Writer’s Note: This column depicts graphic violence.
Life as I know it began with a suicide.
It was a night in June 1992. I was 6 years old.
I’m in my bedroom playing video games when I hear the screaming begin. It’s my mother, defending herself again from her boyfriend. He’s manically abusive to her. His bouts of rage are unannounced and frequent. The man terrifies me. I often dream of him killing her.
I begin crying. I drop my video game, and run from the shadowy safety of my bedroom to hers.
He pauses to see me enter—something that usually defuses the situation. Despite his cruelty to my mother, he never has hurt her in my presence.
This night is different, however. He is apathetic about my arrival.
He turns back to Mom, and continues his tirade with such ferocity that his voice alone can’t convey his rage. So, he hits her. He throws her to the floor.
She is screaming. She, too, sees that this isn’t his being his regular sadistic self. On this night, he’s another man. Murderous.
From under the mattress, he retrieves the newest member of the family: a pistol. He insisted upon its purchase to make the house safer.
He holds the gun to my mother’s head, and looks at me as if to savor my reaction when he ends her life. I’m screaming and crying. I’m begging him to stop. And all I can think of is my grandmother finding Mom and me on the bedroom floor.
My mother keeps repeating that she loves him. She encourages me to do the same. So, I do. Anything to make this stop. And this is the woman she was: In the heat of the most explosive, most tragic moment of her life, she thinks of one thing only: love.
His face grows hesitant. The rage subsides. He lets her go.
She rushes to me, picks me up, and for some reason, we’re headed to the bathroom. My body’s wrapped around hers. My face is in the crook of her neck. This position gives me a devastating angle of him on the edge of the bed, looking at me.
His eyes are empty. Nothing is left in this man. I somehow know, even at 6, that his life is about to end. But I don’t look away. I can’t. Something about his glare makes me want to keep telling him I love him—like he’s waiting for me to say something. I want to make everything better.
He looks toward his reflection in the window, raises the gun to his head—and suddenly, the house shakes under the vibration of the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. He falls off the bed in a contorted, horrific manner. And he’s gone.
My mother will be wholly affected by this event. It will eat at her until May 1998—her death.
This isn’t a column about why people take their own lives. I have no place to make such a conclusion. This is about suicide as it affects those it leaves behind.
I’m telling you about this event—of which even some of my closest friends aren’t aware—because it’s what I have to contribute to this conversation, to this epidemic.
The above event preceded a dark childhood. First, hallucinations of him standing in my bedroom, covered in blood, watching me. I would find him in my classroom, on the playground, in the cafeteria, half his face gone, watching. He always was watching in my waking dreams.
I felt my guidance counselors look at me as a damaged, diseased child. They feared my demons would seep out, and contaminate the other, normal children.
My mother did the best she could for me in those treacherous years that followed, but the suicide changed her. She wasn’t Mommy anymore. I was lonely, petrified.
To this day, I smell the stench that filled my mother’s bedroom in the moments after his death. I still hear the screaming. I still feel the rush of terror and the sense of helplessness.
The consequences of his suicide for me, though everlasting, fuel my passion to break away from it—to become something better for it. But the result could have been different. I ended up on one side of a very fine line that my mother couldn’t overcome.
I now think back to my head being on my mother’s shoulder, looking at the final moments of his life—his waiting for me to say something. I wonder what that would be now.
And I think I’d like to tell him to look ahead and squint—to peer through the haze, and see that on the other side of the bridge stand people who love him, people who want to help him, people who will tell him it gets better.