bedroom and closed the door.
“How can I ever thank you?” Katie asked.
“There’s no need for that,” I said, but as I stood there I spotted a stone lion head resting against the kitchen wall. “What is that?” I asked her.
“It’s lion head fountain,” she said. “Josh made it. Would you like to have it?”
“Sure,” I said, picking it up and looking it over. “I’ll put it in my backyard. Thanks.”
Two months later, Josh’s mom drove down my alley one day, finding me at work in my backyard. Katie told me Josh was now on meds and doing much better. When she finished, she spotted my lion head spewing water into my fountain and she jokingly said, “Hey, that is really cool. I want that back.”
“No way,” I said, smiling. “I love that thing.”
Katie drove away, promising to keep me posted on Josh’s progress. I went back to work in my yard, lulled by the flow of water from my lion’s head.
That lion head ended up in her backyard two months later on her Birthday.