What I am about to tell you is completely true. This happened to me when I was a sophomore in high school. The day had started off bad; I got into a fight with my mom over my grades and my girlfriend Sabrina. 
                  
                  “You have a C in class already! You need to get your shit together!” she screamed at me. 
                  
                  School wasn’t any better. Sabrina was in one of her moods and she decided that she was going to take it out of me. She was upset I wouldn’t buy her concert tickets with the money I had saved up for college. 
                  
                  “You know if I was with your cousin, he would have bought them for me! You are so fucking lazy and selfish. You are nothing more than a fucking dog. You should go kill yourself!” she shrieked.
                  
                  After that, she went to her friends and told them that I called her a slut and to kill herself. She went up to a group of guys and told them that I used to beat her. Within an hour, I was now known school-wide as a girlfriend beater. 
                  
                  That I was the breaking point for me. I started coming up with a plan to end it all. 
                  
                  When I got home that afternoon, I grabbed one of my grandpa’s guns and took it to my room. I had a plan. I had to go. 
                  
                  But a part of me didn’t want to die, and that voice in the back of my head told me to text a friend. Monica was the only one on the app at the time, so I struck up a conversion. 
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5:15PM 
-- Hey.    
monica 5:15pm
-- Hey Kyle what’s up! 
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I told her everything from the argument with my mom in the morning to the fight with Sabrina and the rumors that she was spreading. 
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monica 5:18pm
NO! Don’t do it Kyle! You are so much better than she could ever be! The entire tenth grade would miss you! You need to stop and think about what you are about to do! 
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                  I made a stupid mistake sending her a picture of the gun. Within fifteen minutes, my parents and grandparents came running in to make sure I was still alive. They ripped the gun away from me. Turns out Monica had called the school and told them what was going on. 
                  
                  After the long lecture from my grandparents and parents, I snapped at Monica, basically told her to go fuck herself. Monica didn’t reply, and I was happy she didn’t, because I was in no more mood to fight. 
                  
                  I was still determined to go through with my plan. It took me an hour to come up with a new plan. I’d get my dad’s gun from under the bed, write my note, and shoot myself in the woods. There would be no clean up, my parents probably wouldn’t find me, and I’d get to die in a peaceful environment. 
                  
                  I fell asleep for a while and woke around three in the morning. Devil’s Hour. I knew there was no going back to sleep at this point. This was fate.  
                  
                  As planned, I tip-toed into my parent’s bedroom and grabbed the gun. They had recently been hunting and didn’t lock up all the guns after the trip. 
                  
                  I turned off the alarm system and walked outside. I walked about a mile into the woods, and I could hear the crickets singing their nightly song. I could hear the owls wooing in the distance. There were no lights out there; the only light source was the stars and the moon guiding me to my final resting place. 
                  
                  I found a large rock and I took a seat. If I was going to die, I was happy it would be out here in the woods. It’s like I am in a different world, walking out alone at night, I thought. Least it’s a peaceful way to go. 
                  
                  At that moment, I knew it was time. Time for me to pass on and be at peace. 
                  
                  I put the gun in my mouth. I was just about to pull the trigger when another hand touched the barrel. 
                  
                  “I don’t think that’s a good idea, young man,” an angelic voice said. 
                  
                  You would think I’d nearly shit myself from something so unexpected, but I didn’t. I just… felt peaceful. 
                  
                  When I took the gun out of my mouth and looked over my shoulder, I saw something that wasn’t human. She was glowing slightly around her long black hair, white eyes, and big wings. 
                  
                  “Who are you?” I asked. 
                  
                  She giggled. “I go by many names, hon’, but you’ll get to call me Gaia tonight.” 
                  
                  Her voice didn’t sound human. It was soft and warm, like how a mother sounds when she sings a soft lullaby to her newborn baby. 
                  
                  She was smiling softly at me.  
                  
                  Her presence made me feel warm and fuzzy, like being wrapped in a blanket on a cold day. But I was convinced that I was already dead. There was an angel in front of me. A damn angel. I don’t believe in God, angels, or anything like that. I didn’t, anyway. What was I supposed to think now?
                  
                  “You’re not dead, but you were about to be. What in the world were you thinking?” Gaia asked.
                  
                  I explained the story to her, I told her what had happened to me and why I thought this was the only answer. 
                  
                  “I see. So, you thought if you died that everything would suddenly get better for everyone?” she asked.
                  
                  “Yes, I know would be better for everyone! I am not worth anything in this world. I am just a waste of stuff. My girlfriend and parents told me so! Wouldn’t they fucking know!” 
                  
                  “Did you parents actually say that?” she asked.
                  
                  “No,” I muttered while kicking some rocks, “But they act like it.” 
                  
                  Gaia gave me a look, one dark eyebrows raised, like she was waiting for me to realize something. 
                  
                  Oh. Oh yeah. What I was saying didn’t match up, huh?
                  
                  “But Sabrina did. She told me I was taking air from people who deserved it.”
                  
                  “So Sabrina is suddenly God and knows when your time is?” 
                  
                  “No.” 
                  
                  Gaia took my hand. “Come with me, young man. I have a group of people I want you to meet.” 
                  
                  When I closed my fingers around her hand, a staircase appeared right in front of us. The stairs were wooden, but old. They weren’t the white stairs they talk about when someone enters Heaven. 
                  
                  We walked up the stairs and she didn’t let go of my hand; in fact, she instructed me to hold her hand the entire time we were in this place. 
                  
                  We stopped, and I suddenly was hit with the feeling of regret and guilt, but I also felt peace and happiness—everything all at once. I felt chaos and shame, but I also felt calm. 
                  
                  “Welcome to In-Between. This isn’t exactly Heaven, but it’s not the Underworld either. This is the place where the lost souls go, the people who aren’t enough at peace to go to Heaven, but not awful enough for the Underworld. They get another chance here,” Gaia explained.
                  
                  The fields at the top of the staircase were blooming with all sorts of odd wildflowers; I felt like I was in the rural U.S. There was nothing but fields and woods in front of us. 
                  
                  But Gaia led me to a farm house, two story, painted white. Somehow, I could feel that an entire family lived there, but that they weren’t blood-related. 
                  
                  Another angel walked out. She greeted us: “Hey, come on in. There are some kids who want to meet you.” 
                  
                  Inside there were a group of people sitting in a circle, and they looked like they came from all over. Some were Asian, some were white, and others were black. I counted eight heads, although something about the place made it feel like there were a million other things I wasn’t seeing. 
                  
                  “Everyone, this is Kyle. Kyle, this is troop 333,” the angel announced. 
                  
                  “Hi Kyle,” they chorused.
                  
                  “Kyle was going to take his life tonight, but thankfully he was stopped by none other than Gaia. We need to explain to him the cruel reality of life ending in this way.” 
                  
                  One by one, they told me their stories. They’d all died. They’d all succeeded, I guess I should say. The stories were familiar: they hurt, they had nothing, this was the only way out… But they had the benefit of hindsight. They explained how it was the worst thing they could have done, how it would have gotten better if they waited just a day, just a couple of weeks. 
                  
                  One story stood out to me. One of the boys told me his parents pushed him and pushed him to do better, and he fell into depression. Not only was he getting that at home, but he was also horribly bullied at school. No one took him seriously. That was the breaking point. 
                  
                  “Kyle you need to get your shit together! Get your head out of your ass and do better!”
                   
                  The stories were so familiar. The only difference was the face, time, and that I was alive. 
                  
                  “So what advice would you give to Kyle?” Gaia asked.
                  
                  “Why did you want to do it in the first place?” one of the girls asked.
                  
                  I explained the entire ordeal to them, Sabrina’s words, the way that she screamed that me. The lost girl shook her head. “Get away from her as fast as you can. She wants you to do it. Then she’ll play the victim girlfriend who lost her boyfriend to suicide.” This was the girl who’d told me she was sexually assaulted at a party. Killed herself right after it happened. 
                  
                  But what was I supposed to say? Not everything’s a horror story. Sabrina was an ass sometimes, but she wasn’t trying to kill me!  
                  
                  The dead girl stared directly at me. “Are you sure? Not like it hasn’t happened before. Remember Brook?” I didn’t know any “Brook,” but when she whispered the name, an image came into my head: a blond-haired guy, average, frowning. Blood dropping from a cut across his wrist. 
                  
                  The children murmured to each other, then they all nodded in agreement. 
                  
                  “Whatever else she is,” one of them told me, “she’s a psycho. Stay far away from her—if you care about staying alive.”  
                  
                  I still didn’t believe them, but I wanted to be nice. I mean, it’s pretty low to disrespect the dead. I thanked them for telling me their stories. 
                  
                  The other angel put her hand on my shoulder. She whispered in my ear to follow her upstairs. Something else important to show me, I guess. Gaia let go of my hand. 
                  
                  We went upstairs to the small bedroom, and we sat down on the bed. 
                  
                  “Death is permanent, Kyle. You cannot come back from it. It’s not a free trial you get to cancel anytime you want. What I am about to show you is what would have happened if Guardian Gaia didn’t stop you.” 
                  
                  She got on her knees and met my eyes. I felt like I was looking into a pure white glaze. Suddenly we were in a small room with a projection on a screen. 
                  
                  Kyle Gonzalez
                  May 4, 1999- August 17, 2015
                  Post Suicide
                   
                  A hunter found my body three days after I had taken my own life. My parents had been searching for me the entire time, but they discovered I’d taken the gun with me, so even then, they must have known. 
                  
                  I could hear my mother’s cries, like an animal in pain. My father was barely keeping it together while he held her. My grandpa felt guilty that he had not locked up the guns. 
                  
                  I watched Monica call her mom to come get her from school. Her face looked completely numb; I couldn’t read her expression. But when she got into her mother’s car, she wailed, “I did so much to keep him alive! I wanted him to be alive! Why did he do it!” I could tell her mom had no idea what to tell her. All she could do was keep looking forward.  
                  
                  Monica never returned to that school; she went to an alternative school and graduated early. A permanent frown seemed to settle over her face. 
                  
                  My girlfriend was the worst. Another familiar story. She loved all the attention she got from everyone. I watched her constantly cry crocodile tears to get out of class and to get pity from people she wronged. I thought of Brook. Of the lost girl in the In-Between, shaking her head. 
                  
                  Suddenly I was in the room of a stranger. She’d read my story online and was crying. She felt like she could have been my friend, she could have saved me, and even though we never knew each other, she felt like she would have known me in the future. 
                  
                  My mother died at the age of 57, but her body had already changed. Changed the day I died. She no longer wanted to eat, no longer wanted to be around anyone, and she spent the rest of her days in bed. 
                  
                  My father died at the age of 88. He became an advocate for suicide awareness after he retired. He spent the rest of his days at a teen crisis center, helping other teens avoid the same mistake I made. 
                  
                  My grandpa ended his own life. He could not stand the guilt of losing me, so on the fifth anniversary of my death, he put a bullet in his head. 
                  
                  The projector went black and I was back upstairs, with the angel. Tears rolled down my face.  “Would all of that really happen if I was successful?” 
                  
                  “Yes, all of that would have happened. Suicide does not end pain. It just passes it to multiple people. Friends. Family. Even strangers. Death is a ripple that grows.” She touched my face and wiped the tears away. “So, what is your plan now?” she asked.
                  
                   I told her that was going to live. I wanted to be alive. I wanted to finish my timeline. 
                  
                  “I knew you would make the right decision. It’s about time for you to head back down. Do me a favor and never return.” 
                  
                  I was more than happy to accept that favor. I walked down the stairs and told Gaia I needed to go back to Earth. 
                  
                  She took my hand and we started to leave when one of the kids grabbed me by the shoulder. 
                  
                  “Kyle. Don’t ever make the same mistake we did. You may not realize it, but more people love you than you realize,” she told me and kissed my cheek. 
                  
                  Gaia and I left the house and the stairs back to Earth stretched out in front of us. 
                  
                  “I noticed that you were called Guardian instead of Angel. What’s the difference?” 
                  
                  “I’m an Angel in training. When I passed on, I knew I wanted to help people still on Earth, so I was put into a program that would allow me to do so.” 
                  
                  “When will you become an angel?” 
                  
                  “In about ten years. Takes a while, huh?  But hey, I’m enjoying my training.” 
                  
                  “What made you want to do this?”
                  
                  Gaia didn’t want to answer that question, I could tell. But finally, she said, “I lost a friend to suicide when I was in my thirties. I wanted to go back and save him, but I couldn’t.  It was complete chaos right after it happened, and I didn’t want to see that happen every again. I’m dedicating my afterlife to saving young people from doing it themselves.” 
                  
                  Makes sense. As much sense as talking to an almost-angel could.
                  
                  When we returned to Earth, she put her hands on my shoulders and told me, “You are such a unique boy. You will do so many great things in your life, and I want you to live life to the fullest. Remember what you have learned tonight.”  
                  
                  Gaia gave me the biggest hug I’d ever received in my life, then she faded away. I woke up on a rock right after she disappeared. I looked at my watch, and only a minute had gone by. It was still three in the morning, but I guess I couldn’t call this Devil’s Hour anymore. 
                  
                  This happened sixty years ago. I went home. I put the gun back. I apologized to Monica, gave her a hug. I broke up with my girlfriend and told her to fuck off. I did those amazing things I was promised I’d see in life: I studied abroad, became a researcher, reversed some damage done by climate change. 
                  
                  That crying stranger in the vision? Turns out she was meant to be my wife. She was grieving before she even knew me. Her heart told her I was supposed to be something special in her life.
                  
                  I have never told anyone this story, at least not until today. How could I explain it without sounding crazy?  Guess that’s the benefit of a life well-lived: now I can talk about it without fear of judgement. 
                  
                  I wished I got the chance to thank Gaia. So, wherever you are, Gaia, thank you for saving my life. 
Elisa Huerta is a student at Texas Southmost College. She is a women’s rights and mental health advocate. Elisa was born in San Antonio, Texas and moved to Los Fresnos, Texas when she was a year old. She spent her high school years at IDEA San Benito, and that’s where she found her passion for civil rights. She is studying to become a writer and hopes to write books for young adults struggling with mental illness.
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