Trigger Warning: Suicide
“Ma! Mother! Hey, Ma!”
Ellie yells to me from the bottom of the bleachers where she’s standing with a few of the older girls from the squad. She stamps her foot on the pavement, hands on hips, ponytail swinging and face scrunched into a red-cheeked grimace of teenage frustration that she inherited from me. I slowly weave through the dispersing crowd towards my daughter. It had been a terrible game. This will be the third loss in a row for our boys, and the disappointment in the crisp evening air is palpable.
“What took you so long?” She plucks her green and white Rams Varsity team jacket from my arms.
“Crowds, El. I can’t fly.”
“I’m going out with Lacey and Allie. Brooklyn’s having a party.”
“Brooklyn Barrie. We don’t talk to Brooklyn Price anymore, remember? She ditched us when she started field hockey? I told you this, like, a thousand times. Gawd, Mother. You never listen to me.”
“Hi, Mrs. Hannan,” says the taller, prettier of the two girls with Ellie.
“Hi, Allie. How’s your mom?”
I am flattered that she gives me two whole sentences before she turns her attention back to her phone.
Ellie pulls on her coat and looks at me expectantly. “It’s cool, right?”
“Curfew is midnight. Brooklyn’s house only. No drinking.” I hand her 10 bucks and she kisses me quickly on the cheek.
“I love you!” I call, but she’s already disappeared into the crowd.
It’s the last time I ever see her.
The clock reads 2:47 am when I’m startled awake by a sound somewhere in the distance. In that strange place between dreams and reality I realize that I have fallen asleep waiting for Ellie to come home, and the landline is ringing. Ellie is forever poking fun at me for keeping it. “Come back from the 90s, Mother,” she always teases. “We miss you here in the future.” I am fully awake and off of the couch in one movement; no one ever calls the landline. There is a prickly numbness that comes with this level of trepidation. Electric jolts run across my skin and thunder claps in my head. The living room swims before me in soft edged light and green shapes, and on the other end of the line the officer’s voice is muffled from the blood pounding behind my temples. But somehow I hear his voice. Somehow I understand what he is saying. Somehow I pull myself together enough to find my shoes and operate my car. Somehow I arrive at Mercy General’s emergency room.
It isn’t like the movies. There is no sense of urgency. When I arrive, I don’t rush to the nearest person and demand to see my child. Doctors and nurses aren’t frantically running through doors. In fact, there isn’t much movement at all. Everything is sterile and calm and shockingly, vividly white. Several strangers pepper the waiting room, but I instantly recognize Lacey Lawrence and her parents, whose names I vaguely remember learning at some point last summer. Doug and Tina? Trina? Something like that. Doug is silently studying a clipboard in front of him. Lacey’s head rests in her mother’s lap. Her cheer uniform is dingy, and her shoes are caked with mud. As she sees me, she sits upright.
It’s more statement than greeting. Tina-or-Trina Lawrence does not stand, but she and her daughter gaze at me with the same steely grey eyes. I expect to see teenage girl tears-big, puppy dog eyes smudged with mascara and cheap eyeliner-but Lacey’s face is clean. The air between us is thick with a tension that I don’t understand.
“Uh. Hello,” I stammer, desperately wishing for some semblance of normalcy. “Lacey, honey, are you okay?”
Lacey nods and melts back into her mother’s embrace. Mrs. Lawrence strokes her daughter’s pretty blonde hair in a way that reminds me of a mother lion tending to her cub.
“What happened?” The question hangs in the air and remains unanswered.
“Right now we’re waiting for Allie Thompson,” Lacey’s mother offers instead. “Her mother is on her way back from Robertsville.”
My brain seems to understand that those two sentences don’t make sense when said together, but thinking more deeply about why isn’t something I’m capable of at the moment. I don’t know what I am capable of. I don’t know what to do. I try to puzzle out what comes next, but my thoughts seem to be moving in slow motion and aren’t quite connecting to the rest of my body. I sit in a plastic chair across from the Lawrence family because sitting seems familiar, but I realize right away that I can’t stay still.
I make eye contact with the plump, pleasant-looking nurse at the triage station. She smiles at me and returns to her computer screen. After my legs figure out how to move again, I approach the desk. The nurse’s name badge reads: Mercy General Medical Center Phyllis Jackson RN BSN. She looks much younger and much happier in her ID photo.
“Hello.” It’s the only word I can think to say.
Phyllis Jackson RN BSN looks up at me. Her eyes are kind. Her smile is tired.
“Yes ma’am. How can I help you?”
“My...um....I....my daughter is here, I think.”
“Amy Hannan...uh, wait... my name or my daughter’s?”
“Your daughter’s name is Amy Hannah?”
“No, my name is Amy Hannan. With an N.”
“What is your daughter’s name, Ma’am?”
“Ellie. Eleanor. Hannan. E-L-E-A”
Nurse Jackson types something into the computer. Her natural nail beds have begun to show underneath her pink and black acrylics. I wonder if she plans on stopping at the mall for a manicure on her day off. I wonder if she knows it closed last month. It’s a ridiculous thought.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. We don’t have a Nellie Hannan here.”
“Her name is Ellie. Not Nellie. It’s not Nellie.” I am not aware of how loud I say it until several pairs of eyes from the waiting area turn to look at me almost in unison.
Nurse Jackson stands. “Wait here a sec, Miss Hannah. Let me check with someone.”
It would be useless to correct her again. My whole body aches for rest and my brain is fuzzy, but my nervous system has taken over, and it is wide awake and incapable allowing the rest of me to stay still. I notice that Nurse Jackson is now deep in conversation with two bored-looking police officers. One is tall and pudgy. The other is younger but bald, perhaps by choice, and both are drinking from small Styrofoam cups. The bald one says something to Nurse Jackson, and they all chuckle. It cuts through the silence then dies away. The tall one catches my eye and approaches, crumpling the cup and tossing it into a nearby trash can as he does.
Hospitals are such tricky places; they usher in new life while simultaneously ripping it away from unsuspecting families. This is the hospital where I labored for fifty six hours to bring Ellie into the world. And now, nearly sixteen years later, this is the hospital where a mid-career cop who drew the night shift short straw tells me that Ellie is gone from it.
“Mrs. Hannan?” He reeks of burned coffee and aftershave and garlic, and his handshake is surprisingly weak. There is no preamble; this officer is all business. “Officer Bill Langley. State PD. I’m sorry for your loss. Would you mind ans-”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
I am certain that my blood has turned to ice as the world goes dark.
“I’m Officer Langley. I’d like to ask you a few questions about-”
“You said that you’re sorry for my loss. Is Ellie dead? Did she die?” My voice is hollow and distant. I don’t recognize it.
His expression shifts from stoic to mildly curious. “Yes, Ma’am. One of my officers told you that over the phone.”
“Uh, I believe that’s incorrect. My partner-”
“They said Ellie was at the hospital. They said to come. That’s all anyone said.”
I have turned to stone. All of my body systems are shutting down, and I no longer exist in space or time.
“Mrs. Hannan, is your husband here?”
Suddenly I don’t know. Am I married? Yes. I am married. Mark is...where? Mark is not here. Mark should be here. Someone should be here. Why isn’t Mark here?
“No, he’s...um...conference. At a conference in Bethesda.” Now I am floating outside of myself; I am a spectator watching this nightmare unfold from the safety of the bleachers. My team is losing. Badly.
“Okay. Perhaps you should call him? We’ll need to speak with him as well.”
Langley’s cell phone rings. “ ‘scuse me, Ma’am,” he says as he holds up his hand and answers the call.
He answered the call. My daughter is dead in this hospital and I am falling through a void into nothingness and I am screaming and screaming and screaming for someone to save me and there is nothing left and he answered the call.
And so I let the void take me. I let it swallow me whole. Life continues all around in small vignettes, but it’s only my physical self that’s present for them. I hear pieces of sound, but time is no longer a concept that matters.
...argument with several girls…
...blood alcohol level…
...threatened to kill herself…
...several witnesses claim…
...locked herself in…
...pill bottles of...
...significant blood loss…
I have willed the word into existence, and with it my conscious mind snaps back to this stark reality only to discover that there has been a change of venue. I am now sitting in a green office chair with faux leather padding which hurts my skin. A painting of a hunting dog in the woods hangs above Officer Bill Langley, who is bent over and furiously writing in a notebook on his lap. There is a new cast member next to me on the edge of a thinly padded wooden love seat. This one looks to be around college-age. She is wearing a polka dotted wrap dress that’s cut just low enough to border on the professional/slutty line and very high, sleek heels. She must think that this is how modern women are supposed to dress in the workplace. This must be her very first grown-up job. Her hospital badge reads Brittany Harte LCSW Grief and Bereavement Services.
“Mrs. Hannah,” Brittany says softly, gently patting my arm as I’m sure she was taught to do in her Intro to Psychology class.
“HannaN. With an N.”
“Right. Yeah. Mrs. Hannan. This must be very difficult for you.”
I look at Officer Langley. I stare through his forehead, willing him to show some sort of emotion that isn’t directly connected to procedure.
“Officer, you’re saying that Ellie committed suicide. Ellie did not commit suicide. I know she didn’t.”
“I know this is a really hard thing to accept,” says Brittany, doing a terrible impression of a television psychiatrist. “I understand that-”
“Ellie isn’t suicidal. I would have known.”
I would have known, I want to tell him, because three years ago she WAS suicidal and she told me then. We made a pact then. So I would have known.
A hint of a smile appears on his thin little mouth, and I notice the hint of a moustache for the first time. It does not suit him. “With all due respect, Ma’am, most of the parents of suicidal teens say that same thing.”
I want to dig my nails into his eye sockets but curl then into my forearm instead. I want him to feel even a small bit of the pain that that's coursing through me at this moment.
“Some parents would be right then. Some parents understand their children.”
“Look, Mrs. Hannan, I am very sorry for your loss, but this is a clear and very unfortunate case of suicide.”
“Why? What makes you so sure?” A tiny bit of blood begins to trickle from my arm but still I grasp it, afraid that if I stop I will crumple and die. My body is at war with itself right now, and I must stay in control of it.
Officer Langley and Brittney Harte LCSW exchange a glance that I’m not supposed to see. I hear their entire unspoken conversation. Neither wants to be here right now, neither can understand why I can’t willingly accept the facts, and both think I’m wasting their time.
“After the verbal altercation, your daughter told several people at that party that she was going to kill herself. We spoke to several of her friends who attest to that fact.”
“This verbal altercation. What was it about? Who did she fight with?”
He rifles through the pages in his obnoxiously small notepad.. “According to statements, she and a young lady named Brooklyn had a verbal altercation right before your daughter locked herself in the bathroom.”
“Which Brooklyn?” It’s an automatic question.
He looks down at his pad again. “Price. Brooklyn Price.”
“Someone’s lying,” I shout.
Brittany Harte nods sympathetically and pats my hand. “It’s a very normal reaction to-”
“No.” I wrench my hand away quickly. “My daughter and her friends don’t hang around with Brooklyn Price anymore. There is no way Brooklyn Price was at that party.”
“Ma'am, several eyewitnesses put her there and put her in the middle of an argument with your daughter.”
“There’s no way that happened.”
“Well, unfortunately Mrs. Hannan, neither of us was there. The kids who were at the party all corroborate these events.”
“So what, so then my daughter runs into the bathroom and...and what...swallows a bunch of pills?”
“That is correct.”
“That is bullshit.” I remain still but inside my soul is clawing and scratching and waiting to be heard. “How can you possibly know right now that Ellie...that it was because of pills? Isn’t there some sort of autopsy that has to happen first?”
Officer Langley smiles again. “That’s not how things work. It’s not like on TV.”
There is something cruel that I can’t identify behind his mask of half-hearted pity
“But the pills…”
“Pills contributed to her death, Mrs. Hannan, but the county coroner believes that her death was a result of blunt force trauma to the head.”
“What.” I demand it rather than ask it, but I’m not even sure the word left my throat.
“She had already been drinking a significant amount of alcohol, which was evident when the EMS team arrived at the scene. She entered the bathroom, took the pills and waited for them to take effect. As she was losing consciousness, she slipped and hit her head on the edge of the bathtub.”
I beg my brain not to create visual images of this horrific event that Officer Bill Langley of the state PD is describing as callously and carelessly as if it’s a scene from a movie he watched one time. But it will not comply. Red, bloody thoughts rush in too quickly.
“I told her...no drinking. I told her.”
“I am very sorry for your loss,” Officer Langley says in a flat tone as he stands. “But the county coroner has ruled your daughter’s death a suicide. That’s the end of it.”
The bloody thoughts turn to dirt and mud.
“Wait,” I demand. “Why did the Lawrence girl have dirt all over her?”
Officer Langley stares at a spot on the wall above my head for a brief second. “How and why teenagers get dirty is irrelevant to this case, Mrs. Hannan. Again, I’m very sorry for your loss.”
He sounds less and less believable the more he says it. Brittany Harte jumps from her perch, a look of unmistakable relief in her eyes. I remain in the awful green chair, certain that I am now six inches tall. I have turned from stone to nothing.
“Something happened to her.” The tears that had been strangely absent until now stung in my eyes and knotted my throat. “Something bad happened to Ellie, but she didn’t kill herself. I know she didn’t.”
Officer Langley puts one sweaty hand on my shoulder.
“According to the official record and the state of Maryland she did,” he says softly. “There’s nothing more you can do.”
And then I am alone.
And then I understand.
Someone hurt my daughter. Someone will get away with it.
My daughter doesn’t have a voice. I do. But I have nothing else.
I am powerless.