Who wants to die?
I wonder if everyone feels like this.
It must be normal, right?
I tell myself that like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, all of us have been hopeless enough to consider jumping off a bridge.
I convince myself it must be a given part of life to contemplate being out of one’s misery. I ruminate on all these things but don’t know if they’re really true. Haven’t we all have wondered if life might not be worth all the trouble? Don’t we all start to ask such questions when we grow up and reach the ripe old age of 10?
I asked myself these things in my depressed and prepubescent state not prepared to know the answers. My 10-year-old logic is this:
If I’m alone in my sadness, it only deepens my feelings of loneliness. If I am not alone, there must be a whole lot of terribly sad people walking around the planet.
Either way, I don’t want to think about it.
I will not speak of my secret. I don’t tell Mrs. Fisher, the guidance counsellor at school with the crazy red hair. She asks me why I miss school a lot. I tell her it’s because my stomach hurts.
I pretend not to notice that every time I think of not being alive, I die a little inside. It’s my own suicide of the mind, a plan of my own subconscious creation. I use the Garfield diary I get for Christmas to document my sentiments so as to never let myself forget. Under lock and key, in blue and bouncy 5th grade hand I write:
“I wish I was dead.”
We planted a tree in honor of Lisa Rose that year in the front school yard of McMillan Elementary. I was asked to speak at the memorial service but can only recall one sentence of what I said. Why hadn’t I written that down in my diary instead? I still thought what I said must have been stupid until not that long ago.
‘Out of the mouths of babes,’ they say.
Mine said some words I’ll never remember, and only a handful of the ones I still do. The only thing I remember saying that day about Lisa Dawn Rose is that despite the fact that she was always so sick, somehow she never had a care in the world.
I read words I had prepared in honor of my dead friend, written on standard issue, blue-lined notebook paper. I opened my carefully folded page at an ugly veneer podium in white shoes and wet morning grass. I read the words I had memorized, too afraid I might forget one, words that have since faded like construction paper taped across the corners, on a wall in a room full of sun.
I heard them like an echo when I said them aloud, as if they had already been spoken. I wish I could remember every word, but instead remember the metal mesh of microphone, pressed against sticky Bonne Bell-covered lips.
I skipped my first school lunch on a Thursday one day after that morning in spring. I know it was Thursday because it was Turkey Turnover Day. When I showed up at the table without a tray, my friends seemed irritated at me, asking me why I hadn’t given it to one of them. Every single person I knew loved turkey turnovers. I hated them. If my friends couldn’t understand how disgusting turkey turnovers were or how much fatter I might get if I were to eat one, how would they ever understand that sometimes I really wanted to die?
It pains me that these are the things I remember. Pink partitioned lunch trays and shredded turkey stuffed pastries covered in gelatinous yellow gravy, a scoop of powdered potatoes by its side; the development of an aversion to microphones.
How was I supposed to remember things that I really needed to know.
How would I ever remember how she knew how to live even though she knew she was dying?
I didn’t write it down. Why hadn’t I written it down?
I decided to pen my confessions of suicidal ideation on pages guarded by a comic book cat and a lock you can pick with a hairpin. I scribble over and over it later, in panicked circles, until it’s no longer clear what was written there.
But the scribbles are there to remind me, so one day I rip out the scribbles, leaving the binding loose.
10 years and 10,000 more prayers to let me die later, a clinician scribbles some words in a chart on her desk where I can’t see. I can’t tell her I think a lot about dying, more days than not since the year I turned 10, but I tell her what she needs to know. I don’t want something written that cannot be erased. I made that mistake once already and ruined a perfectly good diary. As she turns to get a prescription pad and boxes of samples from a grey metal file cabinet drawer, I strain to read what she has written.
I can only read a little, but I fight the urge to grab the chart and scribble in circles over the words. I want to rip out the page with the words that I read before she turns back around in her chair:
Major Depression, recurrent, 296.32. Dispense Prozac 20 mg
The sadness never left me after that diary entry in the winter of 1985, nor after that office visit ending in a diagnostic code and a bag full of little boxes of pills. I was unknowingly feeding my sadness all the food I tried, but failed to deprive myself of. I grew bigger while my spirit withered away. For so long I thought that was what growing up was.
30 years later, how I pray that I never grow up. I feel sometimes as if time has moved backward in those respects and I’m okay with that. I keep trying to learn in reverse to see the world again through the eyes of a child. Jesus said we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Maybe that’s the key to living the way Lisa Rose always did. Maybe that’s why she knew exactly what to do.
Zora Neale Hurston said“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
So many questions.
All this time.
And even after all of it, I still don’t have answers to all of them. There are those questions the years have answered loudly and some that grow exponentially larger with time. Looking back it’s clear it was all of the usual suspects that had started the landslide of things that made me want to Die,
Things like Disordered eating and
Diets that promised I could (my fat would) Disappear,
things like Divorce,
These things happen and the world keeps spinning like it didn’t even notice it fell apart. It goes on and so do we, mustering the best we possibly can amidst the D words and the mud that we slide in. Mud.
Just another word for really wet Dirt.
And while I would love to be able to say I never find myself fighting sadness amidst my deliriously beautiful life, it would be a lie.
I wish I could tell you the melancholy left and never came back, that the pills worked, that I never wonder anymore why it hurts so much, that I never forget that I am a child of God.
But it would negate the very experience of what it means to be human.
With bone having grown into contact with my spinal nerves from a failed back surgery, my physical pain is sometimes overwhelming. Sometimes I cry a lot and then pull myself back together, wipe my eyes and take a deep breath. Just like I did when I was 10.
But I no longer pray to die in my sleep. I now longer pray to escape by death. Now I wake in the middle of the night wondering if I have taught my kids the things they really need to know.
I wake in a panic full of questions, full of last requests.
God please don’t take me before I have lived enough, before I have loved enough.
Before I have learned how it is that we again become as little children.
I keep thinking about the fact that my son is only three years away from the age I was when I wrote those ominous words in my journal. Watching holiday movies lately must have us both thinking a lot about life and death. He asked me last week after watching A Christmas Carol,
“Mama, what does it mean to be alive?”
I asked him where he completed his training to be a Zen master.
I have found the questions children ask you are the hardest ones to answer. They seem simple enough at first, but they cause you to examine your own questions and those still waiting for answers. The ones you skipped over leaving the little oval empty, your pencil hovering until you waste so much time on it you decide—
I better come back to that one later.
His question and my inability to answer it It awoke me that night in sweat soaked clothes, even though I must know some of the answers.
Perhaps my fear isn’t that I don’t know the answers.
It’s that I know some of the answers are the ones that change you forever. Like the ones that you learn around the time you turn 10.
Pushing nearly 40, my memory grows dim with each passing year. I still can’t remember what kind of tree we planted that day for Lisa Rose, but I pray that it flowers every spring.
I’m writing the important things down now, so that I’ll never forget. For that day when my son asks his question again, through the lens of someone no longer a stranger to loss. And when that day comes I will have prepared these words to be saved now as a digital file, never to be lost or taped up in a box somewhere, where diaries with locks go to become old relics.
My beautiful Child,
Sometimes you will find yourself in the back and forth between knowing the largeness of your life and being so hurt by the smallness—you think you can’t bear either one.
There will be times that you will be filled with boundless joy, and times life will steal your very breath and leave you praying you don’t, in your panic try and take it back.
Sometimes you will fall and shear the skin from your knees, but you have witnessed the miracle of your body heal the wounds.
Like the scab that forms where the skin has been broken, it will fall away in time to reveal that while it was aching so badly, the very cells of your body were knitting themselves back together.
You must keep living even though sometimes it means dying a little.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Renee Picard/Editor: Catherine Monkman