I’m Fine – A Suicide Story
“I just wanted to let you know,” Dr. B says, “I read your story, and had to give Counseling Services your name.”
It’s just after nine in the morning. Too early for many things, this among them. But I’m nodding gamely, telling her it’s fine, I understand, it’s no big deal.
“We have procedures to follow,” she says. She sighs and shakes her head. “I feel so stupid, you know? I just want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m good, I’m fine,” I assure her. I cannot count the number of times I have to say this to people. I’m good. I’m fine. The undercurrent?
Leave me alone.
Four thirty in the afternoon on the same day. I call Counseling Services; I have received an email asking me to call them. R.H. answers. I let him know why I’m calling (he knows why, but there are motions to go through and I know the dance well). He wants to know if I’m okay too. I am.
I really am.
“Dr. B told me about the . . . story, or essay or whatever,” he says. “We just wanted to check up on you.” My mind flashes with indignant humor – he doesn’t even know what form the story took which prompted Dr. B to report me? Clearly I am dealing with the best of counseling agencies. I tell him I’m good, I’m fine.
I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.
“What semester is this for you?” R.H. says, after we have chatted for a bit. The dance is complicated.
“I’m a senior, I graduate this winter. My last semester,” I say.
“Oh, good, good. What are your plans, after graduation?”
“Jobs. I need work, you know? Haven’t done that in a while.” I laugh. “So hopefully the college degree will help with that.”
He’s pleasant, but I don’t hear a smile when he speaks again. That’s my first clue, though I’ve been through this before. I should really know better.
“Good, yeah; are you looking into that now?” he says.
“Yeah, my advisor has been pointing out places for me to search, and he’s actually been doing research on my behalf. Something will come of it, I hope.”
He asks a few more innocuous questions about my future. He’s very good at what he does, to be honest. The psychologist my mother forced me to see at McLean’s was this good, but even he described me as “intimidating” before I was done with him.
I am well versed in the dance by now.
“Well,” R.H. says, “we’re in Hammond Building. Stop by sometime, whenever you feel like it; we’d love to see you around.”
“Sure,” I say, without any intention of ever following through. “I’m around.”
He thanks me for calling again, I say ‘thank you’ without knowing why, and we both hang up. It’s hours later when I realize what R.H. had been doing. Asshole!
I’m not sure how suicide prevention works. Well, I know a lot about how it works once you’ve tried it, but what about in general? Do they have representatives talk to high school students? What do they say? I wonder.
I know what I’d say. You’ll never be left alone again.
I know the typical spiel. Oh, life gets so much better; you don’t know what you’d be missing out on. True. There’s so much more out there, it won’t always be this way. True. You can talk to people about what you’re going through. True. We can help; there are ways to alleviate your burdens. True.
I wouldn’t have listened to any of that when I was young. But if I could go back now, and talk to my younger self, I know what I’d say. I’d say, hide it. Cover it up. Don’t do it, because you’re putting the mark of Cain on yourself. Not just for a while. Forever. You can’t ever get rid of it. It’s literally etched into your physical being. Even if you pick one of the many options that don’t leave scars (pills, that trick where you leave the car running and die from poisonous gases, etc), it’ll always be printed somewhere. Medical files. Hospital reports. Police reports. In this era of digital communication, memories of it could be left online – friends and family contacting each other to spread the news, perhaps, or a Facebook post left carelessly public by an associate. They’re trying to make sense of it. But it’ll always be there.
You’ll never be free of it. You’re tying an albatross around your neck, and there will always be that sliver in your friends minds, in your family’s mind, in stranger’s mind if they should ever learn – that sliver will make them see you as the Mariner. You’re just a little off. You aren’t quite what they are. Different. It gives them doubts.
So we circle back around now – R.H. wasn’t interested in whether or not I got a job after college. He wanted to know if I had plans for the future. Because if I didn’t? He could classify me as an “at-risk” individual. After all, if you’re not planning a path ahead, you might be planning an end.
Yet I can’t find it in myself to resent R.H., or Dr. B, or any of the dozens of other well-meaning but ultimately blind people who ask about me. Am I okay? How do I feel? Is there anything they can do? They’re there if I need to talk. I know that, don’t I? Am I sure I feel okay?
They want to reassure me because they want to help. They’re driven by love.
But they also want me to return to what might be considered normal. It’s another way they don’t understand. There isn’t any going back. I can’t go back, I should say.
So that’s what I’d tell myself, if I could go back. You’ll never be free of it. They’ll never let it go, because when they learn about it, it’s new to them. To you, it’s old news, but to them, when they first hear about it, it’s as if you tried to kill yourself today. They’re shocked. They don’t know how to operate with it.
For me, it’s been almost a decade now, ten years of living – haphazardly, falteringly, and on rare occasions, beautifully. Dumb, stupid, exhilarating, heart-breaking, triumphant, sweaty, wonderful, miserable, aching life.
It isn’t anything except everything.
But there’s always more to say! Comedian Chris Gethard recently responded to a question from a (potentially) suicidal individual. You can read about it here. In his response, Gethard talks about how his memories don’t dwell on the dark and grim. Instead, he remembers the funny stuff, the things that, on reflection, were absolutely hilarious. And he’s right. That’s what remains. That’s what floats to the surface.
Right now, if I wanted to, I could dig up some vivid memories of really dark times in my life. I could do my best to relive them. But I’d have to work at it. It’s a lot of work to bring back the tough times. You know what? The first things that come to mind are the stupid, silly, funny, seriously-make-me-laugh-out-loud memories, the ones that make my stomach muscles hurt from laughing my braying dumb-ass laugh.
Here’s one now!
I think of that day as “my run-in with the business end of a knife”. I had just slashed open a three-inch gash in my left wrist. At the time, yeah, I thought being not-alive was better for me and everyone connected to me was better than being alive.
So, in the basement of my parent’s house, where I (pathetically) still live, I stood over the sink and looked at myself in the little mirror I used for shaving. I can look to my right and see that sink right now. I remember looking myself in the eye and forcing myself to put the steel to flesh. It isn’t easy, by the way, to transgress that powerful instinct of self-preservation. It’s just about the hardest fucking thing I’ve ever done (and I took a Feature and Magazine Writing class with Tom M.! /inside joke). Even now, I can feel my throat tightening.
There are no words for it. It is such a violation of the self that it bypasses language. You’d have to feel it to know it, and I beg you from the bottom of my heart, with – and I’m not shitting you – with literal tears in my eyes right now – don’t ever try it. You can’t go back.
Anyway, I did it.
After that we’ll gloss over some stuff, because I’ve put my parents through plenty so far in life. I don’t need to burden them any more. Let’s skip forward to where the ambulance shows up. The EMTs make me lie in the little bed with wheels on it, and haul my fat ass up into the back of the ambulance. Through my selfish, self-absorbed haze, I think I recognize the driver, but I’m not sure.
Did you know that, in the back of an ambulance, they can strap you down to that bed? I didn’t know that. I didn’t ask about it, but my right arm – they put one of those restraints around it and pulled it tight. They couldn’t restrain my left arm, obviously, because of the gaping wound which they had covered with cottony bandages. Do you know what that’s like? They don’t trust you to have your arms free. A human, a human being that you can look in the eye, pulls that restraint tight, because you cannot even be trusted not to flip out like a monkey in the zoo. It’s dehumanizing, and I did it to myself.
Through the window in the back doors of the ambulance, I can see the trees that line the street flashing by as we ride to the hospital in the next town over. It’s nagging at me, though. I am sure I’ve seen the ambulance driver somewhere.
The EMT with me in the back is muttering the same soft reassurances that I’ve heard almost every year since that day. There’s help for me, they’re there if I need to talk, we want to help, you’ll be okay, on and on and on.
“Hey,” I say, interrupting her mid-sentence. “Do you know the guy driving?”
“Yeah.” There’s a pause. I’m gathering my thoughts, pulling them across the stuffy veil that my mind has cast over itself. Finally, she asks “Why?”
“I think I know him,” I say. “Through friends.”
“Oh.” We stay quiet for another few moments.
It materializes for me. “Was . . . he has a nickname. Do people call him Boner?”
She laughs, this EMT who swiftly and professionally wrapped up my self-inflected wound. Her laugh is loud, pealing out over the rattle of ambulance clutter and the engine as we roll down the highway. “Yes,” she says, a huge smile making every crease on her face stand out. She looks much more beautiful when she smiles. “Yes, that’s him.” I never learned what her name was.
“Ah,” I say, nodding by way of tilting my head slightly off the pillow behind me.
I know Boner. In fact, I only know Boner as Boner. His real name was, and to this day remains, a mystery to me. He once asked a friend of mine, let’s call her Sim, for her phone number at the local bowling alley. Sim made the excuse that she didn’t have a pen to write it down. The way she tells the story to me: “You appeared out of nowhere, like a ghost. You were just there, pen in hand, shit-eating grin on your face, saying ‘Here, I have one!’ and you looked so pleased with yourself.” Sim had to give her number to a man named Boner because I was there and overheard and thought it would be funny to present a pen at the crucial moment.
But there it is. On one of the darkest days of my life, I don’t remember the despair I felt, the utter dissolution of self that resulted in a drive to simply cease to exist. It isn’t the damage I caused, to my parents, to my friends, to anyone around me. It’s kind of selfish, but whenever my thoughts turn towards that day, the first thing that comes to mind is this:
On the day I tried to kill myself, a man named Boner had his life more together than I did. He drove me to the hospital, and without a man named Boner, I might not be alive.
In simplest terms, I think of it this way – I owe my life to Boner.
And if that doesn’t make you cry with laughter, well, I’d bet my life that it will in the future.
Turn and turnabout. Life’s a spiral, arching outward towards ever-greater things. I can’t think poorly of Dr. B, or R.H., or that EMT, or (haha!) Boner, any of the other dozens of people who have, with the best intentions, inflicted upon me the dreary reassurances that I don’t want or need. They want to help. I can’t do anything but love them for it. I love them for their over-bearing concern, for their oppressive determination that I live, for their simple humanity. Love is a weapon, and when I find myself alone in the jungle with terrors all around, it may be the only weapon I have, but it is always the only weapon I need.
I didn’t mean for this to be such a long, rambling, useless story. Here, at the end, I just want to say thanks. Thanks for your love. Thanks for letting me love. Never hesitate to suffocate someone in love, because love cannot kill. Death by love? It’s a transformation, that’s all.
And, if you were wondering – I’m fine. I am. I’m fine.
I love you guys. Thank you so much.
Posted on September 14, 2012, in Ramblings of an Unbalanced Mind and tagged albatross, attempted suicide, Boner, counseling services, mark of cain, rhyme of the ancient mariner, suicide. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.