My memoir is a little bit...well, it's definitely personal. My goal was to highlight a specific time in my life that changed me, while creating an atmosphere of vulnerability, and keeping it as close to the truth as possible. I hope you like it.
A Mirror for my Egoism
October 18, 2006
“I cannot believe that you would do that,” the voice rang in my ear. “Are you that selfish?”
The question echoed through the receiver. It struck me; I had expected compassion from him, or at very least reassurance that I had no reason to be in this position. I had expected him to list the things I had to live for. I had expected him to tell me how much he would miss me if I were gone.
Instead, my friend stood at the other end of the phone call, telling me that I was selfish. After the initial surprise, I became offended. Was he trying to make me feel even worse? I called him for support and in return I was being condemned for my actions.
I then considered my surroundings. Somehow, I had found myself entirely alone in my house—where my parents and sister were, I cannot recall—during a dark October night. The weather outside was raging against my house, much like my thoughts were raging against myself. As a result to some forgotten events, I had exhausted all ideas of hope and optimism, leaving me in utter desperation to end my life.
My feet had led my body with fierce footsteps into our kitchen and drawn a long knife from its safely stored location on the counter. I turned around and leaned my back against the kitchen sink and slowly lifted the knife, blade facing towards me, and let it rest above my heart. Both of my hands were wrapped around the handle, not quite forcing the blade down, but letting my body feel its presence. My head flew back and I began to cry. This was impossible.
I sank in defeat down the side of the counter and folded myself on the floor, sobs escaping my throat, knife still attached to my right hand. I turned my left arm over, palm up, in order to expose the underside of my wrist. My right hand, holding the blade, moved slowly to my wrist, setting the blade there.
I didn’t want to take action—I was much too cowardly to make permanent decisions—but I so fearfully needed to feel a release of everything brewing within. I dared myself to slide the thin blade along my arm and split open the tangle of veins, to manifest the pain inside me with one I could physically handle. A transition.
I decided that I needed help beyond what I could give myself, so I dug for the phone in my pocket. Phone in hand, I dialed the number of Jenna, my best friend. No answer. I thought a moment, and then called Adam, another close friend of mine. Again, I’m not sure of the driving notion behind this action, but now it seems inevitable. Of course it would be Adam to soothe my raving thoughts. There was no one else.
Upon his answer, I frantically explained my situation to him, longing for comfort.
“Your stress is an illusion,” he said, with words far wiser than my own were at fourteen, “just release and breathe in. And never do anything as stupid as to violate yourself.” This he said forcefully, making tears of shame slide down my cheeks.
A silent moment passed, and then in words like a whisper, he concluded, “I cannot believe that you would do that. Are you that selfish?”
There are moments for me, and I assume everyone, that stand out in my life. Small or large, some of these moments seem to be interconnected in such a mysterious and intricate way it is as though they were written to be a plotline to a story. It’s only afterwards that I am able to piece these moments together. Looking back, it’s as if these events were always planning to happen; they were always lurking in the shadows, waiting for the exact moment to reveal their faces. I don’t know why I never noticed them sooner. I should have smelled them in the air.
It might seem laughable now—a teenage girl so overwhelmed with “despair” that she wanted to inflict pain upon herself. Normal, even. Typical teenagers are known for constant struggles to find their place, often suffering through angst and depression along the way. The causes of this, in the eyes of an adult, might seem trivial—if they exist at all. The teenagers get past it though, much like one slowly recovers over the miserable effects of the common cold. They pull through the initial anxiety. They’re supposed to, anyway.
The truth that I learned that night is that even if one’s suffering seems naïve, the pain is real. Everyone, regardless of age or social standing, regardless of the magnitude of reason compared to another, can feel the deep, tangible stab of pain.
I also learned that I was selfish.
I eventually got through the pain, but not the selfishness.
* * *
Three years passed and my life remained pretty stagnant, with the occasional boyfriend, breakup, and friendship drama. I became a born-again Christian, yet the work toward improving myself had not yet taken effect. Weeks before my senior year of high school began, I became fast friends with a quiet boy who lived down the street, Derek Johnson. He was a sophomore with a crush on me, which I took advantage of because he had a driver’s license and I did not. Eventually, as teenagers do, our desires switched—he started talking about other girls and I started thinking of nothing but him.
* * *
September 8, 2010
August went swiftly and September swept itself upon us, which for me meant marching band season. My day started on the frigid, dew-covered football field, clarinet in hand, at 7:00 AM sharp, plotting points and marching heel-to-toe between them back and forth, back and forth.
We were rehearsing our opener, “Separate Ways” by Journey. It was short, fast-paced, and required me to move much faster than my feet preferred. Adam, a particularly whimsical conductor, was our typical drum major for this song, but he had been out of school with mononucleosis for the past couple of days.
The band moved into a block around measure 30 of the song, with me being the lucky one at the end of the row. To be certain that our row was correctly aligned, I always had to guide to the trumpet in front of me, Jason Winters. He was Adam’s best friend and the band’s best marcher.
First hour ended and we lined up and trooped back inside to the drum line’s cadence. Inside, a bit damp from sweat and feeling like I just ran across town, I changed my shoes and started gathering up books for my next class, which was at the community college, MAC, about ten minutes away. I went to my assigned chair to grab my backpack and found Jason there with his girlfriend, a fellow clarinet player. As the bell rang, one of them made a joke and I saw Jason smile before they both departed through the door. I followed them, went out through the exit, and drove to my next class.
After my MAC classes, I drove back to the high school for the last three remaining hours of my school day. I slipped silently into Public Speaking after waiting patiently outside the door for the speaker to finish. They were used to me being late, but every head turned my way regardless. The next hour, I designed a spread for the yearbook. Finally, my day ended with making hundreds of copies of Daily Grammar worksheets and doodling in my notebook during cadet teaching. This was all very typical.
The final bell rang for the day and although it was completely opposite of where I parked my car, I headed towards the band room. I did this every day in hopes to catch a glimpse of Derek, who had choir in the music hallway as his last class.
I moved rapidly and seamlessly through the hallways; four years of high school had made me an expert of weaving in and out of the traffic of my peers. I took a shortcut through the practice gym and passed Jason, who had just joined choir that same year. We did not stop to exchange words; we simply passed and went our separate ways, treading to the beat of fading footsteps that echoed within the vast, empty room between us.
It was the last time I ever saw him.
I saw the words later that night while I sat on my bedroom floor with Jenna. We had just gotten back from Wednesday night church and were chatting away about friends, homework, and college. I was nonchalantly surfing Facebook when I saw a post by a fellow classmate, a single line: RIP Jason Winters.
“That can’t be right,” I calmly assured Jenna. “I just saw him today.”
Looking back, I think I said these words to convince myself more than Jenna. Inside, my mind went into a psychotic frenzy. A trick, a game, a prank. Hopefully. Not suicide. Please, God, not suicide.
I picked up my cell phone and dialed Derek’s number first, fingers trembling as I held the phone against my ear. He never answered. The phone slipped out of my hand to the carpeted floor. I glanced at Jenna without a word, lifted the phone again, and decided to call Adam. I did not expect an answer, but he picked up after a few rings. Sobs were trapped in his voice.
My throat suddenly caught. A moment passed and I physically could not conjure words.
“Is it true?” I finally spat out. After the words formed, it was clear that I had not called to console my clearly upset friend, but to use him like an internet search engine. I was not interested in offering compassion; I was demanding information.
As I waited nervously for a reply, my heart pounded hard against my chest. Time hung suspended somewhere overhead.
It was true. I knew this before he even answered.
* * *
The next day, week, month of my life afterwards seemed to be set on fast-forward. I went to class like usual the next morning; I attended the funeral the next Monday; I got together with my friends at various hang-out sights. I did what was expected of me. I did what I could handle.
All I really wanted to do was be with Derek, of course. He seemed like the one friend that I could talk to and rely on. I never thought about anyone else needing me, only about who I wanted to be around. I thought that this was justified in my current state. I know now that it wasn’t.
After the funeral, though, Derek had taken a particular interest in another girl, Rian, who happened to be the band’s second drum major. He had spent the majority of that day by her side, to my disgust. Wherever she sat, he was close by. If she left the room, he followed. I was left to sit in the corner on a floral patterned sofa, nibbling away at cold pizza that failed to fill my hollow stomach. Afterwards, he talked of no one else.
Months began to pass by, and despite his great efforts, she did not return Derek’s affection.
“It’s not even that she doesn’t want to date me,” he confided in me one December day, “it’s that she doesn’t even try to maintain a friendship. She’ll make plans, then cancel them every time.”
During conversations like this, I learned to listen and silence the raging anger that swelled inside me, like an active volcano threatening to erupt at the slightest shift in atmosphere. Weeks went by and he became more and more depressed. In turn, I clung to him more deeply through this, not for his better interests, but on the chance that he would move on from Rian and notice me.
* * *
January 3, 2011
I want to die. These words are sent to me while texting Derek one night during Christmas break. My pulse doubled instantly. It was, at that time, four months since Jason had been gone, and I knew at that moment how absolute and certain pain and corresponding actions were. I wanted to shrug it off, take it lightly, maybe even make a joke out of it to break the tension, but deep inside I knew that it was serious.
Even if I thought he had no reason, even if I sat in the comfort of my bedroom and could easily delete the message and pretend it was never sent, even if I knew he had hundreds of people who cared for him, I knew that he was serious and I had responsibility bestowed upon me then and there to bring him out of that kind of thought process.
Right then, I was back on my kitchen floor with a phone in one hand and a knife in the other. I heard Adam’s words rage against my ears and echo through my words.
That is the most selfish thing you could ever do, I typed frantically. Even if you don’t realize it, there are people who love you and are here for you. By this, of course, I meant myself. I looked the text over and pressed the send button.
A few seconds later, he replied, I don’t feel like people care. Nobody has shown signs of it. I’m not going to kill myself, I just don’t see the point in living.
At that exact instant, there was a shift inside of me.
I knew that it was up to me. Not in hopes that he would date me someday, but because he had no one else.
He loved another girl—that wasn’t going to change, nor was that relevant to my decision. I had to force myself to accept it. If she wasn’t going to reach out and make sure he made it through the day, then it was up to me. Right then, I decided that I would do anything for him, regardless if that meant swallowing my pride and talking to him about another girl. No matter what, I would not allow him to give up on his life.
So I brought him to church with me, which he gradually became more comfortable with. I stopped by his house on a daily basis—spontaneously, of course, which is acceptable if two friends live on the same street. On the nights when I had to work, I snuck him free breadsticks on my way home. When he went out to drive around and listen to sad music, I went with him. When he cried over Jason, I was beside him, crying too. When he was angry with Rian, I listened to the rant and tried to tell him what he should do. I tried my best to be his support, which was the first time I had ever really put my own feelings aside and done something solely for another.
That’s not to say there wasn’t gain, however. After a few months, we became very close, even best friends. His infatuation with Rian slowly dissipated and we both began to come to terms with the loss of Jason. Derek returned my friendship with his own once his depression began to cease, which was saturated with loyalty and selflessness.
I learned that I am selfish and that selfishness is one of the worst crimes one can commit against his loved ones, as well as himself. I also learned that there are ways to overcome it, and this in turn may lead to blessings that were before unimaginable.
Pain is real, no matter what circumstance one is at in life. Taking one’s life, however, is the easy way out. Living is harder, especially when faced with nothing to hope on. Hope exists, though—that I am sure of. It always lies somewhere, waiting just down the street.