Ashley Pitts is 65; Kyle Centowski is 56
Still shaken from the argument with James, Ashley was already on the highway back to Richmond when he realized what he had to do. He took the next turnoff, and headed back into the city - but not back to James' house. Instead, he went to the hospital.
As he walked through the doors, he felt a growing sense of apprehension. Ordinarily, he was completely at ease here. He'd worked in this hospital for almost forty years, and it was one of the most familiar places in the world to him.
He was far from comfortable this time, although he knew that this was the only logical thing he could do. He hadn't gone to James' house to argue, he'd gone to talk about Kyle. To get another opinion on the conclusions he'd come to after a week of trying to figure out what the hell had gone wrong.
So how does an otherwise normal, balanced man with no past history of emotional problems be driven to attempt suicide by what was basically a normal life event, the death of an elderly parent?
The more he thought about it, the more it had become clear. A huge measure of Kyle's self esteem - his identity, even - had been tied up in following in his father's footsteps. Like father, like son. He'd set his goals in life around Orlando's successes... but then failed to achieve them quite so well himself.
His writing career had floundered, the bookstore had never really been as successful as it had been with Orlando in charge... and it seemed that, with Orlando gone, Kyle had come to believe that not only had he failed in imitating his father, he'd also failed in creating any kind of meaningful life for himself independent of him. The only other thing that had mattered as much to him as his father, was his own family, but he'd slowly managed to alienate them without even realising it at the time.
Finally, it had all come to the point where Willow was driven to leave, and Kyle was driven to... what? To try to end his life? Ashley wasn't so sure, and that was a part of why he was here.
As for his other reasons… James could never understand why Ashley would defend the doctor who had given the pills to Kyle. It didn’t mean that it had been the right thing to do, but Ashley knew that punishing him wouldn’t achieve anything. He’d been shaken enough by what had happened that he would never forget, and that was punishment enough in itself. You don’t forget when you make a mistake like that. Ashley certainly hadn’t.
It had been years ago, and it was such an easy mistake to make... a friend going through a rough time... he wanted badly to help... so much so, that he didn’t think it through. Orlando hadn't held him responsible, he hadn't even told him until it slipped out by chance, years later.
Responsible or not, part of the reason Ashley was here now, was because he believed that maybe if he could help Kyle, he could make up for his own poor judgement, all those years ago... and maybe in some way he could thank Orlando for that one decisive moment, when the grieving man had washed the sleeping pills down the sink and decided that, even with his wife gone, life was still worth another chance.
Like father, like son...
Then a nurse gestured to him. He got up, took a deep breath, and walked though the door.
"How did you get in here?" Kyle asked. "I said I didn't want any visitors."
"I'm not here as a visitor," Ashley said. "I'm here as a doctor, following up on a patient."
"That's right, they said you saved my life."
"I hope you don't expect me to thank you for that."
Ashley just shrugged.
"Don't you get it? I wanted to die."
Ashley took a breath."I think you're lying," he said.
"You heard. I think you're lying. You never wanted to die. You're not stupid, if you really wanted to die, you would have gone somewhere where we'd never find you... or you would have done something more reliable... slashed your wrists or driven your car off a bridge, something like that. But you didn't."
Kyle just stared at him. Ashley swallowed against the dryness in his mouth and continued. "You picked the slowest method you could think of, and you went to the most obvious place.... You even left us a little message at the cemetery, in case we didn't think of the shop. Only we didn't get it quite fast enough, did we? That's why you had your phone in your hand. You realised that you were running out of time. You took a stupid, senseless risk, but you didn't want to die."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yeah, you do. It wasn't that hard to figure out. At first, I thought you were trying to punish Willow, but that's not like you. I think maybe after your father died, you just wanted everyone to leave you alone. You worked so hard to push everyone away... and it worked too well. When you finally realised you needed help, no one was there. No one was listening. So you decided to make us listen..."
"Are you finished yet?" Kyle asked.
"No, I'm not finished yet," Ashley couldn't keep his frustration under control any longer. "And nor are you, damn it... You can get through this... look, I'm not saying it'll be easy... there'll be good days and there'll be bad days, but you can make it better. You almost blew it, but you survived. You've got a another chance, Kyle, use it."
If Kyle showed any emotion at all, it was boredom. "Are you finished now?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm finished," Ashley said, shoulders sagging in defeat. "I'm just... I'm finished."
In the corridor outside, he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. His head hurt, his heart was racing and he couldn't shake the image of Kyle's blank, emotionless stare. He tried to remind himself that the very fact that Kyle had spoken to him at all, had to be a good thing.
What had he been expecting? What had he really been hoping for, anyway?
"Dr Pitts? Dr Pitts, are you ok?"
He opened his eyes to see the nurse staring at him curiously. "Fine... I'm fine," he said, trying to pull himself together. "Is there somewhere private where I can make a phone call?"
She pointed him into an empty office. His hands were still shaking as he found his eldest son's phone number.
Like father, like son...
"Hi, AJ, its me... I know you're probably busy but... this is kind of important. We need to talk."
Kyle’s storyline came about in-game as a result of the way I use a random number roll to decide the outcome of aspiration failure in my story – see here. In this case, however, I kind of random-rolled myself into a corner – that being Ashley’s question of how an otherwise normal, balanced man can be driven to attempt suicide by what was basically a normal life event. I wasn’t sure how to write that in a reasonably believable way that made some sense.
I even considered throwing the whole story away, but the more I thought about it, the more it did make sense, in terms of my writer-relationship with Kyle and the way I ‘groomed’ him to follow his father (see comments here). So that became the story.
In game, I played it out as closely as I could to what happened in the story, with Kyle drinking poison and actually dying and Ashley pleading with the grim reaper… given that he and Kyle have been best friends since childhood, Ashley had a very good chance of succeeding, but I was set to go with losing Kyle if he failed (whether or not I would have actually done it… I don’t know!).
The reason that I did it this way, and the reason behind Ashley’s in-story visit to Kyle in the hospital, was because of the outcome of the aspiration failure roll. It probably looks like he rolled a five – a suicide attempt – but he didn’t. He rolled a three – to fulfil his greatest want. Kyle’s greatest and most persistent want at the time, was to be saved from death.
I suppose I could have played it out in any number of ways, given him some random accident or illness, but I wanted to tie it to the reason he was fulfilling it – aspiration failure/depression following his father’s death. And more importantly, it was a want – he had to initiate the situation deliberately.
I’ve always enjoyed the game as a writing challenge – making these kind of in-game things make sense as a story. This was one of the hardest, with the extra pressure of the fact that its not just me reading the results now. I think – hope - I’ve managed to achieve it in a way that works.
Having said all that, though, maybe Kyle was a candidate for mental health problems all along, with a personality like this:
I don’t know, but that might almost qualify as a personality disorder in r/l … lol… it’s like he got all the extremes from both parents, and nothing in the middle!
Speaking of his parents… the incident with Orlando that Ashley refers to was one I imagined happening at the time, when his first wife died. I might not have mentioned it at all here, except that if I ever get to writing ‘prequel’ stories, that is one I’d like to do, and it wouldn’t make sense for Ashley to not think about it at this time.
As for what happens to Kyle next, that is also dependent on his wants… although I’ve played ahead a bit, and let him re-roll his ltw, and he’s giving me a good idea of the direction he’ll take in the future.