In high school I can remember a mutual friend telling me how he didn’t feel like it was worth living any more, how he was just ready to die. Without missing a beat, I remember doing everything I could to convince him otherwise. My recount of the occurrence is well documented somewhere on the internet, buried in an old Livejournal or Xanga post that I will never find again.
I remember teenage me telling this boy how there was so much more to live for. Telling him how we needed to experience true pain to understand true happiness and with all the good days, also came the bad. That ultimately, you couldn’t ever have one without the other, and that the dark times allow the bright ones to shine that much brighter.
I remember teenage me telling him about how I almost died. How I had been pronounced brain dead after the car accident, medevaced to the hospital, named “Jane Doe,” and eventually had to learn how to walk again. I remember telling him how lucky I was to be alive and how life was something to truly cherish.
As I aged into “adulthood” I branded myself with tattoos that embodied that enjoyment of life. My wrist read “embrace life.” My chest reads “dream like you will live forever” and the inside of my arm reads “live each day like it’s your last.” Since the accident I have constantly told myself that life is something to be enjoyed and celebrated, that I was lucky to still be here so I should make the most of it. Yet, as young adulthood grew into adulthood, that embracement of life seemed to dwindle. The excitement seemed like the rare occasion and the dreary drudge of life became the daily reality. Or maybe I had just been fooling myself all along. Maybe I was tricking my mind into thinking I was having a good time.
In this sudden moments of reflection, I know that I do have some memories truly rooted in happiness or enjoyment. Like the time that I was in the wheelchair and my dad pushed me around the neighborhood so I could go trick or treating with my younger brother, who collected enough candy at each door for both of us. Or in high school, on the warm nights tailgating before football games in the parking lot. The one time my brother and I stole the abandoned grill from the parking lot of anther school when we took our tailgating on the road. Pulling up to Starbucks belting Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue with my best friend in the passenger seat, intentionally making a scene.
Regardless, sometimes I feel like I need the younger version of me to come back and give me a pep talk. How was she so confident that everything would be okay and I cannot seem to push past the pain? I feel like I need her to come back and help remind me that life is worth living, because right now, it is one of the hardest things to remember.
Right now, death is the easy solution to a difficult problem. Death seems looks like the quickest route to escaping the pain; the straight line path to making the sad feelings go away.
We were on “vacation” not too long ago; a quick trip to Arizona, a long drive to Colorado, and a short stop in Cortez before heading back home. We ventured out to Arizona to see my younger brother and his now fiance, we all then caravanned to Cortez, Colorado for my younger stepsister’s wedding. It was a long weekend trip, jam packed with family, heat, emotions, and all the other things that come along with that.
My inability to not take the blame or to not blame myself took over my mental state one night in Arizona, as Kevin and I began to realize our master travel plans may have been foiled. We were flying out of Cortez on a small passenger plane, so small that they didn’t check luggage. How could I have completely missed that critical piece of information when we were booking everything? “How could I be so stupid,” I thought. “Why am I such a fucking idiot?”
I do not think that I am good at hiding my frustration, I am sure I snapped at Kevin in front of the others, and I am pretty sure no one called me on it simply to spare me. As I sipped my beer I remember wondering if even that was a good idea. We headed inside and I pulled out my computer to begin trying to figure out the flight situation. Our podunk flight was refundable and the major airline nearby still had flights heading home; it would mean completely rebooking our trip home – but it also meant it was possible. So I tried. I punched in all the data, was calculating the money we would be getting back, and then saw the final total for the new flight. Sure, each ticket was only $20 or so more expensive, but only a fraction of what we originally paid applied to the changes and we were being hit with a $400 additional fee to process the change. My rational mind knew that it wasn’t the end of the world, that we were with enough family that our bag would make it back to Virginia some how, but I still couldn’t help but feel like the biggest failure in the room.
We played cards with some of my brother’s friends that night. I cracked jokes and laughed along while still seething on the inside. I hadn’t let go of the anger towards myself, the frustration that I could be so dumb. As the evening grew into the late hours, the card game wound down and small talk began to taking place before we all headed off for slumbers. Kevin was being Kevin, super personable and friendly. Suddenly I felt my insecurities rise to the forefront as I tried to make him stop with comments like, “Okay, Okay. We all get it, you’re old.” In my mind he was trying to impress the girl who was sitting across from me, next to her boyfriend. In reality he was just being nice. In my mind, he could have cared less that I was right sitting right there and she was his main concern. When the fact of the matter is he loves me more than anything else.
That evening was an endless spiral of negative thoughts and lies on repeat, a bad broken record. As we layed in bed, I couldn’t bring myself to curl into Kevin. I was mad at things that didn’t happen. I was hurt by lies that my mind had fabricated, things that no one else knew. I was embarrassed and ashamed, because I felt like I should have been stronger but I wasn’t. I was mad at myself for feeling that way, for not being able to separate out the truth and dispel all the lies. I layed in my brothers bed wanting to die. Stopping my breathing and wondering how long I could go before I would have to take another breath of air. Wondering if I could actually die there, with my eyes open because I decided to stop breathing in air. Then I thought about how traumatizing that would be to my brother, to not only loss his sister, but for her to die in his own bed. “He would have to buy a new bed,” I thought. “He might not ever be able to sleep in this room again.” How could I do that to him? How could I put that on my little brother, that wasn’t fair. So, I took a breath and eventually went to sleep.
Our few days in Colorado brought different and additional stress to the situation. I broke down feeling like I had no sense of control, that no one cared what it was that I might want to do. The weekend was an emotional battle of feeling like I was left out because for the last nine years my family was used to me not showing up. Feeling stranded. Feeling stupid and bitter as I watched my two younger siblings venture into engagements and weddings. I was angry that it was them before me, but excited for them at the same time. It was a tightrope to walk, I lost my balance many times and the day of the wedding I was glad that it was an event where people got teary, so if I did, no one would question why.
Laying in the hotel bed one night, I felt like I was in so much pain, emotional not physical. I hurt, I was sad and there didn’t seem like anyway to fix it. I felt like I was wrong, broken, not worth loving. I didn’t see the reason in living and slowly began to run my fingernails across my stomach, each time pushing harder and harder wondering if I could break the skin. I felt like I deserved the pain and that if I could make it happen, that maybe it would distract me from the other pain. Maybe I could just bleed out. Alas, my nails have smooth edges or naturally rounded tips so all I was accomplishing was jabbing myself over and over again with no results. I tried to stop breathing, as my chest grew tighter and heavier. I wanted nothing more than for it all to end, and I wasn’t sure what reason there was for me to face the next day. In his sleep Kevin rolled into me and put his arm around me, unknowingly reminding me why I should tough it out to face the next day. What type of terrible girlfriend chooses to die in her loving boyfriend’s arms? Who does that? What kind of terrible person would I be if I did? How that would destroy him and on this trip that he only made for me.
I rolled to my side and curled into the fetal position, because it seemed safe and like I couldn’t harm myself. In doing so, I disrupted Kevin just enough for him to realize something was wrong and ask me if I was okay. I rolled over and buried my face into his chest as I cried myself to sleep.
Sometimes I cannot help but feel like a sham. How can I walk around with this positive messages about life plastered across my body and constantly daydream about death?
When I got my tattoos I remember wanting them to be a reminder to myself of what I had been through and a message to others, a message to be strong and live the lives they wanted to. Maybe younger me knew I would need to look into the mirror and see that message too one day, that maybe I would look down at my wrist and realize that that is what I need to do. Or, maybe they were actually silent cries for help that went unanswered until now. What I do know is, that sometimes I wish that teenage version of me could pop up on the other side of the computer screen and give me that same pep talk she gave that mutual friend.