This is a story about what it’s like. These are a million stories stitched into one story using the scars of we are hurting and I don’t know what to do and I am writing so that I do not scream and I wish I could tell you happy stories but I don’t know any.
I was at chorus, and we took a 5-minute break, and me and my friend were talking about how she had gotten in trouble for using her phone in chorus. She was talking down her friend from suicide; this was the fourth time she had needed to do this. I told her that yeah, last year I was trying to talk Jamie into a mental hospital and out of overdosing on her mom’s heart medicine, and my math teacher took my phone.
A stranger came up and told us through his laughter how him and his friend had tried to commit suicide together, jumping off a bridge. Until I die, I will remember that voice; I have never heard such broken laughter: “i tried to talk him down, but i couldn’t. i guess you guys are just better than me at that. i came up from the water–and i turned my head, thinking we had failed, that i’d see him–and there he was. flayed.”
Two years ago, in a different chorus, we had to all get into our chorus dresses, short black dresses with short sleeves, and I tallied up the people with scars on their arms.
I lost count somewhere between six and ten.
I didn’t count the ones like Kirby who put makeup on their arms in the bathroom, or the ones like Jamie and I who made sure to cut on our stomach and legs, hidden places.
I remember the day that Jamie got out of the hospital. Sarah sat me down and said, “Jamie didn’t tell me where she was at, but she gave a couple vague descriptions and complaints, and I couldn’t help but notice that they matched the descriptions of a hospital two of my friends went to after they attempted suicide. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to assume anything–”
“You’re right. She was in the mental hospital. Her note was in the drawer of her desk.”
I’ve been suicidal since I was eight. I don’t know what scares me more: the idea of dying young, or the idea of having to live this way.
I cannot how many times I have stayed up until two am trying to fix the damage that parents have done. And yet my parents look at me and try to say that my priorities should be with you, that I should be talking to them instead of talking friends down from the edge that you put them on, instead of letting my friends talk me down. And I say “okay”, and then I cut myself, because I cannot be at once a daughter and student and friend and healthy individual, and when you give me a choice, I will choose being a healthy friend over being a gifted daughter, because I like saving lives (both my own and others), but when you force me to give up one, I will always choose to give up myself.
This is the price that comes with being a good listener. I know a million different stories: from strangers sometimes, but mostly from friends. All of them secrets. I think sometimes that I will explode under the weight of so many secrets.
My friend Laurrie asked today, at 5:25pm, “If your suicidal do you have a moral responsibility to tell other people?”
After that, she turned her phone off. I don’t know if she’s still alive. I hope she is.
I pulled Jamie under. Sure, she was already struggling for air, but I was the one who made it obvious to her: look at me, not eating. her eating. me, not eating. her eating, slowly now, shamefully, as I gloat. me, still not eating. finally, she stops too.
Months later, I text her after I puke for the first time, pure unrestrained panic in too-short syllables and running to my therapist appointment so I’m not late and checking to make sure I didn’t get any half-digested cookie dough on my jacket. Her first question was “how did you do it?”
Two weeks after that, she had learned. She mentioned it casually, but it felt like a hole in my heart.
That same day, I made a suicide pact with her. I told her, point-blank, If you kill yourself then I’ll join you in death.
And still, she made her plan and wrote her note.
Did she not remember? Did she not care? Did she want me to join her, in the same twisted way I wanted her to be sick with me, or did she want me to join her, in the spiteful way you hope a terrible person gets hurt?
I don’t know which is worse. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get her eyes out of my head.
Nickie said she would kill herself on November 30. I told her sister.
I can count the number of times I have explained to someone how to self-harm on both hands.
In the light of day, I can justify to myself, tell myself that they had to hurt themselves or they would have killed themselves.
Most nights, I am grateful that my antipsychotics put me to sleep fast. I still wake in the morning with nightmares.
When they don’t put me to sleep fast enough, pictures of them flash in the darkness. Sometimes videos.
I can’t watch them without crying, but closing my eyes just makes them more vivid: I don’t know if the back of my eyelids will ever be safe again.
I woke up one day to a series of texts (3 hours too late) from my girlfriend
IM GOING TO KILL MYSSELF I ESjsjdjjs
I tried to text her, to message her, to call her to text her to do anything. She didn’t answer.
I called the cops on her. They took her pills away before she could do anything.
wht did you
im going to go im probably going to have a panic attack so ill talk later
please don’t do that again, i know you’ll get worried but please
I didn’t know how to explain to her that I can’t promise that, because I’d rather that she hate me than be dead.
That night, my dad complained: I had just wanted to go to the beach, and my daughter had to call the cops in Ireland because her friend sent her a text saying she was going to kill herself!
His friends empathize: Yeah, today’s kids are so weird. Their phones are messing them up. If I had wanted to kill myself, my mom would’ve told me to go play outside, and I would have been fine. Another adds, If I had wanted to kill myself, my mom would’ve told me not to get the living room dirty.
I sob. I run upstairs. I throw my phone against the wall.
I whisper: I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do.
The nightmares come back. I wake up early the next morning and try my best to smile.
Kiki’s mom died last month, and I can’t help thinking of it as the ultimate irony: here is the only woman I know who wholeheartedly loved life. Here is the woman I know from the best family. Here is the best mother I know. Here is the woman I know who is happy, with a happy family.
And yet she died. She left us, alone, and alive.
Laurrie went to the hospital. They yelled at her for talking, for crying. They took her blood and told her she was overreacting when she told them it hurt; the bruise lasted a week. She starts avoiding white towels and crayons.
Our mutual friend confided in me: I was the one who called the cops. they wanted to die but they werent gonna go unless someone made them
There is a quote from The Virgin Suicides that explains it well, I think; the doctor, stitching up her wrists, asks Cecilia: “What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.”
Cecilia then delivers “her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live:
Obviously, Doctor, she said, You’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”
And they never notice.
Sure, when you’re getting better, then they notice. Then they say: aren’t you spending too much time online? aren’t you getting addicted to your phone? aren’t you being too snappy with me, with everyone? aren’t your grades slipping?
When you pass out in French class because you haven’t eaten in three days, they take your blood pressure (dangerously low), believe you when you say you had a bagel for breakfast, assume you’re dehydrated or sleep-deprived, and send you home.
I’ve been a home for psychosis, wandering around the school randomly, muttering about cameras and poison and angels.
I’ve been a home for depression, my lungs barely fluttering in my ribs, mind burning out of my skull.
People notice psychosis, they turn their nose up at it, they get silent when you walk into the room, they scatter at your presence. You hear their whispers: psycho. stay away.
People don’t notice depression, it’s normal, it’s the background noise of everyday life, never to be acknowledged. They do not whisper; there is nothing to whisper about.
I don’t know why they ignore it. But I’ve seen this haunt on all of our faces; I have seen too many, crying and starving and puking and doing drugs and yelling in the hallways and cutting our hair off, terrified out of our minds, and so incredibly sad, and not saying a damn word to believe I’m alone in this. And even as we all fear it, it becomes our normal. And I wish that we whispered, because then maybe we wouldn’t cover our mouths, keeping our secrets wrapped up in the safety of our own heads, where they can buzz through our neurons and suffocate our thoughts, choking us with fear and guilt.
Last year, I was walking to English, and I saw them hold her down. She was screaming, crying, struggling.
“Help!” she screamed, voice hoarse, tears streaming down her face, eyes bloodshot and straining out of their sockets. “Help!”
We walked around her. We were the red sea and she was Moses, parting the students. Nobody said anything. Nobody helped. Most people didn’t even look at her. She was the background radiation in the universe of high school. We shut her out, kept quiet, kept walking.
I don’t know her name, but I will never be old enough to forget her face. I wonder how many others stay up at night, her screams echoing in their ears, without that deep sleep that my antipsychotic gives you.
The worst part of it is, when I saw her, I felt bad, but I was also jealous of her. I wished I had the courage to do that too. After all, she was just showing what all of us were feeling.
I didn’t scream in the hallways for the same reason I didn’t kill myself or ask for therapy. Just a coward when it counts, I guess.
In chorus last year, right before lunch, Presley said that she was starving. She complained: it had been four whole hours since breakfast! I gave her my chips.
The girl next to me laughed out loud: “four hours? and you think you’re starving? four hours, that’s nothing.”
It had been 97 hours since she had eaten, and 34 since I had.
Four hours seems trivial when you are facing eternity.
Sometimes, I would hear people talking, normal people–although that’s been getting more and more rare now, as we grow up–, and I’ll blink as if they’re speaking a foreign language, because their worlds are so mundane. They do not live under this shadow. They have not lived this sadness, this fear. They can choose not to be sad, and I think I am weak and selfish for being sad. They do not live with a countdown ticking in their head (how long until someone dies?)
They were concerned with their schoolwork, and boys, and girls, not asylums and rape and survival.
Kiki used to live there, but she is more aware now, after her girlfriend was raped and her mother died; Presley still talks of death and sadness as something far away, something impossible and distant and never to be touched.
I wish I could live there, too. But I haven’t lived there for a long time–since I was three, maybe.
Four was my first taste of violence: a girl who would only be my friend if. Then five, then six, then seven– and suicidal by eight.
(another tells me that she first tasted violence with a girl held her down and showed her how to be a big girl. another tells me that they found violence in their brother’s strong fists and the depths of their friend’s liquor cabinet. we were never allowed to be children.)
I want to grow up, sure. But I dont want to grow up in this world: I want to grow up in a different world, a better one, where the taste of violence is alien on your tongue, where the faces of your friends are not a haunting ground, their homes not a graveyard– if this is what growing up means for me, perhaps I’d rather stay three.
A week after writing this, Presley’s dad dies, and she doesn’t come to school for three days.
At a writing camp, a boy picked me out of the crowd, pulled me aside. He said he wanted to ask me a question. It was dark out. I was afraid, but then he said: “I don’t mean to be rude, but are you anorexic?”
I told him that I was in recovery, and he told me that he just knew when he saw me, that I had the same sort of sadness in my eyes that his girlfriend did, that when I showed him my writing it added fuel to his suspicions, that he couldn’t help but ask.
We talked that whole night. I told him about Jamie; he told me about Brooke. I told him about Kirby; he told me about his brother. I told him about myself; he told me about himself. We were all parts of same story, unfolding over opposite sides of the country, brought together by happenstance.
We gave each other our phone numbers, but we haven’t talked much since that night. I wonder if he’s okay.
I know the daily caloric intake of both girlfriends I have had.
(650 calories is considered a ‘starvation diet’. the united states forced 1,000 calorie diets on political prisoners as a form of torture and justified it using the diet industry. 1,200 calories is the recommended amount for a five-year-old. in an experiment that subjected adult volunteers to 1,560 calorie diets, one of the participants cut off three of his fingers with an axe and could not remember why. both of them ate less than 500 calories, when they ate at all.)
I might have a trauma-based dissociative disorder, partially because I am confronted every day with
“actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others;”
because I love my friends more than I love this entire fucking world. because I love my friends more than I love my family. because I wake up each day hoping that they’re still alive.
I was in a skype call with Laurrie one night, and we were talking about our friends, and she said, laughing bitterly, “Sometimes I think to myself, I shouldn’t have to deal with this, you know? That none of us should have to deal with this.”
I couldn’t help but agree. I nodded, exhaustion rippling through my body.
If only we didn’t have to.
two months after publishing this post, a boy comes into my ap exam.
he has a fever of 104 degrees. he hasn’t eaten in five days.
it’s days like these that i remember.