*I feel like I need to make a note about how intense this piece is. The thoughts expressed are thoughts from a year and a half ago when I wanted to end everything. I don’t currently feel this way. I have known the love and care described for a long time now and I don’t plan on forgetting. That being said, I hope this speaks to you in some way.*
All I remember is some loud noise followed by another loud noise. They sound like wails from a distance that repeat over and over. It’s a siren for devastation. I can make out some words and lean as far as I can to listen.
“Why…she did it…how…?” A jargled sentence in between sobs. Who had done what? I sit up and realize I don’t know where I am. I’m nowhere. There’s nothing by me yet I feel connected to everything I can’t see around me. The wails continue to fade and soon, it becomes silent.
“So, we finally meet.”
A voice makes me jerk my head around and I come face to face with a man I thought I knew. I squint my eyes and take in his tall, pale features. His hair is greased in a way that makes him look out of his time, his figure lean but not of someone that exercises, but of someone that doesn’t eat enough. His sharp nose and thin lips rest squarely on his expressionless face. My mind throws me forward through a vortex of memories into an office and conversation full of anger that hasn’t come yet. I see stories. I see books on an endless shelf. I see kindness. I’m jolted back to nowhere and stand in front of the man in the suit doing his job. Death. My face must’ve given away my confusion; he put an arm around me and asked to take a walk. I’m not sure where we’re walking to or what we’re walking through but I feel my feet move in that familiar back and forth pattern that carries my body from point A to point B. Everything is white, I notice. Everything is silent, I notice. There is nothing, I finally notice. I stop suddenly and feel my pulse strangely slow. With the nervousness I feel, I would expect it to be racing. The pieces begin to form in front of me and the puzzle slowly comes together. The outline of the pieces come in and I can see a bathtub, the edge of the puzzle starts to come together and I see a body in the tub, the other side of the puzzle is filled in and I can see a blade sunk next to a finger in a tub of blood. I don’t know if I want to finish the puzzle but it finishes anyway and I see a woman in a tub with open wounds on both wrists, a sunk blade, empty bottles, and blood. All the pieces are in but I can’t see the face; it’s the only piece missing. I shake my head hard and wonder out loud why I saw that. Death remains silent and we continue to move. I look back to where the puzzle had formed in front of me and I feel like I have to go back. Who is that woman? Death lets me run back and think hard and long. The piece slowly begins to form and I can make out dark hair, closed eyes, dozens of jewels on one ear, and a tiny nose piercing that looks familiar.
Death returns to his position next to me as I stumble backward and fall onto the empty nothingness below us. Suddenly I remember. After downing some liquid courage, the blade suddenly wasn’t so scary and neither was death. I had stumbled into the tub and made sure I was set and comfortable. I had made sure nobody was home and the tub was full. I struggled to remember through the drunken fog what I had done next but I had to close my eyes as I remembered the pain of the blade. It couldn’t be true. I fall to my knees and lie down, feeling nothing but my slowed pulse. I look at my wrist and see that it is true, the vertical lines tracing each arm was proof that I had done what I had wanted to do for so long. I had finally had the courage to attempt suicide again. Death laid down next me as if reading my thoughts and takes my hand in his. It is then that I realize that I had completed my mission. Here was the journey with Death I had longed for for months. He asks me if I’m ready and I continue staring into the distance. My mind races in circles, over and over, repeating the phrase, “I did it.”
After what feels like hours, I sit up and finally stand. I can’t believe I did this. The feelings are baffling. One second, I am proud of myself for being so brave, the other second being ashamed at what I had done, then fear for what was next, and pain that I had carried with me from the other side. I thought I would be free from pain if I had succeeded but here I was, still holding the heavy heart that anchored me in the tub. I had no idea what was next but it seemed like Death had a plan.
“Follow me.” He stretched out a pale hand, worn to the bone, and prepares for a journey he had taken a thousand times over. I step beside him and we begin.
The white begins to change around us, swirling and morphing into different shapes and colors. It’s a beautiful pattern of controlled chaos and my eyes are glued. Suddenly, a clear picture is formed. There were my friends, sitting together in a living room somewhere. It doesn’t look familiar but it’s okay, I’m not a part of their evening. I’m not sure why we’re here but Death simply nods his head towards their direction, telling me to watch and listen. I sigh but decide to do as told. I see people hunched over crying, desperately racing their tears with a box of tissues, struggling to get enough oxygen to continue sobbing, and others staring into space, shocked. Their words are mixed and slurred through sniffles but I can make out familiar stories. I remember these stories. They were fun things we had done together, things they wish we had done, and fun memories. Then, the stories turn to pleas and blame, aimed towards themselves. I hear questions of people who wished they had done more, anger because they missed what they thought were now obvious signs, and the word, “why”. They’re talking about me. They’re looking at the date and time for my memorial. I look at Death and am speechless. I didn’t think anybody would care. It’s not a big deal, I’m one blip and they should just move on. I want to yell at them and tell them it’s not their fault, to just forget me, and to just move on with their lives but they don’t hear me. I can’t hold myself back and I run to sit down next to them and try to hold them with ghostly arms that slide right through. There’s no way of making them hear me. I’m angry that they can’t hear me, angry that they won’t just forget me, and angry that now they show they care. Where was this when I was alive? I want to scream at Death but he stops me and begins to explain.
“They cared when you were alive. You were looking the other way. How can you blame them for not giving you what you expected when you never told them what you needed? Are they supposed to read your mind? They watched your show and clapped enthusiastically. How can you blame them? It was fantastic. They never got to see the scenes you cut out. Your acting is too good, my dear, and I’m afraid the oscar you won is a trip with me.”
Sadness ripples through my body and stops suddenly at my chest and I fall to my knees once more. I grip my chest, struggling to breathe. Death kneels beside me and comforts me, forgiving me for my actions, and holding me close. I feel my pulse slow even more and the pain subsides. The tears come through the dam around my eyes and I’m a waterfall. I can’t help but sob and the only phrase I can utter is, “I didn’t know.”
Death helps me get to my feet as the picture slowly dissolves. The nothingness of the white feels soothing for just a moment. I start to feel tired but am curious to see where Death leads me next. I brace as the next picture comes together and I see my recovery family. I see the faces that took me in when I couldn’t take myself, they loved me when I couldn’t, and guided me towards a life I never knew I could have. The sniffles are muffled through the tissues as each speaker shares and I hear the kind statements about my relationship with them. I knew they cared but I thought I would be just another statistic of an addict that killed themselves and life would continue. This meeting seems to be about love and I can hear the love they had for me. I look at Death and wonder why he’s showing this to me, I know they love me, I don’t need this to be any harder. But Death ignores my question and continues to let me watch their suffering. They’re suffering because of me. I thought I could just get away with sneaking my death and move on to the other side where I’d be free from pain and hang out until they joined me one day. I didn’t expect to see the aftermath. I can’t take the pain anymore. I want to scream at Death but he stops me and begins to explain.
“You don’t get to decide how other people feel about you and react to your death. You chose an action and these are the consequences. They’re not what you expected, no, but they are here and they are real. The broken hearts here are broken for you and because of you. Pretending they’d get over it and erasing the love they have for you made it easier for you to move on but their devastation is real; love is not something you can erase.”
Pain ripples through my body and stops suddenly at my chest and I fall to my knees once more. I grip my chest, struggling to breathe. Death kneels beside me and comforts me, forgiving me for my selfishness, and holding me close. I feel my pulse slow even more and the pain subsides. The tears come through the dam around my eyes once more and I’m a waterfall. I can’t help but sob and the only phrase I can utter is, “I didn’t know.”
Death helps me to my feet again and I struggle to walk. The empty white fills the space around us and I feel more tired than before. I can barely find a pulse but I keep going. I brace as the next picture comes together and I see strangers. There’s a handsome man holding three beautiful children on a bed trying to be strong. His features are perfectly defined and I can’t help but stare at him longer. The little children looked like they were all under the age of ten. They were all crying and asking their dad why mom left. The man struggled to find the words through his tears and simply held the little ones. I come around and see the face of the youngest child. His brown eyes match mine and the way his nose crinkles when he’s sad mirrored mine. I gasp and back into Death, speechless. This is my future family. The husband I always dreamed about and the three children I wanted to raise completely different than the way I had been raised. I had gotten over my fear of being a terrible mom and was determined to break the cycle of abuse in my family. This picture tells me I succeeded. Or would have succeeded. I can’t take my eyes off the youngest child, crying and asking why over and over to a question their father can never explain. They wonder why their mom didn’t love them enough to start the family in the first place. Other strangers begin to appear and I realize they are my in-laws. My would have been in-laws. They’re the family I dreamed about marrying into. The mother, kind and understanding, is held by a man, gentle and strong at the same time. The other adults there, who looked like the handsome man holding the children, my would have been children, were holding their own families with their own children wondering why their aunt didn’t love them enough to join their family. I hear little voices asking if they did something wrong. I want to run over and tell them no, it’s not your fault. The heartbreak is indescribable. I didn’t want to see what could’ve been; I didn’t think it was possible for me to have a happy ending. I want to scream at Death but he stops me and begins to explain.
“This would have been your family. The man truly was worth waiting for. Your children are a lot like you. You would have overcome your fear of being like your own mother and the home would have been safe. Happily ever afters can happen for anyone, even people like you who believe they are too far gone. Something you need to learn is that no one is too far gone. There are enough happily ever afters to go around. This is part of yours.”
Devastation ripples through my body and stops suddenly at my chest and I fall to my knees once more. I grip my chest, struggling to breathe. Death kneels beside me and comforts me, forgiving me for my lack of faith, and holding me close. I feel my pulse slow even more and the pain subsides. The tears come through the dam around my eyes once more and I’m a waterfall. I can’t help but sob and the only phrase I can utter is, “I didn’t know.”
Time passes and Death guides me forward. I don’t know if I can handle this one. The white wraps me tight and gives me just enough to move forward into the next moment. Strangers begin to form in front of me, people I have never seen before. I look to Death for direction but he simply watches. I’m annoyed by his lack of explanation but he didn’t move. I sigh and look back at the group of strangers randomly carrying out their daily lives. I see a woman in her early thirties, making dinner while children sang to a cartoon song. She looks relaxed and comfortable with herself, probably for the first time in a long time. A man comes in and wraps his big arms around her and tells her how happy he is to see her. The joy that radiates from this couple is too much to bear and I feel my stomach turn. Jealousy begins to run through my veins but stop when I see scars on her wrist that match my own. The picture jumps to a man working in an office, staring out his window. He looks to be someone that owned a big corporation and never struggled with money in his life. He looked like he had it all. There in his drawer lays a gun, one that he runs his finger over again and again. He sighs and picks up his phone, connected with his secretary and ask them to book another appointment with his therapist. He admits she had helped him and was willing to give life another shot. I was shocked when I heard my last name with the word doctor in front of it. The picture jumps again before I could wrap my head around what was happening and I see a young person on a stage, speaking about their experience. I hear a story just like my own, except they had sought help earlier and found their way with the help of someone who had shown them it was possible to get through life despite the depression and anxiety. They continue to say they couldn’t have made it without this person, and I’m shocked to hear my name again. My heart drops when I start to realize what’s happening but once again the scene is different. We’re standing in front of a bookstore and there I see a collection of my writing, finally published, sitting in the window with a number one seller sticker on the corner. My hand rests on the glass and I can’t help but whisper, “No way.” Death places his cold hand on my shoulder and I jerk it off. I’m angry at him for making this journey harder than it needs to be. I want to scream at Death but he stops me and begins to explain.
“You saw part of your happily ever after, the part with the family that is lucky enough to receive the love that overflows from your heart. These people are the other part who were able to catch some of that love before it was too late for them. This is the strength of your story, this is the power of your voice once you choose to use it, and this is the other part of your happily ever after. You wanted to change the world for the better. You can’t do that when you’re standing next to me.”
Shame ripples through my body and stops suddenly at my chest and I fall to my knees once more. I grip my chest, struggling to breathe. Death kneels beside me and comforts me, forgiving me for wasting my story, and holding me close. I feel my pulse slow even more and the pain subsides. The tears come through the dam around my eyes once more and I’m a waterfall. I can’t help but sob and the only phrase I can utter is, “I didn’t know.”
Death puts his arm around me and nearly carries me through to the next picture. The white comes back and I can’t see it. My eyes are closed as I try to stumble my way forward. The next picture begins to form. I see my family appear and suddenly I’m awake and angry. I yell at Death and tell him there’s nothing to see here. This is their fault for not loving me enough, for not being there for me, for acting like everything is fine even though their daughter had attempted suicide before, for pretending like nothing was wrong, for attacking me constantly and making it unsafe, and for everything wrong with me. I blame them for it all. If only I had a different family. I yell at Death louder. I wanted a different family. I wanted a mom that wasn’t emotionally unstable and abusive. I wanted a dad that had a spine and could stand up for what was right. I wanted a brother that wasn’t selfish and would be my friend. I wanted everything to be different yet I got stuck here with a group of stuck up, selfish, waste. I struggle to find words to fit the anger and hatred burning in my veins. I look at Death only to see that he hadn’t bothered to look at me the entire time. Death’s expression softens as he looks beyond me. Turning around, I see my brother in his room at his computer. I watch as he plays his video games and I want to punch him. How could he not be mourning right now? I stroll quickly to see my father, sitting on the couch reading his book. Typical, of course they’re pretending I never existed. I run to find my mom laying in her bed playing on her phone with headphones on. I want to throw her phone out the window and shove her the way she had shoved me emotionally my whole life. I look back at Death and scream. This is exactly what I knew would happen. They don’t care. I killed myself because of them. The other pictures you showed me? Whatever. They’re nice. But this? This I knew. I already knew how little I meant, I knew of the indifference of my family, and I knew my death would mean nothing but a financial strain because they have to pay for my funeral. They will roll their eyes and bury me in the cheapest box because it doesn’t matter. They’re one more pay off away to going back to the perfect family. Death still hasn’t looked at me and I want to grab him and make him listen. His eyes pooled up and I see tears rolling down his cheeks. I turn back to see my brother, losing his game. I’m confused, he never loses. He’s pretty good from what I remember yet he continues to die and lose over and over. I sit next to him and see his eyes blank, an empty pool leaking endless streams down each cheek. His nose runs but he doesn’t react. His pants catch every tear and the pool is beginning to grow as the fabric begins to run out of space. The tears are coming too quickly but he stares ahead, dying and losing. My anger melts a little as I realize maybe he is sad. Death nods and I move back to my dad on the couch. I stand behind him and realize he hadn’t turned the page. My head cocked to the side in confusion, my dad is the fastest reader I know yet he’s stuck on a paragraph. I look at the page and see that the ink at the bottom was being washed away by his tears. Reading was impossible through the puddles forming in each eye and I realize maybe he’s sad too. My anger melts a little more. Death nods once more and I move to my mother. I’m confident this one won’t be like the other two, she is sure to be checking bank accounts calculating how much my life is worth. My fists are balled on either side as I stomp back in. Death tells me to look at her phone. I want to fight back but I scoff and walk around to see. I’m surprised to see there was a picture of me on the screen, smiling. She slides her finger across the screen and there’s a picture of our family on Christmas making silly faces. She slides again and there’s a picture of just her and I smiling on vacation. I hear my own voice in her headphones and realize she’s listening to the videos I had made years ago just for my own amusement. I step back, confused. I feel tears in my eyes mirroring the ones in hers as she scrolls through endless photos. She laughs every so often at one of my silly jokes in the videos. My anger disappears completely when I realize maybe she’s sad too. My two kittens enter the room and leap onto the bed. I can’t help but break down completely knowing no one can explain to them why their mom left them. They’ll think that I abandoned them. Shock replaces sadness for a moment as I hear my mom, the woman opposed to cats, holds them both and promises to take good care of them for me. She promises to love them the way she should have loved me and holds them tight as she begins to sob. I have no words for Death and he explains.
“I know it wasn’t perfect. I know it wasn’t great at times. I know you wanted more. I know blood was never thicker than water for you. I’m sorry that you didn’t get exactly what you want but I think you got more than you know. Just because someone isn’t good at showing their love doesn’t mean they don’t love you.”
A feeling I can’t describe ripples through my body and stops suddenly at my chest and I fall to my knees once more, completely broken. I grip my chest, struggling to breathe. Death kneels beside me and comforts me, forgiving me for my blindness, and holding me close. I feel my pulse slow almost to a stop and the pain subsides. The tears come through the dam around my eyes once more and I’m a waterfall. I can’t help but sob and the only phrase I can utter is, “I didn’t know.”
Death picks me up in his arms and helps me finish the journey. We come to the end and I feel him lay me down on a bed, still uttering the phrase, “I didn’t know.” He holds my hand between his own and tells me it’s going to be okay. His voice is drifting away further and further, being replaced by the sound of a machine holding a steady tone. Voices begin to come into focus and I can see a blinding light above me. Suddenly, a shock courses through my body and my heart struggles to begin beating again. The pain is great as my back arches to the paddles on top. I can hear the machine continue to hold the flat tone and the panicked voices of those around me begin to fade, being replaced by the sound of sobbing. The shock courses through my body once more and my heart tries to grab what it can take. The machine begins to beep slowly at first, then begins to pick up the rhythm and soon, the paddles are put away and a bright light is shined into each eye. The pulse is slow and unsteady but there. I hear more muffled talking and loud sobs. My arms are bandaged tight and I can see the red stains. The needles in my arms desperately pump life into my body. Shock begins to float me away, back to the land of empty nothingness but something catches my eye. Not something, someone. A lot of someones. I see my friends, my recovery family, my would have been family, the strangers I would touch, my family, and even my two kittens. They’re rooting for me, begging for me to come back, begging for this to be a nightmare they can wake up from. I float in the middle and realize my journey hadn’t been to the other side of death but to the other side of life, the half I would have missed and the pain I would have caused. I can’t pretend to not know anymore. I can’t unsee the devastation, pain, and sadness held by each person because they cared and I didn’t know. I see it. I feel it. I know it.
The machine begins to slow and soon picks up the flat tone once more. Panic fills the room as the nurses rush back in to try again but I know it won’t work this time. The man in a suit, tired from his job stands, waiting for me.
“Are you ready?” He asks me. I hesitate and surprise myself. Before, I would have loved to end it quickly but this time I’m not sure. I know what saying yes would do. But I don’t know what saying no would do. I look back to him and ask for time to decide. He apologizes because there is no time. The paddles aren’t working like they were last time and there are milliseconds between now and the decision is made for me. I look at my friends holding each other, my recovery friends praying, my would have been family sobbing, the strangers looking hopeless, and my family. I look back to Death with a knowing look in his eye. The corner of his lip twitches as it tries not to curl upwards. I don’t know what to say. What would saying no do? Would things change and I would remember how much they care? Or would it go back to how it was? Death simply looks at me and then looks at the room full of people. He gave me my answer without words and I stare at them too. It was worth taking a shot for. Besides learning that they care about me, Death had sneakily taught me something I had overlooked. It was something under my nose the entire time, it was hidden in my sobs with my friends, pain with my recovery family, devastation with my would have been family, shame with the strangers I would impact, and an indescribable feeling with my family. I had learned that I cared too, and that changes everything. They didn’t have to change, I did.
Death places his hand on my shoulder. I look to him terrified that I’d lose my chance and terrified that I’d have to live longer. He reassures me that I made the right choice and I’m confused. I didn’t think I had really made a decision yet. Did I? He gives me a squeeze and smiles.
“You’re going to be okay.”
Before I could say anything else, the light is shining into each of my eyes and I open them to see the ceiling. The voices raise and the mayhem increases as the doctors rush to do their jobs and I lay there. I have a vague memory of a man in a suit but it’s unclear. I see white walls around me and white coats of doctors hovering over me and a strange feeling of calm rushes over me. I hear the machine beeping steadily and feel the pulse in my chest matching the rhythm. Relief floods over me and I’m not sure why. My vision is blurry but I can see people filling the room. Their faces are familiar. I feel sad when I see my friends, pain when I see my recovery family, devastation when I see a man and three children I had never met, shame when I see the rest of the strangers, and an indescribable yet familiar feeling when I see my family. I’m not sure why I felt these things but they each rushed me as my eyes swept the room. When the doctors had completed their jobs and left the room, I saw the line of people coming to hold my hand and tell me they love me and how much they care. I stop each of them and look into their confused eyes. A small smile crept onto my face along with the tears that had come from nowhere. By the door, I see a man in a suit nodding his head before he disappears down the hall. Recognition flashes for a moment but dissipates as he turns a corner. My attention goes back to the people in my room and I simply sigh. They wonder what I want to say and ask why I had stopped them from telling me they loved me. My journey flashes quickly through my mind like a movie on fast forward and disappears like a lightbulb that exploded. The memory fades and I remember why I stopped them. I look into their faces and take a deep breath to tell them,
“I know. I love you too.”