**This series discusses suicidal ideation I experienced in my teens. Take care of yourself. Read it if you have interest and are in a good space for it.
That call on September 11, 2013 turned out to just be a scare. I freaked out. I thought this was the end. I assumed I wouldn't come to Pepperdine in the spring. I counted down the number of days I had left in Malibu and went to the beach, or the cliffs, or up into the mountains everyday despite almost failing two classes. But it was just a scare. Just some calcification on my lung. Something to keep an eye on, but nothing life-threatening.
Still I held on to the narrative that I was a person who would die young and I let that paint my decisions. I lived bigger and bolder and louder because I assumed I had less days than most. I valued going out and spending time in Malibu, despite the fact that I continued to not do well in my classes. I spent more time with friends. I published a come-out blog because I believed I didn’t have infinite time to say what I needed to say.
I imagined the length of my life to be different than most, so I didn’t worry about building the foundation for a thirty year career, or setting myself up for a Master’s program. I did my work. I kept to my responsibilities. But I made sure I had fun and that I was enjoying my present.
Last year was my twenty-third year, the age Nick died. I thought about him all year long. I’ve thought about him my entire life long. His memories and his spirit, and, I believe his actual being, have been with me throughout all of my adventures and pains and celebrations. But during my twenty third year, I felt him cling particularly close.
I became closer to my aunt, Nick’s mother, during my twenty-third year. She became my confidant, my counselor, the recipient of my good news and bad. She tells me stories of Nick. They pour out of her and I am always more than happy to receive. They are treasures. She tells me that I remind her of Nick. That so much of him is in me.
I was housesitting in Portland on my twenty-fourth birthday. On my last day of twenty-three, I floated in a hot tub tucked under a patio, next to some trees. I fully submerged, falling back into the water so that only my nose and mouth and eyes felt air.
I thought about all the things Nick had accomplished in his 23. I thought about all the things I had done in mine. I thought about how my little cousins probably look at my life in a way similar to the way I look at his. I was now on the opposite side of that admiration. When you’re a child you’re always, only, ever looking up. But as you grow up and you begin to inhabit the bodies and lives that you once dreamed of being, it gives new perspective and understanding.
I thought about the bodies and the lives I look to now, the ones who are ahead of me. I thought about authors and activists, talk show hosts and artists, journalists and politicians. There is a wonder and magic and mystery to humanity. The continuum. The relativity. The reachability. The destiny. The movement. The never-ending dance.
It’s each of our own becomings. It’s a collective becoming. A union that’s unbreakable.
The hot tub jets came on suddenly. I didn’t touch them. There’s one button to turn them on. It’s far out of my reach and a button that is honestly kind of hard to push.
One of my friend’s went to see a medium a few months ago. She was hoping to get some answers about her life from a deceased grandfather. I was skeptical. I thought about how believing all of that would be embarrassing to my ego. But I listened to her. Because I’m learning to shed that ego and just listen.
She told me that the dead most often interact us with through electricity. Often something turning off or on. Or something electrical breaking. Like lights that suddenly turn off or on, or a light bulb that shatters. Or a phone ringing. Woo-woo things like that.
But in that hot tub, the woo-woo wasn’t there. It was just me, in a hot tub, thinking about Nick, thinking about life —him telling me that he knows. That he hears me. That he’s there.
It felt good to know.
The next morning, on the first day of my twenty-forth year, I woke up and drank coffee. I went on a run. I made myself breakfast. I walked around downtown by myself and in full birthday anonymity.
I left Portland and drove northwest on a two-lane road through some mountains. At first, they were forested and beautiful. Exactly as wild as they were meant to be.
Then they changed. Humans had taken over the forest, bought the land and plundered the land. They reforested it. Then they planted new trees, this time in perfect rows, this time to harvest again once of proper age. The wild was tamed. Made for the purposes of man. Cut into stories that worked for the time being.
The forest turned to wild again and I drove for a few more miles. A clearing opened up on my right. A giant, sun-lit valley glowed gold. Miles upon miles now visible to the west. The clearing was a cemetery.
“You will not go the cemetery” I told myself. “It’s you’re freakin’ 24th birthday. You’re not going to spend it watching sunset in a cemetery by yourself. Besides, that has to be disrespectful and weird and no.”
I parked next to the reception hall then walked out onto the open lawn, trailing between the headstones. Some of the headstones had photos of the people whose lives and bodies they marked. The first I noticed was of a man who died at 19. He had blonde hair and blue eyes. He looked athletic and kind and cheerful. He was handsome. You could see vitality and youth and excitement his eyes. Now his family visits him here.
I walked some more. The cemetery stretching down rolling hills, bending downward toward the valley, being lifted up by the horizontal sunlight that blanketed the place.
A massive marble Jesus knelt towards the valley. I thought about all the people of the world who put their hope in that man. How the belief in that man changed the face of human existence. How the belief in that man changed my existence. All the wonderful ways. All the not wonderful ones. Now in stone, kneeling tall. Now representing the good, the sacrificial, the continual, the universal, the life beyond the lifeless.
I walked down the hill some more. I walked a path straight down the center of the manicured cemetery.
As I walked downward, I felt the world spin upside down. As if I were the fulcrum and the whole plane of the earth spun around at my feet. What was once up is now down; down, now up. It felt like a dance. Like a baptism.
I felt the Universe, I felt the Divine, I felt God say,
“This is not for you. You thought this was for you. You spent a lot of time wanting this to be for you. You wrapped yourself in a story, planted your life in rows to be hacked down at some future date —but this is not for you.
Stop trying to get out.
Stop believing you are about to get out.
You’re not about to go.”
It was like the universe was telling me to quit it. To stop being so stubborn. To stop believing that life is like coca-cola, that if I drink faster I can get it done with.
Life is a fucking waterfall. The more I open myself to it, the more it pours down over all my parts. And the water never stops pouring. It’s endless. There is no time mark or volume count. It keeps going and going and going and going.
“And the end has nothing to do with the way and when and where and why you think about. The end is the end and you don’t know when the end is and that is the whole point of the end. You can’t know. So stop pretending you do. You don’t.
I’ve come by this one time to call BS on your plan.
You can walk through your pain. You possess the strength. You’ve done it, and you will be able to do it again and again and again and again.
You don’t need a way out.
You need to stay here for now.
The forest will regrow.”
***This is heavy three-part series. I want to include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, for anyone who wants it. Suicide is not the answer. Suicide is preventable. There is no shame in calling this free and confidential support service. We need you here. There is hope.