My first attempt at suicide was age 11. I carefully poured a small amount of poisonous chemical into a glass jar and packed it in my lunch container, and packed that into my backpack. Mid-afternoon, my favorite time of day, I took it into the girl’s bathroom and went into a stall by the high window and locked the door. I remember it was very quiet and well-lit in the bathroom. I felt very comfortable there. I stared at the black liquid in the jar for a long time, willing myself to drink it, thinking of all the good reasons to do it, but in the end I did not. I returned it to my backpack and went on with the day. No one knew a thing.
My second attempt was a year later, when I went to an apartment building in order to jump off the roof. I had left after lunch and never came back to school, just curled in a ball at the door of the roof in the cold thinking absolutely no thoughts at all. This is called a disassociative state. What was really weird was that I was a good student with high marks and no one called home to figure out what happened to me. No one asked me the following day. This is when I first discovered the power of putting on a good face to the world. For a girl this mask includes a big smile, for a boy it’s quiet consternation.
Often when someone asks me what I like, I think they are asking me what I can tolerate, and I can tolerate anything. So to save time, I say yes to whatever it is they are talking about, making a mental note to never see them again so I will not be pressed into whatever dumb idea they have cooked up, like organized sports or something. I have at times carefully thought about what I might actually like, what the right answer might actually be, but it never comes and if it does I always second guess it anyway. But there is no chance in hell that I would ever make the mistake of actually saying it out loud.
A psychologist once asked me if anyone played with me when I was a child. The answer is a quick and decisive no. No one ever played a board game, or computer game or even a game of cards with me. When my father left and then died I was a severe burden on my mother and she let everyone know it. I remember the looks of adults who were her “friends”. For the most part, they were people she had known in her childhood who had grown up to be drunks. If I accidentally spoke in their presence and belied an intelligence far beyond my years, they would cock their heads and stare like dogs listening to a high-pitched noise. I used to call this look, the “I am not the child they expected her to have” look. When I stared dead-eyed back at them, they would feel threatened and mock me. These are grown adults I am talking about. My mother would tolerate even the most vile behaviour from these animals. Then they all went went to rehab and dropped her as friend because you are not supposed to hang around your old friends after becoming sober. I guess the joke was on her.
When I was a child, any emotion I may have had was met with intense shaming by my parents and teachers. Very quickly, say by age 8, I developed a quiet stoicism that people would comment on. “Oh, she is so well-behaved”, they would say. With this stoicism came an unwillingness to be touched, and more intensely an unwillingness to eat. My mother says that I stopped eating the moment my father left, shortly after my first birthday. Up until that point, they laughingly called me “Miss. Piggy” because I was a good eater. I have absolutely no independent recollection of my father’s presence, save one, and trust me when I say psychologists have really pressed me on this. They say that the fat little baby missed her father so intensely that she stopped eating. I have no idea. I just know that I hated eating food. I hated the smell of food, I hated the taste of food, I hated how much my stomach hurt when I ate. And my stomach always, always hurt. But I never uttered a word about it because as you may remember, I am not that dumb. As a result, not eating was effortless for me, and not eating comes with an interesting side effect; it makes a person very skinny.
Being skinny is the single most important thing for white women of a certain demographic. With a big smile and a skinny body you can pretty much do anything. As long as that anything requires not speaking, not eating and not having emotions. Luckily, I didn’t have all three. I was the first little girl in my group to have a “boyfriend” call me on the phone. And it short order I learned the fourth thing you need; the ability to deal with intense jealousy. Given that I always wanted to kill myself, I found it really cruel and mystifying that a girl would go to the trouble of hating me. I used to think, Trust Me, Sister, I have cornered the market on hating me, you have nothing to add here; but that never stopped them. Because of their high-fat low-income diet, they developed breasts and hips very early. This led to adult-style conversations about maxipads and birth control by seventh graders. What they should have been talking about was their zits, because their skin was horrifying. To this day, I spend large amounts of money having my face professionally washed.
I was badly bullied by a few girls in elementary school, with the rest turning their backs on me. The teachers pretended it wasn’t happening even when I had blood and bruises. It was so bad that one girl tearfully requested my forgivenenss later in high school after she had found religion. I remember looking at her and saying No, I do not forgive you in my head while smiling very broadly with a “Yes” out loud. I think we even hugged. My skin still crawls at the memory. Couple my mother’s lack of boundaries with my father’s abandonment and you have the toxic ambient background noise to my formative years.
I felt then and I feel now that suicide is my "thing". It's like a hobby I perfected as a child and that I keep as a safety blanket today. Like the highest order of Zen masters, I contemplate my own death every day. Yet, were I dumb enough to say this out loud it would merely re-inforce the feeling of being misunderstood. I may or may not ever complete the act, but I am well within my rights to discuss it with myself. This is called, I am told, "suicidal ideation". Suicide is common and very under-reported. There is a suicide every 41 seconds globally, that's over 2,000 a day. Take a moment to think about that. As a sometime-suicidal person I have deeply thought about the following and concluded: I don't believe that all lives are worth living, or that all suffering is noble. Nor do I believe that people who commit suicide are cowards. Suicide in a healthy person is usually a waste, then again there are some for whom suicide is too good a death. You see, it's a grey area. What I want more than anything is to be allowed to feel suicidal, which I admit, is very strange and even a little ridiculous. Then again, clinical depression takes itself very seriously and has almost no sense of humour, which is why we will have to talk about it - behind its back - another time.
...to Be Continued.