Soon, it will be three years since you died by suicide.
Three years since the day I sat in my car outside your place with my cellphone pressed to my ear, requesting a welfare check from the non-emergency police line.
It was a Friday and you hadn’t shown up to work. Your car was parked in its normal spot in your garage, but all the blinds were down and the doors were locked. Your doors were never locked.
Fear expanded my lungs as I answered the kind lady’s questions: you were my absolute best friend and you hadn’t responded to any of my phone calls or text messages since that morning, and now I was at your house and all the signs said you were here but you weren’t answering.
Yes, that was very unusual.
Yes, you had been depressed lately.
Yes, you had expressed suicidal thoughts.
You had recently stopped taking your anti-depressants cold turkey, because you didn’t like the physical side effects. You had lost your appetite and had trouble sleeping. You were seeing a therapist, but the appointments weren’t often enough, in my opinion.
“I’m so scared,” I said to this woman, whose name I will never remember. “I know,” she responded. “I will stay on the phone with you.”
At this point, I could write a doctoral thesis unraveling all the different events and reasons that led up to that day you swallowed five bottles of pills. They are complicated and messy, some minute and others broad.
Most of the time, I am understanding—after all, who has a more clear idea of the days and weeks leading up to that day than me? As your best friend, I was there for those tiny moments that are the blood cells of a life’s pulse. But that first-hand knowledge is not always enough, because there are times when flashes of anger overtake me and the reasons still seem so insufficient.
Just as your journey to death was complicated and messy, my journey continuing to live has been as well.
Since that day, what have I done?
I sat sentry at your wake. And I was the last to leave your graveside.
When packing up your room, I crouched by your brother’s side as he turned your newly printed passport in his hands and asked, “Was she going somewhere?” You wanted to see elephants in Thailand.
I told the story behind several of your possessions that day, the knowledge of you tumbling from my lips. I suddenly found myself the keeper of memories and couldn’t bear holding the position alone. I saw the expression of heartbreak on the faces of our friends. I cried in the arms of the men who loved you. I drove in silence for two years because music was too painful to listen to. I stood, dazed and doll-like, as people showered me with platitudes and phrases and encouragement. You are so strong, they said. You are such an inspiration, getting through this, they said. For a while, I woke up with nail marks in my palms from clenching my hands in my sleep.
I have forged relationships with your family. I have laughed so hard with your sister my ribs hurt and I almost drove into a curb. I have playfully twirled underneath your small niece’s arm, thinking as I crouched and spun, You should be doing this. I greeted your mother on her birthday, saying “Hi Mama!” and watched tears gather in her eyes. I ate Thanksgiving pie with them, nervously explaining my plans to quit my job and attempt college at 35, basking in the words, “We are so proud of you.”
I started writing again. I got published on Elephant Journal, your favorite website. I wrap my arms around those who come to me, still to this day and say, “I can’t believe it. Why did she do it?” while raising my eyes to the sky, thinking, Do you see what you have left behind? I have shared some of your secrets. Others, after careful consideration, I have chosen to keep. I have become accustomed to the sharp pain of running into reminders of inside jokes that now belong only to me.
I know there is much I have forgotten. The micro-moments where nothing special happens, the skeleton bones of friendship. I have thought about getting hypnotized to remember more. I have thought about contacting a psychic to see how you are doing. I have actually done neither of those things.
I have picked up your pain and sat it down again. Your sorrows are not mine to carry. I have kept walking, walking, walking the rocky road of grief. It is both sacred and terrible.
Soon, a time will come where you will have been gone longer than the time I have known you alive. Because of the work I’ve done, I now know this is neither good nor bad, it just is what happens when life goes on. It’s part of the deal I made by staying alive after you decided to leave. A part of you has become a part of me.
The love and encouragement you used to give me still feeds me to this day. Your words echo in my head: “Be kind to yourself,” you would gently say, if you thought I was making a bad choice. When I started listing all the ways I had failed and my fears of the future, you told me, “You have no idea how resilient you really are.”
Now I whisper those words to myself, as I wake in the mornings, unsure of my ability to walk through the fire of fear.
In the days and weeks after your death, when the black hole of grief became overwhelming, I cried to myself, “Who will love me now?” A best friend like you comes once in a lifetime. The answer in the dark of the sleepless nights was always the same: You will have to learn to love yourself.
I have done that. Here I am—loving, living.
That is my final gift to you: my life, going on.