(Continued from June 23, 1995)
How could that have been me? That part of me was so calm and so detached. My mind wouldn’t allow me to think of the reasons why I shouldn’t do this. I had no second thoughts—no desire to be rescued.
Less than a week before she died, my mother told me the story of her preparations 20 years ago. What possessed her to tell me, I don’t know. She confessed a lot of things that night. Vickie thinks she was already actively dying. It’s possible. She sure spoke of things she normally kept from me.
She said she was so afraid of being discovered and thwarted—so paranoid—that she packed the car slowly throughout the day. Now, we lived in the woods. Deep in the woods, where we could not be seen by anyone, not even our next-door neighbors. They call it “black forest” for a reason.
But she snuck her bags into the car anyway, trying to look casual in case someone realized she was up to something. She packed the car 2 hours before she left, so when she left, she could just hop into the car and go.
I often wonder what she was wearing to kill herself. Did she dress up? Sometimes people dress up, or pick out their funeral wear. Is it sick that I want to know that?
She drove hundreds of miles away for privacy. To a town she didn’t know, but liked the look of. She booked a hotel. She got out the pills. Some reduced anxiety. Some slowed down her heart, because she had an arrhythmia. Some were anti-depressants.
She took them all.
I wonder, too, if she ever had a moment after she took them that she wished she hadn’t, but I don’t think so.
She laid herself in her bed (she told me this right after the Attempt), and went to sleep.
She never expected to wake up vomiting.
And not being able to even make it to the bathroom, because her muscles would not follow her directions anymore, she was vomiting so hard.
The irony: she thought she was going to die. I didn’t point it out to you then, Mom, because I knew it was mean to point out, but I thought that bit was kind of funny in an exasperating kind of way.
She crawled across the floor, vomiting more. Screaming vomiting. Whole-body heaving. She didn’t hear the emergency people come in.
Did they break down the door? Did they get the key?
Did you leave the door unlocked?
20 years later, I still hope that there were some things, even small things, you did to facilitate rescue. Even if you say you didn’t want to be rescued.
And if you really didn’t want to be rescued, then that must have royally sucked: failing again. Failing at failing in life. Can’t even kill yourself properly, is probably what you thought. Yet another thought that kills people regardless of a suicide’s “completion”.
It’s funny, but that’s really how they (psychologists, police, etc.) refer to suicide attempts: complete or incomplete. I think they knew what I discovered rather rapidly with my Mom:
Suicide is always successful.
Even if it’s not “complete”, the mother I had before the Attempt was not the mother I had after.
I remember my mother sipping her Ensure, because she could not eat solid foods. She cleared her throat a lot. She joked, even. But she was never one to shrink away from talking to me about the hard stuff, if I wanted to know it.
I don’t think I did, not that time.
I can’t remember if there was hugging and crying. My mom and I had a lot of hugging and crying. Not too long ago—last year—Mom was in the hospital (voluntarily). I came out to help her transition to home, and to keep an eye on her for a little bit.
God, my heart throbs typing this and I haven’t even gotten to it.
Alice had needed some time off Mom Duty. I was recently laid off, had a nice severance package and nothing to do. Of course I was out there in a flash.
I stayed in a hotel down the street from her. Her apartment was straight out of “Hoarders”, and the smell was something out of my childhood I could not tolerate for long. The sliding glass door was unlocked, so I let myself in, navigating around the matted cats and over the piles of books and discarded mail.
“Jen?” I heard her croak. She stumbled out of her bedroom; I could see the piles of clothes behind her like parti-colored mountains.
Her cheeks were red, shining with tears. Instinctively, I put my arms out to hug her: “Yeah, Mom. What’s wrong?”
A long time ago, when I was a prickly teen with an attitude problem, I had a sad day. I don’t remember what it was about, only that, the second I saw my mother—the absolute moment I saw her—a sob broke out of me. She put her arms around me and I demanded to know how she did that; how she just pulled down all of my walls and left me a little child in need of my mommy.
This day, a year ago, the same thing happened in reverse. She burst out into a sob:
“I’m sorry I was a bad mother!” she nearly shouted in my ear.
I squeezed her. “You weren’t a bad mother. You always did your best.”
“I didn’t protect you girls. My job was to protect you.”
“Mom, it’s OK. We turned out OK, right? So you must have done something right. Give yourself credit. You know it wasn’t Dad.”
Her whole body shook. I shushed her and hugged her, rocked her like she would have done for me—had done for me on so many times except—sadly—when it really counted.
“I love you. You did just fine. It’s OK.”
We hugged and cried.
I don’t remember if we hugged and cried after the Attempt. I’m sure we did, but I don’t remember it. I remember her sipping Ensure. I remember being angry a lot.
I wish I could kick the kid I was back then, and tell her that her mother needed support. That there would be time for anger and pain later, but that at this moment, Mom, you needed compassion and love and I don’t think I gave you any at all.
But I was so lost, Mom. I was so hurt and you knew nothing about it. You thought the worst thing in your life had just happened, but I was living the worst things in my life and I couldn’t tell anyone. You thought that you leaving me and trying to kill yourself were traumatic, and they were, but it was just another in a long line of traumas. I’m glad you didn’t know then what I was going through. Maybe, though, if you had known before the Attempt, you wouldn’t have done it, you wouldn’t have left me, betrayed me, abandoned me.
I want to say the first time I was raped I was 11. I’ve since learned, though, that I was molested as a child by my Grandfather, my father’s father. This knowledge helps explain a lot of my behavior before and after the rape when I was 11, which, when I was living through my behavior, I didn’t understand.
An odd fact about acknowledging molestation: The stories you tell about the perpetrator change. When I was kid, Mom told a funny-ish story of our getting ready for my maternal grandfather’s funeral. Grandpa R. was helping me get dressed, when suddenly I shrieked “don’t touch my vagina!” and ran out of the bathroom. Grandpa came out of the bathroom red-faced, and mom always said, “He was just straightening your tights, you know, this way,” and she’d give an upward karate-shop motion, as if he were pushing the crotch of my tights up with the side of his hand. “I knew he wouldn’t do anything.”
But one time, when she was visiting me in Buffalo, she told me that she had caught Grandpa once, on top of me, in the act of kissing me in a wildly inappropriate fashion and me trying to get him away. She had yelled at him, he had promised he would never do such a thing again. I was about three.
And ever after that, this story, when she re-told it to me, this story of being six and getting ready for Grandpa S’s funeral, had a different ending.
“Well, Grandma was in there with him, so I don’t think he was doing anything, but it was a funny way to fix up your tights, instead of just pulling them like everyone else would, and boy, was his face red.”
And it wasn’t funny anymore, or a story you’d tell strangers, as she had done before.
So, until I learned I was molested, I thought the first time I was raped was when I was 11. I’d watched enough Montel Williams and Oprah to know that when girls get raped, they either go frigid or become sluts.
And, of course, now I wouldn’t be a virgin when I was married, would I? I must already be a slut, and I’m just giving out slut vibes and everyone secretly knows I’m a whore except me.
Of course. This is how people think. Especially since I had “asked for it” by being flirtatious on the bus, and the night of, when I thought I was safe.
I could put myself in a nice box labeled “slut.”
So for the next 20 years, until I met my soulmate, I thought I was having sex when really I was just being raped over and over again.
And, at 14, by the time my Mom tried to commit suicide, and 15, which I turned right after, I had been raped or assaulted (because, even if you use the “asking for it by being flirtatious” argument, I still said “no” on a surprisingly frequent basis) by 10 men/boys, 6 of whom were over 18, and half of THEM over 21. There may have been more; after so long, I just don’t care anymore. Not that it doesn’t matter, but just that I’m well aware of both the existence and prevalence of monsters in this world. They can’t hurt me now that I know the secret: it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t deserve it, and I don’t have to carry them around if I don’t want to.
But back then, who could I tell? The worst offenders were friends of my sister’s, and she’d feel personally responsible. My parents were super-religious. My mother was too fragile. My father would have blamed me. He’s probably blaming me right now.
I actually remember the day, the exact moment, when my father told me all I needed to know about how he felt about my writing, our family, everything. He was downstairs watching TV. I was climbing the stairs to go get something to eat. He said “Jen?”
“Yeah?” I put my hands on the artsy vertical stairwell beams like jail bars. I was probably 10 or 11.
“If you ever write about this family, I’ll disown you.” His steely gray eyes bored into mine. What was I supposed to say? Did he know I had just written a story about a girl whose father beat her so she ran away and killed herself? And that I outlined a recent episode in which he pulled me off the couch—the same one he was sitting on for this statement—and broke my tailbone? And hit me and kicked me and I don’t even remember anything else, because I “went away” in my head as fast as I could. Of course, I jazzed it up even more for the story, made it worse, as if the real thing hadn’t been bad enough. And I think the Dad in the story didn’t have a reason to beat his daughter up, and mine did (I had gotten a D in math and had left my math book at home so I couldn’t do my homework and bring my grade up. Because, you know, that 5-th grade math report card is oh so important to your subsequent life and the life of your father that a beating is an absolute imperative).
What I said was, “OK.”
In my house, if Dad said “jump”, you didn’t ask “how high?” You jumped as high as you could and hoped to Hell it was high enough.
So: “OK.” And I ran upstairs.
Mom swears—no, she’s dead, she doesn’t swear anymore, she swore—that she didn’t know about Dad. That he wasn’t abusive to her (Can you hear me cough “bullshit!” into my hand?). That if she had known, she would have done something about it.
But he did abuse her. He emotionally abused her. He was unable to care about her. To give a shit, and to her, it was the worst thing anyone could do. He didn’t value her. And for she who already felt worthless, nothing could have been worse.
And I, as a selfish teenager, could not bring myself to care enough about her, either. That’s not entirely fair to me. I had nothing left to give—it had all been taken by then, all but my anger.
I wish I’d had more of myself to give to you, Mom, in those days after The Attempt, and in all days. I hope I showed you more compassion than I felt then. Because I did understand. I know what it’s like to want to die. I understand not even thinking or wanting to be rescued, because you simply aren’t worth it. I never thought of rescue, either.