I remember having a conversation with Cheryl after she tried to kill herself. Her doctor has just altered her meds, badly it turns out, and this new combination of chemicals had led her down a path that had ended at the drugstore, reading all the boxes of sleeping pills. Her objective, she said later, was to find the box with the most warning labels. Dark as that humor might seem to someone who has never been there, anyone who has ever survived their attempt on their own life can tell you, it actually is kind of funny when things get a little better and you’re still around to laugh about it later.
I thought of Cheryl, and of that conversation, the next time I found myself at the drugstore, staring at the boxes of sleeping pills. My objective, I would live to say later, was to find the cheapest ones. In previous attempts, I had always gone for the brand names, my logic being that a thing worth doing is worth doing all out. But that last time, price was the only factor.
The part of me that hated myself enough to be there in the first place knew that was indicative of the new low to which I had sunk, that even Death by Trusted Brand Name wasn’t something I was worth, I should take Generic Suicide and be grateful that it would have me. Mind you, this was twenty-five years after my first attempt and nineteen years after what I had promised would be my last, so to say that I was rusty in my self-destructive skills would not be an understatement. It bothered me that I would be thinking of money at a time like that, when all I really should have had in mind was finally escaping the hell that was my existence and moving on to a better place. But there it was, another little voice nagging at me, this one asking if I would ever learn to be careful with my money even as I hoped to be swiping my debit card for the last time, so I grabbed a box of store-brand Sleep-Eez II and made my way to the register. I bought the pills and two packs of cigarettes. Why I thought I would be around long enough to smoke two packs of cigarettes was a question I didn’t think to ask myself, Smoking Is Bad and that was all I needed to know.
Later, I would be able to laugh about my frugality the way Cheryl had laughed about her warning labels, and it would be funny in the same way, a way that only someone who’s been there can really understand.
Imagine your mind as a neighborhood you’re walking through on a perfectly average day. Then it starts raining. You start walking faster, it starts raining harder, and you just keep walking as fast as you can to try to get to a safe place. Then the lightning starts, and you stop walking and start running, with no idea where you’re going or how long it will take you to get there. Before you know it, you’re not in your neighborhood anymore. You’re in the middle of a jungle you’ve run into without even realizing it. It’s still raining, you’re still running, and all you can think is get out, get out now, it doesn’t matter how just GET OUT. You don’t think to turn around and go back the way you came because there are things behind you that scare you, even if you can’t remember what they were, you know you don’t want to run into them again. So you keep running. Now you’re even deeper in the jungle, and there are things slithering in the undergrowth that you can’t look at even as you hear them getting closer. Climbing the trees to get away from the things on the ground isn’t an option because there are things up there that you don’t want to see either. Everywhere you think you can go seems to lead you to something else that you don’t want to face, but you keep running anyway, until you just can’t run anymore. You know you’re not safe, but you don’t have the strength to go any further. You collapse in a heap on the floor of the jungle of your mind with things slithering beneath you and things cackling overhead and there’s just nowhere to go. And just when you think that nothing can possibly get any worse than it is at that moment, you hear footsteps approaching. You look up to see a group of angry natives with spears and knives and all manner of unpleasant-looking weapons, and you know you’re the target. Except that they’re all wearing purple wigs and clown shoes.
Later, you might never fully understand how you got away. You may not remember if the natives turned out to be friendly after all, or if a rescue helicopter suddenly appeared and dropped a ladder, or if you just somehow found some strength you’d forgotten about and were able to run to safety. When you get home again, and are sitting on your couch in your oldest, most comfortable sweatshirt, drinking a cup of coffee and trying to rehash the whole experience, you may or may not be able to find any answers. And you may wonder who it was that broke in while you were gone, painted your walls half a shade lighter than they were before, rearranged the sofa cushions ever so slightly, made things just seem different in a way that only someone who lived there would ever be able to spot. But it’s still your home, and you were able to find your way back to it again. When you think back to the time you spent away, your time in the jungle, you will remember a greenish-black blur and a few details. You may remember the feeling of something brushing against your skin, a scary thing in the undergrowth that got too close. You may remember a particularly loud and painful cry coming from the trees. You may remember something you whispered when you knew no one was listening but hoped someone might hear anyway.
You will remember the purple wigs and clown shoes. You’ll remember the turn into the ridiculous that your mind took just when you thought it was about as far gone as it could get. And as dark and ugly and painful as it was, you’ll have to laugh. It won’t be a big laugh, not a resounding “have I got a story for you” belly laugh, but you’ll laugh. You’ll laugh softly, a bit quietly, and you may cry a little while you’re laughing, but you’ll laugh anyway. You’ll laugh because something that seems so crazy in hindsight, your concern about warning labels and cost per unit, was actually your sanity’s way of telling you that it might be overwhelmed and outnumbered but it wasn’t done fighting yet. You’ll laugh with gratitude for that one little piece of you that somehow managed to save the rest.
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