Mrs. Henry

November 12, 2007
By Pharyne Stephney, Indianapolis, IN

She had never really been happy. That much was obvious. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to see that she was screaming on the inside, wanting so badly for somebody to notice her. If you looked carefully, you might even see her soul beating against her skin, trying in vain to escape her confining body. But nobody ever really did look at Mrs. Henry that carefully.

It wasn’t because she was insignificant or conventional, but rather because she did her best to keep up with appearances and maintain her classy façade, and had anyone taken a closer look at her, that image would surely have shattered under the scrutiny. So everyone decided it was best to simply let her live her life as she pleased, however fake it may be.

At least that was my excuse for never giving Mrs. Henry a second glance. Whenever I saw her driving down the street in her black Mercedes, I’d try to turn the other way and carry on with my business. She wanted to look chic, or more accurately, she wanted the attention that came with looking chic. So I’d do my best to simply occupy myself with normal teenage things, and if I came into direct contact with my narcissistic neighbor, a polite nod or straightforward responsive word or two would do the trick.

Or so I thought.

Like I said, I knew Mrs. Henry had never been happy, but for her to kill herself like that...well that had been a surprise to all of us.

It’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to even think about. What those last few minutes must have been like for her, how her heart would have been racing and her lungs would have been exploding in her chest.

Or maybe it wasn’t like that. It actually was most likely very different. Mrs. Henry was classy all the way to the end I suppose. She had dressed herself in her finest clothing, stretched herself across her king sized bed, and took a bottle of Adderall I think, or something like that. Who knows what was going through her head as she waited to die. I’d like to think it was something profound.

I’d like to think she had gotten her answers.

I remember that night when I found out. The police cars had come to the Henry residence, and I knew Mrs. Henry was the only one there. Her husband was away on business (nothing unusual) and their only daughter was on some retreat weekend thing for her youth group.

I was home alone, too. Alone and very curious.

I contemplated calling my mom but decided against it. What was she going to do anyways? Come home from work just to see what was going on next door? So I waited next to the window, watching intently at every movement of the officers.

At some point I fell asleep because the next thing I knew, my mom was tapping me awake. The tears in her eyes brought me back to the reality of what I had been doing prior to my untroubled slumber. Instantly I knew that something was really wrong at the Henry house.

“Mrs. Henry is dead.”

My mom said it so bluntly, so modestly that it almost sounded fake. But the tears...the tears made it real. I looked out the window again and saw the house next door was very still. There were no officers, no ambulances, no anything. All the interior lights were turned off, and I wondered how long I had been asleep. The house itself looked dead.

I hadn’t known Mrs. Henry very well, even though we had lived side by side for over a year. I guess that’s my biggest regret, just realizing that I could have gotten to know her better. Of course my feeling of guilt was completely absurd, but there was a little part of me that thought maybe if I had tried to reach out to her, she wouldn’t have ended up the way she did.

I knew it was ridiculous.

If she hated her life so much that she believed the only way out was to commit suicide, then obviously a few conversations with a thirteen-year-old wouldn’t have changed anything.

But still...

Everyone deserves to have someone in their life that they can go to with anything and know they’ll receive good advice and a shoulder to lean on. Even Mrs. Henry, as calloused as she may have seemed, deserved one, and my guess would be that she never really had one. Now whether or not she would have even been comfortable sharing her deepest thoughts with me is questionable, but it still wouldn’t have hurt me to try.

I look back on all the times that I saw Mrs. Henry, and realize that she never once did anything unkind. She was always a bit proud, as if she was always a class above the rest, but now I understand that this was just a barrier she had set up for herself. It masked her internal agony and insecurity, and probably helped dull the pain for a while. But then even pretending wasn’t enough to numb the fact that she wasn’t the person that she wanted to be.

I think about that all the time. I often times find myself daydreaming about what my life could have been if under different circumstances. I create this image in my mind of this unattainable perfection—no, not perfection, because even in my dreams I have faults—but rather an unattainable enhancement. Sometimes it can really consume me to where it’s hard to keep reality and the reality in my mind straight.

What a waste.

I try to keep myself from doing that now, because I’ve found that in dreaming of how you wish your life was, you hinder yourself from actually doing the things that will bring you there.

I think that’s what happened to Mrs. Henry. She created her perfect life in her mind like I did; only she took it a step farther. She tried to create this life without going about it the right way. Instead of trying to look within and reach towards that higher standing with the characteristics that were inside her heart, she used her money and class to try obtaining it.

When I first learned that Mrs. Henry had killed herself, I felt a lot of anger towards her. How selfish to leave her family! How could she do that? But as time wore on, I began to feel more and more sorry for her. She was everything that I told myself I didn’t want to become, and yet how similar we were!

You can’t reach your dreams by thinking about them. I think that’s what Mrs. Henry was reflecting on as she waited to die. How I wished she would have realized that she still had time, for a journey is only concluded when the last breath is exhaled, and had she not put herself in the welcoming arms of death, who knows how much longer she would have been able to reach for the stars.

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