Some of you know that in 2004 I attempted suicide. It was over a girl.
Here’s the story. I wrote it two months after I was released from the hospital. It’s slightly graphic.
Remember: in the darkness there is always, always, always hope.
After I get out of the hospital in three days from swallowing forty pills of Excedrin, I lose thirteen pounds. I’m one of those before and after pictures, you know, the ones where they use two different people to convey a new diet pill. Before: a wad of dough. After, he’s a smiling skeleton.
My shirts hangs on me like baggage-burned eyes. I still want to be with her. When you try to kill yourself over someone, that’s the only thing you really think about.
Outside in the rain under the blue sign that says “Sears,” she tells me she wants to spend the rest of her life with me. I smile against my teeth and my face turns green. My liver makes me want to puke and so does her face. It’s supposed to be one of those great moments that I should tell my grandkids. The memory we gather is composed of those emotional peaks that make up the blueprint journey of our life; at times we soar, at times we drown.
She sort of cries and I’m sort of crying too. Tears make it mean something. She swears up and down she didn’t sleep with him; she only wanted to. We can start over, I tell her. I still want it to work. I can forgive you. I can look past one night with a stranger. The rain trickles on my forehead and for a second, I’m glad I almost died. Maybe the whole suicide thing worked.
We walk to her car in the rain. I kiss her goodbye. Her lips give it away; I know everything. I know who she is, I know where she’s been, I know what she wants, I know it’s over. The rain stops falling but I drown anyway.
Two months prior.
Towards the end, she stops picking up my calls. She comes home later and later. I’d actually get in my car and look for her. I’d keep the windows open and shiver from the cold.
I drive everywhere: hotels, apartment complexes, movie theaters, restaurants, drug stores, subdivisions. I swing my head, scanning every car in the darkness, obsessed with finding her. Justifying my paranoia. I know all along what is happening but the denial is to ease myself.
There’s one night when she said she would call. It turns midnight and I get in the car again. Engine on, jacket and sandals, and my breath is vapor. I’m shivering, but I wonder if it’s from the cold.
I want to find that green Honda, but then what? What would I do exactly? Storm in and yell at her? Beat up the guy she was with? Scream and cry and make a total scene?
How long? Is he better than me? Do you love him?
I don’t know. I just want to see her.
I pull out the driveway and I clench the steering wheel and my stomach twists in knots. Everything in me wants to turn inside-out. I can’t stop picturing them, scene after scene of all my fears in a bed that wasn’t mine.
I check out one apartment complex, then two, three, ten. The streetlights and billboards light up the night like alien beacons. When I tell myself just one more complex, I always push for one more after that. I want to quit but I had to find her. Like a sickness.
Maybe twelve or thirteen later, there it is, her car with the Columbus State sticker. I park near the entrance and sort of stare and it’s almost three in the morning and my windows are open and I’m breathing that cold vapor of hate and loneliness, weariness raging in me.
I had found it. All along I knew. I knew.
I fall asleep and wake up and fall asleep again. I watch the sun rise. Birds chirp and people leave for work. The sun is a yellow ball of jell-o. Hours pass and afternoon comes around. I think about leaving but I can’t. The sickness compels me to stay.
This door opens and she walks out. There she goes, to her car. There she is, my princess, my woman of a dead future, the girl I want to marry and impregnate with the force of all my pathetic love, and she was with someone else. They walk together, slowly. Are they holding hands? It’s hard to tell. I’m so delirious from sitting there.
They kiss. I want to think it’s my fault, I pushed her into this, I was too impatient, too controlling, not enough and too much of everything. I want to forget this, to forgive her, to keep her, and I think back to her coming home late smelling different and feeling different and looking off into nothing. She would lie next to my sleeping body, holding me and comforting me, assuring me.
I turn on the car and get out of there. I can’t look back. Inside something rips and dies. I cry like laughing backwards and I dance to music and laugh at the mirror and I drive over the speed limit. I scream.
Back at the place we called our home, I crawl into bed and I wish she was next to me even though she’s living out my suspicions. She comes home and I pretend I’m sleeping. She lies next to me, holding me like she owned me, the guy waiting at home. She holds me like I don’t know anything.
When she falls asleep, I think of some way to win her back and the alarm clock pounds on my desk in my head and there I see a bottle of pills and I get this bright, bright idea.
After I get out of work, there’s a note on my car.
Earlier that day she swore up and down in the parking lot of Sears that she didn’t sleep with him. But now here’s a note in a plastic bag under my window wiper. I know I don’t want to read this thing: you open a letter, you can’t really close it again.
She admits, yeah, I slept with some guys. Yeah, I lied, yeah, I’m sorry, yeah, we shouldn’t be together, yeah, sorry, I couldn’t tell you to your face outside the Sears because for a second there, you looked really happy with everything and I didn’t want to ruin all that. Sorry I made you think you were wrong and you swallowed all those pills to win my attention and sorry, sorry, sorry. With that little car light on and the radio playing some trendy song, I have to read these words.
Later that night, I ask her to meet me at a hotel. For one last night, so I can remember her. She doesn’t object. She doesn’t object to anything, really.
We’re inside the hotel room and I hand her two-hundred dollars to help her move out. She doesn’t want to take it but I threaten to tear the money in half if she doesn’t. We hold each other on the lumpy hotel bed, just like in the beginning, when there was no history, no time, no judgment, no secrets.
I hold her and tell her it can still be okay. She slept with some guys, so what, is that going to stop us from eternity? She tries to look at me and she can’t.
I tell her, “Remember the time on the phone when you asked me to put you to sleep, so I made up this story about the rest of our lives?”
She says yeah, I remembers that, but not the story because it put me to sleep.
“Do you want to hear it.”
She says yeah, yeah sure.
“Well, we save enough money and get a better place, maybe a condo. We could have one of those condos on the second floor that looks out to the ocean and we could watch the sun go down sometimes. I keep on writing until one of my novels gets picked up and you graduate to do the pharmacy thing, except you don’t like pharmacy and you get involved in church again. I’m touring with my new book and you’re teaching Sunday school and we get one of those Escalades with a DVD player so you can always watch Pretty Woman when we tour around.
“Then maybe on our wedding day, we go to your very first church and invite everyone with really expensive invitations, that kind with the fake pearls and lacey ribbons. Your sister’s not mad at me anymore so I’m sure she’ll approve of me by then, and even though my parents hate each other they’ll both be there. We’ll have this really white theme and it’ll look like winter. It’ll be, you know, really beautiful. I’ll probably cry more than you.
“We can honeymoon on that island in Korea. You know you can walk around the island in one day? Then we come back and buy a house with ivory doorknobs and a silk welcome mat, one of those TVs that hang on the wall and a couch that massages your back. We’ll have kids, a boy and a girl, and we’ll give them our names because we’re so arrogant like that. Then we’ll watch them off to college and I’ll probably cry more than you. They’ll be successful and take care of us and we’ll be really proud of them, and we’ll grow old together and tell each other about this day and then we’ll die.”
She looks at my face, maybe for the first time. She says, You’ll still have that. You can still have it.
We kiss and we begin to make love. It’s all frantic, all sloppy, body parts flopping around. I try not to think about the other guys she slept with but it’s impossible.
Suddenly in a rage, I say, Why did you ruin all this. Why, why, why.
I don’t know.
I loved you. I loved you. I loved you.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and there I am, a smiling skeleton with this hopeless woman, and we are only transitory blurps of tragedy caught in a whirlwind of recycled time.
I stop and lay on my back, looking at the ceiling. She sort of holds me and we stay that way for a while. The next morning when we part, I tell her I will always love her, no matter what.
I tell her, Thanks for showing me the life I want to have.
I watch her get inside her car and leave, and she doesn’t give me that last look through the window, the look that means everything.
I get inside my car and hold the steering wheel. I tell myself she is only a hallucination, a ghost in my head, a fragment of this tired journey. It was all a grand magic trick. It only lasts as long as you can fool yourself.
I turn the car on and leave that seedy hotel.
I don’t look back.