Tag Archives: suicide

for L., 195?-2014.

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the voicemail said, “call me. something terrible has happened.” my first thought was, L. is dead. when i called and discovered that i was right, that she hadn’t come to work and her son said that she’d died and  they didn’t know what the cause was, my immediate instinct was, she killed herself. i never had any doubt in my mind. she was in her fifties, not super healthy but not super unhealthy either. we worked together, at the crisis mental health residence. at my job, “co-workers” doesn’t mean awkward chit-chat in the ladies room about guarded pleasantries, doesn’t mean being hushed by a boss for talking. at my job, we are together 24 hours a day, we go through so much, and we become very close. my first shift with L. was an overnight that very suddenly descended into chaos. i came back from talking one guy down after the incident to find L. sobbing in the office. “do you want a hug?” i asked, and she said yes, and there we were, in an office in san francisco late at night, her sobbing in my arms, an hour after we’d met. after that, how could we not become friends. she would yell, “hi, sweeetie!” when i arrived, all warmth and glow. but still, that deep sadness that was apparent all around her, that we weren’t allowed to touch. we’d ask how she was doing and she’d say, “i’m fiiiine!” a little too cheerfully. we didn’t question it. didn’t make sure that she was really okay.

my last conversation with her that i remember, she’d mentioned having some problems with her live-in partner. he’d called her a bitch and they weren’t on speaking terms. “why don’t you kick him out?” i asked, half-jokingly. “i can’t afford to live on my own,” she sighed, and in that tone there was so much resignation, such a sense of being trapped. and there was so much i didn’t ask, so much we didn’t ask. not that she would have told us anyway.

at the weird company-sponsored grief-counseling group, i was the one to say it. i think she committed suicide. more than one person agreed with me. more than one person expressed the belief that suicide is inevitable. i wanted to scream, if suicide is inevitable than what the fuck are we doing with our lives? we work with acutely suicidal people, and although the work we do is imperfect and underfunded and understaffed and nowhere near enough time (two weeks! TWO MOTHERFUCKIN’ WEEKS!) clients often tell us that we’ve done a good job with them, that we’ve given them hope. L., in her last week at work, in her last week of life, did a lot of really amazing work with someone who was very suicidal. was that it? was that why? was she hoarding pills while she tried to convince him to live?
human beings are referred to as “the only animal that commits suicide.” but that isn’t true. my ex-girlfriend had a snake that committed suicide. it stopped eating and she took it to the vet. the vet said that reptiles in captivity do that sometimes, once they realize that they’re in a cage and they aren’t ever getting out. they refuse to eat. they’d rather die.

now, in the aftermath, i have no energy. i ignore texts. i don’t care anymore. when clients ask me for things i want to roll my eyes. who cares. L. is dead. every day shift, she was supposed to be there, and they’re that much harder. i broke down sobbing in front of my co-workers, who were all really nice but i felt embarrassed. i have no interest in being, or attempting to be, posi about this. there is nothing good about it. nothing.

the cockroaches in my apartment have finally grown too plentiful to ignore. i don’t want to kill them, my imagination is too good, i think about the social structures that they create. i see them scampering across my apartment, full of life. they often drown in my drain, or in any puddle of water, they get incinerated in the flames of my stove and wander into the freezer and freeze to death, but they keep going. they want to live so badly. i spray them with a spray that my boyfriend helped me pick out because i’m that level of non-functional right now. they run and then they freeze, twitch for a while, then they are gone.  i bear witness to these tiny deaths because i feel it’s the least i can do, even if it makes me feel terrible.

on wednesday, three co-workers and i went to her memorial service. it was on the beach. half-moon bay, several miles south of san francisco. so hypnotizingly beautiful, the clear blue water, the white sand. the signs warning that you can’t go into this beautiful water, that people have drowned just by wading. that the waves are unusually large and strong. it was here, standing in a black wool dress with the sun beating down on me, my feet bare, my toes in the pacific, that one of her friends answered my question of what happened. “she took pills,” she said. “she left a note. this wasn’t the first time, or the second time. it was more like the twelfth. we all knew we’d lose her this way. it was just a matter of time.”
we didn’t know. she’d never told us at all. a lot of people at work, myself included, are open about our own painful struggles with mental health issues or drug addictions or whatever has shaped us. it’s about half and half–people who’ve gone to school vs. people who’ve lived it. she’d gone to school, and she didn’t talk about her past. so we all assumed that she didn’t live it. we never asked. we never thought. she was such a good counselor. i said, at some point, maybe on a shift or maybe on the car ride home, if L. can’t survive this job, how can anyone?
her adult son told us that the job was what kept her going this long. he said that he’d visited her at work, how he hadn’t wanted to go because his mom had to stay at places like our job, after every suicide attempt, and they were always so white, so sterile, so sad. he thought it would remind him of a sad time. but he visited her at work and saw the bright yellow and orange walls, the clients all cooking with his mom and having a good time, and realized that it was different, realized why she wanted to be there. her ex-husband told us that the note was addressed to her four adult children, and that it essentially said, it’s not like you aren’t worth it, but i just can’t do this anymore. her daughter had made an altar on the beach, full of pictures of her mom throughout various stages of her life. it was beautiful and sad. i took a picture with my shadow cast over it from the setting sun.

in a cruel twist of library availability, “being flynn” finally came on the holdshelf for me the day afterwards. it’s a movie based on nick flynn’s memoir, “another bullshit night in suck city,” about working at a homeless shelter where his estranged father is a resident, while recovering from the suicide of his mother. i watched it and could relate far too much, especially when they talked about the kinds of people who work at such a draining job–the jesus freaks, the ex-cons, and the punks. (i think we all know which category i fall into!) there’s a moment where they all talk to the camera about why they’re here, the punks shouting, “this job is so hardcore! i could never get this adrenaline rush anywhere else!” lili taylor, playing the front desk monitor, smiles at the camera and says, “i used to be a crack addict and a hooker. i clawed my way up and i got this job. within two years, i’ll be back on drugs and back in the street. because,”–her smile turning rueful–“everyone knows that you can’t stay changed for long.”

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&, oh.

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this morning, early on, i watched _____ leave the house and i realized, too late, that she was out to commit a self-destructive act, and like many self-destructive teens she needed someone to call her on it. but i realized too late. i was tired from staying up all night. excuses, excuses. she clattered out to that cab. it drove her away. i don’t know if i will see her again, or if it even really matters–just that she is so fucking smart and i am sad that her life is like this.

i am hoping that things aren’t always this way. i remember, a few years ago, when someone who has done a lot of fucked up shit to me sent me an email when i was reeling from some awful things–that they had done!–to say that they are sending “positive vibes [my] way”. it was then that i realize that wishing, and hoping, in lieu of direct action, is fucking bullshit. not to discount good energy–i do believe in it, i do–but it isn’t enough. it never will be enough.

i can take a tiny amount of comfort from the fact that several people have apologized for not intervening at various points of my own fucked up youth, and what they mentioned was never anything i remembered needing. what i needed was always something that nobody noticed, and the things that haunted other people were not really a big deal for me.

but, cool, i am 31 now and i dreaded getting older for so long but now i love it. now this thing is 15 years behind me, that thing is 21 years behind me, that thing is nearly 2 years behind me. i am growing, i am growing stronger and i am leaving things behind, always. that thing was 12 years ago and i was finally able to write about it. i am writing a book about the last 15 years. i want it to come out so desperately but i fear that when it does, i will be so slandered. the pain of having it not come out is equal to the pain of nobody ever reading it.

i came home on a crowded transbay bus, slept for 6 blissful pill-induced hours. woke up and went out for a pleasant evening with my lover, in which i could not stop beating myself up for my multiple failures as a human being. i should have said something. should have done something. i didn’t. i got a letter from ******** that scared me–not because of what it said, because of what it didn’t say. i fear that this will be the last i hear from them, that anyone hears from them. i went on facebook to make sure they’re still alive, because sometimes that is all you can do.

i remember one thing that saved me. in high school, my poetry teacher reading a poem that he’d written, about his students who romanticize death. there was a line:

there are no beautiful suicides,

only cold corpses with shit in their pants

and the end of the gifts.

–phil asaph

farewell, lorazepamsam.

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that was your okcupid username. i use it in this post because i went on the worst okcupid date of my life with you. last march, at the end of a long and lonesome winter. i should have ended it at the very beginning, when i bought a pabst blue ribbon and you made a fucking joke about putting something in it. you apologized profusely when i called you on it & my instincts told me that you were awkward but not a threat. so it continued, down by the river with a sixpack, watching the lights on the water. i can’t remember what we talked about. it was okay, i guess, until you told me that that horrible thing had happened to our mutual friend, X. X was someone who i had known a decade ago and hadn’t talked to in years. i knew her at a very bad time in her life, and you told me something horrible that happened to her in that time, that i hadn’t known about. you mentioned this like it was just a casual anecdote to be shared on a date, a prelude before a kiss, just making conversation.

i said, “i have to go.” went home and fucking lost it. lost it. cried so hard that i thought i was gonna die. i couldn’t believe what had happened and i couldn’t believe that you’d told me like that.

this incident was a blessing in disguise. i reconnected with X, apologized for not knowing, for not supporting her more. she said it was okay. we wound up falling in love, for a brief moment, and healing each other in ways we couldn’t have imagined. throughout our affair, you were an awkward background figure. you were X’s roommate and occasional lover. you’d say hi to me when i stumbled messy-haired from X’s bed in the morning. your presence unnerved me. i didn’t feel safe around you. X kicked you out when you got into a huge, pill-fueled fight with a neighbor. the neighbor broke your nose with a punch and you threatened to kill everyone.

i didn’t think about you again. i was relieved that you were gone. i didn’t think about what happened to you, where you went, until this afternoon, ten fucking minutes before getting on BART to go to work, i looked at my phone to see a text from X, saying, “hey……i don’t know if you heard…….but [lorazepamsam] killed themselves last night……shot himself in the head…..just thought i should tell you.”

i work at a mental health crisis center. i was feeling a little crisis-y myself with this news, even though i hardly knew you, even though i didn’t like you. on BART, shaky hands, i took half a lorazepam (better known as ativan) because i thought i just would not be able to get through the day without having a fucking panic attack. i laughed a little at the irony. half a lorazepam because lorazepamsam is dead.

when i went on that date with you, i didn’t even know what lorazepam was. now i get paid to hand it out to people, write down what time they take it so they don’t take too many. now i take half of one on my way to work, to cope with the death of you. i don’t believe that spirits who die violently find rest easily. i thought about how uncomfortable it was to be next to your life for one night. i cannot imagine the raw discomfort and pain that you endured for 35+ years. i hope you are in a safer place, but i don’t believe that you are.

i thought work would be rough but it was actually mostly good. the clients were friendly and sweet, funny and happy to be there. reflective. about 6 hours into my shift, the small street became filled with cop cars. when the medical examiner’s van came, we knew that someone had died. domestic violence that had turned deadly was the rumor on the street. the clients sat outside, smoking. i was worried they’d be triggered–a lot have experienced violence at the hands of the police–but instead they grew reflective, commenting on the fragile nature of life, how at any second it can be over. how lucky we are to be here, on this side of the street, safe, alive.

doesn’t feel like i left home, feels like i came home (it’s late, so i am using the enter key as i will. not a poem though)

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leah lakshmi piepzna-samarashina is one of my feminist/queer literary heroes, for real, for real, for real, she tells so much raw truth, so many jagged edges but also this strong undercurrent of hope. she knows what it means to heal, and writes about it in a way that’s a map for other people who need it. she writes about way more than that, about family and incest and homelands and more, but i guess it’s that aforementioned theme that resonates with me the most deeply.

i bought her book of poems, “love cake”, today and i was just sitting on the couch reading it. struck by a line, so simple, yet it describes exactly how i am feeling at this point in my life:

“thirty, unbroken by my history

walking in a new city”

and when i read that line, it was practically pulsating, it was like a shining electric message from god. i am thirty. and right now, at this exact moment, i am feeling unbroken by my history. at this time last year i thought i would always be crazy, destructively so. i thought i could not love and was inherently unlovable. for realz, for realz, i did, and if this hellish year has taught me anything it’s taught me that people love me.

and that love comes from all sources. and that concentrating it all in one place is usually a bad idea.

thirty. unbroken by my history. i just never thought i would get here, get to a point where it makes sense, where it makes me strong instead of making me weak. i have so many people i wanna thank but to thank them all properly would reveal too many secrets. francesca and i were just talking, tonight, about catholicism and how it inspires one either to over-share or under-share, based on which neuroses you internalized. (obvi, i am of the over-sharing variety)

here’s to leaps of faith

here’s to breathing through the heartbreak

here’s to letting go of bitterness

here’s to dispelling the rumors that i am just a fucking asshole or what have you. i can only dispel them with my heart. loving fiercely and living as though i am not that bad person. it’s all i can do.

here’s to everyone, everyone, everyone who has shown me kindness

here’s to those of you who scribble in notebooks because it’s your only way home (OUR only way home)

here’s to everyone who thinks they aren’t going to make it

and here’s to the me, homeless & sobbing on street corners at 23, understanding i’m an alien at 9, wanting to die at 13. here’s the me that left home at 18 and was wandering the country via greyhound for months on saved drugstore wages. amazed but buckling under a great burden of sadness and feeling guilty for not having a better time. here’s to the me that wandered so many streets–hungry or exhausted or weeping or heartbroken–of so many different cities.

to paraphrase something that someone far more brilliant said: now i am walking in a new city.

why i hate facebook, part #49502

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so. in case anyone reading doesn’t know, i really, really hate facebook. i was on it back in college and i deleted it because i wanted to spend less time on the internet and now everyone’s on it, all the freakin’ time. yada, yada, yada, you know the drill, status update this, farmville that, whatever.
facebook is creepy and frustrating for me for a lot of reasons that i won’t get into here, but i read something in the paper on friday that just seriously pissed me off. perhaps you’ve heard the tragic tale of tyler clementi, the 18-year-old in new jersey who committed suicide after his dormmate taped him having sex with another man. this is, of course, awful on so many levels. but one part of the story really made me sad: before committing suicide, clementi updated his facebook status to read: “jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
is that a suicide note? or a request that someone stop him? i feel like posting something like that on a public site suggests, at least subconsciously, that he wanted someone to intervene. but when everyone has a zillion friends, posting a status update every time they sneeze, watch “glee” or eat a cupcake, it’s easy for his status update to get lost in the shuffle. and there are so many cryptic status updates it’s easy to think that he was kidding, or that it’s a weird inside joke. did he check his iphone one last time before going on the bridge, to see if anyone commented? to see if anyone texted to see if he’s okay?
it makes me think of something that happened in 1999, when i was 16 or 17. i called my boyfriend-at-the-time and he didn’t want to talk because he was playing video games or something stupid. i hung up, annoyed, and a few minutes later an aloof-straight-dude friend called me up sobbing because some girl had rejected him and it was the last straw, he wanted to kill himself. i dunno how truly serious he was, but we talked for a long time, i let him cry and suggested reasons he should keep on living. after we hung up, i had a chilling realization: what if my boyfriend had actually wanted to talk and my friend had gotten a busy signal? (yes, in 1999 my family STILL didn’t have call waiting!) what if that was enough to send him over the edge? at the time, i would have been happy to talk to my boyfriend. i would have had no idea what i was missing. my point is, if tyler clementi existed in a world where people actually fucking talk to each other, would he still be alive?
don’t be silly, i’m not saying facebook is responsible for his death. i’m saying that every year people talk less and type more. i’m saying that talking is important. i, too, have embraced texting, for the convenience and lowered social anxiety, but i’m afraid it means i’ve forgotten how to call people besides my nearest and dearest. i, too, go on my boyfriend’s facebook sometimes to check on people, because some days it feels like nobody communicates in any way outside of that stupid website, nobody posts their pictures anywhere else, i don’t know what is going on with anyone because nobody tells me because people assume that i read it on facebook. and it’s annoying. and it sucks. and i wish, i wish tyler clementi had used his phone to call someone, or even text someone, before he drove to that bridge and jumped off. i wish his last sentence was at least a complete sentence, and i wish someone had read it before it was too late.