I was 9 years old the first time I tried to die. My beloved Uncle Tony had died at 42 from kidney failure. I had loved and worshipped him. He was the only person who spoke to me as if I were a person, not a nuisance. He would engage me in riddles and puzzles . He was the only one who told me that I was very smart and to never stop learning . He would envelop me in hugs that enveloped all of me and made me feel incredibly safe. Nothing could hurt me while I was with him. I was convinced he was the only person who cared about me.
They called it a funeral “home”. My definition of “home” was the place you “lived”. Therefore, my 9 year old logic decided it was where dead people moved to when they died. He had his own room in the funeral home, filled with flowers and chairs . His name was on the entryway , very similar to our home, where the tenant names were listed , next to call buttons. As I walked towards the casket , I noticed an address book on a lecturn that people were waiting to sign and envelopes with his name on it. This must be where he received his mail I thought . I reached the casket. Uncle Tony appeared to be sleeping. It was odd that he was dressed up instead of in the striped pajamas that he had worn almost every day. I wondered what being “dead” actually meant? Perhaps, I reasoned, he was only very tired and just sleeping. He had been sick for such a long time. Everyone spoke about how he was at "rest". He was resting.
There were afternoon and evening funeral visits for three consecutive days. On the third day, Father John, the parish priest came to say a mass in the funeral “home”. I only heard intermittent phrases of Roman Catholic indoctrination; “everlasting life”, “those that believe” and the eternal promise (or “empty” promise, I soon discovered) of rising again."
I was struck by an enlightening thought. It was the same thrill as when I had figured out a puzzle with Uncle Tony .
I attended Catholic school where we had been taught that Jesus had risen to everlasting life after three days.
Of course!!! Today was the third day. Today Uncle Tony would rise again and no longer be “dead” just like Jesus. I had solved the puzzle ! Attentive and eager now, I waited for the mass to end. This explained the large catered meal , that had been delivered to the house, for after the entombment. Of course! Oh how I wished they would hurry so he could come back and we could all go home and eat.
Afterwards we stood in front of the casket, forming a greeting line where Aunt Connie and Aunt Minnie thanked guests for coming and accepted strained hugs, awkward kisses and whispered condolences. The room had emptied and the short man in a black suit entered the room and proceeded to close the casket lid where Uncle Tony lay.
My scream was the only sound as I ran to the casket. “NO !’ I yelled “DON’T CLOSE IT, HE WONT BE ABLE TO RISE AGAIN ”
I knocked over flowers, trying desperately to reopen the lid with my small hands. Aunt Minnie put a hand on my shoulder and said, “you were his favorite…” Her voice trailed off in defeat. “No”, I cried, “ No! Please open it ,he can’t get out if its closed “
Aunt Connie came over to me and said,” he’s not getting out; He’s not coming back., He’s dead .” The words stung like a thousand needles piercing my skin simultaneously. They explained what happened next.
The realization that they were going to seal my beloved uncle in a box, with nails to ensure it remained forever closed and shove him into a shelf through a marble wall overwhelmed me and shattered my world.
I looked at the man in the black suit, who had stood silently, awaiting further instruction .
“I want to be dead too” I said. Aunt Connie gasped. For the first time in 3 days, Aunt Minnie broke into tears.
“ I want to be dead too “, I insisted “ I want to be dead ! Open the top and let me in too ! “ I tried to lift the lid again, only succeeding in smudging the bronze overlay.
My father grabbed my arm , pulled me away and backhanded me across my face, yelling that I had “disgraced him” with my outburst. My lip was cut, my nose was bleeding and my eyes were blinded with tears; I escaped his grasp and ran back to the casket. “ NO, NO, NO," I screamed . " I want to be dead with Uncle Tony. Put me in the casket. I’m dead too ! I’m dead too! ……
I learned two things that day:
1) “dead” meant bodies shoved into boxes, nailed shut, put on a shelf , behind a marble wall, never to be seen or heard from again; dead meant someone etched your named in gold letters , to show the world that there had "once been" an Uncle Tony.
2) "dead" meant you were relieved of the pain of living.
Uncle Tony had been the sacred comfort in my life . A childhood filled with abuse and fear. He had been ripped away from me and took with him my sense of ever being safe again. My life would be more painful without him in it ; At nine years old, I knew this .
At 14, I tried to die again. My loving, doting father, (yes, the same one who backhanded me) reminded me daily that I was fat, ugly, stupid, worthless, useless and unlovable. Having no other feedback, I was convinced it was true. I have not been able to understand or explain, why each of us has an innate gene that forces us to seek the approval of our parents . My gene was set on turbo charge, and I desperately tried to achieve my father’s love. His subjective criticisms were out of my control but my weight was a number and a smaller number would meet the criteria necessary to win his approval. My 14 year old logic dictated that if I could attain the lower weight, then everything else would fall into place and I would be deemed worthy of his pride and approval. I would finally be loved.
I had dieted before, an activity preordained for a plump child. These were the days when department stores had a “pretty plus” section and girl sizes of 16 and 18. Today we have size double zero –an evil way to remind us that skeletal is the approved standard and you are everything when you are as close to nothing as possible . I restricted my caloric intake and watched the pounds disappear, and the number on the bathroom scale decrease. The number kept getting smaller. The number didn't lie. It was objective . It was smaller than the day before . Fueled by success, my diet continued . I continued increasing the restrictions each day . Skipping meals . Only eating the inside of my sandwich . Throwing away the pushed around remains of dinner into the trash can. Finally, my sustenance consisted of liquids , no solids.
The gnawing pain in my stomach intensified daily. Each day, I submitted to the hunger like a wanton slut, welcoming its unrelenting ravishment and desire for emptiness. Logic dictated that if I did not eat, but allowed the emptiness to consume me , I could disappear, become invisible, and with slow deliberation “erase” parts of me until all of me had vanished and I was free of my father’s abuse. I wouldn't be in pain anymore. I embraced starvation, content with the knowledge that no one would notice and most importantly no one could stop me . I was in control .
52 days later, weighing 96 pounds, I collapsed in my high school hallway.
My mother barely hid her annoyance that the school nurse called .
"I lied to your father ," she said , hastily putting an apple in my hand and tying my hair into a ponytail. "He thinks she just called to confirm some paperwork for your sister."
My sister had always been the sickly one. I had always been the fat one. Now, I was the sick one, and upset the status quo. My mother was trying to cover up the situation, so my father wouldn't be "upset" or "annoyed" or "disturbed" or any other adjective that would send him into a violent beating session .
I wanted to tell my mother that I was trying to do the exact opposite ; to get him to love me ,not hate me; to hug me , not hit me . I realized , solemnly , that I had already become the double nothing . The nobody . My mother was covering up as she had always done before . It would not have mattered. I was wearing a blanket of hate with large letters etched into it , like Uncle Tony's tomb, telling the world who and where I "was" . My father would never see anything other than that. I took a small bite out of the apple.
I sliced my wrist once; I had read in a historical romance novel, where the heroine opens her veins after she was caught with a forbidden lover . She had been berated and beaten , as I had been many times before ever reading the book . In the novel, she decided that she would rather die than face the humiliation of others seeing her bruises and knowing their origin. It made perfect sense to me one Sunday afternoon, when I had enough bruises on me to say a house landed on me , rather than the standard excuse of "I bumped into a door or wall ". In the novel, it only took the heroine two paragraphs to die. I was still bleeding and ALIVE an hour later. Obviously, it didn't work. I hadn't cut deep enough. In addition , my mother yelled at me for being clumsy with the kitchen knife.
Years passed and I thought about suicide again and again. It was an ocean with forceful waves that continually battered my emotional lacerations, yet refused to drown me and pull me into its dark undertow. Afterwards, it would leave me on the cold, wet sand; a reject; a defective. Even the suicide ocean that submerged many in its wake did not want me; life continued to reiterate that I was unworthy. Unworthy of love and undeserving of the respite that death offered .
An undertaker had once told me that if I wanted to die painlessly, to sit in my car, with the ignition on and a towel in the exhaust.
Not only would I fall asleep peacefully, but the carbon dioxide would leave my complexion a beautiful color. This was the voice of experience and knowledge; afterall , who had seen more death than him ? I had thought that maybe I might be beautiful in death , even if I was ugly in life .
I thought I would marry that man. The one who had broken four of my ribs, fractured my wrist and left me unconscious on the bedroom floor, covered in bruises and bloody welts. I had called him from the hospital, leaving a message that I was being wrapped up, I was okay and whispering that it was alright , I loved him.
It wasn't the beating that killed me . It was the ghosting that ripped my soul from my body . It was the self loathing and the wondering what I did , or didn't do or if I would ever be good enough to be loved. It was the silence that destroyed me. It was the disbelief that stabbed me . It was the betrayal that shred my confidence. It was the same realization that my heart was broken and would never recover from this agony . I would suffer this loss forever , just like Uncle Tony suffered from his illness , until he died.
It was a perfect day to die; grey; cool; with a mist of undecided rain in the air. I washed my hair, and shaved my legs –I had a date with death. This time the bastard was NOT going to stand me up .
I sat in my car, exhaust obstructed, listening to sad songs ; I reasoned that if I cried long, silent, wet tears, I could create my own ocean, and drown myself in it's waves.
While sitting in the car, I realized that no one would care for my dog. He was 4 years old and 130 pounds. No one would want a big, black dog even if he was the most obedient, well trained and loving mush. They would muzzle him and bring him to a shelter to be destroyed. He would be scared and alone . I refuse to let that happen. I loved that dog.
I ran back into the house and told him we were going “bi bi in the car”. He followed me faithfully into the car, jumping in obediently . My gas tank was full; enough to kill us both. He listened intently as I spoke to him, tilting his head on one side to look at me. He licked my face. I smiled through my tears. He started squeaking; that sighing sound that expressed his desire to communicate . I wished he could talk. I knew he was scared . We were in the car , but we weren't moving . He looked out the window and then turned to me. He might have wondering why the window wasn't open so that he could enjoy the smells as we drove . He put his paw on me, as if to pet me instead of me petting him. I started to pet him slowly , rubbing his giant head , sat back and closed my eyes. I wondered how long it would take, and if it truly was painless . I didn't wonder for long .
My dog decided it was a perfect day to show me that he remembered how to open the car door . He ran out , leaving the door wide open. I remember chasing him for ten minutes,, before he allowed himself to be caught. I was breathing hard from running and sweating from chasing him when he turned and jumped on me , knocking me down.
As I fell towards the ground ,with my dog licking my face and wanting to play , I realized that I was feeling rather strange . Almost light . Weightless. As if I had energy poured into me . I felt innocent and ethereal. Logically, I thought it must be some residual effect of the gas from the car . Perhaps it was the beginning of endorphins from running after the dog .
I was trying to place the feeling, when in my life have I ever felt like this before ? When did I have this experience ? Has anything or anyone ever made me feel like this ?
We walked back towards the house, and I realized with an enlightening thought , with a thrill that had been killed a long time ago, a revelation of where the feeling came from .
The puzzle had been solved . I recognized the feeling. This is what it felt like, to be alive .
About the Creator
Polyglot. Sapiophile. Live in Slave for 2 rescue dogs. You can't make this up; Fictionalized Reality, names changed to protect the truth & the guilty. Everyone will think they are the heroine. What fools these mortals be...