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I awoke on a brisk April morning to bright light streaming through my window. Birds chirped cheerfully, singing to me as I contemplated the dreadful idea of dragging myself out of bed. My eyes fluttered open and squinted in the bright glare. I glanced out my window and was greeted by the comforting sight of the old tree rooted there. Birds danced gaily over the little buds that had begun to appear on the tree’s branches. T¬he leftovers of March’s snow dripped slowly off the branches and melted to water as soon as they hit the ground. The almost warm breeze wafted through the slightly open window and caressed my face. Mmm. Spring.
Curled up under my blankets, I thought how nice it would be to venture outside into this new season once I managed to leave my snug bed. I dreamed of shorts, t-shirts, mud pies, and a quick dunk in the melting river if I felt daring. I would invite my best friend over to build a mud pit and get so dirty we were unrecognizable. We would let our bare arms and legs be heated by the first warm sun of the year. We would slurp ice cream cones and laugh when it dripped all over our toes.
A faint sniff interrupted my thoughts. Slightly louder sobs followed, and I reluctantly dragged myself away from my thoughts of plans for the day. I pulled the blankets off of my warm body and rolled out of bed. The glaring sunlight tempted me to explore the thriving season, but I forced myself to remain inside for just a little bit longer as I went to discover the cause of the sniffling sound.
I tiptoed down the hall wondering if my mother was crying. And if she was, what was I supposed to do to ameliorate her mood? As I approached her bedroom, the cries grew slightly louder, and I was forced to accept that she was definitely crying. I couldn’t remember ever hearing her cry in my entire 12 years of life. What was making her so upset that she had resigned to tears? And how could I fix it?
I pushed open my mother’s door slowly and was greeted by the strong scents of patchouli and lavender that I had come to associate with her. She sat on her bed with her back against the wall and her face in her hands. The creak from the door startled her, and she immediately tried to compose herself and pretend she hadn’t been crying.
“Mom? Are you okay?” I asked. Before she could answer, a fresh gush of tears spilled over her face, and I noticed for the first time how red and swollen her eyes were. There were tear tracks down both pale cheeks as if someone had inked them in.
One thought rushed to my mind: death. “Did someone die?” I asked tentatively, not sure if I was ready for the answer. The next few moments are a blur in my memory; somehow, my mom managed to find the words to tell me that my dad had killed himself.
“Killed himself?” The words stung my throat. My world froze. Reality swirled around me threatening to suck me in, but I refused to believe it. How could someone so seemingly real and permanent slip away so suddenly? I was frozen. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. This idea was too much for me to grasp, and I couldn’t understand that my father could’ve committed suicide. I couldn’t understand how he’d just left me behind. I couldn’t understand how I hadn’t seen it coming.
My mom inched towards me and wrapped her arms around me. I allowed myself to be held for a moment before I realized I didn’t want to be with her. In some way, I think I blamed her, and I had already decided that it must be partially my fault. I didn’t want to be in the presence of someone I shared blame with. I couldn’t understand or articulate my feelings, and I needed to be alone to sort through my clouded thoughts and make sense of this horrific reality.
I shoved my mom’s arms away. “I need to be alone right now,” I told her.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I just need to be alone,” I repeated. Respecting my desire to be solitary, she let me go. I left her room feeling like a robot. I still hadn’t shed a single tear. When I returned to my room, I shoved the ear buds of my iPod into my ears and blasted Good Charlotte’s “Hold On,” an attempt to hear something I could relate to and begin to process the tragic event that had just taken place. The voices of the suicide survivors who had been edited into the song filled my ears: He took his own life. I still wonder what my life would be like if my father were still alive. Good Charlotte’s lyrics followed. Hold on if you feel like letting go. Hold on; it gets better than you know. It gets better than you know! So why couldn’t he have held on just a little longer? If I’d known that he was so miserable, I would’ve made it my personal goal to give him a reason to live. I knew it was my fault he was gone. I was his daughter. His daughter! Shouldn’t having a child be enough reason to live? That meant that I hadn’t been a decent daughter and hadn’t done everything in my power to prove to him that I needed him in my life.
I eventually made my way to the bathroom, deciding a hot shower would help me sort through my tangled thoughts. After turning the water on, I undressed and stepped into the scorching stream of water. I let the water burn my skin and was relieved to feel the pain it left. I longed to feel something, anything, but my mind couldn’t seem to process a thing.
I spied my razor sitting on the shelf in the shower. Curiosity and a desperate need to feel made me seize the razor and drag the blade across my arm. The pain was unbelievable, nothing I had ever experienced before, but it was a relief to feel. Water swirled the dark red blood as it mixed with the white marble of the shower. I turned the water off and sat down in a pool of my own blood. I dragged the razor across my already open wounds and cried. Finally. Once the tears started, I couldn’t stop them. They streamed down my face until there was nothing left inside of me. A droplet of water fell slowly down the shower curtain next to me, as if the world were crying with me. I closed my eyes, and for a moment, I felt united with the earth. When I opened my eyes, the bead of water was gone.
Almost six years have passed since that painful day - the day that shaped my life and the girl I became. The next few years were spent struggling to understand what I had done wrong and what led to my dad’s death. I went through countless therapists, mental hospitals, self-help programs, and my mom eventually placed me in the Family Institute - a year-long residential program- for repeated suicide attempts. I was relieved to be out of the disgusting town where I was constantly haunted by my memories and thoughts. Despite the obvious improvement of my external environment, I was still miserable and desired nothing more than to be dead. I was disturbed by the past, shadowed by guilt. Every time I awoke to a beautiful spring morning outside my window, I would be reminded of that dreadful day and be afraid to get out of bed for fear I had caused the death of another loved one.
I continued to place more and more distance between my mom and myself. I blamed us both and couldn’t stand to be in the company of someone I believed responsible for the death of my father. Her own grief was put aside as she attempted to support me through my tormenting thoughts, but I forced her to stand aside and watch like a helpless witness at the scene of an accident. She was left alone in the mess of self-help books for suicide survivors that constantly littered her bed.
I began attending high school and walked through the halls like a ghost. I spoke to no one and spent my free time journaling and reading novels that allowed me to momentarily escape from my tortured thoughts – stories of teenage girls who went through tragedy after tragedy and still managed to think clearly and experience emotion.
The only person I allowed to be a part of my life was my best friend, Zoe, who I had met two summers ago at a Unitarian Universalist summer camp. Although I was reluctant to get too close to anyone or place too much happiness in any relationship, Zoe continued to pursue our friendship and probably saved my life. On many nights when I became so tormented by the past that the only solution I could see was death, Zoe sat up with me into the early hours of the morning to ensure that I would not make an attempt on my life. She sat by my side at the hospital when my stomach was pumped and wrote me letters when I was sent away. She gave me a reason to think about something other than the mistakes I’d made, the lives I’d ruined, the chaos I’d created.
Through weeks of therapy, self-help groups, and a growing trust in my friendship with Zoe, I slowly began to experience life again. I began talking to other students and allowing my mom back into my life. We attended countless family therapy sessions and began the process of learning to let our grief bring us together, rather than tear us apart. I even auditioned for Madrigals, the selective vocal group at my high school. Getting into Madrigals was, I believe, one of the biggest turning points. During Madrigals rehearsals I would sing and become engulfed in the harmonies surrounding me. For the few moments when I was singing, I would forget that I was in pain. I would become immersed in harmony, melody, dissonance, and I let the sound envelope me as I learned to channel my grief through music. Discovering singing was like discovering a reason to live; it healed the deepest of wounds and inspired me to find a reason to exist.
Music has become my greatest passion, and I don’t think it would be as special if I hadn’t needed it so badly. The most tragic and heartbreaking experience in my life led me to the purest, most rejuvenating thing I have ever known. The death of my father taught me that music heals the soul and led me to the desire to devote my life to inspiring others to reach the same conclusion.
Experiencing suicide at such a young age has taught me so much about the world and allowed me to undergo enormous growth. I now believe the cliché “Everything happens for a reason.” The experience taught me to cope with death, abandonment, and guilt in healthy ways that would have been much harder to learn had I been an adult in the real world. The three years following my dad’s death were probably the hardest I will ever have to bear, and I’m thankful that I endured them at such a young age. I learned the value of friendship and of family, the power of music, and the importance of letting go of the past and loving the present. I gained the deepest connection with another human being that I will probably ever have. I discovered my passion, my talent, and the way that I want to spend the rest of my life. And now when I wake up to birds chirping outside my window, I am thrilled to be a part of this breathtaking world.