I’d just finished up a round of morning classes at Temple University and was standing at the corner of Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue, numb and dull around the edges, throbbing like a day-old bruise. I willed myself out of bed that morning, reluctantly pulled every bone and fiber of muscle out from underneath the rumpled cavern of my sheets and away from the seductive comforts of sleep. I was intensely depressed and honestly couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t—when life didn’t felt like one long, drawn-out day where the simplest of tasks such as showering, buying toilet paper and even blinking felt impossible. I no longer cared that there was a mountain of moldy, slimy dishes pouring out of my sink back at my apartment or that Ben and Jerry had become my only two friends. All that I wanted was relief from the pain that was poisoning my life. And I was ready and willing to do what I thought I needed to in order to get it.
When my dad picked me up from the train station that afternoon, he thought that I was coming home for a summer job interview. But what he didn’t know was that I was coming home to use the gun I knew he kept in a shoebox on a shelf in his bedroom closet.
There was a bunch of shit going on in my family at the time: my stepmother had just run off to Florida to be with a wheelchair-bound man she met on the Internet and my dad reacted to it by increasing his beer consumption and completely checking out emotionally. And this incident, coupled with the stresses of college, my history of depression, the way my two older brothers were struggling with addiction and a complete lack of connection with my alcoholic mother, made suicide feel like my only viable option. I just wanted the pain and the chaos that had become the center of my life to stop.
We pulled up to the house and Dad reached over and clicked the garage door remote he had clipped to his visor. He kept the truck running as I bent down between my legs to pick up my backpack.
“Thanks for the ride,” I mumbled to the door handle and headed inside. I waited until I heard his truck fade down the street before closing the garage door.
As I climbed the stairs to my room, the house fell painfully quiet and I could hear my breath falling in and out of my nose. I opened my door, dropped my bag on the floor and just stood there. I remember the sun bursting through the slats of the red metal blinds that hung in my window and watching a thick cloud of dust tumble in and out of the yellow light. I remember trying to think and trying to feel my toes in my shoes and my jeans against my skin but I couldn’t. I knew what I came home for and I was set on what I wanted to do but I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t happy either but for the first time in a very long time, I felt at peace with myself and with the dark reality of the world around me.
I flipped the light switch, slid the long mirrored door aside and stepped into my dad’s closet. On the left, hanging on an assortment of colored plastic hangers, were all of the clothes that my stepmother had left behind. On the right-hand side was all of my Dad’s stuff—black work boots, his collection of button-down flannel shirts and, back in the corner, on the shelf above his clothes, his gun. I stood on the tips of my toes and reached for the box. I pulled back the lid and exhaled as I picked it up. It was black, surprisingly heavy and oddly small. The last time I’d seen the gun was years earlier when my dad had gotten into a drunken fight with my brother and chased him out of the house with it. Dad later told me that the gun wasn’t loaded when he brought it out that night and that he never kept it loaded in the house, though he did have a box of bullets next to it.
I pressed my thumb around the padded grip of the handle and rested my finger on the smooth curve of the trigger. I figured that the best place for me to use the gun would be behind the closed doors of the closet. Better to keep the mess contained, I thought. I rested my hand, holding the gun down at my side and used my other hand to fish for the small box of bullets that I knew my Dad kept nearby. I moved my hand back and forth on the shelf several times but I couldn’t find the box. I placed the gun down on the floor and put both hands up on the shelf, feeling around for the bullets and again I came up empty. I started pulling everything off of the shelf—shaking out sweatshirts, unrolling piles of socks and checking every coat and jean pocket I could see—and still I came up with nothing. The bullets were gone—completely missing—and I was standing there holding an empty gun and still I felt nothing.
I don’t remember putting the gun back in its box, laying on the floor of the closet, curling up in the fetal position and falling asleep. But when I woke up, however many hours later, that’s where I was.
I am many years beyond my sophomore year of college and my first and thankfully last brush with suicide. But that’s not to say that I still don’t grapple with the same shitstorm of feelings that had me tearing up my Dad’s closet looking for his box of bullets.
When I first moved to New York, back in early 2000, I found myself lost yet again in a deep pit of depression. I would spend hours just sitting on my bed, staring at a cobwebbed corner in my room as tear after tear fell from the tip of my chin. I couldn’t afford my rent, my brother had just been gunned down in a drug deal gone horribly wrong and no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the void that had been gnawing away at my desire to live. I needed help and something in me wanted to find it. I was temping at a small advertising firm at the time and had access to a computer every day. So I started looking up suicide hotlines, support groups and reading articles about suicide prevention. From there, I found a therapist with a very generous sliding scale that I met with once a week. Eventually, I started practicing Bikram yoga and going to the gym regularly. Then I started attending regular Al-Anon meetings and eventually I started taking medication to help me manage the regular bumps and twists of my mood and to smooth out my frequent bouts of depression. I didn’t realize it then but I was slowly learning how to manage my life; as a result, I began to feel much better.
From time to time I think about all of the wonderful bits of life I would have missed out on had I followed through with my suicide attempt. For starters, I would never have met my dearly loved cat. I would never have cultivated the friendships I now cherish. I would have never studied music and never have met my now husband, who loves me no matter what mood he finds me in. No matter what goes on with my alcoholic family, suicide isn’t an option today.