People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

Suicide’s Shadow Is Long


I was a healthy baby born to ordinary parents.

By “ordinary,” I mean to say that my parents were fucked up in fairly pedestrian ways. Mom sometimes got depressed; Dad occasionally drank too much. Nothing all that unusual.

Dancing in the garage

Tap dancing in the garage with my sister Erin.

I was a pretty little girl, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t think I was ugly, either; I just didn’t think about it at all.

I was shy and serious by nature, often accused of being stuck-up by my peers, but I was also enthusiastic, creative, and bright.

I loved both my parents, but I was especially bonded with my dad.

Life was far from perfect. When I was 2 1/2, my mom’s younger brother David (just 19 at the time) died suddenly of an asthma attack.

My mom had that aforementioned tendency toward depression and my dad was busy redefining the word overachiever. My parents had baggage and our family was far from perfect.

Like all families.

Life wasn’t always fun, but it was predictable. The people who said they loved me usually acted like they loved me.

My Aunt Nadine said she loved me.

I was 8 years, 7 months, and 3 days old when she put a Smith & Wesson shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

Did she think about me? Did she wonder, when she felt the barrel of the gun against the roof of her mouth, what this unspeakable act would do to me?

Did she think of what it would do to my little sister, Erin?

Did she think that we would be better off without her?

Because she couldn’t have been more wrong.

On October 27, 1979, Nadine smashed everything that was ordinary and predictable about my life.

I lost my dad to the demons he would fight for many years to come. The special bond we once shared has never recovered.

I lost my mom as she struggled to keep my dad alive and our family together.

I was clothed, fed, and educated. I went to the dentist and the doctor. I had clarinet lessons and dance classes.

But life, suddenly, was painful.

I became exquisitely self-conscious about my appearance.

All that was wide-eyed and curious about me became cautious.

Within months, I started pulling out my eyelashes.

I withdrew from life and into books.

I started to use food to cope with my feelings.

I learned to protect myself by holding my heart in reserve. I can say goodbye to almost any relationship without so much as a backward glance.

I’m an adult now and I know that suicide isn’t as selfish as it seems, but few acts cast as long a shadow.

I assume she didn’t understand that.

I hope that, if she had understood, she would have done things differently.

I hope.

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15 comments to Suicide’s Shadow Is Long

  • We will never know the demons that sent her where she went, but…I too hope that if she could only have known, she would have.

  • This scares me. My son lost a lot of his brightness when my dad killed himself.

    I hope that I’ve done a good job helping him cope.

    Also? I love you.

    Thank you.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Guilty Squid. Guilty Squid said: RT @NoStylePoints: With thanks to @guiltysquid for inspiring me: Suicide’s Shadow Is Long […]

  • TheNextMartha

    I wish I could have been there to hold your hand when you were pulling out those eyelashes. Instead of hair, we could have shed tears. Hugs.

  • Oh, Adrienne, I am so glad that you are back, but, damn, you’re making me cry again, woman.

    The stark, sad truth of this is just devastating. The pictures are so lovely, but the story you tell with them… how the ripples just keep rolling on outward, unceasingly through time and space, fainter still, but never gone.

    I am so sorry that you, your family, that anyone has had to go through this.

    How old you were then? That is pretty much exactly how old Ethan & Jake (and therefore, your Carter) are now. I wish I could just pick up eight-year-old you and hold her close, pour the sunshine back into her life. Big sighs.

    And much love to you.

  • CDG

    For me, it was a dear, dear friend.

    And the life he chose to take? Once lost, left a dozen lives cut adrift from one another, unable to fathom a lifetime of gatherings without him.

    A long shadow indeed.

  • Lori

    Last week, a 27-year-old doctoral student at Princeton killed himself. The letter he left behind (detailing the horrible abuse he received as a child) was reprinted widely, and paints a stunning portrait of the darkness he battled every day. You can read it here:

    In the letter, he says this:

    “People say suicide is selfish. I think it’s selfish to ask people to continue living painful and miserable lives, just so you [meaning his friends and family] possibly won’t feel sad for a week or two.”

    Clearly, he had no idea what a long shadow suicide can cast…he may have a niece or nephew of his own who will be affected as deeply and permanently as you were.

  • This was powerfully and wonderfully written. I’m sorry. For all that pain, but most of all for your loss of innocence and happiness and the belief that everything can easily be made okay. Children should be allowed to live that way and I’m sorry you weren’t.

  • your level of introspection is fascinating. i love your writing.

    this, however, i wish never had to be written. what an insurmountable loss.

  • Jen

    I’ve often wondered the same thing when my father decided to leave this world. Maybe one day I’ll learn to forgive him.

  • Oh, goodness. I’m emailing you now. For this little box here, I’ll just say that my father killed himself on Thanksgiving day, in our basement, when I was in the first grade.

    Long reaching arm of suicide? Hell, yeah, I’m still effed up about it, 45 yrs later.


  • I had a student commit suicide. A student I barely knew. It still haunts me. There is still a place of emptiness at our school. in his friends. in his sister. I never saw her smile again while she was in school.

    i can’t imagine if i knew him. if he was family.

    love to you.

  • my best friend killed herself 12.5 years ago when we were 13 years old. the pain.never.goes.away.ever. family and friends are torn apart in the aftermath, eyes refuse to sparkle again…i am so sorry for your loss.
    i blogged about mine on the 12 year anniversary…you can read it here

    may folks like you and i continue to tell our painful stories so that others won’t know what it’s like to have their own. keep telling, we’ll save lives.

  • I’m a suicide attempt survivor. People that try, I can tell you that they have already tried to live with the shame, guilt, and pain….all of it is just pain, and they are ready for it to end, and believe me all they want is LIFE. I’m sorry your aunt did that. She took every reason why she did it, with her.

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