I tried to kill myself a few months after my seventeenth birthday. I wasn’t addicted to alcohol yet, but had been relying heavily on drugs to numb my feelings of self-hatred for some time. When I laid the pills out, all the colored pills, on the bedspread of my little girl bunkbed, I thought it was the only way out. I put on Styxx’ Babe and cried softly as I swallowed each pill in the dim glow of the Christmas lights hanging from the bed frame. I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t want to live anymore.
But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And today I do. So, in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week I want to talk to the suicidal Jen and thank her for not succeeding that night.
They look kind of like skittles, those little pills, don’t they? Especially with all the twinkling Christmas lights reflecting off of them. Those lights, hanging from your bunk-bed, they look pretty cool. That bunk-bed sure has a lot of memories, doesn’t it? I remember Dad building it for our brothers. I remember the smell of the sawdust and the way it stuck to our skin while we watched and helped when he let us. I can still feel the soft wood under our fingers when he let us sand the edges. We loved helping Dad in the workshop.
That bed is also the same bed that we shared with our sister. We got the top bunk and she always had the bottom, remember? Of course you do. How could you ever forget that Christmas Eve when we saw Rudolph’s nose blinking through the bedroom window. Sister climbed up to the top bunk with us and saw it too. Then we ran down the hall and crept downstairs, certain we would get a glimpse of Santa. But he wasn’t there. Instead we saw Grammy and Grampy and Mom and Dad. That was a night we’ll never forget.
“Babe, I’m leaving…” What an appropriate choice of music. I know you are ready to leave, Jen. I know it’s been really hard on you lately. Going from an innocent, happy, straight A student to this, this lost, confused, insecure, scared and hopeless void of a human being has been so awful. Even when it looks like you’re having fun, I know you’re not. I know you don’t really enjoy the things you’ve been doing or who you’ve become. I know you miss the old you, the happy, carefree you of our youth. I miss her, too.
The pills go down quite easily, don’t they? I wish they didn’t. I wish they hurt as much as living does right now. Maybe then you wouldn’t take them. I wish a lot of things. I wish our friend hadn’t bailed and left us alone in this harsh, scary seventeen year old world. I wish that psychiatrist hadn’t been such an ass. I wish we hadn’t been suspended. I wish we could have opened our mouth when everyone in our family kept asking us what was wrong.
Mostly, I wish they could see our pain without us having to tell them about it. I wish they could see that every time they tell us we’re hurting our parents, our friends, ourselves, they could just see inside our mute hearts for a minute, just a second, to see that we are brutally, painfully aware of the agony we are causing others. I wish they realized that every time they told us that it took the knife we plunged into our own hearts and twisted it just a little more. I wish I could go back and open your mouth and speak words of honest despair, without hatred and bitterness. I wish I could communicate to Mom, Dad and everyone else just how pitiful we feel, how much we can’t stand ourselves right now. I wish…
I know you are tired. You are so very, very tired of trudging through life, tired of dragging our listless body through the motions, tired of digging deep for the energy to make eye contact or turn the corners of our lips up in something of a smile. I know you think we’re a burden on everyone and they would be better off without us. I know you are done.
But guess what? You’re gonna fail. I know that’s the last thing you want to hear right now. But it is the truth. You’re gonna swallow those pills, listen to Dennis DeYoung and cry like a baby under the twinkling lights. And then, right before the ease of numbness comes over you, you’re gonna start shaking with fear. The reality of what you did will come crashing down on you and – here’s the most difficult pill to swallow of all – you’re gonna want someone to stop you. But no one is there. Mom and Dad are sleeping. Sister and brothers are… who knows where? It is late, very late. The fear is overwhelming. You are going to pull yourself to your feet and with trembling steps, march upstairs and confess to Mom and Dad what you just did. And it is going to be the hardest thing you will ever do.
But Jenny… dear Jenny… I’m so glad you did it. I’m so, so, so very glad you don’t die tonight. I’m not too happy that the EMT in the ambulance happens to be a classmate of ours. That kind of sucks. Talk about adding insult to injury. But he’s cool about it. In fact, he is amazingly compassionate and incredibly kind. He never once makes eye contact or ever tells a soul about our little late night rendezvous in the back of the red bus.
And Mom and Dad never rub it in our face either. If I remember correctly, nobody in the family talks about it at all. I think we really scare them tonight. I know we scare ourself. I think about you a lot, suicidal Jen. We’re not as close as we used to be, but you still come visit every now and again. I’m sorry to tell you this, but I don’t like it when you’re here. Sometimes I pretend I’m not available when I know you’re looking for me. I hide behind locked doors of truth and avoid your doubting gaze by drawing the curtains of faith tight over my eyes.
You see, you don’t realize this right now, there in our bedroom with the shiny pills. You don’t realize that we will go on to experience some wonderful things in life. We will make some amazing friends, and one best friend who never leaves us. We will marry – I know – us- married! Believe it or not, we will marry twice! The first one is a trip. We will have good times and bad times. We will cry, laugh and grow. And get this, we will have three amazing children. They will love us, hate us and always call us Mom. And most importantly – they will not be able to live without us, literally. And the second marriage, it will come when we least expect it and knock our socks off! It will be the one – the one we’ve been waiting for.
Yeah, life is going to surprise the crap out of us, Jen. There will be struggles, I’m not gonna lie. But we will have tools. We will know what to do, who to reach out to and how to get through. And we will find God. It’s not like he’s lost or anything. He’s always been here. It’s just that we kind of stopped looking. As we go through the roller coaster of life, we will get glimpses of Him. We will see Him when we are at the top, holding our breath. And we will feel Him as we rush through the dark tunnels, screaming our lungs out. And when we calm down, He will still be there, nudging us, telling us to share our experience with someone else.
And Jen, that is the coolest thing of all. It’s not that we have to go through all this painful, difficult stuff. We get to go through all this. We get the privilege and honor of living through it. And today, believe it or not, we are helping other people realize that they can get through it, too. That there is hope. That they don’t have to take the pills.
So Jen, I’m really glad you don’t die tonight. I’d be lost without you.