Monday, May 13, 2013

Suicide Career

For too long now
There were secrets in my mind
For too long now
There were things I should have said

“Tears of the Dragon” by Bruce Dickinson

It's not that mommy hits that hurts me, it's when she goes away
Get home from school all by myself and won't see her for days

 My mother died a month ago. It might as well have been yesterday, or today, or just now. Sometimes I can’t breathe. Not that I can’t inhale a breath, but that the thought of breathing in one more goddamned breath in a world where my mother isn’t just reinforces her absence, and isn’t something I  want to do.
I don’t want to die.  I know what that feels like, and it doesn’t feel like this.  Wanting to die is this bleak, gray place with razors all over the place pointing at you. Pointing, but not touching. Just threatening to touch.
No, this doesn’t feel like wanting to die. This feels like those razors are already in your chest, right at the edge of your breastbone, and when you breathe in, they slice deep.
Sometimes. . ..
Sometimes it’s like she died twenty years ago, and I just now got her ashes and put them on my mantle. Sometimes her death is this old robe I’ve been wearing to bed—it used to be scratchy, but it’s been washed and worn so much that it’s fine now. Comforting even.
Today it’s just sad. I can hardly tell the period back ache from the aching in my gut. She could be on a really long trip, and I could just be missing her like some temporary thing. I know better—or worse, in this case. I know she’s dead. That she’s not coming back.
This moment, it’s actually ok. It’s life as usual, which will continue on, until I realize I feel OK about my mom being dead, and then the horror at myself and the guilt will wash over me and I’ll want to throw up, and cry extra for good measure.
Repent, all ye who have sinned against thy mothers.
But it hasn’t hit yet, so I’m still hanging in that great pause, that great Eye in grief’s storm, waiting, waiting.
I wait a lot. I wait for motivation to tackle even one item on my now 172-item to-do list. The only thing I can seem to actually do is add items to the goddamned list.
I wait for reality to sink in often. It never really does. The only time my mother’s death is real is when it’s hurting me.
I don’t even know how she died.
I don’t even know why she died.
I keep writing dieded, like a five-year-old would say. Like I can put it even further in the past by adding more “eds” to it.
My mother deidedededededed.  But then it just keeps saying “dead”, and that’s far too present-tense for me.
Right now I’m waiting again. Waiting for the courage to open up the shiny journal in front of me. I know this is the first one, because it says, “It’s been 2 ½ weeks since I tried to kill myself.”
That’s when she really started keeping a journal.
We had all gotten journals. They all had double spirals and flowers on the cover. I think Annie’s was purple, mine was small flowers. Mom’s was big red and pink flowers. Maybe mine was purple. I don’t remember. I do remember that, until my marriage, every person I had ever slept with was in that book. I threw it away when I got married—actually, before then, when I broke up with my boyfriend (who became my ex-husband) and moved in with my mother—I threw all my journals away. I wanted a new life.
I threw mine away for a new life. She started one for a new life.
I slide the book against the green plastic of the table. One day, we will buy furniture. Some day that I’m not trying to cremate my mother, or settle her affairs. Next to the journal, there’s a vase of roses and lilies from my Mom’s memorial, but the reflection’s nearly lost on the cover of the journal.
It smells like secrets.
It smells like shame.
The flowers on the cover don’t make the shit inside smell any better, and the flowers on the table can’t make a death any prettier.
My finger curls around the cover. Cardboard, strong. A good writing surface, which, with the spiral spine, makes for a great journal. And pink. My mom loved pink.
I love my mom. I don’t want anything in here to ruin that.  But I want to understand. I want to know her better. I want to know what she thought.
Don’t I?
Then why won’t I open the damn thing?
What am I waiting for?

Chapter 2:
June 23 (Friday), 1995.
It’s been 2 ½ weeks now since I tried to kill myself in Santa Fe.  I can’t really believe it myself. It seems like it was a nightmare and I haven’t really experienced it—just dreamed it—and now I’m awake and everything is like it was, although I’m still not eating solid food, I’m still not allowed to be alone and I’m still shaky and tired.
I’ve read accounts of people who say, “I will never forget that day, August 21, 1927, it was a muggy Tuesday, when we found my mother. . .”
I absolutely DO forget that day.
I don’t remember Mom not being home. I don’t remember coming home from school. I remember my sister raiding the cupboard with me for food, when she came to pick me up to stay with her. I remember her telling me to go away, when she picked up the note that was on the dining room table. I remember police. I remember my mom’s friend Genie, stepping in (and, ultimately, all over us, which was probably a good thing, but I resented her for it because she was pushy and loud). I remember Devil’s Food Snackwells. . .Mom had been rationing them, but my sister and I took them from the pantry and put them in the King Soopers bags to take to her house.
The last time we were in that pantry together was when I was 11. My sliding window had fallen off its track, and she and I were putting it back in. She was outside my garden-level bedroom, I was inside. I hit the window with the side of my fist, and it was like it exploded. I remember seeing, slow-motion, the shards of glass fly outward to my sister, who was thankfully wearing a thick sweatshirt (the same white sweatshirt my mom had stenciled red hearts and flowers on, after one of her trips to Michaels. . .one of the few times she actually finished a project).
That shirt might have saved my sister’s life. That, and the angles of the shards, which were still largely vertical when they impacted her.  It was only after the glass had fallen, tinkling and screeching onto the dirt, that I noticed my fist was bleeding. Dripping blood.  Bleeding way too fast to control.  We wrapped my hand up in a towel, and then opened up the pantry where hung a first-aid poster. I had to read the directions to my sister, who was hysterical. Exert pressure. Place wound above heart. My sister frantically called Cowboys, the bar where my parents danced. There was no point in calling the paramedics; they were 45 minutes out and we could get to the emergency room in 20, if Alice punched it. She punched it, although I had to remind her to push in the clutch.
She was there for me then, too.
But that day, the day of the note, the day of discovery, there was no poster in the pantry to tell us what to do. We did what all humans do in the face of tragedy: we looted.  We opened every drawer and cupboard, grabbed every edible thing. We stuffed bags full of whatever we could find. I don’t think I even brought clothes at first. I don’t remember. I remember Snackwells. I remember police. I remember Genie. I remember a discussion about my father.
But that would have had to have been later on, when they found her.
I can’t remember if they found her right away, in Santa Fe.  It could have been the same day; it could have been another day. There were police. There was Genie. I don’t think there were Snackwells.
The details were short; Mom was found. She was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She had taken pills, enough pills to kill herself 12 times over. A customer in the motel heard her vomiting and vomiting and vomiting, and called 911.
They gave her activated charcoal; they pumped her stomach. She was in the hospital. She might not be able to speak for a while. She had burned holes in her esophagus, and God only knows what other damage there could be.
But she was alive.
That’s what they kept saying, “the important thing is your Mom is alive and she’s going to be OK.”
There was Genie, there was police, there was my sister. A discussion about Dad:
Genie: “He wants to drive down there to get her,”
Alice (just turned 19): “What, why? No.”
Genie: “I can go. I told him I’ll go.”
Alice: “Yes, you go. I can’t go; I have to work and take care of Jenni. You go. Dad shouldn’t go. He’s going to—what?—go be her knight in shining armor? A little fucking late for that.”
Genie: “I’ll go, then, and bring her home. You’ll be OK with Jenni? Do you need anything?”
Alice: “No, we’re good.”
We were good, for however long I stayed. This apartment, their new one on Academy, was so much better than the old one at El Vecino.
The El Vecino apartment had Rene, a friend of Jay’s. And Ron, who had an iguana and long, beautiful blonde hair.  Rene was the dark horny devil and Ron was Jesus.
The first night I ever spent there, Rene wasted no time sneaking into the living room with me and getting his hands under the blankets. I was 14. He was 28.
By age 14, I was old hat with rape. I knew what I was supposed to do: lie still and it’s over faster. Men will take what they want, no matter what, and it just hurts more if you struggle. I remember him on top of me, grabbing his cock to put it in me. I remember how much it hurt when my skin split. Who knew Mexicans had such big dicks? I whispered—hoping—that it wouldn’t fit. At 12, Damon had tried to fuck me. He was a big black guy with an insane kind of intensity, but it literally could not go in. He was too, too big, so he settled for a blowjob and took me back home.
No such luck with Rene. He gave a great heave; I went away in my head.
I don’t know when I learned that trick. I remember always having an active imagination, and now, in my mid-life, I wonder if an active imagination is, in itself, a symptom of abuse. But this wasn’t even imagining, it was simply checking out. Like passing out, but people think you’re still conscious, and you can respond to questions. The “you” that is you just isn’t there.
I came back with him pumping furiously, about to come. His dick was like sandpaper, I was so sore. There’s no way there wasn’t blood. He was huge, and not giving up.  Eventually he came and flopped on me, his big round belly crushing the air out of me. I beat at his shoulders until he rolled off. His hair was soft on my face, I remember. That, and his smell, were the only things I liked about him. Otherwise, he’d been creepy, and now I knew why.
The next day, he tried again when Alice and Jay were working. But Ron was there, watching TV on the couch, and as Rene got on top of me (clothes still on), rubbing his crotch against me, and me telling him to get off, Ron became Jesus.  He grabbed his keys and, as casually as you please, winged them right into Rene’s temple. Almost lazily he said, “Get the fuck off of her before I kill you.”
Had he been backlit and haloed in all of God’s glory, he couldn’t have been a better savior to me at that moment. You have to understrand; before then, any man who saw me being assaulted either a) did nothing or b) joined in on the assault.
I think I came. I know I tossed him his keys back and said “thanks”.
Years later, I had a dream that Rene was a giant Sandworm, like in God Emperor of Dune, and he was licking my vulva, trying to eat me out. His tongue felt like a hot slug between my labia. It was the slimiest, most disgusting thing I’ve ever felt. Maybe he did go down on me while I was checked out; I don’t know. Maybe someone else ate me out some time, and I was remembering that. Maybe it was all dream-fiction. Whatever it was, the dream was so vivid and unpleasant I wouldn’t let anyone go down on me for almost 20 years, and hated whenever anyone went down on me anyway (because, for some reason, no one has ever heard me say “no”, not matter how often or loudly I say it).
So the apartment on Academy was a definite improvement. They had no Rene, and they had cable.
I had never had cable in my whole life. I watched Lifetime movies. I watched Mtv (back when they had music videos).
Alice and I scrounged for change to buy Taco Bell, because it was the cheapest thing to eat. Sometimes I could go to KFC with her—or maybe that was only once—and have a meal.
And they had a pool.
I swear, I never had a better vacation. No one raping or molesting me, CABLE TV, Taco Bell, a POOL. . .Not that I could *thank* mom for trying to commit suicide, but, in my selfish and oblivious teenaged brain, I was actually making out pretty well, considering how bad it could be.
One day, Alice and I were floating around in the pool. I mentioned to her how angry I felt at Mom, despite the 3-star accommodations.
“Like, I know I’m supposed to feel sad, or bad for her. But I’m so mad. And I want to thank you, too, for taking care of me.”
These are how conversations with my sister go. Don’t fuck around; just say it. No judgment.
The most frustrating thing about people who survive suicide attempts (well, the most frustrating things for the survivors), is that we can’t even be allowed to WANT you to feel as badly as we secretly want you to feel. You should feel so bad about it that you’d want to kill yourself all over again, but of course we can’t wish that on you, because it would be cruel. And it would defeat the joy we really feel at your survival.
But the anger and betrayal we feel at your attempt is real, too. We are glad you survived, but angry you tried in the first place. You should feel guilty. You should feel badly about it. But, of course, you already do, or else you wouldn’t have tried.
How could you?
That’s the elephant in the room. How could you leave me and Alice with nothing but fear and doubt and debt. How could you abandon me, unformed, unable to care for myself in our culture?
How fucking could you?
And the worst of the worst: you can’t even answer that, because you can’t remember. It was like it was all a dream to you…a nightmare. There are no answers in life.
But now I’m shaky and tired, too, Mom.  Remembering is too hard; I don’t know the timelines. I’ve had to email Alice and ask her about what happened in what order 20 years ago, and drag her back into that whole mess, probably ruining her day.
The whole period of time is gray and wavy and foggy. Little episodes emerge, like childhood memories, but time got lost in the intervening years. I remember effects, but the causes have been washed away, or turned into fearful rules with which I guided my behavior to try to avoid being hurt more.
As much as I’m glad, Mom, that you can’t remember what it FELT like to try to kill yourself, I can’t feel sorry for you now for being shaky and tired.
I close the book, close up the gaping hole in my heart. I may not remember much, but the hole in my heart feels the same as it did 20 years ago. I miss my Mommy. Not the person who couldn’t cry, but my Mom, who cried at the hint of a minor key in a movie soundtrack.
I miss the Mommy in whose lap I would lay my head. She’d scratch my scalp, check for lice, and then start picking and scratching gently and any buildup of anything on my head. Mamma Monkey, grooming her little chimp. She could do it  for hours, reading or watching TV, scratching and scratching.
I miss the Mommy who would happily ignore me while I crouched on the arm of the couch, pretending to be a predatory bird or a velociraptor.
I miss the Mommy, who, when I asked her the definition of a word, would go on and on for a half an hour about “flavors” and usage and context, and, when I would walk away, she’d call to my retreating back, “Go look it up!”.
Which I did, every time.
She’d hum in the kitchen, forget the tune she was humming mid-way, and then take off on a new song without ever noticing. And when you told her, she’d laugh, and tell us the story of how, when she sang to Alice as a baby, Alice would put her hand over Mom’s mouth, so she hummed instead.
I actually loved my mom’s singing voice. She would never have been a star, but she could carry a tune and her voice was always soft and sweet.
I have to remember these good things about my mother, these sweet and funny things, to counteract the horror, the anger, the shame. I can’t let my final memories of her be colored only by her suicide career.


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