Content Warning: Suicide, self-harm, depression
I stumble over words sometimes. I think about them too much, and I want to pick exactly the right ones to say what I want to, the way I want to. Sometimes I don’t speak when I should. So I tell people I’m bad at expressing myself, because sometimes I am.
My friend told me one day that she thinks the only reason I’m not better is because I’m holding myself back. She thinks I actually do know what I want to say, but I stop myself from saying it. She told me on the phone one night that she didn’t know why. I didn’t know either.
I believed her, like I eventually came to believe her about most things. My admiration for her made me want to be better—to try to be the “me” she believed I could be.
My 11-year-old sister got me something called a “Gratitude Box” for Christmas. Every day, you write down something you’re grateful for on a little piece of paper and put it in the box. I thought this was a good place to start. It forced me to acknowledge how I felt about everything, the things that stood out to me, and I realized how much I truly loved being alive. Every day, I took a moment to indulge in the world and think about all the little things that made me happy. I’d turn each one over in my head like the novelty it was. On bad days, I was grateful for my faith that better ones were coming. Gratitude was never something I wouldn’t want to practice.
I told my friend that I’d started writing more. She was glad, and told me to send her some of it sometime. I still haven’t.
I thought the chance was gone forever.
I’m sorry Samantha.
That Thursday, I didn’t want to make a list of what I was grateful for. I was ashamed of relishing life like I was living in a perpetual sunny day when the word she most frequently used to describe her days was “painful.”
I’m sorry we won’t be able to go travel the world together.
Why did I get to see the world through a gilded lens and when she looked out, seeing the same thing, thought death to be an alternative to facing countless more individual days?
I’m sorry that I won’t be there to see when you’ve finally got your own place and have it all decorated.
We’d talk often of the future. We were both bored of the present. But how she felt went beyond boredom.
I’m sorry that I won’t get to see you in your element.
In the summer, she told me that I could definitely level up as a person. Not that I was bad or deficient then—but that if I left home for a couple of years and figured myself out, I’d be awesome. On a totally different level of being a human—like how I see her. It took me a while to realize this about her—how quickly she understood people, how advanced she was. I think she believes in my potential more than I do. I think she can see my future more clearly than I can. Her faith, how sure she was of me made me stronger.
I’m sorry that I’m taking away your best friend. But I just can’t anymore.
I panicked. But I was also calm. I thought she’d already done it. And I didn’t want her to think I was angry at her, because in the end it wasn’t about me. And I didn’t want whoever decides who goes to heaven think she’d hurt people by leaving. I remembered her telling me something about Asian culture, something we both shared—me through blood and heritage, and her through love, knowledge, and spirit. She told me that it was considered selfish to mourn the dead, to try to keep them with you in some way. When they went it was their time (but this couldn’t truly be her time?) and it was wrong to do anything but set them free. Why burden their newly freed souls with grief?
I can’t keep dealing with the pain.
Part of me wondered if it was better if she’d done it, and I tried to calm my heart should that have been the case. I tried to feel relief for her, that she could finally rest—is that wrong? Had I fallen into the trap she had, thinking that only in death could she just be?
I have faith it’ll get better. Did she really think that staying here wasn’t worth any of the good moments she’d have in the future? She’s a firecracker of a person. Everyone says so—it’s not just me that knows she can change the world. She’s always wanted to help people—why couldn’t she stay to see it? I have faith. But who am I to force that faith on her?
I’ve tried reaching out to people but in the end it was always the same.
She told me on the phone one day that she was happy whenever we got to talk—whenever she got to talk with any of her close friends. She told me that all depression was to her was that her baseline mood was lower than a normal person’s, but happy things had twice the effect on her mood as they would a normal person’s mood because her mood had more of a ways to improve. But it didn’t change the fact that once we hung up, we were all in different states. She knew friendships don’t always last forever and she’d likely lose friends over the next few years as we all went separate ways—so what was the point then, in having friendships at all, if you’ll just lose them to distance and time? To death?
I had a response, a reason to not give up on people. It was compelling enough for me—but I couldn’t put it into words. So I couldn’t respond.
Everything just kept getting worse and worse. And I guess I’m just not as strong as you or anyone else thought.
As I stared at the white screen of my phone on that cold, golden morning, I struggled to find words, which was no different from usual. But this time there was a life on the line, and I naively thought that the right words in a carefully crafted text could make a difference. Saying exactly the right thing suddenly mattered immensely, and that was very different from usual.
A picture in the back of my head of her visiting me ten days after death, per the Taiwanese belief. A picture in front of me now, of my own face reflected in the dark 7:09 PM library window. I’m paler, more transparent than in life, and the tree branches, the street lamp, and the people walking on the sidewalk outside become part of my features, moving within my own unmoving form. Was this how she would’ve appeared to me if she’d died that morning?
I’m okay I’m okay
Alive and okay are different.
I’m going to an in care
But well past 8:54 AM I was still tense. Why did it feel like she was worse off than dead? I’ve never seen this before—is it possible to heal? Or is she only prolonging her suffering with false hope? I told myself that people are going to help her get better now. But won’t they let her down like they always do? Was I a let down for not knowing—for not doing more?
Now I sound like her, at her most cynical.
Breathing hurts. My eyes hurt. I walk places but I don’t see anything anymore. I run into people I know and have to greet them. I realize that body and soul can separate. I’m not fully in my body for a while. Is this what she felt like every day — overly aware of her footsteps and how they weren’t carrying her anywhere she wanted to be?
I made it
I’ll be okay
Are you just saying it for my sake?
Remember when we joked that I had to make myself feel bad in order to express myself better—that it’d be more urgent then? I don’t like saying that you were right, not now. I don’t like saying that a part of me maybe needed something like this to happen. To force me to think about things more. Because I would’ve been fine going through life as I was, if it meant you hadn’t been suffering for more than half of your life.
My dad sent me a picture of a note I wrote to him when I was six.
“Just a note to dress warmly eat well stay safe and sound
keep smiling we’re always there for you!”
I wonder if he wished I could’ve stayed in those days. I wished she could have experienced a few more of those days.
“Thank you for the frog you got for me on June 1st
yours was the best present ever
I always play with your frog. Love Samantha”
I wish she could have played with green plastic frogs too, and I wish I were still courageous enough to sign off notes with the word “love.” Would that have made a difference? Would it have kept her further away from library window transparency, out of the in-care?
My footsteps are still too loud. The ghost of my six-year-old soul stares back at me in the dark haze of the library window, resigned and sorrowful. But more at peace than me.
This was almost a suicide note. I’m grateful it wasn’t.
Editor's Note: Due to the sensitive nature of this piece, it has been published under a pseudonym.