James thought of all the fun happy times he had shared with the boys and their mother in the park as he briskly walked through the vacant streets. The carefree park was now one of those young boys' dark, lonely escapes.
Once he reached the park, James walked across the large grassy field, looking all around for any sight of Peter. As he walked deeper into the park, he noticed something white next to one of the large tree trunks. The closer he got to the tree, the clearer it was becoming that it was Peter. He was leaning with his back against the trunk and did not notice that James was approaching.
Peter's breathing had slowed down a bit; he had begun to regain control of himself again. He wiped his eyes and cheeks with the back of his hand. Behind him came the sound of soft, slow footsteps. He immediately knew who it was as the sounds got closer, but he decided not to turn around to face James.
As James reached the tree, he remembered a time when he and the boys were so open with each other. If Peter had a problem, he did not hide it or try to run away from help. But lately, Peter had not discussed anything, good or bad, with anyone. James did not say anything to Peter; instead, he turned and also leaned with his back against the tree.
After a long pause, Peter quietly asked, "Why did you come here, Uncle Jim?"
"I want to try and help you with whatever is bothering you." James glanced at Peter, who still had his head hung low and turned away from him.
There was another long pause as Peter fought to hold control over his emotions. He started to sniffle and wiped his eyes. "What if you can't?" His voice was soft, shaky, and hopeless.
"But what if I can, Peter?" James slowly walked around him and leaned against the other side of the tree. He looked right at Peter. Peter stared at James' shoes. "What's made you so sad? What are you thinking about that is hurting you so deeply, boy?" James asked, hoping he would talk to him.
Peter shook his head. "I don't want to tell you."
"Why not?" James asked as he tried to find Peter's downward gaze.
"I don't want you to be upset with me. What I'm thinking is so terrible and wrong." Peter had begun crying again. "I can't tell anyone."
"That's not true. I won't be upset with you. I just want to try and help." James did not know what to do in order to make him more comfortable, to make him open up and reveal what it was that was bothering him so much. "Let's just go sit on a bench, okay?"
James tried to guide him over to the nearest bench, but Peter pulled away. "No," he protested, taking a few more steps away. "Don't do this to me."
"Do what? You're only hurting yourself more by not letting it out," James said with a firm, yet kind, tone.
"Fine! You want to know why I'm making such a fool of myself? Why I can't do anything right or make anyone else happy?" Peter finally burst, frustrated with James' pushing for answers and explanations. "I hate myself," he continued. "I hate everything that I've been feeling and thinking! No one should have to live like this…should they?" His eyes looked so lost and defeated.
"No," James quietly said. He was still not completely sure what Peter was so upset about, but he waited for him to continue when he was ready.
"No! It's just not fair! I just want it all to end." He looked down at his own feet, ashamed of his secret. "Everything…"
"What do you mean?" James asked as he took a couple steps closer to Peter.
"I want…" Peter tried to look for some kind of distraction, but the park was so dark and empty that he could not help but look back at James. "I want to kill myself…I just want to die."
"Peter," James softly said as he moved another step closer. "You have to believe that there is something better for you than all this pain and sorrow you're feeling right now. There's a reason; there's something more. Can't you believe that?"
Peter slowly shook his head and looked down at the ground again. "I tried. I've been trying for so long. I can't do it anymore." Peter slowly sat down on the grass. "I don't know what's happened to me."
James followed his lead and sat down next to him. The park was shadowy and silent as they both sat there for a few moments. "It's a chain reaction, you know?" James finally spoke up.
Peter was confused. "What is?"
"Your parents' death put you in this place. This dark, lonely, pained place. If you were to…end your life…someone else would be thrust into that very same place. And it may get so bad for that person that they decide to commit the same act that you're thinking about."
Neither said anything for a long time. Then Peter cleared his throat and glanced at James. "I don't want to be responsible for anyone else feeling like this, Uncle Jim." He shook his head and stared at the ground.
James put an arm around him. "It'll get better for you, I promise. You just have to keep looking ahead for that."
Peter sat under the tree, under James' arm, for a long time. He thought about life and death, love and hate, sorrow and joy, companionship and loneliness. To reach the realization that life was more than pain, it took the company of a friend to sit in silence in a vacant park at night.