Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Suicide At Home

Your friends and neighbors

Here’s the shocker, perhaps: I had no idea who Anthony Bourdain was. It was post-death that I spent hours on the internet going “goddamn it!” while I watched Youtube video after Youtube video of a guy who, as it turned out, I probably would have really loved (and you may wonder, how in the world did someone live life without knowing who Anthony Bourdain was? I can’t name a single Rihanna song, either, if that helps make any more sense out of things).

Kate Spade, sure, I knew who Kate Spade was. Although I have a distinct fondness for bags and such, I was never, ever a Kate Spade fan. She represented, to me, a bourgeois lifestyle I witnessed as a freelancer at countless magazines and such during the nineties in New York — a lifestyle I left at the door as I went home every night. I judged people who carried those handbags. I was a terrible human being, this of course I do realize, but it hit me a little less hard until I went digging, until I took the time to learn a little more about this astute businesswoman who took nine years off from astute businesswomaning to raise her daughter — a brave move for any woman, even with all her privilege, and an especially brave move for a woman with a powerful career.

There is, however, something about this time of year that seems to encourage suicide. I don’t know why — perhaps it’s the sense of vastness of the world that is brought on by so much open air. Maybe it is, as I have sometimes felt in worse moments, the inability to enjoy the sunlight shining on everyone else.

In high school, I had deep, deep feelings for a boy who was on the high school newspaper with me. He was beautiful, brilliant, conscious and kind, and also the lead singer in a hardcore band that had already had some success in the outside world, outside our awful little exurban Atlanta high school.

My feelings for him inspired some truly terrible teenage poetry — yeah, they were deep. Even now, however, I felt like he was someone who actually saw me, unlike most of the other people I went to school with, unlike most of the people I’ve encountered in this world since. He encouraged me, read my articles before I submitted them, respected and supported my opinions when I was brave enough to open my mouth. He defended me when the walls were encroaching.

I kept my feelings quiet — he had a girlfriend, anyway, and I was respectful, but if there were any person in the world at that time that I thought I could love, it was him. The following summer, when he returned from his first year at college and asked if I’d like to go on a date, I was beyond elated.

We went and saw Edward Scissorhands in the theater, then stopped at a grocery store and slipped into a game of hide-and-seek tag in the isles. When we left, he asked if we could drive by and take a look at our old high school.

I thought it an odd request, especially given the hellish experiences I’d had there, but off we went. I would have gone anywhere with him in his little white pickup. It wasn’t exactly like driving off a cliff, but there we sat in the drive of our old school, sitting on the precipice of something.

Eventually we left. He brought me home and nearly kissed me goodnight but my mother opened the door — it took me years to forgive her this, though now I realize she spared me an inch of heartbreak. It was the last time I’d see him. Apparently, I was the last person to ever see him alive.

I remember thinking to myself, “I could understand if someone like me killed themselves, but why would anyone as amazing as he was think his life was no longer worth living? Why would anyone like him ever think this world didn’t need him here?

Somehow I made it through many years in New York without killing myself. Somehow none of my friends did either, despite all the blown-out serotonin receptors, the heaps of antidepressants we all decided to try, the flops and failures of our twenties. When I finally realized it was time to leave New York, it was because I’d begun removing myself from my worlds; I’d stopped calling my friends and they’d stopped calling me. The little voice inside was very big when it said, “you need to leave, or you will die here.”

I wandered the world. I ran back and forth across this continent. I ran.

It wouldn’t be until I moved to a really small town in rural northern California that suicide inched closer to me again. By now, I’d become a mother — and while I’d hit some extraordinary low points, my daughter’s mere existence pushed any thoughts of checking out from my head. I hated myself at times, but my daughter still needed me, regardless. She would not be better off without me. If there were any reason to stick around, she would be it. On days where the self-hatred was too strong, I sent her off on playdates until I could summon the ability to paste a smile back onto my face.

But then, because small towns mean no quick stops at the local grocery store, I met a mother whose teenage son, a promising young composer, had taken his own life. Then I met another mother whose daughter, a promising artist, had chosen to leave. And another woman found her best friend and lover in her garage. And another who lost her son.

It’s impossible, in a small town, not to process some things publicly. Grieving is messy, terrifying, chaotic, and potent. The things these women shared are gifts in so many ways.

All of these women walk tall and strong somehow. They still smile. They still give, even after unimaginable loss. They find comfort in helping others. What strength.

Yeah, it’s some deep sharing. People are leaving the building in droves. Our children are leaving. Our lovers are leaving. Maybe it’s because we’re “more connected” now, with this internet thing, and maybe it’s because we’re less connected now. Social media tells stories that aren’t true. Social media pumps out endless exclamation marks, more selfies, more mind-numbing platitudes. Do you like me? And at the same time, those who don’t seek so much validation, those who hide behind walls and social media curtains, spouting anger, rage, and negativity, or questioning social norms? We unfriend those folks. They see and feel too much, too publicly.

Compulsive storyteller. Ada Comstock Scholar at Smith College.

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