55 miles. 1.5 hours. 2 more days. Speedometer climbing from 45 to 55. 3 traffic lights. 4 songs left on the CD. The slowest, saddest song was next. 5 minutes and 33 seconds. My favorite.
Light poles illuminated the sky like shiny pearls forming a winding path. Leading me back to the smoke that filled my lungs and dried my lips, the noise that cluttered my brain and strained my neck. A warehouse of carpeted excess. Flashing lights and MIDI sound effects. Chirping machines and amber drinks. Scraping ash in a silver vest night after night. 2 cars whiz past me. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I graduated college and received a degree and depression. The security of school was gone and I had no choice but to become an adult. And a janitor in a casino. But how could I be an adult when I was never a kid? Just a trash bag enveloping a skeleton. 100 lights down that hill, steering me toward that ash. That smoke. That drink. Those epileptic lights mocking me. I so badly wanted to be scraped away as well.
55 to 65. 3 years wasted. 90,000 dollars down the drain. Humiliation. Rejection. Gnashed between God’s teeth. 1 life wasted. No friends or family to see the pain. No instructors to see the potential. 2 tears rolling down my cheeks. Such a waste. I could have been better. I was too weak, too insignificant, much too afraid to touch the face of a lover, to grip tight to a goal, to push past the persistent patterns that planted me to that place. Too poor to leave. Every decision was dumb. Every friend was fake. But I was the fakest of them all. A total fraud. I couldn’t do it anymore.
The bug-blurred windshield splintered the light in all directions, turning the pearls into shards, stabbing me on my way down. I wouldn’t do it anymore. I could stop.
So I accelerated.
65 to 75. 2 hands on the wheel. 5 cars trailing behind me. 1,000,000 thoughts, fears, hesitations, and determinations flooding my brain. My heart pounded at the thought. Would I really do it this time? Adrenaline sang in my ears. Then a calm crept up and confirmed my course. I squeezed the steering wheel until I saw 10 white knuckles. And then I closed my eyes.
75 to 80. 80 to 85. Darkness for 1, 2, 3 seconds. Eyes squeezed shut. Lights bursting behind my lids like silent gunfire, a celebration of an end. Just let go. It doesn’t matter anymore. Because you never did. 85 to 90. My grip softened. I peeled my fingers away and for the longest time, I felt like I was floating. Flying. Skyrocketing toward rest.
And then the fear pounded into me, funneled into my fingertips and pried my eyes open. I steadied the wheel, let off the gas pedal. A Rolodex of responsibilities spun around my brain. It was only a few seconds. But I wanted to. I needed to. I just didn’t have the guts to have mine splayed across the dashboard.
I turned into the parking lot and turned my life over to another night of labor, of boredom and ashtrays, fingerprints and sticky beer bottles. Clinking glasses and walking holes in floors. I tugged at the last bit of moisture that clung to my lashes. I watched as the knuckles turned as pink as my eyes.
I learned the real labor was existing with this sickness, to breathe with no pulse, to live with no purpose, to have to fight with lungs and heart just to get out of bed, to know you are a fuckup, to count each day as both a miracle that you made it through and a tragedy that you didn’t die.
8 more hours to go. I couldn’t do it anymore.
But I did it anyway.
For the past several months, I’ve been listening to a podcast called Suicide Buddies. It’s about two comedians who research and discuss famous suicides. And they tell a lot of suicide jokes.
It’s crude. It’s not PC. But that’s my kind of humor. And I listen mostly for the great rapport between the two hosts of the podcast. Those guys just crack me up and that in itself can lighten my mood when it goes dark. The podcast is definitely not for everyone and I can see how it can be triggering for some. But they don’t make fun of suicidal people or suicide itself and certainly don’t try to trivialize it. One of their aims is to destigmatize suicide and talk about it in an open, honest, and funny way.
I think it’s safe to say most people have had suicidal thoughts in the past. But no one wants to talk about it. It’s the same reason why people don’t want to go to therapy or even discuss their problems with friends or family. They don’t want to seem crazy. No one wants to feel weird or be shunned for their innermost maladies. That’s understandable. But I’ve just never been that way.
I’ve been pretty open about my suicidal thoughts. Well, maybe suicidal is too severe of a word. I think about dying a lot. I think about being dead. A lot. There’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t think about having my head bashed in by a heavy object or being riddled with bullets until I’m just a smear on the floor. When I stand back and look at the mess I’ve made of my life, and the mess I’ve made of relationships, I think it would just be easier to be obliterated. But as far as actively taking my life, I haven’t thought much about it. My parents co-signed on my student loans so I’d hate to leave them 50 grand in debt. So for all those who are concerned, don’t be. Not yet anyway. I’ve still got a few years of payment left.
I’ve talked with a few friends and acquaintances about their brushes with suicide. I get it. I empathize. And we talk about it. And I hope they feel better afterward, for being heard and for not being judged. Because I’ve been there too. And I’ve wished someone would have been there to listen to me. So I try to be the listener. I always try to be the listener.
And I make my own jokes about it. I don’t try to hide it or deny it. I think in some ways, it’s just a part of me. There’s a darkness there that has been with me for so long it’s like it’s own limb now. I almost feel like I can’t go about my life without at least addressing it to others. ‘Cause I know they can see it, like a giant lump in my throat.
And I hope my own talk of suicide and wanting to be dead doesn’t get others down but helps them to face their own thoughts of death and dying. That having these thoughts may not be normal or all that healthy but it does happen and it’s doesn’t mean you’re crazy and it’s probably more common than any of us think. But we’ll never know the full scope because no one wants to talk about it. But talking about it could be just what some people need to lessen the severity of their struggle. At least momentarily.
Back to the podcast, the hosts have talked about their fight with mental illness, the years of therapy, medication, and other methods to quell their suicidal tendencies. And through all of that, they still struggle to this day. For the most part, they are better. They still slip up. They relapse. And they are far from cured. But they feel they have a better grasp on it than they used to have and that in itself can feel like a monumental victory. And they aren’t the only ones who continue to struggle. I’ve read about celebrities with access to anything they’d ever need to achieve mental improvement. And some of them have had tremendous success. Some have had moderate. And some haven’t seen much success at all.
And it makes me wonder if these people have access to the best resources and still can’t shake their depression, how am I supposed to get better with nothing more than my diary and a bag of Doritos?
It all feels pretty hopeless a lot of the time. There are degrees of depression. Certain kinds can be treated in certain ways. And maybe some can’t be treated at all. And it’s not always this Lifetime movie madness of staying in bed for weeks at a time or constant crying. Sometimes it’s more subtle. It’s the kind of depression that digs deep and lives inside your bones. It doesn’t disturb your daily functions. It just settles in and lets you know it’s there to stay. It’s like a continuous buzzing in your ear, a lash in your eye, a punch in the face at every step. It’s not an outward curse. It suffocates invisibly.
And until you’ve been there, you’ll never understand. It’s easy to scoff at suicide, to say it’s selfish or a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I hate that phrase. It comes from an assumption that depression doesn’t lodge into your lungs and doesn’t stay with you for months, years, decades. But it does. It’s often unyielding. But until you’ve reached that point of complete hopelessness, looking at your life and seeing a landscape of agony as far as your pained mind can imagine, to feel as though death is the only relief to all the pain that courses through you each day, you’ll never understand.
But it would be helpful to try, to not be so quick to condemn but to make an effort to empathize and offer help in the form of listening or just being there as an anchor when everything feels like it’s spiraling out of control.
Again, it differs. It’s a bad day. A horrible week. A tumultuous year. It’s a cranky minute, a desolate week, a half hour of agony. It’s self-harm, crying fits, bad moods, desires to die, cravings for food or sex, binge-watching television and screaming at a loved one. It’s about releasing, pushing the pain out however necessary to feel better. Sometimes it’s about actively killing yourself. And sometimes it’s not about wanting to die but just not wanting to be alive anymore. It could be so easy, like a light switch. How can that not be tempting to some?
I’ve just never seen the harm in talking about self-harm. Sure, it’s not the best topic to bring up at a baby shower or wedding reception but between close friends and family, I think it’s beneficial, might even bring each other closer. It helps for the one listening to get a grasp of what you’re going through and provide a new perspective on your journey. Who knows, they might have been there once too. Might even be there now. It might help for them to know they don’t have to go through it alone. That they don’t have to leave. That they can stick around for a bit longer and talk it out.
I could feel myself rotting. My skin was sandpaper. My heart a hunk of meat.
I was dead for a few years. Crushed beneath student loans, liars, and the realization that I’d lost all I’d built my life to achieve. I was no artist. I was a con. I was no friend. I was a fraud. Friends, Family, and The Father fled and I was left alone to bear the weight of failure. But I was not strong enough and succumbed to the stress, the shame, the disappointment of departed dreams.
It was an avalanche, crashing on top of me, propelling me to the floor, grinding me into the dirt.
And then I thought I was alive again.
Someone came along and gave me several months of mouth-to-mouth. They gifted me a breath that burrowed its way back to my desiccated body. But when they broke the kiss, that connection to life did not linger and I was left in limbo, teetering on a thin string between life and death, losing all identity of being alive and all the peace of being buried.
It hurts to be in the middle, to be torn between two realms of being, to not belong to the day or the dirt. A lot of times, I don’t care which way I fall as long as it’s a clear conclusion. I would feel just as comfortable in a coffin as I would under a comforter.
My heart beats every few weeks. It reminds me I’m alive again. And so does the pain. It’s not the kind that sinks into me like a hot knife but the kind that gently evaporates all my joy. It arrives through the doorstep, dancing silently, getting to work with nimble fingers, picking up pieces of me and peeling it from my being: art, writing, pets, music, and food. It’s a more subtle searing sensation that’s not visible to others. It lurks in a lonely mind when I’m not occupied with work or worry. It’s the pain of being scraped hollow. It’s the pain on looking back on a life that had no real value.
It is not the pain of what has happened but the pain of what has not.
My heart halted. My spirit stopped. But my body continued to age and so much time was stolen from me. It was a 7-year gap of gaping wounds and unheard screams. It was a failed book, a failed relationship, a withering of animals and blossoming animosity.
And when I think about the mess I’m still in, the darkness deepens, blinds me to any future at all. That crushing weight descends on me one more time. It pulls at my eyelids, lulling me to a glorious rest, a sweet promise of permanent peace. But bills and responsibilities to jobs and family keep my eyes open. I reluctantly fight the urge to lie down. I want to give into it. I want to welcome it. But I can’t. Not just yet.
I can laugh and cry and carry on with my day. I can scream and howl and binge eat and nap away my week. I can work hard and impress my bosses. I can listen to the worries and daydreams of others. I can construct a daydream of my own, a vision of a better time, a better life, a better opportunity. I can act like a living person. Because, in many ways, I am one again. But it’s only a temporary recovery. I was carried out of a pine box prematurely and I’m left to deal with the consequences.
My path has been lined with sour honey and I’m forced to trudge through the muck to face more agony. And on this day each year, the clock resets and I regress a little more. More dreams die. More people disappear. My outlets are drying up, including the divine. God does not listen to my cries. He’s only interested in dictating my direction, the ebb and flow of fire in my head, and the distractions and derailments that set me back even further. He’s a voyeur of the coldest kind.
It’s impossible to go back. It’s daunting to look forward. All I want to do is just lie down and sink into the sticky substance. To be enveloped in the bittersweet bath. To rest. Because I know, I’ve always known, that I just don’t want to be here.
After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.
-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I keep trying to remember that when I die, none of this is going to matter.
I watch a lot of television and listen to a lot of music. But it’s all mostly fluff, nothing of real substance or educational value. It’s comprised of gossip and gore. It’s white noise. It’s filler to filter out the the continuing thoughts of sadness. Because when I’m alone with nothing to distract me, like right before I go to sleep, in that stillness, the depression comes marching, filling up my mind with footsteps of failure, reminders of bad decisions and lack of relationships. And it makes it hard to rest easy when my head is on the pillow.
My mind is hardly awake except for when I try to go to sleep. That’s when it lights up and pops with memories of decade’s past mix-ups and melancholy. It piles on top of me like a blanket of bricks. I sweat. I suffocate.
It’s only when I lie down for the last nap will my mind finally ease. I take some comfort in that, knowing that this will all end one day, the thoughts that clog my head, the ever-reaching terror, the clinging need to tear myself down. It will all cease to be. I just have to cease to be. Sometimes the trade off seems more than acceptable.
But even the release of death is diminished in its comfort when I think about my new destination. What if I go to hell? I might be a lapsed Christian but that Christian guilt is still as prevalent as ever, even stronger than my faith in God ever was. Isn’t it funny how we can retain only the worst aspects of a religion, relationship, or experience? We forget the jokes and only remember the jeers. We look past the accolades and focus on the fumbles. I’ve shed God’s good graces long ago but I still bear the weight of his condemnation.
One of the things that terrifies me the most is that I might not ever see peace, not in this life or the other. I might be tortured forever and it’s a fate I can’t even comprehend. I can die to get out of this. But I can’t die to get out of that. I can’t squeeze my way through, can’t bargain or bleed out to escape.
I can only comfort myself by thinking that hell is only a possibility while this current damnation is a definite reality. What if I could slip out of this? What if something better is waiting? I am now in my own hell. And then there is either another hell or a possible heaven. I’ll never win in this life but at least I have a 50/50 in the other. Is that a chance I’m willing to take? Sometimes, I think yes.
When I turned 27, I made a few plans. I told myself when I turned 28, I would start drinking in hopes of finding happiness. What if booze loosened me up a bit, made me less nervous and more fun to be around? I thought about trying it, thought that maybe a nice glass of wine or a few beers after a stressful day would help me cope. And if that didn’t work, when I turned 29, I would start having sex. The physical release in addition to the intimate meshing would help graft me to the ground, would help me feel less alone. I thought that a connection, no matter how casual or carnal, would be better than the severed state I was in. There’s nothing like a deep orgasm to open your eyes to how nice things can be. If that didn’t work, when I turned 30, I was just going to kill myself. Well, I never started drinking and I never started having sex. My 30th birthday was in December. I’m still here.
I’m not sure how serious I was about the suicide. I think when I made those plans for blood, sweat, and beers, I was far enough removed from them to actually follow through. There was the smallest part of me that hoped it wouldn’t come to that, that in the intervening years, something would change. Something would get better and I wouldn’t feel the need to die. But nothing has changed. Those years were wasted away with more dieting and more craving, lost acquaintances and more shirt folding.
It’s just fucked up to even think something like that, no matter how serious or frivolous those thoughts may have been. But I keep hearing the call of death. Every few months, the call gets louder and my thoughts go grim. And it doesn’t feel right to keep having these thoughts, to keep thinking about dying so much. Sure, most people have thought about it before but the thoughts are like answering machine messages that play on a loop. And I worry that this will always stay with me for as long as I’m alive, that one day I might answer that call.
I just need some relief. I wake up every day miserable and I go to sleep either wired or weary. I’m manic and irritating and easily angered. I want to run away from everyone and give everyone a hug. I need support, friendship, validation, and possibly some medication. I am not okay.
But I’m not going to do anything any time soon. I’m not actively seeking death at the moment and maybe if death came to me suddenly, I might even try to reject it, but I also feel at this moment, death doesn’t feel scary but saving. But I won’t be the one to pick up the phone. I couldn’t even crack open a beer, much less bite the bullet.
You know how, when you’re in a zombie apocalypse, you’re always struggling just to make it through the day? Sometimes you run out of food and fresh water and you watch the sun set with a pain in your stomach. Or sometimes you make friends and you think you’re safe, that you’ve finally found a family but they steal all your supplies while you’re back is turned or they leave you in the middle of the night because you’re just slowing them down.
But you press on because that’s what humans do. You’ve got to make some sense of this mess made of the world. You find an abandoned gun and gather up some bullets and you scrape by. It’s tough but you make due with what little you have.
And your days are spent as the tension tightens in your body and stress exhausts your limbs. You spend the day looking for edible food and sleep to pass the time. You daydream and wonder while you wander. Your mind is a nomad. You think of strategies to make it through the cruel world, worry your gun won’t last long enough or if you could beat off a group of ghouls with a dented baseball bat. Where’s the next meal going to come from? You hope you find someone to save you, someone to make you feel less alone in a world of monsters.
And sometimes when the thought of another grueling day of hiding and fighting brings you to tears, you wonder what would happen if you just stopped. What if you sat down and pressed your face to the dirt and melted into the ground? But you can’t bring yourself to give up so you go forward.
And then one day you’re lying down in an unprotected shed and a zombie shuffles in. With an unholy grunt, you’re startled awake to see the rotting corpse rip into your chest with its skeletal hands. Its serrated fingernails slice through your skin, pressing further into the meat of you. Is knuckles get caught in your rib cage as it squirms its fingers further down, nicking your heart with each grasp.
The pain grips your senses like a bear trap, a concentrated fire so deep and intense it chokes you. You can’t speak or scream. The strength gushes out of you like a broken dam and you lie there paralyzed. The burning is so great your soul screams to God to end you but the zombie doesn’t bite into your brains. Through the holes in the boarded up window of the shed, it spots a sprinting survivor and sets its milky eyes on a fresh kill.
The taste of copper covers your tongue and you hope a less sportsman-like zombie will shuffle over to you and finish you off or a random survivor will find you and put you out of your misery. But no one comes with a bite or a bullet.
Blood and saline pool around your body as the pain spreads to your limbs, tingling your fingers and circulating away from your body.
The moans outside are muffled by the sound of your heart beating, growing louder, the blood rushing in your ears in crashing waves. Your eyes are blurred by tears you cannot wipe away, only light and shadows dancing across your face. You turn tiny, shriveling inside yourself. You gasp and find no air. The nerves blow out and leave a numbness that spreads like ice water in your lungs.
You grasp at the grass and dirt and still no one comes.
And no one cares. The living sprint toward safety. All around you the world is still alive. But you’re beyond help.
You close your eyes as you give in to the gaping wound. You press your face into the dirt. You melt into the ground.
The beating eventually stops.
“You wish that you won’t wake up but you can’t even get to sleep
six feet under for these six months, just dying to be buried…”
–Sacha Sacket, Sweet Suicide
“I’m waiting for blood to flow to my fingers
I’ll be all right when my hands get warm…”
-Dashboard Confessional, The Best Deceptions
I’ve come across peculiar customers throughout my years in retail. One gentleman used to come in through the rear entrance of the store and always went through my area to get to the jewelry department. He was a tall man in his late 40s with a big, round belly. He always wore polo shirts, shorts, and white crew socks that stuck out from tennis shoes, no matter the weather. His shaggy hair was brown and unkempt, swept across his brown eyes and over his ears. He had bristly hair that hung down from the nostrils of his Roman nose.
He liked to pass the time talking to the jewelry associates, sometimes spending a whole hour looking at jewelry and chatting. Sometimes he branched away from jewelry and talked to other associates in other departments. Eventually, he made his way to my department to talk to me. He spoke with a deep, booming voice and also with a lisp. As he talked, his tongue darted between his small, brown teeth, muffling his “s” sounds. Right away, I could tell he had a mental handicap. He often spoke in circles, repeating himself as he stood with his hand propped on his jutted hip. He talked about the weather a lot, hoping for rain or wind to break the southern heat.
I noticed he wore women’s jewelry. His hands waved in the air as he talked and I noticed several rings on his fingers. The bands were thin gold that supported small diamonds. He also wore a delicately thin necklace with a heart pendent nestled in the hair that crawled up over his open shirt collar.
I inquired about his taste in jewelry to one of my coworkers one day and she said the rings and necklace belonged to his dead mother. He wore them to feel closer to her. I didn’t know if I thought that was touching or creepy. Maybe a bit of both.
He also bought a lot of women’s panties and his name was Roger.
But out of all his eccentricities, his incessant talking was the most problematic. He talked about things I was not interested in, therefore it was painful to stand through one of his rants or daydreams. He also often showed up when I was busiest and, not wanting to be rude, I stopped what I was doing to listen to him talk about hoping to win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes and what he would do with his windfall. I mostly nodded and even chuckled when appropriate. Sometimes I folded a stack of shirts and then picked them up and slowly walked away from him to give him the hint that I needed to get back to work but he never picked up on any of my cues.
He made me uncomfortable in a way I couldn’t articulate. He wasn’t rude or intimidating. He was just awkward and I’m awkward as well so we didn’t make a great pair. I found myself hoping a customer would need help or the phone would ring so I could shimmy my way out of his conversational grip. It came to a point that when I saw him stomping my way, I sprinted in the opposite direction so as to avoid his laser gaze.
I’ve known him for years. He was one of many customers that I’d see and feel that sense of familiarity coupled with a bit of unease, but nothing I couldn’t handle. In his own way, he was a part of my routine, a consistent face, an expected presence during my time at work.
While I was on vacation, he shot and killed himself.