[TW for discussion of suicide.]
Sunday was my birthday. I turned 44.
Today I have an anniversary. Another birthday, of sorts.
I am turning 2.
I don’t know any other way to start this story.
* * * * *
Funny thing is, two years ago today—on the actual day of October 7, 2012—nothing happened. I lay on the couch. I spent that whole month of October laying on my couch. I ate there. I slept there. I got up only to grab food or use the bathroom.
I had been carrying the date of October 7 in my head since that spring (for reasons I remember but find too tedious to recount) as the day my clock would finally run out. October 7, 2012 was a Saturday, meaning as long as I dropped any farewell notes into the mailbox on the street after 5 pm, they wouldn’t be collected for over 24 hours. If anything went wrong—if for any reason I found myself still alive on Sunday—I’d have another full day, probably two, to regroup and try a second time. Perhaps a second method. I went off all prescription medications in early September and began hoarding the pills instead. I knew which local drugstore stocked the loose razor blades I liked best.
For months I braced myself for this outcome. Not because I particularly desired it. I was just bone-tired of putting it off.
Then, in late September, my parents passed through town—the easternmost point of a month-long driving trip they took that fall, and one of the reasons I’d scheduled my death for October. A chance to say goodbye, even if only one of us knew it. On the last night of their stay, my mother had a dream in which I told her I was planning to suicide. Or that’s what she said to my father the next morning; today she says she first had that thought the evening before and then lay awake all night haunted by her conviction.
At 5 am I received a text: Come to the hotel as soon as you can. We need to talk.
Up in their hotel room, my dad gestured me to a pair of chairs, then sat down in the one across from me. My mother sat on the other side of the room, half-turned away and looking down at her hands.
“Your mom had a dream last night. She thinks you’re going to kill yourself.” He paused. “We’d like to ask you not to.”
The pause I took was longer. The pause I took felt like an eternity.
In the end, I agreed.
We all behaved like that was enough to resolve the issue. My parents stayed for an extra day, bought me a fall coat (“The receipt’s in the bag. Just take it back within 14 days if you want to do an exchange!”), and took me out to dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant. The following morning they left for the next leg of their trip, driving away in the truck with the engine not quite large enough to pull their new trailer without frequent overheating. I saw them off, then went home and moved onto my couch for a month.
Two years later, we all find ourselves mystified by these choices. As my mother said recently, “I can’t believe we just drove off and left you. I didn’t understand how bad it was. I didn’t know anything about suicide back then, or what else to do.”
I concur. She didn’t know, and neither did he. And neither did I.
For one thing, we all thought my agreeing not to take the pills meant I would not die.
* * * * *
The metamorphosis that turns worm into winged color involves destruction.
Inside its chrysalis—that shell of skin that emerges, hard and crackling, from beneath its final molting—the worm dissolves, undoes, unbecomes. It perishes into a glue of undifferentiated cells; it gestates for a second time. When old matter made newly-winged rips at last through the dry husk of its once-self with sharp intent, we clutch our hearts at its beauty.
Researchers believe a butterfly retains some memories from its life as a caterpillar. It can, in part, look back.
I pray the caterpillar cannot look forward. I am not sure the dream of one day flying can adequately prepare its soul for the dissolution first required.
* * * * *
October 7, 2012 marked the beginning of a new life I am now creating, each day upon the last.
October 7, 2012 also marked a day I died.
Today I cradle grief to my chest like a sleeping infant, even as I stretch and flex new wings upon my back.
[“October 7, 2012” is part of an ongoing memory project.
The entire series can be found here.]