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–thus the impetus to write about its tragedy through a “story poem” (imagined).
As a former instructor, I have a concern for anxiety and depression increasing 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.”
* * * * *
The Red Convertible
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
Early infatuation has the habit
Of excusing the irrational
Until late irritation kills it.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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:
- National Institutes of Mental Health
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Veterans Crisis Line
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8225 (This hotline operates 24 hours, and a trained staff member always takes your call. It routes veterans to a special line.)
If you wish, include other mental health and suicide prevention organizations in the comments. I will add them to this list.
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.
Hey Karen. Good to hear from you. I can see you zipping around in that car!
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.