Trigger warning: Suicidal ideation and attempt
- "Wash me away," I begged the sea.
I remember the waves crashing onto me with a force that was mighty enough to wreck ships. Yet I did not struggle. I merely floated on my back as one enjoying a swim in a reflection pool on a mild summer day. I gazed at the thundering skies and wondered what would happen if a bolt of lightning were to strike the water. Would it be enough to kill me? Would it be that bad, dying?
I waited for fear to take hold of me; for any remnant of survival instinct to awaken my senses and make me desperate to get out of the water. When neither came, I just stared at the dark sky and felt myself being rocked back and forth by the swaying waves. I was a child being put to sleep by the ancient god of the sea. I closed my eyes, imagining I was being cradled in Neptune's arms until the thunder became a distant sound and I found myself wishing to be utterly consumed by the sea. So that not even a piece of me remained.
My head submerged underwater, and there was silence at last.
I awoke to my mother's piercing cry. There was a ringing in my ears as I felt multiple hands drag me out onto the shore. My mother barely let me cough up all the seawater I'd ingested before she was digging her nails into my shoulders; shaking me so forcefully the fogginess cleared from my mind.
"What the hell were you doing in there?" she asked shrilly.
Tears were rolling down her face. My brothers were next to her, panting and soaking wet. They had gone in to save me, not knowing I did not wish to be taken out of that blissful stasis.
For that was the first time I felt it; being alive. And it was the moment I realized I could never feel more life coursing through my veins than when I was in close proximity to death. The edge between life and death had become my home. It had welcomed my soul and set it alight.
But the experience awoke something entirely different in my mother. And fear is not as easily tamed. I worried I would never find that edge again if she was constantly monitoring my well-being from then on.
Young and shaken as I was, I couldn't think of anything else to do but throw my arms around her.
She held me so tightly I thought she would never let go.
2. "They would feel guilty if you died," I whispered in the dark.
It was not as blissful, the second time. My longing for death came not from a desire of peace but as a way to stop the taunting.
Silent tears rolled down my face and landed upon my pillow, concealed by the darkness of my room. The only source of light came from my mother's bedroom adjacent to mine. I turned, facing away from the door, painfully aware that she was still awake.
That night, I thought about dying only for the satisfaction of imagining other people's reactions. The boys who pulled my hair, the girls who made fun of my secondhand clothes, the teachers who repeatedly told me I was not trying hard enough. I considered writing a note, as most people do, detailing precisely what had driven me to end it all.
I pictured it was them crying instead of me. Everyone would worship me in death. They would have nothing but pleasant words to say about me at my funeral.
I fell asleep wondering what manner of praise the eulogies and elegies written in my honor would include.
3. The Painting of Winged Death
A few years passed before I thought of death so vividly again.
But as I stared at the painting, the rendition so life-like that the subjects seemed to come to life right in front of me, I wondered again. What it would feel like.
The artist seemed to suggest calmness. And freedom. The woman's face showed absolute relief as she was carried away by the angel of death; his feathered wings a black so deep it made his brown skin glow. He was beautiful.
I found myself wishing to know what it would be like to be flown by him into whatever afterlife awaited us. The raw power he radiated even from a two-dimensional painting didn't manage to scare me. I knew someone that prepossessing could do nothing but good.
At that moment, I yearned to attain the peace that woman seemed to have found in death. I could think of nothing I wanted more.
But as my mother came to stand beside me to admire the art I was looking at, I herded her across the gallery and made her look at any other painting but that one.
4. "Nothing is harder on the soul than the smell of dreams when they're evaporating." -Mahmoud Darwish
In the midst of all the darkness, I thought the trees in my dreamland would remain evergreen. I had made an unspoken pledge to water them no matter how fruitless it seemed.
But I had forgone it. My forest of tall, dense trees had become a barren stretch of dry land. My dreams, which had once glowed incandescently, were muted and opaque.
What was the point of life, if you didn't get to do what you loved?
Without the furor of passion, the joy of idealism or the bliss of childhood naïveté, I couldn't find a meaning to being alive.
"I want to study art," I had told my mother, and meant it.
She had looked at me carefully, the way she did when she had to tell me something she knew I wouldn't like to hear and that she thought would break me once and for all. I was a doll made of glass and porcelain in her eyes.
"Honey, I've looked into potential colleges already and the only one we can afford doesn't have an art program. I'm sorry."
I stared at her, my face expressionless.
"There are many other wonderful career options you can choose from, though!" she tried to say cheerfully.
But I had already turned around, heading for my room so she wouldn't see my frustration causing tears to leak from my eyes.
I thought about death, then, but of a different sort. I felt the death of my soul. I imagined a life in which I did not get to indulge in art or learn about it or create it; a life in which I had to spend the rest of my days doing something I didn't love with every fiber of my being.
And I wondered if it was a life worth living at all.
5. "Let me dissolve into you," I pleaded the earth.
I dare you to try to define the act of being alive without mentioning the concept of death. You can't. Because there is no one without the other.
I wondered who made it so. Why must life always be tethered to death? They can't escape one another. They're twins; opposites that find themselves tied together by an invisible chain.
The tentative friendship I had made with some of my classmates instantly liquefied. Apparently, that was not how you played truth or dare.
6. The greatest grief is that which you inflict upon others.
The pills rattled in their bright orange bottle. As I swallowed them one by one, I started to question if it was worth it. If the thrill of being at the edge of life was worth the risk of falling into the precipice of death.
If the peace I would feel at dying would be enough to counteract the turmoil my family would go through at my passing. Especially if it was my own doing. They would blame themselves; which is exactly what I dreamed of them doing once. But I understood the consequences of death better now. I knew the cost.
As I was about to ingest my sixth pill, I pictured my mother's shock and pain at my death and chose not to go through with it. I tossed the remaining pills in the toilet and flushed them down.
I did not regret my decision because it was probably the only act of selflessness I had ever performed, but I did lament the fact that I would have to carry on with my unhappy existence; not for myself, but for others.
I was sick until dawn.
7. Death doesn't discriminate.
Two years after the pill incident, I thought I was over it. It had been so long since I looked for the edge; since I craved disappearing entirely, that I thought I was healed. Death had become as foreign a concept to me as life.
Which is why when I first heard, my brain couldn't process it. Even when the voice on the phone distinctly told me my brother was dead, I didn't really believe it. Not until I went home to find my mother crying.
He killed himself, the voice on the phone had said. Not passed away or died, no. He had committed suicide.
As I held my mother in her sorrow, I was furious at my brother. How many times had I wanted to be swallowed up by the earth but had refrained from doing so, precisely to spare my mother the heartbreak she was currently feeling? Why did he get to escape the hell that is existence and leave me among the broken shards he left in his wake?
Amidst my rage, however, I couldn't help feeling responsible. It had always been me my mother worried about, ever since that storm in the sea. If she hadn't been so focused on my mental health maybe she would have noticed the signs on my brother. Maybe I could have too. He could have gotten help.
And I wouldn't have been left behind, longing to join him in the eternal darkness.
8. "I have a tendency toward melancholy, although I am unacquainted with grief." -Brian Jay Stanley
For all that I thought about death, I had never been impacted by it. The stifling grief that enveloped my household felt distant; I had imagined it so often as a result of my own death that in my mind, it was an illusion.
I thought I would be woken up.
9. Hold on to me with such force even death could not separate us.
My mother's hand felt clammy in mine. She accepted the strangers' condolences as gracefully as she could muster. I never understood why they were necessary. What good do condolences do to the dead? To the living?
She didn't once let me leave her side. Not until hours after they had lowered the coffin to the patch of ground it was to spend the rest of eternity in. Until every single guest was gone.
My hand was numb from her gripping fingers. It was as if she was scared a dark, sweet-smelling breeze would sweep me away into oblivion too.
10. Fear doesn't prevent death, it prevents life. -Naguib Mahfouz
If I were to die at this very moment, what would I be remembered for?
The brief service given in honor of my brother's passing left me wondering about what would be said at my own funeral.
"We are gathered here today to commemorate the life of Morta Beaufort. She died tragically at age twenty-one, not having a single friend, never having taken risks and without having fought to do the things she always wanted to do."
As I heard the eulogy in my mind, I realized that my life would be reduced to its failures. No one would worship me in death. They would pity me. As they pitied me in life.
My mother would never let me out of her sight now. And her fear of me dying would hinder my own awakening; I wanted to live.
I had seen death up close and realized I was not ready to be taken by it yet. One day, one way or another, I would find myself in the arms of winged death, being swept away into perpetuity. But never again would I have the chance to be alive as I did right now.
My mother had never taken me to the beach again after that night in the storm. But as we were making our way home from the memorial service, I told her, "I want to visit the sea this weekend."
And she must have seen such clarity in my eyes that she agreed.