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.

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.