“Suicides have already betrayed the body.”
— Anne Sexton, Wanting to Die
How do you pick a day to die?
Not just die. How do you pick a day to inflict irrevocable violence on yourself? How do you reach a point where that seems the better option? How do you do that to yourself knowing what legacy you are leaving to your family, friends, fans, neighbours?
Since there is so much talk going on about this, I felt an urge to clarify myself. I should say upfront that, so far, I have not been touched by suicide. I’ve known OF people who suicided, I’ve not known people who HAVE suicided, I have never contemplated it myself. Suicide is ugly. I don’t buy into the romantic glory of it despite the extent of my sympathies for its victims.
That said, my first thought with suicide cases is that it must be an awful, lonely, angry place to be. I’ve heard the ‘coward’s way out’ theory & I’ve read the poetic romanticisations of the suicides of artists & writers. I piece them all together but I don’t have any real conclusions. It’s clearly more complex than any of that. I kinda feel like an animal that senses it has a wound, but doesn’t understand what that wound is. Suicide leaves scars on the people around it. But when Thompson died, I felt he deserved a moment of quiet contemplation. I felt sorry for him. I thought, ‘what a fucked way to go’.
My second thought, then, is with the people left behind, whose pain is not over, & whose grief is just beginning. Particularly, I feel for the loved one who has the job of finding the body. In death, the body re-asserts itself over the soul/mind/spirit/whatever. You’re left with the sheer mess of it, the corporeal reality of our imperfect biological systems. Heart, lungs, brains, guts, the spit & blood & shit of living & dying. Spilled and leaking and good for what? For what? Making soap and glue, maybe.
‘What a fucked thing to do to somebody else,’ I think.
Can you ever get the marks off the wall?
What always comes next to my mind is this: that when I was backpacking around Europe, I met a girl who’d spent the last year running from the discovery of her boyfriend’s suicide. She was sleeping on a beach in Italy. She had no money & refused to accept any. She wasn’t sure how she would make it back to London for her flight home to Seattle in a few weeks. She was worried, but not overly anxious. She seemed to be living on an edge, too. Without fear of falling. She wasn’t reckless, but equally she seemed to have nothing to lose. She had a kind of disregard for fate. She was still carrying the burden her boyfriend had found unbearable. There was a sense she was separate to us. That she existed a little outside life, still with a firm grip on reality, but also with a kind of knowledge of something that was outside normality, that made life both darker and more light. Less weighty. Harder to see.
I thought I’d keep in touch with her, but when I came home I found I never had written down her name or address — though I distinctly thought I had. Somehow she’d slipped right by me & I hadn’t realised. She’s one of my ‘lost’, one of the people that made a long-term impact on me but proved to be impossible to hold onto. For that reason, she is unresolved in my mind. I want to know how she’s going & how her story ends.
So, OK, I get that there’s a euthanasia argument in suicide. I get that there’s a desire to control your death the way you controlled your life. I get that no one reaches suicide without pain & rage & sorrow. I’ve watched slow deaths, I’ve heard of fast ones. I get it, I get it. But I don’t get it.
In the end, I come out of all my thinking & my analysis & my apparently dim-witted inability to understand with a small measure of my own pain & rage & sorrow. I feel no blame. Just an unaddressable desire to understand.