Early on a Tuesday– they think it must have been after midnight– a good friend followed through on a promise. A promise I had unfortunately heard often, and with shifting levels of conviction, over the last several years as personal challenges mounted. But somehow, I always managed to talk her back from that ledge.
This year, though, it was different.
Instead of picking up the fucking phone, she first picked up the bottle– I wonder if she suspected I’d just use clever words to change her mind. All I know for certain is that she wrote a note filled with regret on cheap motel stationery. A brief synopsis of a life she felt she lived…wrong. Nothing but naked regret and echoing apologies ringed in shaky handwriting on tacky paper.
After finishing her note, she opened up a different bottle. One with a childproof top. But I guess the manufacturers never accounted for the tenacity of drunken fingers. The contents were consumed– all of them. And then, she closed her green eyes.
In her absence, I find the world around me a quieter, harsher place. There is something about the recent shift in the weather since that night which I find infuriating. Because it was cold and dark in her final moments. That’s just not fair– she deserved better skies under which to ease into the depth of the nothingness she sought.
She should have been on a beach somewhere. Under the painted sunset of a tropical oasis where she always dreamed of going. Cold beverage in her hand. And the ocean’s rhythmic touch at her feet. But, no. She was found curled up and cold. Alone, inside a room on the edge of a smoky rust belt town buried inside an endless sea of dead corn stalks.
And that is just a fucking depressing final scene to what once was a beautiful, imperfect life.
But my dear friend’s departure was not unique. Within the past fifteen months, two other friends also succumbed to the whispers in their heads. Not a single one was accidental. Or, natural.
Demons wear a multitude of disguises. That, I think, is the unifying lesson to be rescued from the depths of this madness. Bottles can steal stability away in legal 1.75 liter measurements. The needle guarantees a steady erosion of accomplishment. Because you can’t be bothered to ever pay Paul when you’re too busy getting fucked up with Peter. Stress and mental issues can trigger manic splinterings– often with little or no warning.
But, that’s not how I choose to remember them. They were much more than what their weaknesses left behind represent. And I refuse to give their demons acknowledgement.
Because my friends were original, magnificent, brilliant personalities. Kind and thoughtful; soft and generous. Flawed, but uniquely so. Combined, the supporting cast in my stories of ridiculousness spanning four states and three decades.
I am left cycling through the stages of grief at an alarming rate. Vertigo hits harder than a bottle to the head whenever you get a text like that. Because each time you look up from the phone, color seems a little more muted. Each notification drains just a little more focus from an already darkening world.
Around this time of year people start dropping like flies. It feels like a feeble attempt at this point, but if you’re thinking of doing it, don’t. If you find yourself hurting, reach out. If you are feeling alone, remember that we all feel the way you are feeling at some point in our lives. That commonality unites us into something more significant. And, the world is going to turn.
It hurts to think of all the memories and stories extinguished when a beating heart ceases. It breaks my own heart to think of children, right on the cusp of their adulthood, left to face the world without the guiding influence of a more worldly parent. It angers me that they robbed their friends of the chance to later reminisce from within the burning glow of golden years yet to come.
This rust belt town feels smaller tonight. These once familiar streets now run foreign– there are too many gaps. Things aren’t where I left them. And that fills me with building anxiety. I feel the clock ticking. The lines are blurring.
All I can do is carry the weighted torch of combined memory. And raise a dirty glass toast to the resilient imprint of imperfect souls I cherished beyond all others.
I hope they rest peacefully in that next place. If there is even a shred of justice in this tumultuous universe, then I will get to see my friends again. And if I do, I can promise that the music will be loud; the drinking, significant. And we shall surely laugh together at the dying of the night, here in just another rust belt flyover town, surrounded by a sea of dead corn stalks.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. These services are free and confidential.