Content warning: Suicidal ideation and attempts (no graphic detail)
I always turned my phone off in that class. Always turned it off and put it out of sight. But I had some weird itching in my gut that day, a feeling I put down to anxiety but honoured nonetheless; a feeling that told me I needed to keep my phone on. So I did. And you texted.
“Thank you x”
And I knew. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know. It had been a pretty normal day, you seemed fine at lunch as we hid away together giggling.
He knew too, the second I showed him the message. We called you and you slurred back at us.
An hour and a half it took to find you. Couldn’t tell us where you were, couldn’t convince yourself to stay. It’s ok, I understood. Still do. I can still remember every word I said to you on the phone that day – it’s a weird sort of irony that you can’t. I won’t ever forget what you looked like when we found you, though I only caught a glimpse before I was pulled away.
Chocolate and tea and hugs, a cigarette on the curb and being taken for ice cream. Strange how tragedy brings people together. Wonderful though.
We went to the theatre that night and I was bouncing off the walls, energy buzzing in my veins. The server at KFC let me take home all the mini corn on the cob at closing, my favourite. On the hardest day there was the gentlest kindness.
On the train back home I got the call to turn around, go back into the city, my grandmother had fallen. She had a brain bleed and wouldn’t survive the night. Apparently. I never believed that. Maybe I just couldn’t fathom the possibility, but I was sure she would survive. Listened to the Matilda soundtrack on the way to the hospital – ‘when I grow up/ I will be brave enough to fight the creatures/ that you have to fight beneath the bed/ each night to be a grown up’.
She lived. I knew she would. Everyone was sitting in sadness in the waiting room, but I knew she would live. He sat across from me and was the only one to try and lighten the mood with me, asking about school and the like. It was the first time I thought he was genuinely kind to me. He’s dead now too.
She told me ‘I find that when death is following you around it’s usually telling you to live’. I think so too; I’ve carried that with me ever since. Because, you see, all the things I had to say to you on the phone that day, all the things I had to say to try and get you to stay just a little longer were things I needed to hear. It was so awful. I wanted to leave; I thought I wanted to leave. But I had to tell you to stay and so I realised I wanted to stay too. In a strange way you saved me that night. I was 15.
I have three suicide notes, but they’re not really suicide notes – they all open by saying that they are what I would write in a suicide note, which I’m writing to try and convince myself to stay. The thoughts still come, but I’ve got better at them. They just exist there. I don’t think I can stop them from existing there. But they don’t hurt me just by existing. I’ve realised that over time. The last time – two years ago now – that I was close, I decided I’d just go and have a cigarette first. And I went outside and I had a cigarette and something happened and it wasn’t ok yet, it wouldn’t be ok for a while, but it was survivable. Something about the futility of that moment – of being struck with the realisation that it changed in the time it took to roll a cigarette – stuck with me. So now the thoughts come, sometimes, but they go again. I don’t know the future. Maybe they’ll come back stronger. But I’m growing too.
I’ve got really good at the ‘stay alive’ talk now. Or not really good, but it feels less foreign to me. Have had to give it a few times. Never quite so urgent as that first time, but urgent enough. Life-on-the-line enough. I’m ok with that though, because you’re all still here for now.
You – I really thought I would lose you. If not intentionally I really thought you would turn up dead at the side of a road. God knows I woke up to the message you had overdosed enough times. But I hoped. And you kept calling. And now I have my best friend back.
I still keep my phone on at night in case you call. Any of you. I’d like to not carry that with me one day. It hasn’t been easy to process. I don’t think I have really processed it. I barely drew a sober breath for two years after that day, so maybe that was my way of processing it. My recovery encompasses it. But I still keep my phone on at night. And you know what’s strange? I can sleep through twenty alarms in the morning – I frequently do – but I have never missed a call from you. I’ve always woken up. That’s love. That’s my higher power and my guiding force. I’ve never had my call go unanswered either.
I woke up crying at two in the morning last year. Very disconcerting to wake up crying already. All I had was a vivid image of you in a dream drifting in the darkness. My soul was tearing and I didn’t know why. I cried, I calmed, I went back to sleep. I found out later you had gone into hospital that day. I knew what you had tried to do, in my gut I knew, you can call me crazy if you want but I did. Took you months to actually tell me and hearing the words tumbling out of your mouth hurt so much more. It was too real. And you were too ashamed. Please, don’t be ashamed. I’ve been there too.
I live in fear of losing you. Any and all of you. But that’s the price I pay for loving such wonderful people. I am not afraid of death anymore. I’m afraid of not living. But I get to choose what that means; we get to choose.
If I had died the first time I wanted to, I would have been dead for six years now. Wouldn’t have had my first kiss, or performed on a real stage. Wouldn’t have shared gut wrenching laughter or love. Wouldn’t have known so many wonderful people.
I refuse to be consumed by the fear. But I refuse to accept this as normal either. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I speak, and that’s why I love. You have nothing to be ashamed of; you deserve better. But you can learn to live too. I promise.