Trigger warning: this story depicts suicide, depression, and miscarriage.
I was eleven years old when I thought about suicide for the first time. I was sitting in the backseat after leaving a birthday party, and my mom was droning on and on in the front seat about our plans for the week and the scheduled time I had with my dad that weekend, and I imagined her life without me in it – I took myself out of the picture. In my vision, her worry lines faded away. Her speckled gray hair went dark again. I imagined she and my dad would still be together, instead of constantly arguing about my whereabouts. I saw her life without me in it, and it looked better – she looked happier. I realized, sitting there staring out of the window, that death wasn’t some abstract concept that only sick people or old people had to deal with – it was an option on the proverbial multiple-choice test.
The realization was empowering. The idea that anyone could “exit stage left” whenever they wanted felt like holding the key to the meaning of life. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t make plans to slash my wrists in the bathtub or raid the medicine cabinet for something strong enough – I just relished the idea that, if ever life became too hard or too much, I could choose to end my story right there. I knew there was an aftermath, of course. My mom and dad would be crushed. The few classmates I considered friends would miss me. Some of my teachers might even attend my funeral. However, I was under no obligation to them, or anyone else, to continue if things got too hard, and that fact made me feel invincible.
Unsurprisingly, I developed a morbid interest in the subject. I wrote about it in my journal nonstop, making fake suicide notes addressed to people in my life and writing out lists of who I thought would attend the funeral. It was almost scientific in nature. I wanted to plant one of my fake notes on my bed and hide in the closet while my mom read it, documenting her reaction. I started to obsess over the idea of the “other side,” and I checked out as many books from the library as I could find about different religions and their ideologies.
As I got older, of course, the rabid curiosity with suicide and death subsided. I was still interested, still curious, but I tamed the urge to scour the Internet for methodologies or narratives from people who swore they had “died” and come back to life with information about what they experienced. I wasn’t sad or hopeless, and I didn’t see my own life as bleak or meaningless. I was purely fascinated with the idea of someone taking their life into their own hands – of someone choosing to die of their own volition without waiting on nature to run its course. I kept those journals for a long time, and I pulled them out to reminisce about a period in my life when “depression” was just a vocabulary word I was trying to define.
I was always an anxious kid. I had unfounded nightmares about my appendix rupturing in the middle of the night. I walked through the kitchen after my mom went to sleep to make sure the stove was turned off. I triple checked our doors to ensure they were locked. In school, I would chew my pencils down to the lead while my teachers talked, constantly feeling like I would never learn enough. Learning to drive was nerve-wracking because I pictured multiple accidents happening as I slowly rolled down the road, too scared to press the gas pedal. By the time I graduated high school, I was already taking an anti-anxiety medication daily, and I had a prescription for Xanax in case I needed something stronger to stave off a panic attack.
It wasn’t until my mom died that the anxiety somehow transformed into depression. Her death was sudden – a heart attack in the middle of the day. She hadn’t taken her life into her own hands. Instead, nature got to her first, and I couldn’t imagine how powerless she must’ve felt in those moments. If she could come back to life with the knowledge of the heart attack and when it would happen, I wonder if she would’ve taken a different route – if she would’ve committed suicide the night before instead of flailing around at her desk before toppling over and never waking up again.
Sometime after her funeral, I started to think about suicide again. Except, the thoughts lost their scientific edge. Instead of viewing the act as empowering, I started to see it as inevitable. I spent hours scribbling away in my journal, writing about the overwhelming feeling that suicide would be the only option left for me soon. My life had taken a hopeless turn after her death, and I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, I didn’t want to see the end of the tunnel – I wanted to go long before then. My roommate and I would get drunk, and I would tell her about my thoughts because I needed to share them with someone. She would always rub my back and promise brighter skies and repeat the same phrase – “It’s going to be okay.”
My dad, the estranged parent, started to reach out to me more after her death. Without her presence, the wall between us was lifted. He would call periodically throughout the week, always holding some anecdote about work or his new girlfriend. We would make lunch plans or dinner plans or weekend plans, but they never happened. After the divorce when I was six, he had packed up his life and moved it elsewhere. My mom and I were part of the things he left behind, clumped together with the furniture he had bought and the pool table in the shed he couldn’t bring to his new apartment. His new life, while interesting and happy, didn’t have space for me anymore. After I stopped being a bargaining chip or the manifestation of his child support payments, I stopped being his problem.
I graduated college to the surprise of everyone around me, including my dad. Even the dean looked shocked when he handed me my diploma and shook my hand on stage. Somehow, I had gotten through that chapter of my life, and, with that accomplishment, people stopped worrying about me. My friends didn’t feel the need to stay in touch after graduation. My dad stopped calling throughout the week, limiting our conversations to holidays and random Tuesdays in the month. I was no longer someone who needed to be “watched.” To everyone around me, I had earned the right to my privacy.
I found a job and an apartment right away. Every night, as part of my ritual, I would walk through the kitchen and check the stove, triple check the locks, and close the blinds and curtains. When I was fairly sure of my safety, I would sit in my bedroom with my laptop, reading online threads about suicide. To the part of the world with which I interacted, I probably seemed “okay.” I went to work five days a week, I paid my bills on time, and I stayed out of trouble. I kept to myself, but I still smiled and waved at my neighbors in the morning. My boss seemed unbothered by me, which was a compliment. I seemed put-together, like a normal, well-adjusted adult.
When I looked in the mirror, however, I saw what they couldn’t. I looked like a statue that had been hit by a wrecking ball, with spiderwebs of cracks and deep, fatal chips. My entire foundation had been compromised, and I knew it would only take a slight breeze to turn me into a million little pieces. I knew, despite what I projected into the world, I was being eaten up inside by a two-headed monster with twelve rows of teeth and razor blades for hands. I couldn’t shake it. I tried. I took my medication. I ate healthy foods. I tried to exercise. None of it seemed to work. The depression had burrowed into me, marrow deep, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
The slight breeze came in the form of a miscarriage. The boy I had been seeing for a few months had gotten me pregnant, and we were fully intending on keeping the baby. For whatever reason, I bargained that becoming a mother would somehow kick the depression out of its home inside me. We stayed up late on the phone, talking about genders and baby names. We had even hatched a plan to move in together once my lease was up. I told my dad about the baby, and he was overjoyed. His phone calls became regular again. My friends were also happy about my decision to keep the baby. They cheered me on from the sidelines, wanting updates about ultrasounds and planning baby showers. I knew that my mom would’ve been proud of me – of what I had accomplished in such a short time. She would’ve watched me blossom into a mother, facing her own mortality head-on with the assurance that she had left me with all the tools I needed to succeed.
I was seven months pregnant when I had a brutal miscarriage. Up to that point, everything with the pregnancy had been textbook. My belly was huge and glowing. I had moved in with my boyfriend, and, for the first time, we were talking about marriage. We knew she was a girl, and we had settled on the name Ruth. My birth plan was laminated in my already-packed hospital bag. The nursery had been decorated thanks to the early-onset nesting I experienced. We were planning baby showers and maternity photoshoots.
When I started cramping, I thought it was just Braxton-Hicks contractions. When they became so severe, I couldn’t get off of the couch, we rushed to the emergency room. As I went into labor, they explained that Ruth didn’t have a detectable heartbeat. I gave birth to her five hours later, and we held her tiny, lifeless body while we cried in the hospital bed. When they came to take her away, I stood in the shower in our room, watching the copious amounts of blood drain over the white tiles, and I had a terrible thought – what if Ruth had “opted-out” early to avoid ever meeting me? What if she had met the monster inside of me, with its teeth and razors, and decided she didn’t want to live with me? What if, instead of a miscarriage, my own daughter had committed suicide to save herself from me?
When I shared these thoughts with my boyfriend, he told me I was “sick.” He pulled away from me like I had become a leper, and he was too scared to catch my disease. We tried to salvage what was left of our relationship, but it was useless. Between the miscarriage and his realization that I wasn’t “okay,” he broke things off with me swiftly. It made sense. Relationships are fragile – they don’t survive things like late-term miscarriages and long-term depression.
Afterwards, when his things were packed and cleared and I was alone with my thoughts, I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up all hours of the night, reliving the birth and the blood and the terrible thoughts in the shower. What had once been a monster eating me from the inside had turned into a herd of monsters, gnawing at me from all angles. I didn’t want to look in the mirror – I didn’t want to see them chewing and ripping and dragging away pieces of me to eat in the corner. My body didn’t feel like my own anymore. It had been ravaged by tragedy, turned into a five-course buffet for the monsters breeding in my sadness.
I tried to talk to counselors, but, as they validated my feelings, I felt worse. It wasn’t enough that I had gone through a traumatic experience - I was also “normal.” My sadness felt unique, like something that been pieced together with my own two hands. Hearing their voices telling me I was experiencing emotions typical with my experience undermined my grief. They gave me stronger medications, but I didn’t take them. I didn’t feel like I deserved whatever relief they might bring.
So, I rented the cabin. It was far away, an eight-hour drive, nestled in the mountains, surrounded by tall pine trees. I told everyone I needed a “break,” but, really, I just needed a location. As I drove in, the smell of the pines was overwhelming. It was fresh and earthy, and it burned my nostrils. For the first six hours of my drive, I rode in complete silence. It was comforting at first, but it quickly turned sour whenever I started to hear the monsters – there must’ve been thirty of them by then – chewing right beside my ear.
Convinced I deserved the mental torture, I listened to the sickening sound of imaginary teeth sinking into my cheeks, into my lips, hanging off of my neck and swinging in rhythm to the car. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I turned on the radio as loud as it would go – drowning them out with rock music and commercials. At some point, the radio disconnected and turned into static, which was even better. The white noise helped to shut my brain off, and I started to relax, going over my plan again and again as I sank into the driver’s seat.
I had the cabin for a week, but I only needed it for a day. After the miscarriage, I was prescribed strong pain-killers to deal with the post-labor cramps. I think they were really meant to knock me out, more like a sedative than a relief aid. I had only taken two, saving the rest for a “rainy day,” which had finally come. I pulled them out of my backpack when I stopped to get gas, counting out the pills and trying to decipher the exact number of milligrams I had at my disposal. I bought a bottle of bourbon at the liquor store before venturing to the cabin, and I could smell it in the passenger seat – it almost overpowered the pines.
The proverbial multiple-choice test in front of me had the same answer for each option, just worded a little differently:
B) Exit Stage Left
C) Check-Out Early
I rented the cabin for a week to ensure I wouldn’t have unwanted visitors. I didn’t want to be found by a cleaning lady my first night and magically brought back to life in an ambulance. I wanted the assurance that, once I swallowed the pills and drank the liquor, I could die peacefully – writhing and vomiting on myself before passing out and never waking up again. I turned off service to my cellphone when I pulled in the driveway. I stepped inside and even the furniture smelled like pine. I turned on a movie, something old and Western, and I pulled out the pills and the bourbon, placing them in front of me on the coffee table.
When the sun went down, I checked the kitchen to make sure the stove was off, I tripled checked the locks, I closed the curtains, and I changed into clean clothes. I put my cellphone on the table, I shook out the handful of pills, and I put them in my mouth, chasing them with a strong gulp of liquor. I waited patiently for the effects to kick in, turning on another Western before closing my eyes and leaning back on the pine-soaked couch.
Everything went according to plan. I tried to force down the urge to vomit by drinking more bourbon and burying my face in a pillow, but, eventually, it was too strong to resist. The pills had been in my system long enough to do their damage, so I freely, and painfully, vomited all over myself. The whole experience was painful. I retched and heaved on the couch, rolling onto the floor by the force of an anticipated seizure. The room came into focus in quick, dizzying flashes as I snapped in and out of consciousness. When I finally closed my eyes, I was sure the worst was over, and I could drift into the other side, unimpeded.
The cleaning lady found me three days later, lying in a crust of vomit, urine, and feces. They rushed me to the nearest hospital, where doctors tirelessly saved my life. The dosage wasn’t high enough. Instead of killing myself, I went into a coma for a month. I suffered a mild level of brain damage, but I didn’t “check-out.” Maybe I should have went with option B. When I came to, my dad was sitting beside my bed with a book open against his chest. The nurses said he stayed there the entire time, sleeping on the upright chair in the corner of my room and showering in the bathroom with the other patients.
I don’t have any stories from the other side. I didn’t wake up with the key to the afterlife. After a month in a coma and copious amounts of physical therapy, I was finally released into my dad’s care, and I moved in with him and his wife. They tip-toe around me, but they also wash my sheets and cook dinner every night. The monsters that had been eating me left, probably off to find fresher meat now that mine has gotten old and chewy. I wish I could say I felt better, but I don’t. I don’t feel anything, except empty, and their house reeks of pine air freshener.