Let me begin by telling you the most important thing: it’s not your fault, and there is nothing you could have done to prevent this. Do you hear me?
It’s not your fault.
There is nothing you could have done to prevent this.
I promise you that.
As I sit here on a Saturday morning contemplating the inevitability of death, it strikes me that I must acknowledge out loud the rather high probability that mine will occur by my own hand. After all, I’ve lived with suicidal thoughts for as long as I can remember. They are no more shocking to me than your to-do lists and daydreams are to you. They’re a chronic part of my thought-life, one I made peace with long ago.
You see, making peace with suicidal ideation meant that I immediately began to treat it. Kind of like how diabetics would, I presume, start second-guessing their candy cravings once aware of their true condition. When I exercise, eat well, maintain healthy relationships, and continuously seek to elevate my psyche, I am granted some distance from the dark cloud that wants to hold the core of my spirit hostage.
Adulthood taught me to become my own hostage negotiator, I guess. At this point I’ve established such a rapport with the kidnapper that there is even, once in a while, a moment of levity. This is my reprieve.
This is my reality. Was my reality, if you’re reading this.
It would be ludicrous to grieve me as a victim, as someone who succumbed, when every single day except the very last one was a sublime victory. How can I begin to explain to you how much I relate to those who’ve gone before me? Woolf and Williams, Cornell, Cobain, Sylvia in the oven! They were the ones who gave me hope with their work. One more day of fight, a gift of vulnerability. They fought while blinded to their own light. Or blinded by it, perhaps.
I cannot tell you what will have gone through my head on the day that this letter becomes relevant. It will be an error in judgment, this is almost certain.
Yesterday I was walking home from the bookstore when I heard yelling through my headphones. When I looked up I saw an Indian family on the corner, waving. They had just seen a dog fall out of a window, they yelled. They didn’t have a phone, and someone needed to call help. I went with the mother to a little black Scottie. It laid limp between two planters, eyes big and black and not moving. I put a hand in front of its nose and felt breath. Meanwhile the woman’s teenagers were running up and down the street hollering for the owner.
My first thought was to suffocate the poor thing but the warmth of its breath made me rethink. I called the number on its tag and left a message. I don’t even know what I said. There was a number for a vet on another tag. I called, and they put me on hold. By the time the British girl came running down the block, her dog had died.
I don’t know what happened, she cried, he just jumped off the roof. I think he got scared. She searched my eyes for approval.
I say it’s almost certain I have made an error in judgment because of this dog from yesterday. He got scared, the poor thing, and jumped off a roof to safety. I’ve been at the edge of the metaphorical precipice myself, and I can tell you that every time I actually came close to jumping, my mind was so clear. A different kind of clear than what you’re probably imagining: a selfish, self-caring kind. You get overcome by the desire to turn the volume down. To cease fighting. To hang up the phone on the hostage negotiations because the sane part of your mind knows it’ll never talk sense into crazy.
After all, what’s so awful about dying? It happens to all of us.
There is peace in the idea of having absolute control over the end. The dignity of it is reassuring, as a writer. It’s a victory in authorship from an agnostic’s point of view. It’s one last fuck-you to the great invisible composer. It’s a declaration of power and individuality and autonomy: a pure celebration of life.
And yet, on a good day, there’s the inescapable hopelessness of it. The void of love. The dark hellhole of isolation — of mental and emotional withdrawal from the world, and from all the people in it with me. I can see, on a day like today, the devastation of those left behind. The desperate, dangerous emotional roller coaster of loss, guilt and worry. The what-ifs and should’ves of survivorship.
Let me tell you right now to banish them from your mind. I am smart, I am self-possessed. I am not a scared Scottie. I’m writing this now in careful anticipation of my destiny, full of prescience and without any sense of alarm. I know that someday I may be utterly convinced in the timeliness of my final page, and I have enough self-respect to prepare for it.
I have loved. I have known humans far beyond the usual depth at which we tend to know one another. It’s all I’ve ever wanted in this life, to see the truth of another’s soul. Thankfully I’ve found a way to live in that truth for most of my adult life. I have done all of the things that I wanted to do, and then some. The rest has been, and continues to be, a magnificent, light-filled bonus.
It’s funny how hollow the precipices of our minds become when we shine lights into them. It’s not so funny how persistently they convince us of their infinite depths. How amnesiac minds replace the bridges to safety with invisible tightropes laid across chasms.
Every day there is a bridge is a victory. Every day there is a tightrope is a challenge. Some days there are ladders you have to build by yourself, in the dark. How I survived those is still a mystery to me. I’ve heard it called grace. I’m okay with that, God stuff aside.
But I can see the grace in finality, too. In a crescendo of life that culminates in a poem. Steps into the river. A stumble off a ledge. Car crash, no skidmarks.
I don’t know what it will be. Hopefully I’ll make it beautiful. A great story with a flat ending just isn’t my style.
I love you. Forgive me. Be happy.
P.S. If I make it to eighty, I’m trying cocaine on my birthday — and if that’s why you opened this, it’s a fucking plot twist, not a suicide.