She had to die before I could love her. Eleven years ago, I’d thought of us a little more than — what’s that horrible and oh-so-modern phrase — “friends with benefits”. Or the even-more-modern phrase, “fuck buddies”. She’d been easy to seduce because she was broken inside, although I chose not to see it. I liked her. She was perky and she was quick-witted and most importantly she was twenty-nine years old at a time when I was starting down the barrel of my fortieth birthday. We met where and when we could, from my guest bedroom to the model unit of the rental apartments she managed. On a risky whim, we went to see Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour in 2010, standing near the back and listening to the old man warble his incomprehensibilities, both of us suffering from aching knees and light headaches from the vodka. Her hand sought mine in the unlit crowd and while I did not resist, neither did I squeeze back.
In 2012 her husband found out. They always do, you know, the husbands. He called me. Asked me to lay off. Told me that I was standing between them and happiness. I suggested that his OxyContin addiction was probably also an issue. He said he could get help, and that he would sober up. He said he could, and would, look after her. I knew he was a born loser but I also, in my own way, respected the institution of marriage, so I did, in fact, lay off. She and I would occasionally meet for lunch, at the Pizza Hut down the street from the Honda plant in Marysville, Ohio, but we did not touch. “Did you ever love me?” she asked.
“Of course,” I lied.
Five years later, in May of 2017, she and her husband had a big fight. She threatened to kill herself. He’d been sober for a while, and he was filled with the self-righteousness that comes so easily to people who have beaten a percentage, however minor, of their own addictions. “Go ahead and do it, you won’t be missed,” he yelled, and he let the door slam on his way out. She cried for a while — I don’t know how long. Then she took their trio of children across the street to her neighbor’s house. “I need you to look after them until my husband comes home,” she said, and smiled.
Then she opened the faucets on the old plastic tub in the back bathroom of their tired old duplex, and she stripped down just to her underwear, for the sake of decency, and she stepped in. When the water was warm enough, she opened both her wrists, and she died. Shortly afterwards, the neighbor ran into the house, her subconscious having assembled the clues in front of her into their only logical conclusion. The water was still warm, stained with paisley swirls and ethereal tendrils of slowly clotting blood.
Today I read something that I’d like to recommend to you. More than that, I’d like you to share it with others. The article is about how children cope with the suicide of a parent. It may feel awkward for you to share this with the person, or people, who need it most: you can always say that you are concerned about a mutual friend. As tragic as a suicide can be, it is far more so when there are children, particularly young children, involved.
This is a particularly critical message in an era where more and more people are being left behind by outsourcing, right-sizing, plant closings, and the inevitable redundancies of automation. For men in particular, the loss of a job is the most likely trigger of suicide. Don’t be afraid to reach out in these cases. The worst that can happen is that you look like a fool and most of us have run that risk for far less reward in the past.
Why did my friend kill herself? It wasn’t her job, her marriage, or her careless ex-boyfriend. A few years prior to our affair, her younger sister had been violently murdered and she’d been the one to find the body. The two of them had been very close, and she never found a way to accept that loss. On the single night we spent together, she sat right up in the bed around three in the morning and started screaming. After she calmed down, she explained that she’d dreamed about seeing the body all over again. “It happens when I don’t take my pills,” she said, “but the pills make me a zombie and I wanted to be a real person tonight.”
She was always a real person to me. Her death made her more real, although I’m embarrassed to admit it. I did not attend the funeral. Her husband had her cremated, for reasons I’d prefer not to examine too closely. I’ll see her again some day, I think. No time soon.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
And there’s this, as well:
But I’ll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the ones I love
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go