Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Near-Life Experience

It was six years ago tonight that my ex-boyfriend's best friend called me at college to ask a favor. Dave was depressed, Kevin said, & he was starting to worry. Would I call & check in on him, just to say hello? I obliged, somewhat begrudgingly - exes aren't exactly mood brighteners. Would he even want to hear from me? I called, but when I couldn't reach him, I didn't try again.

Two days later, he was dead.

I have a notoriously terrible memory, but I will always remember exactly where I was & what I was doing when the world fell apart. The littlest details, like what I had for dinner that night & the exact sentence that broke the news. I remember who answered the door when I finally stumbled to my sorority house in tears & who tried unsuccessfully to consoled me, all the people I called to share the bad news. It is maybe the only night of my life that is memorized practically in its entirety, from terrible start to terrible finish.

I remember verbatim my conversation with his mother when I arrived at her home the next day. "My baby died, Kate," she wailed, & the others who grieved around me as I sat in a corner, cross-legged & alone, trying to make sense of the letter he left behind. The stranger who came to comfort me as I wept quietly to the tune of Jimmy Eat World songs. The phone call to my rabbi from a gas station parking lot because I didn't know who else could comprehend the enormity of how badly it hurt.

I remember what I wore to the funeral & who was there, who spoke & what about & the name of the local mega-church pastor who led the service ineptly &, ironically, without nearly as much soul as Dave had. The trinkets the many mourners left in his casket - a watch & pennies & the mood ring I left behind & the paper hearts we buried him with on Valentines Day. The' collared flannel shirt he was dressed in to cover the unspeakable bruising to his neck; the way his pale lips looked waxy & too flat & his hair was parted at the wrong angle. The sappy music that played at his service & how much he would have hated it, the song that came on in my car as my friend Sean & I drove to the cemetery. The rain that fell mercilessly down on us as we said our final goodbyes.

I didn't eat for nearly a week, but I remember the Sonic grilled cheese I chose as my first meal when I suddenly realized I was starving. The pile of letters & Valentines that awaited me when I returned to school, piled upon my desk in place of awkward spoken condolences from sorority sisters who didn't know what to say. The classes I couldn't finish & the incompletes I took, allowing myself to play the pity card with compassionate professors because I literally could not bring myself to put any additional effort into living my life correctly or sanely or with any semblance of normalcy.

When Dave died, my very first thought was that I was angry - angry that he went first, that he ruined my plans. Angry that I couldn't do the same for fear of looking like a copycat. Angry that he left me behind before I could bring myself to do it. What would his life have been like had our timing been reversed? It's something I still can't bring myself to think of.

I remember with excruciating precision the exact details of his passing & the events surrounding it, but I can recall almost nothing of my own pain, of the crippling depression that brought me so close to the edge in the months both before & after his death. As soon as he died, there was no exit for me: I knew I would be staying. That's not to say the pain disappeared because, oh, God, it didn't. It went on for a long, long time, so long that I ruined friendships & relationships & all kinds of important things as I raged through life in a debilitating haze. I believed there was a light at the end of the tunnel but try as I might, I still couldn't see past the unbearable darkness.

I don't say it often because, memories or not, it's a painful & sometimes even embarrassing truth to bear: Dave's death saved my life. The potential implications of that sentence terrify me, even now as I write it all down - what will be the repercussions of my admitting it aloud? Will it come back somehow to hurt me, derail me? But I won't be quieted by a stigma that would keep me from acknowledging how far I have come & how much I have changed in my quest to accomplish the simplest & most difficult of tasks - staying alive. It feels infinitely selfish to say so, to dare to feel thankful to be alive only because he is dead, but knowing the reality of the state I was in, I can say with confidence that had he stayed, I likely would not have, if only because I had no idea the magnitude of the impact that such an action would have had on the people who loved me.

Why am I telling you this? I don't tell people this. I don't want your pity & I don't need your encouragement. But I want you to know that, as cliche as the phrase has recently become, it does indeed get better, & I'm a testament to that. Six years later, the dark, twisty mess that was my life is unbelievably, inconceivably beautiful - but only because I have made it so. My life is beautiful because he made me recognize that it is so. My life is beautiful because his life was beautiful, & in watching the tragic end of someone whose existence held so much promise, I vowed to myself I would not give up on my own.

I'm not perfect & I'm not perpetually happy & there is still plenty to be fixed & bettered & changed. But had I taken my own life at 20, as Dave did - as I had seriously considered doing - I would never have known the beauty of my life as it is now, the beauty of life in general. I would never have experienced the rush of accomplishment that comes with realizing you've stamped out your own darkness, that you've stood up to it & announced that you will not be taken down after all. The victory of looking back on who you were & comparing it with who you have become & acknowledging not just that you're alive but that you're finally really living.

I miss him every single day, even after all these years. I miss him not just as an abstract concept of a young man whose brief life so meaningfully impacted my own, but as a real person, as an artist & musician, as my high school sweetheart & my first love. He changed my life, & now I try my damndest to live it in honor of him - happily & passionately, as I am confident he would have done had he made it through to this side with me.


"Do we have the strength to make it there?
Would you think less of me if I said yes?"

49 comments:

Stephanie M said...

<3

Heather said...

it really is a horrifying, yet somewhat gratifying emotion felt when we realize how we have grown through a heart-wrenching tragedy. i'm glad things have gotten better for you. you deserve it.
<3- heather ure

OurLittleAshley said...

Beautiful and touching, Kate.

Suicide is such a cruel, cruel beast.

steph anne said...

Beautifully written! :) <3

ClassyFabSarah said...

This post is so absolutely, heartbreakingly real. Thank you for sharing.

Erin said...

Thanks for being so brave, not just in writing this, but in grabbing life with both hands.

terra said...

I'm proud of you for sharing this. I know how hard it is, to admit to it, to say, out loud & in public, that he died and you lived and all the weighty things that come with that. It will be 11 years this April since my David took his own life and many years later that I'd realize so much of what you've just written in this post. Ever since I found out about your Dave, I've thought of us as connected (and I'm sorry that sounds so creepy, but I don't know how else to say it). They say for every suicide, 7 people are deeply affected and permanently changed by it and we're both in that club. Both changed and alive because of it all. So, cheers to you, my internet friend, for pushing through it, even on the very darkest of days.

Jilly said...

How brave of you to write this. It is 6 years last weekend since my ex-boyfriend took his own life, and I know how hard it can be to talk about it, or admit the thoughts that have take over your mind while you come to terms with such tragedies. A very beautiful piece of writing on such a hard subject.

Magdalena said...

There aren't too many things I can reply to this, but all I want to say is thank you for sharing this.
<3

christinaanne said...

I love you and am so proud of you. I don't think I could ever express how forever grateful I am that you found the strength within yourself to stay.

Lexa said...

Ah, the things that are hardest to admit to ourselves are the truest. I see not shame in this admission, more a great celebration of his life by you being here.

Jaime @ La vie...J'aime said...

what a beautiful post... i am so sorry for this loss, even 6 years later, i can imagine it is still a huge part of you.

Tiffany said...

Suicide is such a horrible thing. I have had several friends to take their own life. Thank you so much for sharing this story with everyone, and I know telling this story has probably helped several people. God Bless You!

San said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful and touching and very honest story about yourself, Kate. We're all happy your alive and well and living your life in his honor!!

Regina said...

This just made me bawl my eyes out. I've never haerd you talk/write so openly about this, even though it's been mentioned in many letters in our past. This.... made me cry.... But I loved reading it as I've felt so similarly in my own past.

Jackie said...

What a sad, yet beautiful story. Hugs!!

theTsaritsa said...

Thank you for sharing this. It made me cry.

Cleshopaholic said...

So touching! I bawled my eyes out. Cheers to a beautiful life!

Steven Allen Adams said...

That's terrible, I'm sorry.

Micaelaht said...

Kate these are beautiful and empowering words that the whole world should hear. Thanks for your excellent living.

justatitch said...

This is beautiful, Kate. I understand to some degree how unspeakable things can sometimes be the catalyst to help us change. For what it's worth, I'm so glad you've done the work to stay here. <3

phampants said...

If I didn't attempt to take my own life my freshman year of college, I would have never realized how beautiful life is now.

*hugs*

Alycia said...

oh my gosh how incredibly sad :( i'm so sorry.

Katherine said...

Wow, 7! I just had the conflicting thought that, that statistic needs to both be more widely shared and not at the same time. I can think of my 7, but for the people who feel as though they couldn't, that could have a negative impact. I like the idea of having 7 people to live for though.

Hermia said...

That was so beautifully written, Kate. I don't know how I'd get over something like that. You're really brave for writing what you did and I think admitting how you felt and what you considered doing will only do you good. I know admitting it helped me and thankfully The Boy was strong enough to support me and help me get through some awful things he had no part in. To be honest, the way you feel about Dave's effect on your life is the same way I feel about The Boy. He really did save my life. *hug*

Brittney said...

You know, I commend you for bringing it up. I think a lot of us have been there and no one wants to ever admit that, and because of that, no one is able to say, "No really, I *do* know how you feel and it gets BETTER." I have a little cousin, age 19, who has been through a lot and really does talk about it anytime life is remotely difficult -- so we've had this talk before, too. I do think that finally knowing someone who HAS taken that final step, really shoves the clarity of the decision into your face and makes folks reconsider.

To continue my ramble -- I totally know how surreal your memory becomes, where you remember the weirdest details. For me, I remember my aunt's poor mascara color choice, the memorial service food being luke warm, etc.

::hugs:: <-- but thats not a pity hug, promise! ;-)

Sara said...

You give me goosebumps way too often. You're an amazing writer.

Jen said...

I don't use "beautiful" as an adjective unless I'm describing a physical quality in fear of sounding like a grandma, but honestly ... that was beautiful. And what a revelation! It stinks we have to go through so many crappy years to finally find ourselves and our worth. But maybe we need those years for just that. I'm glad you've found yourself and love who you are! Otherwise, there would be a spot in my blog-heart missing. :)

Stacey said...

Heartbreakingly beautiful and honest. Thank you for sharing not only his story, but yours as well.

Klu23 said...

You're amazing. That's all.

Good Girl Gone Blog said...

Thanks for sharing, Kate.

Citygirlblogs said...

Beautiful post. Thanks. xoxo

Cari Lyle said...

You've captured the feelings of depression and loss so honestly, thoughtfully and perfectly that I can't imagine anyone shaming your prose. Thank you for sharing with all of us. We're all thinking of you and Dave today.

Stephany said...

This had to be so difficult to write but there was so much good in it. Sometimes, we just have to forget what other people may think of our words and just SAY THEM because there's a real good chance other people feel the same.

mandy said...

I can't even begin to tell you how beautifully this piece is written. Such courage, honestly, and compassion in your words. You can do your friend no greater honor than living a full life.

Chaviva G. said...

Your honesty ... there are no words. You've poured out yourself on this blog post, and for that openness, I applaud and thank you. You have no idea how many people you are helping with your words.

Braham said...

Thank you

Clevelandsaplum said...

this. is. beautiful.

i'm sure at the time you never thought you would be able to get to this point to be able to write so eloquently about the situation but you have, and it's wonderful.

E.P. said...

Your honesty and bravery to simply go there are refreshing and have bowled me over this morning. I think we have all been touched by a friend/family member/significant other having committed suicide, in some way, and your post is a beautiful reminder that life IS beautiful, even though it is challenging.

Thank you for posting this.

Kate said...

I lost my father at the age of 12 to suicide. For a very long time, the experience shaped me. Being so emotionally scarred from someone's death that it almost cripples your life.

Like you though, I found the courage to move on and somehow it got easier each day. I still have moments when my heart aches, and other moments when I'm flat out pissed at my father for [in my opinion] taking the easy way out in life, but that experience, and having to cope with it, truly showed me how beautiful life is.

Thank you so much for posting this and putting your heart out there.

XOXO

me said...

I've been thinking about this a lot recently as a friend lost their wife to suicide, and also a scare where I worried deeply that someone I was dating was suicidal. I thought forward to how that would affect me. Just *imagining* it has changed me; I can't even think about the reality. Thank you for sharing this painful story, and showing us the light that exists beyond.

skinny_dip said...

This is a really beautiful post.

I remember everything about the day that my friend passed away in grade 9 & the funeral that followed. The rest of the days surrounding those days are kind of a blur. I'd never really experienced depression but, after that I slipped into what felt like a black hole. But, like you I eventually felt better. There's definitely a time when you need to mourn and then you just have to live & celebrate that...because what else can you do?

*big hugs*

Abby said...

What a stirring post. I'm so, so sorry you had to go through that. Your emotional maturity is amazingly impressive. My thoughts are with you!

Vanessa said...

This is a really beautiful piece, including the clarity of what you drew from it all (the sunny pic breaks my heart).

To be honest, I haven't had any truly dark or tragic moments in my life and I don't wish for it really (how masochistic), but the silver lining to those moments is that once you've made it through, you end up doing the most amazing things. Have amazing perspective/motivation and lead an amazing life.

Sometimes people have to go to teach something to the people that stay behind. On a side note, I've wondered a couple of times if anything happened to me or my parents, if my EX would come to show his support (the love that was shared) and I'm not so sure. I'm sure his friends and family really appreciated your support/raw emotion during that time.

Stefanie said...

What a truly touching post! Thanks for sharing this with us!

sameve said...

This is absolutely beautiful and honest, and I can't believe I hadn't read it until now. I know what it's like to lose a friend who should have had so much more life ahead of him. The grief is different than when someone sick or old dies...not to sound insensitive, but I'm sure you know what I mean. My friend didn't take his own life in the literal sense, but his bad habits did.

Let me tell you, there is nothing wrong with the realizations Dave's death led you to. In fact, I'm sure he would be very proud of the person you've become. I think finding the silver lining, or trying to learn something from bad experiences, is part of our coping mechanism. I can't remember the last time I thanked my friend Max for being a great friend, so my mission has been (and will be) to make sure that never happens again. I miss him every day, and I try to live my life to the fullest for me, and for him. Hugs from NY!

reinventingerin said...

Sorry I'm reading this so late. You wrote this so well. It was so moving.

Bluefire8872001 said...

I in some way feel a similar emotion when I read this. I lost my best friend to her own self hatred when she was twenty one years old, and now I still am working through how it feels to know she is gone and I am not. She was pregnant, in a car crash...drunk. She died, the baby died, her husband died. Because she loved alchohol more than herself, drugs more than her child. But as sick as that is, as sad, she was a good person. She loved completely and totally with no fear, she treasured herself as she hated herself. She brought out the confidence in me I had no idea was there. Gave me a voice to make my claims with no fear, because it just didn't matter if anyone else understood. I miss her.

Kitz80345 said...

Thank you for writing this. 3 years ago January my college roomate passed away our senior year...I can absolutely see some of they ways I felt were also some of the ways you felt...thank you for sharing.

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