Ten years ago on his birthday, Leonard Little got drunk and decided to drive. He ran a red light, plowed his Navigator into a tiny little car, and he killed the mother inside.
He hasn't spoken about it much since then, but last week, he did tell a group of sixth- and seventh-graders his cautionary tale, which included a half-hearted suicide attempt.
"A few weeks later, I tried to kill myself," he said Tuesday afternoon as he sat inside the principal's office sipping bottled water. "I had gone back home to my mom's house outside Knoxville (Tenn.), and the first thing I did was just go down in her basement. It had no windows, just a bathroom, a sink and a television. I stayed in the dark for days. All I did was cry. I couldn't deal with what I'd done."
His mother could see the pain eating away at him. His mother made him go see a psychologist in Knoxville. He saw her four or five days a week. One day in broad daylight as he was driving a little rental Toyota on his way home from the psychologist's office, still unable to shed the guilt, Little stared at the tall trees that lined both sides of the highway.
"It was like I was in one of those movies where the good angel is on one shoulder and the bad one's on the other," he said. "Well the bad one kept telling me, 'Just go ahead Leonard, turn the wheel. It'll be easy. Crash into those trees and all this pain will be over.'"
As Little talked, he held his hands out in front of him like he was driving.
"I actually did turn the wheel," he said. "I did it. I tried to end my life. I swerved the steering wheel. But like I said, I guess there was a good angel on my other shoulder, because just as soon as I swerved, I turned the wheel right back."
I guess it's a good thing that Little is finally able to talk about what happened, and the exact depths of despair to which it sent him. I'm glad he's telling his story to kids who might learn something from it.
But I want to know where those angels were six years later, when Leonard was picked up for driving drunk again, though he was eventually acquitted despite failing three field sobriety tests and refusing a breathalyzer test. This, after killing someone. After being suicidal with grief. After 90 days in jail. And after getting a whole new shot at life.
You suck, Leonard Little's shoulder angels.
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