Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, I Killed Myself

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

When I logged into Facebook, I got an eyeful of alternate history.
“Can’t believe it was 25 years ago today that we graduated!” said the merry message from the “Norwalk High School Class of 1987” group I belong to.  Except I didn’t attend my own graduation.  I was in the hospital psych ward, because I’d attempted to kill myself.
The reasons I’d tried to kill myself were embarrassing in retrospect.  My girlfriend had broken up with me to go back to her ex-boyfriend, and as a lonely and socially awkward teen, I was convinced that I’d never have another love like that again.  So I snuck back to my house and swallowed a handful of pills, then called up some friends to tearfully say goodbye, and lay down on the bed to sink into oblivion.
Everything about that suicide attempt was laughable, in retrospect.  I called my friends, and what were they going to do?  Support me in this venture?  And I’d chosen the pill bottle at random, so what I attempted to overdose on was prescription antihistamines.  The ER technicians laughed when they found what I’d done.
Still, I was serious about the death.  I think about what had happened if I’d been a little more clinical about the suicide… And today, my parents could be mourning on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day their son killed himself.
And I think of everything I would have missed:

  • The joy of performing on stage as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, becoming a sex star in high heels and fishnets, discovering that joy of transformation;
  • The thrill of writing a silly humor column for Southern Connecticut State University, and finding that I could make people laugh;
  • All the happy silliness of going on local poetry tours and playing gigs with my bands – none of which went anywhere, of course, but the pure delight of hanging with wonderful people aligned towards a common cause turned out to be more lasting than the art we created;
  • The incredible honor when Borders Books chose a mere store clerk to head its new software-selling department, because I’d done such a good job selling computer books there they trust me with its new initiative;
  • The agonizing challenge of using every one of my skills to try to make software possible in bookstores – I failed, but that was the first time in my life I’d ever poured literally everything I had into a taskgoaland it taught me not to be afraid of failure;
  • The breathtakingly wild mountains of Alaska, the windy perfection of Chicago’s urban sprawls, climbing in abandoned castles in Germany, gawking at all the movies in Hollywood, and travelling to a hundred other cities I would never had seen had I shut that door;
  • Taking that bold risk of going, “Yes, I love this woman, I’ll drop everything to move to Alaska to be with her,” and knowing that it was a crazy risk but taking a strange pride that yes, I had become the sort of person who would take wild risks;
  • That first day I split my hibachi shrimp to my daughters Amy and Erin, the hibachi shrimp I’d always stolen from Uncle Tommy and Mom, realizing that I now loved my two daughters enough to give them the selfish things I’d always craved, and be glad to sacrifice for them;
  • The incredible honor of being accepted into the Clarion Workshop, and that first realization that I might be good enough to make it;
  • That first professional short story sale to Asimov’s, the magazine I’d always wanted to be published in;
  • Signing my membership application to SFWA, knowing that I’d made three short story sales to some of the toughest markets in the country, and had managed a feat that only a handful of writers had been able to do;
  • Getting the phone call telling me I was nominated for a Nebula award, an achievement of a lifetime, and then people being very casual in their confidence that I’d be back to get another nomination some day.
  • All the friends I’d gather as I moved from place to place – the card-playing misfits at SCSU, my Champions-playing Ann Arbor buddies, the Alaska Magic players, and all the wonderful warm people in Cleveland.
  • All the times spent with my family and friends – years spent with Dad, Mom, Tommy, Grammy, Grampop, Gramma, a thousand hugs and smiles and conversations that would have been erased had I dropped into that hole.

There’s a hundred thousand things that I’d never have gotten to see, had I swallowed the right set of pills that day.  There’s this ad campaign for gay teens saying, “It gets better,” which helps… But looking back over the last twenty-five years, I’ve had such a wonderous and varied life full of such happiness, that to throw it all away over a broken heart seems like a personal holocaust, burning a quarter-century of life experiences on one bad day.
I want to go back in time and take my seventeen-year-old self’s hand and whisper: “Listen.  I know it hurts.  But some day, you’re going to be just this lonely and aching, and you’re going to go online to a meeting place… And there, you’ll start to argue with some girl over the tactics the Alliance used to blow up the Death Star.  That girl is going to become the love of your life.  You will love her so much that you will surpass yourself for her, caught in the throes of a love so gargantuan that you will find yourself changing because you need to in order to keep her happy.  And you will grow wise, and strong, and competent, and all of that will only take place if you live.  So put down those pills, my friend.  Put down that hopelessness, because all of that will disappear if you do that one, irrevocable thing.”
And if I could, I would whisper my story into the ears of every suicide out there, to tell them the truth: there’s more.  There’s always more than this.

4 Comments

  1. You Know Who
    Jun 24, 2012

    I’ve never actually attempted suicide myself, but I have fervently and sincerely wished for death during a handful of very dark times in my life, and in 2010 actually started making some surprisingly coldblooded plans, on the idea that if I was going to do it, it would be best to do it then, before my new daughter knew me well enough to care.
    Something stops me from ever actually doing it though (in the last case, it was only my husband taking some time off of work to address the crisis and help me permanently change some things about my lifestyle). In most cases, all it takes to stop me is the realization of how much chaos it would sow in other people’s lives.
    Even at my worst, I can’t stop thinking about things like, who will find my body? What kind of a mess will I make in the process that some stranger will have to clean up? Who will have to identify my corpse? Who will have to make funeral arrangements and dispose of all my crap? What completely innocent person will feel responsible, as though they should have done more? (It’s never the people YOU feel should have done more–those people don’t care and will blame you rather than themselves–it’s always some sweet person who turned him or herself inside out to please you and never even got noticed.)
    And of course now, my daughter is old enough that she would notice, and miss me, and be able to articulate that horrible, unanswerable, one-syllable question.
    I’ve got a long way to go, and probably a lot more therapy, before I truly believe that I have as much right to take up space as the next person, but in the meantime, I focus on the people who, for whatever reason, would be shattered by my loss. Maybe they’re the ones who are delusional, but if I don’t have the heart to take away any other battered and broken thing my daughter is unreasoningly and passionately attached to, how could I ever take away her mother, for godsakes?
    Let’s just hope I’ve sorted out my own issues before she gets to the age where she starts agreeing with me that I’m a complete embarrassment and waste of space, eh?

  2. Gillian
    Jun 24, 2012

    Damn it, now I’m all misty-eyed.

  3. Susan
    Jun 24, 2012

    Children have to learn to speak to their parents – & parents have to learn how to listen. If you’d been able to tell them – or any adult – what you were going through, they could have told you the same things.
    I, too, am glad you didn’t succeed – more than glad.

  4. Bradley Rose
    Jul 7, 2012

    Today, I read this for the second time. I had to google to find it. I wanted to read this again because I remembered that it had made an impact on me when I read it the first time. Sure enough, after re-reading what you wrote here, I choked up.
    Why did I seek out this piece to read again? I wasn’t feeling suicidal. No, I was fearing for my well-being due to my cousin threatening me from the duplex he lives in right next to me.
    He most likely wouldn’t kill me, but he threatened to “beat the shit out of” me. So, really, the long-term effects on me, physically, would be minor to none if he actually is more than just all talk. So, the consequences of the bad thing happening is most likely not the same as erasing the chance of years of experiencing all that “more” in life. But, I still felt truly scared.
    I started to wonder if this is what so many (mostly women) feel under different scenarios. A fear of being physically assaulted, I mean. And knowing that coming back home, the abuser or potential abuser is there. I sobered. I thought of other grim aspects of this world like death and suicide.
    And that’s when I thought of this piece you wrote. So, thank you, Ferrett.

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