Saturday, November 8, 2014
Grappling with Suicide
In my life, I've lost a lot of people. Suicide is a common element, and personally, I have always been outspoken in my belief that suicide should be a personal choice. Then, a few years ago, I got a call from my sister. It was the day before my birthday, and the first man I had ever loved had taken his own life. His wife and year old daughter had been sleeping in the adjacent bedroom. I struggled with blame, mourning, and all the things I never got to say... When I mentioned this to an one of my ex law professors, he told me I should write it as a dialogue between himself and me. This is the result.
He waited patiently for the answer to his question stirring his coffee in perfect time without a glance. It was a well practiced ritual. If he looked away, she would change the subject, and he wouldn't allow that. The girl, on the other hand, stared resolutely beyond him, past the little café, and out into the distance to a place the man could never go.
She was outspoken, confrontational, and blunt to a fault, but he knew her conversations only seemed random. In truth, it was a well orchestrated ruse. There were just too many things she could not share. Those truths belonged to her alone, and she guarded them selfishly and hated them absolutely. “Do I think it was my fault?” She repeated the question.
The man smiled warmly, “That was the question.”
She continued to stare into the distance, and when she finally spoke, her voice seemed to come from far away: her words slow and controlled.
“Did I ever tell you how I met Jay? My father, against my mother’s wishes, had driven to Memphis and brought me to live with them. I had been on my own for two years by then. I was successful if there are success stories for people who take their clothes off for money.”
She looked at the man rebelliously, but there was no judgment in his eyes. “I used to wonder why all attractive women didn't dance. That was in the beginning when I still believed the girls were strong and glamorous…”
“They weren't?” he asked.
She laughed, but it was sad and empty. “At first, it’s a role we play for the customers. After a while, it’s easier to be that girl because the real you isn't equipped to protect you from that lifestyle.”
“The reason that every beautiful girl doesn't dance is because most of them don’t need colored lights and one dollar bills to believe they have value. On the nights you do well, you feel untouchable. They define how you see yourself, and you tell yourself, they paid you because you are beautiful, but that’s not true. They pay you because you sold them the lie they were looking for. It’s not you they are paying to see. You have flaws and opinions and needs. The reality is they’re paying you not to be obligated to know you. Deep down, you know it, and that knowledge is infectious. Drugs and alcohol aren't allowed in upscale clubs, but all the girls are using. A lot of them really are beautiful, but they don’t know that anymore, and they wonder why every guy they meet beats the shit out of them, cheats, doesn't work… When you see yourself as worthless, people treat you that way.”
“So, my dad decided to save me.” And for a moment, an expression of sadness and regret touched her face. Then, it was gone. Safely caged again before it could give her away.
The man leaned forward on his elbows, and he wondered what this girl would have been had someone acted before she needed saving. “It must have been difficult to adjust to life at home after that.”
“No, it wasn't actually because I never did adjust. I just didn't fit anymore. I hadn't been part of the family for so long, but it was more than that. We were privileged and sheltered. Money and influence afford you certain opportunities, but they also make you weak and dependent. You strive to meet other people’s expectations because you know you can’t survive on your own. I was damaged then, not as much as I would be, but enough, and damaged people are dangerous. You see, they know they can survive. For the first month, I tried to pretend. I went to church. I tried dating a nice, unimaginative boy. I could only be real around some of my sister’s friends. You know, the ones my parents didn't like having inside the house. “You should meet Jay Compton,” one of them said while we were smoking in the two foot area of our yard that you could slip through without triggering the alarm and flood lights my father had had installed. “You are exactly alike.”
“And the idea of fitting somewhere,” the man placed his chin in his hand and looked back at her, “that must have been compelling. How old were you?”
“Nineteen,” the girl said.
“By then, you had been alone for quite a while, hadn't you?”
The man wondered what she was actually thinking behind the well practiced smile. He also knew she wouldn't tell him, but the smile froze for just a moment too long. She answered his question with a single nod of her head as she looked away again as though she didn't quite trust her own words.
“So fate brought you together?” he asked smiling.
She laughed. A real laugh this time. “Even on my best day, I don’t have the patience to wait for fate. He was in the phone book.”
He laughed. “What did you say? How do you even begin that conversation?”
This time she looked him straight in the eyes, “Simple. I said, ‘I’m Deena, and you must be the Jay that everyone keeps saying I have to meet.’”
“Does that normally work?” the man began still laughing.
“There was never anything normal about us,” she answered.
“And were you exactly alike?”
“If people can be broken in the same manner…” she answered quietly.
“Did you know that he was “broken” in the beginning?”
“From the very first moment.”
The man nodded reassuringly, but she saw through it easily.
“I know you would have left as soon as you realized. That’s what normal people do. Of course, being normal, you wouldn't have seen it. It would have taken a few months for you to notice just how damaged he was, but once you did… A rational person would make the right excuses and begin distancing themselves.”
“Why…” And for the first time, the man’s self assurance failed him. “Why did you stay?”
He said this in a half whisper. The man asked questions for a living. Each question perfectly enunciated and spoken at a volume reserved for those who don’t have to second guess or retract their statements, not because he needed an answer. Questions were merely a well crafted tool to establish the answer he already knew to be true. This time, he didn't have an answer.
“I used to say I wanted to fix him. People find that answer reassuring, but that’s not really true. Courtney and Kurt, Sid and Nancy… we’re all aware of the general “wrongness” of those relationships. It’s what draws us together in the first place, but there’s never any illusion that someone’s getting out alive. When I met Jay, I was already actively killing myself. It was just slower and more painful than a bullet. I just didn't want to do it alone.”
The man leaned back in his chair. “If you were this aware of how “damaged” Jay was when you first met, you must also know you couldn't have caused that damage,” he said quietly.
The girl opened her mouth to speak, and for the first time since she had met the man, he cut her off. “This whole conversation… it’s just a means to avoid my question. Normally, I might assume you were avoiding a painful subject. In that case, I would let the matter drop, but that’s not the case. Instead, you seem perfectly willing to cause yourself pain, reliving these moments in your life, as long as your suffering allow that question to go unanswered. So again, do you feel guilty for his death?”
His voice was both determined and kind. The words seemed to hang in the air before them.
The girl looked down at her hands. “I could not have saved him. There were things I could have done differently, but even if I had, it would've been a matter of time: not a solution. I regret my decision to stop taking his calls, but regret isn't guilt, and it’s a selfish regret. I simply wish I had had the opportunity to hear his voice one more time.”
The man looked at her thoughtfully and asked the only question that really mattered, “Since you know you could not save him and you aren't burdened by a mistaken feeling of guilt or responsibility, then why are you so willing to punish yourself to avoid that realization?”Her face was no longer guarded beneath that practiced smile, but she looked directly at him anyway, and a glimpse of all those things she kept so well hidden crossed her face, “If no one could have saved him, if sobriety, treatment, a loving wife, that little girl… If none of those things could stop the chaos we live with, what does that say about my future?”