‹ Prequel: It Was Suicide Season

Suicide Season: Ten Years

Dear Dad: Ten Years Later

You made her promise to stay long enough to get the to-go order, to make sure my brother and I had dinner.

In the midst of an evening with a group of some of your best friends, at a sports bar in a different city, you just…left. You got up, told mom to get the food, and left.
You already knew, didn’t you?

I don’t know why it would come as a surprise to me now, the idea that you were fully aware of what you had planned to do as soon as you stood up to leave. But how long did you know? Had you been thinking about it all day? All week? Month? Or did it hit you when you were sitting at the bar, finishing up another beer, that maybe you wanted to just…end it?

In hindsight, everyone seems to know now that you were not acting normal those last few weeks.

The theory we have finally settled on – because it’s the only one that we can wrap our heads around – is that the combination of medication you were taking is what affected you so deeply.

You had been taking Chantix for months, because I begged you with a “pretty please” to quit smoking. Your doctor advised you to stop taking it for a while, because you had a sinus infection, and he prescribed Prednisone for it. We learned later from a friend of ours that worked as a nurse that Chantix doesn’t just leave your system, and Prednisone doesn’t play well with others. She said that she’d already seen this happen several times before.

If that is the truth, and if your demons only came out because of medication, I still feel like I have to carry guilt. Because I was the one that begged you to quit smoking, I was the one that wanted to be sure you’d be with me as long as possible. Now I look in the mirror and scowl; I started smoking when I was sixteen, and have been chain-smoking since then.

For weeks before you died, your friends all have noted that your emotions were all over the place. That sometimes, you would come over to their house, sit down, and just cry. I’m glad I didn’t have to witness that as often as Patrick and Randy and Anjeanette did. That Sunday morning was too much as it was.

It saddens me how I can’t remember your laugh. I can’t remember your voice. Sometimes I think I catch snippets of it between dreams, but I can’t know if those are memories or just my heart’s way of trying to heal itself. I never know what to believe when it comes to my own brain.

You weren’t there when I started to self-harm. You weren’t there when Nikki became my best friend. You weren’t there when I discovered my favorite bands, when I screamed their lyrics at the top of my lungs because that was the only time that I was happy. You weren’t there when I acted out for attention. You weren’t there when I said god-awful things about Mom. You weren’t there when Nana and Papa rescued me from that hell. You weren’t there when mom decided I was too much of a risk to myself and she shipped me off to a wilderness therapy program. You weren’t there You weren’t there when I learned how to make a fire using rocks, when I fell on a rock and gave myself a black eye, or when I faced my demons on Heartbreak Ridge, where Sam the Mountain Man reminded me, “You are not weak. You are not weak. You are not weak.” You weren’t there when I came home, and though I had started to heal, the rest of the family was still shattered.

You weren’t there when I got my first car. You weren’t there when things got bad again, when I did anything and everything I could to empty my veins of the pain, to starve out my demons, to drown the nightmares. You weren’t there those times that I went too far – yet that was the closest I’d been to you in a long time. You weren’t there when my friends left me, you weren’t there when I was alone. You weren’t there when I had to decide that I wanted to live, or at least wanted to try.

You weren’t there for my junior prom, or my senior prom. You weren’t there when my best friend and I finally reconnected. You weren’t there when I graduated; I’d barely scraped by, but graduated with honors anyway. You weren’t there when I came home and got drunk with my best friends.

You weren’t there when, four days later, I started cosmetology school. You weren’t there for me to practice haircuts on, you weren’t there to encourage me on the days I was convinced I just wanted to quit and never go back. You weren’t there for all the times that I broke my own heart, because I wanted to do better, wanted to be better, and just came up short.

You weren’t there when I got my first job, or my second job, or my third job. You weren’t there when I started working with my best friend at an office supply store for a company that doesn’t care about anything at all. You weren’t there when I got a job offer at a salon, after taking three years to finally get my license. You weren’t there when I wanted to show off pictures of this awesome color I did, or this awesome highlight placement that I finally nailed. You weren’t there all the nights I came home crying, feeling like I wasn’t good enough, would never be good enough, surely I don’t know what I’m doing.

You weren’t there for my first car accident. You weren’t there when life went it slow motion, when the airbags deployed and the other driver’s horn wouldn’t go off. I was convinced I’d killed her. Her husband said she shouldn’t have been driving anyway. That was the closest I’d ever come to realizing that my mortality is not entirely up to me. I didn’t want to die.

You weren’t there when I was told that the wreck had broken my left hand, my dominant hand, the hand I use for everything. You weren’t there when I had the surgery to twist bones back around and straighten them out. You weren’t there when I went back six weeks later to have the pin taken out.

You weren’t there when I returned back to work, only to find out a few months later that my hand hadn’t healed the way we thought it did, and I had to make a choice – I could do hair for as long as I could manage, and potentially lose function of my hand; or, I could stop doing hair, and try to find something else that I would want to do. So, that’s what I did. I broke my own heart again, leaving a career that I loved, in order to go back to school. Hopefully, one day, I’ll carve my own mark out of the Psychology field.

Everything I’ve had to live through without you has been a nightmare. For all of us. You can’t imagine the hell that my brother has put us through. He’s become manipulative, hateful, disrespectful…a lot like your older brother was when he was younger. I love my brother so much, but he hurts us all the time.

It would be foolish to tell you that I don’t understand why you did it, because I do. Even putting aside the medication cocktail from hell, life is so painful. Every day hurts more than the day before. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a point to this at all. If I have to live my day to day life with various mental disorders and the shadows of trauma over every waking moment, why bother at all? So yes, I do understand why you did it.

That doesn’t make me any less sad, or angry. It doesn’t make me feel any less guilty, as though I put the gun in your hand and held it to your head. It doesn’t make every memory any less painful, because thinking about you at all feels like a knife in the heart more often than not.

I was an idiot to think that I could ever start to “let you go,” because there’s no letting go of something like this. This pain doesn’t go away; it ebbs and flows like everything else in life. You’re not some angel in a cloud that I can call on for miracles; your soul has moved on; your body is nothing but bones in a wooden box. The emptiness of missing you and needing you is not replaced by Mom and Randy, especially when he is so much like you. Sometimes when they fight, he will say something in the exact same way you did, and I’m taken directly back to that day – that fear, that hurt, that trauma – and I know they see it on my face. I know they know exactly when what they say in anger takes me back to the hardest day of my life. I know that when my heart is in my throat, when I’m choking on sobs and spitting out vomit, when I grab my keys and get in the car because I just need to be anywhere else…I know they know that I’m only seeing you, your last day, the last things you’d said to me.

It doesn’t get easier, just easier to cope with…sometimes. Sometimes I can think about you and it’s all smiles and laughter, sunny memories with bright blue skies and sturdy trees. Sometimes I think about you, and it’s storm clouds and fallen kingdoms and darkness.

It’s been ten years now, and I know better than to ask if that’s ever going to change. I’d be better off reaching into my own chest and pulling my heart out. I’m not so naïve to believe that these feelings will just go away. The good memories are so deeply intertwined with the bad memories. There’s no way to sort through them at all anymore, not really. At least, not right now.

What else do you say to someone who is dead? I miss you? I love you? There’s no one to send this letter to, and there aren’t really any more ways that my heart can be broken. Who am I even writing this for? For me? Why bother?

Maybe healing will come. Maybe it won’t. Maybe one day I’ll grow up and I’ll be just like you; the person everyone adores, that everyone can be friends with, that would do anything for anybody. Maybe one day I’ll brighten up lives with just a smile, and give chances to those everyone else has cast aside, and fight face to face with the devil for the people I love. Maybe one day I’ll be even half as good of a person as you were.

But under no circumstances will the day come where I will turn a gun on myself. Under no circumstances will the day come where I will pull the trigger. As much as I hate how grueling and painful this life can be, I remember all of the people who were heartbroken by your choice. I never want to do that to anybody. In that regard, I don’t want to be like you.

I don’t blame you, and I don’t hate you. I miss you and I love you. I wish things were different. But things are okay, if not just a little shitty like life seems to be. We are going to be okay. We are always going to miss you, but we are going to find a way through. You showed me that I have more strength than I ever believed possible, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to use it to its full capacity in order to survive.

To live.

That’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to live.