Things had been bad for awhile.
I had just turned nine, and something about my mom was changing. She didn’t smile as much as she used to. On the weekends we didn’t go out for walks or adventures like we had in the past. She didn’t play with the dog, or laugh at her favorite jokes. I had no words for what had been happening to her back then, I simply thought I had done something wrong. I learned later in life that my mother was suffering from depression.
We had just moved. I didn’t understand why one day we had been living in Canyon City, Colorado and the next moved without warning. It happened in a day. I never said goodbye to my friends, to my school. My entire life was torn away. Again. Moving suddenly was not unusual. We rarely stayed in the same town over a year. I had gotten used to it. Still, I did not understand why this move had been so sudden. I didn’t understand why my mother seemed so sad.
Still, at the time I was not worried. In fact, I thought the move would be good for us. I figured a change in pace would be good for her. That maybe she’d be happy again, and everything would go back to normal.
We went to Seattle, a town we both enjoyed visiting on trips, so moving there seemed like an excellent choice. Things seemed to improve for awhile. We went out more, took our dog on walks, went to the market almost every day. Things seemed nice. Things seemed normal. She seemed better.
Until the day my life changed forever.
I don’t remember what I had been doing before. How could I have, after what I heard? It was as if the words I heard spoken wiped my memory clean, leaving room so they could brand themselves into my mind.
The one memory, the feelings, that I wish to forget most. Those are the ones that I will never forget. They are the memory that is clearest in my mind.
I was walking down the hall, past my moms room. Although I can not remember, I was probably looking for her. She was on the phone with my grandmother and I paused by the cracked open door. Just for a second. Just long enough for my childhood to end and my current outlook on life to start.
I listened in shocked silence as my mom told my grandmother, “Mom, I want to die.”
Everything stopped. My entire world ended, crash and burned. It felt like my heart had been torn out of my body, replaced by fire that burned those words deep into my soul. I think, even in that moment, I realized my life wouldn’t be the same. Once the burning stopped and the world started to turn again another feeling threatened to make me fall to my knees and cry.
I felt overwhelming, consuming guilt.
I, still to this day, feel guilty.
My mother was single, and I her only child. Every single moment not in school or work was spent together, getting ice cream or having movie nights. I took care of her just as much as she took care of me. I’d listen when she’d had a bad day at work, and I’d stay home to take care of her if she was sick. We were everything to each other, practically the same person.
So it had to have been my fault.I had to have done something wrong. I had to have upset my mother enough to make her feel that way. Everything, every single thing, was my fault. It was my responsibility to make her happy, and I had failed.
My mom found me later one that evening in my room. I was not crying, everything hurt to much to cry, but I was clearly upset. She quickly figured out I had heard her on the phone. She sat me down, trying to explain to me what she had meant.
“It’s not your fault,” was the first thing she told me. I didn’t believe her. “You’re the one thing that makes me happy. The one thing that is keeping me alive.”
Those words hit me hard. That meant, if I screwed up, if I left her alone, she would die. I was the one thing keeping her alive, and if I failed, it would have been me who had killed her.
She went on to explain she suffered Bipolar Disorder, a mental illness that is known to cause extreme mood shifts. One moment she could be happier than she’d been in months, the next suffering from sever depression. She described it as her emotions being a rollercoaster, constantly up and down. Her being suicidal was never mention. I would not learn until years later that that’s what she was.
I changed after that day. After those words. At nine years old, everything about me changed.
After that, I lived in constant fear. I spent every day worrying if I would come home from school and find my mother dead. I spent every day unable to be a kid because I had to be the one taking care of her. I could never cry, never be upset, because she would become upset as well and I couldn’t risk that. I couldn’t risk her being unhappy because if she was then her life was in danger.
During really bad weeks, my thought turned just as dark as my mom's. I fed off of her depression, off of her anxieties. I thought about killing ourselves together a number of times. If she really wanted to, if she was really that miserable, then why not? Why not just end all of it together? I didn’t want to live without her, and she didn’t want to live, so why not?
I still was not older than nine.
When I started writing this essay, the ending was happy. I spoke of how things were better now, of how with my mother in jail and getting treatment for her illnesses. I wouldn’t have to face this again. Suicide wouldn’t be a part of my life again.
Yet again, I was wrong.
Just a few days ago, my neighbor, my mentor, and most importantly my friend committed suicide.
One again I had to feel my world stop. Once again I felt another memory burning itself into the core of my very being. Once again I was overwhelmed, and am still overwhelmed, by guilt.
The last thing she texted me, the last piece of evidence I have of her are words that, just like the words I heard my mother speak, I will never forget. “Can I take a look at this tomorrow?”
Tomorrow will never, ever come for us.
Still, even as once again my world is shattered, I feel even more determined to tell my story. To tell the story of thousands of children, parents, neighbors, co workers, who have all been affected by suicide and mental illness. Depression still is something so tabooed by society, and still people are afraid to seek help.
If I could have one wish, one desire it would be that my words, my soul written down on paper, will help someone. Will let them get help, will inspire them to educate others, will allow children with suicidal family members and friends to work through it.
I want kids and families to feel safe. I don’t want anyone to have to have their childhood taken like this. I want people and friends and family to stay happy together.
I want them to have the tomorrow that I lost.