SELF-INFLICTED

Peter Redmond was in a good mood. He was always happy when it was his weekend to have his son stay with him. The divorce had become final eight months before, but he and Dana remained on friendly terms because they both wanted what was best for Logan. Although incompatible as a couple, their complete devotion to their child was a bond that could not be broken.

Dana knew that Peter was a perfect father to their son. He loved their child unconditionally and although the divorce had been difficult for Logan, he responded to his father in a warm and touching way. Dana took great comfort from the fact that Peter did not let their personal conflicts have any effect on his relationship with their child. She knew that being a father was the most important thing in the world to him.

Because his seven-year-old son was a bundle of energy, Peter always tried to fill their weekends together with as many fun activities as possible. Today was no exception. Blessed with unusually beautiful weather, they were going to one of Logan’s favorite places in the world; the zoo.

Logan bounced in his chair and looked across the kitchen table. “Daddy, are we ready?”

Peter smiled. They were having a late breakfast before their day of fun. “You haven’t finished your French toast.”

“Oh, I feel like I’m full.”

“You’ve only eaten half of it.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m done.”

“Having French toast was your idea.”

It was time for the usual negotiation to begin. Logan thought for a moment and then said, “How about two more bites?”

“Five more bites.”

“Three?”

“Five.”

“I can’t eat Five.”

“The longer you wait to eat your breakfast the longer it will be before we can leave.”

The young boy gave in. “Okay. Four bites.”

“Five.”

“Oh, yeah.” Logan used his fork to carefully cut off five of the tiniest pieces humanly possible.

Peter covered his mouth so his son would not see him smiling.

Barely able to contain his excitement, Logan asked, “Do you think we’ll get to see the elephants?”

“I’m pretty sure. Take a bite. It’s such a nice day that I bet they’ll be out where we can see them.”

Logan set his fork down so he could clap his hands in joy. Peter laughed. His son loved elephants more than anything else in the world. He had books on them. He watched videos of them and his collection of stuffed elephants was impressive. He was fascinated by their size and their gentle behavior.

Logan said, “Daddy, did you know there is a baby elephant there too? It’s named Mikko.”

“Yes. I remember when it was born. I saw it on the local news. Let’s take another bite.”

The pieces were so small that Logan had trouble stabbing one with his fork. Finally, he got one and unenthusiastically shoved it in.

“Daddy, did you know that elephants only eat grass, fruit, and plants? No meat.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Do you think Mikko would eat French toast?”

“I don’t think so. One more bite.”

Wanting to get the torture over with, Logan stabbed the last two bites together and ate them at the same time. “Done!”

Peter nodded. “Good job. Please go put your shoes on – and don’t forget socks. We’re going to do a lot of walking today.”

“Okay.” Logan hopped out of his chair and headed down the hallway.

Peter watched his son and thought about how blessed he was to have a healthy child so full of life. Then he remembered something he needed him to do. Peter called out to him. “Logan, please bring back my phone from the nightstand by my bed.”

“Okay. I will.”

Peter stood up and started clearing the dishes from the table. He was not a good cook, consequently, the mess was usually substantial. He spent a minute or two putting the dishes in the sink and ran some water on them. They could wait to be washed. This morning, spending time with his son was far more important. The zoo awaited!

He dried his hands on a dishtowel and wondered what was taking Logan so long. He was sure his phone was on the nightstand in plain view. Peter was still standing at the sink when he heard the sickening sound.

It was a loud sharp crack that rattled the kitchen window.

Peter’s initial reaction was to stop breathing. His entire body seemed to spasm in horror because the sound was instantly recognizable as a gunshot.

Peter’s mind reeled. My God, the nightstand. Logan had opened the drawer of the nightstand. The automatic was in that drawer. He had sent his son to the very spot where he kept his gun. A gun that was never loaded – until now. Peter had gone to the gun range a few days ago and had forgotten to remove the clip.

As adrenalin flooded his system, Peter sprinted to the bedroom door. Although terrified to look, he didn’t dare hesitate. He pushed the door open and, in an instant, life changed forever.

The first thing he saw was the blood splatter on the wall. His eyes followed it down to the floor where his beautiful son laid in a crumpled heap. A bright red stream flowed from the back of his head where the bullet exited.

For a split second, Peter’s muscles froze in shock. He stared at the small body of the person who was the center of his world, but there was little sign of life. Logan’s eyes were wide open, but they gazed out at nothing.

Peter was brought back to awareness as he fought off an overpowering urge to be sick at his stomach. As he struggled against a wave of nausea, he knelt down next to his son. He could feel the blood soaking through the knees of his pants. He looked for any sign of breathing – but it was so shallow it was almost impossible to detect.

With his hands shaking violently, he grabbed his phone and hit 911.

Later, he would not be able to recall the conversation – but despite her caller’s intense emotion, the operator’s years of experience allowed her to calmly follow protocol in the effort to save a small child from the consequences of an adult’s mistake.

But the only memory Peter retained of that time was laying down next to his son and sobbing as he held him.  

Within minutes, the EMTs and police arrived. One veteran officer would later note that it was the single worst call he had ever been on. The brutal fact that it should have never happened overwhelmed even hardened professionals.

Having seen far too many gunshot victims through the years, the first responders knew that Logan’s chances of survival were grim. And if he did live, the brain damage would be extensive. But their training compelled them to do everything possible to preserve life.

The police needed to question Peter to get a better idea of exactly what had happened, but he was completely unresponsive. The grief, remorse, but mostly the guilt had rendered him incapable of thinking coherently.

Eventually, Peter would vaguely be able to remember hearing someone call ahead to the trauma center to tell them they had a young male in extremely critical condition with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. 

Self-inflicted. Those words would never stop haunting Peter Redding’s consciousness because he knew they were not true. He was the father. He was the adult. He made the mistake. He had, in effect, pulled the trigger. It was not his son’s fault.

Although it was only several minutes before Logan was placed on a stretcher and rolled out to the ambulance, it seemed like hours. Peter rode with his son as the EMTs desperately continued to try to save the seven-year-old’s life. 

Logan was still breathing when they arrived at the trauma center – but his body was shutting down. His heart struggled to do the impossible even though his brain had ceased to function. He was quickly prepped and a large surgical team went to work.  

Down a narrow hallway, Peter sat in a small waiting room, rocking back and forth as his chest heaved with uncontrollable sobs. Soon family members and friends began to arrive, but all of their efforts to ease his suffering were useless. He was inconsolable.

When Peter’s brother, Steven, got there he did his best to comfort his older brother, but Peter’s despair was so intense he was beyond reach. Steven quickly discovered that in all of the confusion no one had told Dana, so he stepped out of the room and discreetly made the call.

It turned out she was traveling and was several states away. Even if she flew back, it would be hours before she arrived. He promised to keep her constantly updated. However, she was so distraught that he couldn’t be sure how much of their conversation actually registered with her.

A short time later, a chaplain came in and sat down with Peter. Over and over the grief-stricken father asked the minister if God would ever forgive him. Although the Chaplain struggled to control his own emotions, he attempted to convince Peter that he would not be judged by a deity that could understand the level of pain he was experiencing.

After offering all the words of comfort he could, the chaplain prayed for Logan. His words of supplication to the Heavenly Father were intense – but, ultimately, ineffective. Tragically, it turned out that, on this particular day, God chose not to save the life of an innocent little boy.

Peter was sitting motionless with his eyes shut when the waiting room door opened and the surgeon walked in. As the doctor softly said the words that could not possibly be true, nurses several doors down clearly heard Peter’s chilling screams of anguish. Soon the small room filled with the excruciating sound of human pain that transcended comprehension. 

After spending several minutes hugging his brother as tightly as he could, Steven stepped into the hallway to make the most difficult phone call of his life – but he had no idea how to tell an already devastated mother that she now had to bury her only child.

 

***

 

The following day, the news was filled with reports of another “senseless death” involving a small child and an unsecured gun. Peter’s family tried to shield him from as much of the coverage as possible, but it seemed to be everywhere.

The public had varying reactions to the tragedy. Some felt great compassion and empathy for what Peter was enduring, while others thought he deserved to suffer after being so irresponsible. There was also a segment of people who thought he should face criminal charges for his negligence. But no matter what their opinion of him, everyone was deeply saddened by the death of a little boy.

The funeral was overwhelming for all involved. The outpouring of emotion was a visceral response to a reality that could not be accepted until a sufficient amount of time had passed to blur the memory of the accident. How long that would be was, of course, different for each person.

Eulogies were delivered, prayers were said, and hymns were sung, but there was nothing that could be done to change the fate of a family that had suffered the greatest loss there is. No amount of faith, however devout, could alter the most tragic mistake a parent could make.

Seventy-two hours after asking his son to retrieve his phone – Peter, convulsed in agony, covered his face as his child was lowered into the ground.

 

***

 

The next twelve months unfolded with Peter seemingly trapped in an inescapable nightmare. Each morning he’d wake up after a few hours of fitful sleep only to realize that he had to live through another day.

Everything about his existence was controlled by the all-consuming guilt and grief he felt over the loss of his son. His life steadily spiraled downward despite the best efforts of family and friends to assist him.

His employer was as patient as possible, but after six months it was obvious that Peter was no longer the person they had hired, and they couldn’t help but believe that the man who had been so important to the company was gone forever. They quietly terminated his employment, and he was set adrift without any stability to cling to.

Peter knew that he was powerless against the crushing depression that raged through him so he followed the advice of Steven and other loved ones and entered psychological therapy. But the unrelenting pain was simply too great. 

Day and night the image of the blood-splattered wall would flash into his mind, and it was always followed by the gruesome sight of Logan’s body crumpled up on the floor. Even if Peter was in a crowded public place when it happened, he was not able to control his reaction.

But what hurt him the most was what he had done to Dana. She steadfastly refused to have any contact with him. No phone calls, no texts, nothing. He desperately wanted to plead for her forgiveness, to beg her to somehow find it in her heart not to hate him – but she refused to give him that opportunity.

Just like her ex-husband, Dana’s life deteriorated until she became a shadow of her former self. Her sense of loss was crippling and eventually, her grasp of reality became tenuous. She too required comprehensive treatment in order to function at a marginal level.

As the months crept by, Peter continued to slip farther away. Steven was worried sick about his brother because now even the health care professionals seemed unable to reach him.

But then suddenly, with the approach of the one-year anniversary of Logan’s death, Peter’s behavior started to change in an unusual way. He stopped talking about his child and the tragedy altogether. He actually seemed to have resolved within himself his responsibility regarding his son’s death. Steven didn’t understand what was happening but seeing his brother in less torment made him feel like there was finally some progress being made in his recovery. 

The night before the anniversary, the brothers talked on the phone. They spoke for quite a while but, curiously, Peter never mentioned the next day. Steven thought it was strange, but at the end of the call Peter assured him that he was okay, and he thanked his brother for standing by his side over the past year.

The next morning Peter’s alarm went off at five a.m. and upon waking, he felt an immediate sense of relief that the day had finally arrived. He got dressed, grabbed a light jacket and was out the door by five-thirty. His drive took twenty minutes, and by the time he arrived at his destination, the first rays of sunlight were streaming over the horizon.

He parked the car and sat for several minutes. Because of the early hour, there was no one else in sight – and that was exactly what he wanted. It had taken the entire year to get to this moment in his thinking. It had not been easy to discover a way out of his personal hell, but at last, he had figured it out. Peter had found a way to come to terms with being responsible for his son’s death. 

He took a deep breath and felt calmer than he had at any time since the accident. He was finally at peace.

Slowly he opened the car door and stepped out. The cemetery was startlingly quiet. The only sound was a soft breeze rustling the leaves of the pin oaks. Taking his time, he walked the fifty feet to Logan’s grave.

He stared for a long time at his son’s headstone. His mind began to fill with images of all the happy times they shared together, and for once the sight of the blood-splattered wall did not appear. 

Peter had fought as hard as he could to reclaim at least some semblance of his life, but he now understood that he could no longer live without Logan. It was that realization that had pushed him to this moment. 

Because he could not change the past, he had decided not to face the future. It was time for the pain to stop.

He reached into the pocket of his jacket and felt the cold steel that would provide the solution. Without hesitating, he pulled the handgun out and placed the end of the barrel against his right temple. He closed his eyes tightly and squeezed the trigger. 

A good man who made one unforgiveable mistake fell lifeless on his cherished son’s grave.

 

Two gunshots. Two lives.

How many more will be claimed by unsecured firearms?

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