The philosopher Albert Camus believed there was only one truly philosophical question; whether or not a person should take his or her own life.
I’m not sure if I was predisposed to a morbid curiosity or if I learned it somewhere along the way. It doesn’t matter. I have it. And along with its many benefits (understanding, compassion, and an enviable ability to shrug off the small stuff) come the perpetual thoughts of suicide.
I was sixteen the first time I tried to kill myself. In retrospect, it was probably more of a cry for help than anything else, although I’m still not sure I understand the distinction between the two. After all, if a “cry for help” is unsuccessful and does accidentally end up killing you, is suicide ruled out as a cause of death? Or if a legitimate suicide attempt falls short, does the depressed then have to defend their attempt as more than just a plea for attention? I digress. And either way, it’s irrelevant to this story, cause when you’ve drank a fifth of Captain Morgan and have a straight edge razor bearing down on your wrist for the first time, it’s incredibly easy to overestimate the amount of pressure it takes to puncture the skin. I did. To this day I only carry a peripheral understanding of anatomy so I don’t know the actual name of the tendons I cut, or if they were tendons at all (FYI – they were the two big ones you see when you make a fist and bend it forward), but I do know that in an instant they were severed and I was standing in a pool of blood wondering what I’d just done.
Let’s back up a little…
I had been suffering from depression for several years. A few months prior, I had driven my car off the road with the intent of continuing to drive off a cliff, when, at the last moment, I pulled back onto the road, headed home and proceeded to tell my mother that I needed to see a counselor right away. Up until this point I had mostly been able to keep my dejected spirit hidden from those around me, pretending the cuts on my arms stemmed from playing football in the yard and falling into a thorny bush, but all that was about to change.
At sixteen, Jayme Hill was the love of my life. Even at such a young age I was an old soul and I knew it more than I had ever known anything before. She was perfect: beautiful and broken, my Juliet. It’s a rare person that you can be absolutely quiet around and, at the same time, completely content. Words were redundant. Why say something out loud when we already knew what the other person was thinking? I was completely head over heels. And so, it came as quite a surprise when, on a night out on the town with friends, I witnessed her kissing another guy.
Perhaps I should have prefaced the previous paragraph by mentioning that we weren’t dating and had never dated. In fact, I was thoroughly cemented in the “friend zone” and had been for the past year. Still, I felt betrayed. Had she not been giving me signs that indicated we might have a chance in the future? I was sure she had. And so I drank, trying to forget what I’d seen. It didn’t work. The realization of how difficult it is to numb an overly analytical brain came to me much later in life. If anything, the drinking exacerbated the problem by making me bold. Once we got back to her house, I proceeded to start an argument with her in the middle of the street. It didn’t last long and I don’t remember exactly what was said, but it concluded the way many fights that age do, with me calling my parents asking for a ride home. “I’m at Jayme’s. Come get me, I’m gonna kill myself,” I said, not sure whether I was talking to my mom or my dad. Before they could respond, I hung up and launched my phone as high as I could just as Jayme began to walk away. It crashed down on the concrete smashing into several pieces. Oh well, I thought, I won’t need that ever again.
My worried parents questioned me the entire way home. “What’s going on?” “Is there anything we can do?” “Talk to us, please.” I said nothing, and the desire to end my life was as strong when we pulled into our driveway as it was when we pulled out of Jayme’s.
There was a shotgun in the house that I’d seen once or twice. The cover of it was rusty and I was pretty sure it needed to be loaded. I’d never shot a gun in my life, so that was out of the question. I’d used pocket, steak, and butter knives to cut myself before, but had learned those required quite a bit of pressure just to draw blood. They couldn’t be trusted. Pills would have been an option, but my foray into drug addiction as an escape happened years later and didn’t even cross my teenage mind. This night, things were going to be old school.
Two days prior I had walked down the street to Wal-Mart. I was in a decent mood but possessed the foresight to know that things would soon be getting worse, as they always had. Once inside I worked my way over to the men’s shaving section and found them; a pack of eight straight edge razors, each of them one inch long. I stuffed them into my front pant pocket and headed for the door, half hoping I’d be stopped and have to return them. I wasn’t, and two days later I knew exactly where they were.
I charged upstairs when we got home. My dad followed closely behind, still trying to find the words to calm his youngest son down. I took a seat next to my three-disc Aiwa stereo, then removed each disc one at a time. First Creed, then Candlebox, then Caroline’s Spine. All useless now. I snapped them in half one by one. When those were done, I began removing the rest of my CD collection from their cases as my dad continued his pleas. “What’s wrong?” Snap. “It’s okay to be upset.” Snap. “It’ll be alright.” Snap.
My silence must have caused him to rethink his game plan. “I’ll be right back,” he said before heading downstairs. I had already assumed my mom was on the phone with my psychiatrist. Now my dad was headed downstairs, too. I wasn’t sure what kind of attack they were planning, but knew they were a formidable pair. With my dad having his Master’s in Counseling and my mom graduating from SMU with honors in three years, it wasn’t long before they’d put their brains together and talk me down from the ledge. It was now or never. I reached behind the left speaker, grabbed the box of razors, opened it, then slipped one into my pocket and headed back downstairs.
I chose to stand by the front door. Maybe it was because it was one of the only places in the house with tile instead of carpet and I wanted clean up to be easier. Maybe I was afraid my parents wouldn’t come back upstairs for a while and wanted them to find me sooner rather than later. I don’t really remember why, but I do remember reaching into my pocket, pulling out the razor and slicing down toward my wrist. It was a surprisingly fluid motion, almost as if I’d missed my wrist entirely and just swiped air. I looked down to be certain, but I wasn’t standing on the white tile anymore, I was floating in a sea of crimson.
Seconds later my dad appeared at the end of the hall. I looked up to meet his gaze. “I need to go to the hospital,” I said. He grabbed my mom and we rushed out the door to our minivan.
The back seats had been removed so I had to lie on the floor. My mom drove the car while my dad sat next to me, both his hands squeezing the tourniquet wrapped around my wrist. I reached for my phone. Shit.
“Can I use your phone,” I said to my dad.
“I just need it, okay… Please.”
He handed it over though I could tell he didn’t want to. I dialed the only number I had memorized besides my home number. Turning away from my father’s knowing gaze, I waited as the phone rang, measuring the space between each ring with the beats of my heart. Five beats. Ring. Six more. Ring. Eight. Ring. Just before the fourth ring and tenth beat of my heart, she answered.
“Hello,” Jayme said. “I can hear you breathing, what’s going on?”
“No matter what happens, I love you.”
I didn’t wait for a response; too afraid she might not say it back. I handed the phone back to my dad. He maintained the grimace he’d had when I first asked for the phone, but part of me believed he was proud. Someone who asks their children to write them poetry as a birthday present was bound to appreciate such a romantic gesture, even if it was altogether tragic.
We arrived at the hospital and explained the situation to the staff in the emergency room. By that time, the bleeding had nearly stopped. For all my daydreaming about suicide, I’d never read the memo that stated you were supposed to cut lengthwise along the forearm. I’d made the rookie mistake of slicing across my wrist, and although there was a hole where the razor had been and my severed tendons could be seen with the naked eye, the injuries were far from critical. I waited my turn, embarrassed at my ill-fated attempt to take my own life. Could they not at least pretend this was life threatening? Could they not see I was dying on the inside? I guessed not.
Minutes past and the embarrassment began to fade. My parents even agreed that I could call a friend to come visit. I chose Taylor. It was three am. He was at the hospital within ten minutes. On the surface, Taylor and I had little in common. He was the guy all the girls wanted to be with. I was the guy whose shoulder they cried on when he said “no.” But beyond the superficial, we shared an innate ability to empathize deeply with others. He’d know how I was feeling and that would make me feel better. It did. One might even say I was happy by the time they stitched me up and sent me on my way.
Over the next few months my scars healed and I began the process of becoming responsible for my own happiness, a process I continue to this day, and one that’s been infinitely easier being surrounded by people I love.
I have no idea what the future holds. I may fall from the sky next time I fly home to see my family, or drown in the Pacific Ocean next time my cousin tries to teach me how to surf, or never wake up after a weekend bender with BA or my Venice crew, but it’s friends like these, friends like Taylor, that make me know I’ll never try to end my life prematurely ever again. And in case anyone is wondering, Jayme is married and has a family of her own now, and even though we’ve fallen out of touch, I couldn’t be happier for her.
Final thoughts on suicide…
“Suicide is something only cowards do,” is a common phrase that people like to spew out without much thought. My guess is anyone who says this has never seriously contemplated killing themselves. If they had, they would realize that it’s not only untrue, but also incredibly harmful to someone who has or is thinking about it. Rather than giving them a reason not to, it makes that person feel worse and even more like a failure because, not only are they sad, now they’re gutless as well. The assumption behind the phrase is that someone who commits suicide is looking for an “easy” way out. In my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth. Contemplating killing yourself is a dreadful experience that gets even scarier when you realize you might act on those thoughts, and the only time anyone ever considers it is when the idea of continuing to live is even more terrifying than its opposite. And even then, it is no less frightening to face your own mortality.
If you’re thinking about killing yourself, my guess is you’re many things; introspective, worried, hopeful, hopeless, intelligent, at times happy, and others, excruciatingly sad. What you are not is a coward. Every one of us needs something we can lean on when our legs can’t seem to hold us up. Whether it’s friends, family, a pet, passion project, or partner, don’t be afraid to call upon it when life overwhelms you. Pain is progress when paired with a purpose.