500x500 px Harriet Beecher Stowe Quote 3 on suicide and hope via randomstoryteller.com chamrickwriter with image of deep blue tide at sunset with orangish glow

The Red Convertible—And Return from Nowhere

A social media calendar would dictate that I wait to post an unsettling topic until September rolls around for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. But why wait? I know several people who lost loved ones this past year. Concern about anxiety and depression increases on college campuses. The website Emory Cares 4 U notes that more than 1,000 U.S. college students commit suicide per year. One in 10 students creates a plan for suicide.

Suicide does not discriminate; it occurs in every demographic. What drives a person to this edge is individual—whether related to a mental health condition, addiction, homelessness, joblessness, financial pressure, or anxiety related to other crises (a resource list follows the poem). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “the actual ratio of attempts to completed suicides is probably at least 10 to 1. This somewhat backs up the theory that many of those who attempt suicide want their pain to end, not their life.”

* * * * *

500x500-px-quote-from-the-red-convertible-poem-by-randomstoryteller-chamrickwriter.png with image of front wheel and partial body of red convertible

The Red Convertible

1

She feared flying in an open car

As much as crossing long bay bridges,

Especially in darkness, which blinded her

To land unless a few shore lights winked

Like starshine, hinting of the miles to cross

Over water rippling murky, waiting.

She always cranked down the windows,

Even in seasons of cold teeth,

A chance to escape an accidental plunge,

Until he bought an SUV with push buttons.

Done, he said, with the trouble of it all—

Between chuckles, he once dubbed her hang-up

 “Charmingly eccentric”;

Early infatuation has the habit

Of excusing the irrational

Until late irritation kills it.

2

Gray crept softly into his beard;

Now he craved a red convertible,

Stacking ripped article reviews

On tables, counters, desks—

Even in the powder room

That she tidied daily, if only

To admire her handiwork,

Walls sponge-painted blue and yellow.

That year color-spattering dispatched

Cadres of young homemakers—

No longer housewives—to DIY big boxes for tools

To stencil nurseries pink and green on cream

(for girls only);

Lilly Pulitzer knew how to splash a dress,

Why not walls?

3

Four sleeping pills after 2 a.m., she slipped out of bed,

Her head still hammered by his voice,

Though it had faded hours ago to air flutters—

Short vodka-laced breezes, rough “sa-a-a-ah”

On the inhale and rattling “ha-a-a-ah”

On the exhale, like ujjayi breathing

Gone wrong: no diaphragm dive, down and up,

To calculated breath and pause—

Only irregular whiffs brushing his throat.

4

Craft . . . craft something, she thought,

If you cannot make something of yourself.

So she creaked open the pages of a how-to book.

She had copyedited its instructions—

Every step tested by an at-home mom

Collecting corporate change just for the thrill

Of seeing her name on a credits page

Buried in front matter that nobody read.

The untold joke:

In her real-life home, now called “the house,”

She never followed rules

But glanced at step-by-step photos

As haphazardly as thoughts roller-coasted through her brain:

4-D rides that dropped 100 miles per hour

Headfirst—and then shot up and spiraled off,

Dispatched by tiny green pills

To the land of dreamless no-blahs—

Her private disappearing act

Until daylight broke; shrinks make lousy magicians.

5

She wound charcoal yarn tightly around a hoop

Once cast off after she had bloodied her fingers

Embroidering French-knot stamens on a nameless flower;

She lopsidedly looped a six-pointed star

Of marine-blue skeins within the hoop.

A snore scraped across the hall, and her scissors

Furiously fringed five almond-shaped gray-felt leaves

And punched a hole at the top of each stem.

She threaded them with yarn tied off

With twinkles of gold metal stars

As cunning as miniature cookie cutters—

Sad tails of a nightmare dream catcher.

What is the moon’s truth? She wondered.

A cratered face

With no atmosphere to burn meteor hits.

6

Now she craved a ride in his “new” convertible—

Scoured for on the Internet and in used car lots—

Pre-owned, he corrected her, on the true nature

Of his shiny fire-engine red toy, the broken Christmas promise,

Finally kept, now jealously guarded.

He had sprayed oven cleaner

On the garage’s concrete floor and scrubbed

And rinsed it with a high-pressure garden hose

Before rolling this prize into its speckless resting place.

7

She slammed herself safely inside and,

Fumbling and punching buttons and levers,

She finally reclined comfortably—

Yes, that would do, and she leaned forward

And turned the key, launching the hum

That would disappear her to the nowhere

Forbidden by green pills and DSM-IV charlatans

(Her mock phrase when despair curled her in a corner).

8

She waited for drowsiness to cloud

The digital clock, blazing yellow annoyance

With the steady flip-flip-flip of minutes.

She spun the radio dial, hunting a tune;

Nobody should die to Talk Radio drone.

She wound the knob left to public radio:

Where was Mozart’s deathbed Requiem Mass?

Instead, subdued utterances by BBC presenters

Made a far-flung terrorist attack

Sound like a prim stroll through a Jane Austen novel.

Is that how they survived the Blitz? Reserve? Calm?

9

The engine rattled, but her mind churned, wakeful:

I’m sitting in a ragtop. In a drafty garage. With cracked windows.

The clock flipped another glowing minute: her now.

She cut the motor.

10

A second chance can take you somewhere

—And out of nowhere.

* * * * *

Suicide statistics vary among professional organizations. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers eye-opening facts:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among persons aged 10–14 years
  • It is second among persons aged 15–34 years
  • It is fourth among persons aged 35–44 years
  • It is fifth among persons aged 45–54 years
  • It is eighth among persons aged 55–64 years
  • It is 17th among persons 65 years and older

Organizations offer resources, education, and information on warning signs for anyone contemplating suicide as well as family members and friends concerned about a loved one:

If you wish, include other mental health and suicide prevention organizations in the comments. I will add them to this list.

4 Comments

  1. Karen Lin

    Timely for me. Wen just bought a red BMW Z4. A two seater convertible sports car. His “midlife crisis” car. Cute as hell but it splits my hair in the wind. Now have to wear a ponytail and a headband to zip around with him.

  2. Dan Hise

    Hard to read, as in hard on the heart. Sylvia Plath can be hard to read, but she too often milks her impulses for dramatic effects that are not, to me, genuine. Your details are convincingly undramatic, and convincingly true to life. For what it’s worth, I saw two obituaries today that must have involved suicides by a man and a woman, both middle-aged. You seem to have described your own near death; if so, I hope that you have permanently converted to life.

    1. Catherine Hamrick

      Thanks for your comment, especially about effects ringing true. I strive for that. Actually, the poem is not about my personal experience but one I was familiar with many years ago. The rest is a weaving of my own imagination to create a “story poem”–to make the post more than a list of facts and statistics. Suicide recently touched people I love–thus the impetus to write about its tragedy.

      To reference again: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “the actual ratio of attempts to completed suicides is probably at least 10 to 1. This somewhat backs up the theory that many of those who attempt suicide want their pain to end, not their life.”

      I’d like to think the last two lines are the realization of someone who felt a moment of desperation but pulled back from self-destruction. Therefore, the final two lines seal a better turn in life:

      “A second chance can take you somewhere
      —And out of nowhere.”

      Best, k

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