Samuel J. Tanner 3 minute read

Book: Shot Across the River Styx

I met Nick when I was thirteen. We became fast friends.

Nick put a bullet in his brain when he was twenty-three. Ten years later I invited Nick’s parents to my wedding. They were in such pain.

My mom was at the wedding too. My stepfather Jim had put a bullet in his brain a year before I married Katie. Mom was in pain as well.

Suicide is complicated. Being an adult is hard.

This book started happening after Jim killed himself. Nick had been coming to me in my dreams for nearly ten years. I figured it was time for me to go to him. Writing was the only vehicle I had. So I wrote.

I was a high school English and Drama teacher and a doctoral student. I was busy. So I opened my laptop whenever I found a moment. My pain dictated my writing. That grief gave birth to three stories. The first was about Nick, the second about Mom, and the third was about my teaching. Though they are separate stories, they came from the same grief of trying to survive in an enormous, complicated universe. So I feel it is important introduce these stories as a trilogy.

The first in that trilogy is this book about Nick.

I wrote about a character named Magic “Fucking” Johnson. He was an author who had been struck by lightning twice. He returned from the dead. The beings he met in the afterlife had taught him to travel through this enormous, complicated universe. Later, after reading a draft of my book about Nick, my friend and colleague Angus Poulin told me that my story was shamanic and Magic was a psychopomp, a guide to carry me to my friend in the afterlife.

And carry me he did. I traveled with Magic through my memories, through my experience, and across the river Styx to release my friend Nick from his self-inflicted prison. I conducted a proper funeral ceremony for my friend.

When I was twenty-two, I stood in front of a group of people at Nick’s real funeral.

“There are so many stories I could tell you about Nick and I,” I said, “but none of them are appropriate for this occasion.”

The audience laughed at my joke. Nick would have hated the formality of his funeral.

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