A friend of mine once told me, in the course of a conversation about suicide, that she felt like sometimes, for some people, suicide was a valid choice. “Sometimes,” she said, “things have just gone so badly that a person just needs to call it done; to hit the reset button. To exit this world so they can start over somewhere else, in some other time and place.”
I could almost see the validity of that…almost. But the biggest, most prohibitive problem with suicide, obviously, is that it affects everyone around you hugely, deeply, painfully. The person who commits suicide can just…exit. Everyone else left behind has to face the horror, the devastation, the loss. Their lives have changed irrevocably, forever. That fact, and the fact that I can’t stand to hurt myself in any way (accidentally cutting my finger in the kitchen, for example, turns me into a wailing child; it just seems so unnatural for your flesh to separate like that, to reveal the inside that you’re not supposed to see) — these are two factors that have always kept me from wanting to kill myself, no matter what happened. These, plus my basic, lifelong, unfailing optimism.
But, of course, the optimism disappeared when August died. So many times after that, especially for the first ten or eleven months, I wished I could be suicidal; at least then I would have some control over how I was feeling. Often, I wished fervently not to die, but just not to wake up the next morning. To go into some kind of permanent sleep, in which I could be oblivious to everything that had happened. Sometimes I fantasized about going to all my friends and family members, everyone I loved, and having a serious talk with them: “Look, things really haven’t turned out well, and I just need to go.” I imagined they would be sad but understanding: “Yes, we understand. We will miss you and always love you. Go, with our blessings.” Yeah, right.
Sixteen months later I am still trying to tease apart the strands of my thoughts and feelings, pre- and post-August’s existence, to come to the truth of it all, which I think has something to do with this: Before losing him, I really, truly thought I was lucky — special somehow. I felt a certain inner power to make good things happen simply by focusing my energies, acting, trying. I felt I had a certain power with words and communication, that I could use these to get what I wanted in life. Being a researcher by nature, I felt confident in my ability to find information I needed to know about living a good, healthy life; being reasonably energetic and proactive, I felt able to pursue that good, healthy life.
August’s death changed all of that. Now it’s embarrassing to me to realize I thought I was special. Sometimes I thrash in the unfairness of what happened to him, nearly drown in thoughts of “Why did this have to happen to me?” Always, right on the heels of that thought, is the next, inevitable one: “Who else should it have happened to?” No one deserves to lose their child. No child deserves to die too young. “Deserve” isn’t a part of that equation; it’s just biology, life and death, the conditions that allow us to be conceived, to be born, to keep living, and the ones that don’t. No one is special; no one can escape death, sadness, or unexpected things happening. We’re lucky if we can go a long time with things rolling along pretty smoothly, to our liking. I know now that I got very lucky for 33 years. I like to think that August got lucky for 41-and-a-half weeks — the length of time that he was safe inside me, his encephalocele protected from infection, nothing threatening to take his life away.
Now I feel angry and disappointed. I don’t like how my life has turned out. I know that my life is still here, still in process; I know that August dying is just one thing that changed — one bad thing that happened. I keep reminding myself of that. Except it really changed everything. It infuses and taints everything. It changed how I see myself — before, as a lucky, whole person who had everything she wanted; now, as an unlucky person with something terribly broken about her, with a void that will never, ever be filled — I will always miss him and want him back, and whenever I think of him, it will always be attached to that thwarted, yearning feeling.
The weirdest part of this, to me, is that I don’t look at other people who’ve lost children the way I look at myself. I don’t see them as broken or “too bad” or some kind of life failure; I see them, actually, as full of grace. In some way I really can’t explain, I see them as lucky, as full of radiant strength. But I see myself as exactly the opposite. Now this is my life story, and I don’t like this story at all. I hate to tell it, yet I refuse not to, since it’s mine, and since it seems like people try to keep things like this hidden, as if they’re shameful or unfit to speak about openly, and I don’t want to do that.
Sometimes I think about how becoming a published novelist used to be my biggest dream — the one that, if I couldn’t make it happen, I would feel like a failure, or at least as if my life were unfulfilled. Now, that dream has almost completely receded in the face of my new biggest dream: being a mother to a living, healthy child. That’s now the one that will make me feel unfulfilled, like a failure, if it doesn’t come true. It seems terrible to place such pressure and importance on one thing, but I can’t seem to help it.