By Krista Legge
This piece is published in honor of Self Injury Awareness Day (March 1) and contains potentially triggering content with respect to self injury and suicide. Please do not read this piece if you do not have the mental capacity for these topics.
TW/CW: Self-harm, suicide
I grew up in a suburban home with a loving and supportive mother, father, and older brother. School each day, with the basic “how was your day” when I got home. We were the all-American family that people dreamed of. We had a nice home, two dogs, family dinners, everything on the perfect family checklist. I should have been happy, or at the least, content. Instead I felt like I couldn’t breathe, as though I was stuck on repeat in a perpetual groundhog’s day. The future outlook was just as predictably unbearable: get a stable job, get married, and have kids. When I thought of this future, it was like wearing a corset getting tighter and tighter around my chest. I was slowly suffocating. I dreamt of something different, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined it was all a cover, a fake reality. You know the saying; “be careful what you wish for?” I am living proof of it.
It was a Thursday evening, about 6:45pm when my whole life crashed in on itself like a tsunami breaks. As a college student living in my parents basement, textbooks and papers were constantly strewn everywhere, numerous cups filled with old coffee were on every table and dresser. Darkness took over most of the room, except for a desk lamp next to me where I did most of my studying. Staring at my textbook, I was thinking how much I wanted to place my head on the soft feathery pillow and fall asleep. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a ray of light coming from the stairs. Two feet in cozy gray slippers slipped down the stairs, as though there were marbles on each step. My mother reached the bottom step. She limp as a rag doll, slumping over as she stumbled towards me. Her hair was a fractious mess of tangles, hanging over her swollen eyes. Before my lips could unlock, she was sitting next to me on my bed, almost hyperventilating. My mind was racing and at a standstill at the same time. It was as though I was looking at an unfocused picture. My hand automatically went to her back, making slow, circular motions.
“Mom, take a deep breath,” my voice quivered. “What is going on? What happened?”
She didn’t respond, but her breathing began to slow. I noticed her wrists. A deep red had saturated the once white sleeves of her robe. I froze as my mind tried to comprehend what my eyes were seeing. An eternity passed in seconds. I began to hyperventilate with realization.
My mother spoke, her voice uncomfortably calm, “I love you, just know that. You’ll be better without me. I’m sorry. I love you.” I heard the words but they wouldn’t register. I stared at her wrists.
My father walked in. He saw the fear on my face and turned to look at my mother. “What did you do?” He asked in a near whisper.
My father was a large man, who I always saw as strong and powerful. He didn’t look shocked, but sad and tired — as though this was inevitable. Before my mother could say anything, he sedately picked her up and began to walk upstairs. He was so calm, as though he had done this before. My mother looked small; a child in his arms. Not being able to comprehend what I had just witnessed, my body followed out of instinct.
“I am going to bring her to the hospital,” my father said. “I will call you when I can.”
Before closing the door behind him, he turned. “I’m sorry.” Then I was alone.
My legs were unable to hold the weight of my body and I fell to the floor. My heartbeat echoed in my ears so loudly it seemed as though it was trying to escape my chest. The numbness tingled throughout my whole body. An hour passed and nothing. I lay on the floor, feeling the hairs on my arms brush the rug. The phone rang.
“Hello,” crumbled out of my mouth.
“Mom is okay,” my father started. “They had to pump her stomach because she took a lot of pills before cutting her wrists.”
I must have gasped because he stopped speaking for a moment. He took a deep breath then continued.
“They are going to keep her in the north wing to keep an eye on her. I will stay until she is settled and then I will be home,” he stated matter of factly.
“How are you doing?” he asked, a hesitation in his voice.
“Fine,” I mumbled and hung up.
The conversation rooted me back to reality and I stood, allowing my legs to take me to my parent’s room before my mind realized where I was. My eyes immediately found a piece of paper on the pillow. Realization hit me like a rubberband’s snap and I leaned dizzily on the bed’s edge.
I remember picking the paper up, knowing exactly what it was. The lined paper, ripped out of a notebook, was folded on her pillow. Having read hundreds of notes from my mother, her handwriting was as familiar as my own. I know that I read the note, but to this day, my mind has blocked out what was actually written in it. Placing the paper back on the bed, I walked out of the room.
Once more, my legs carried me through the house before my mind settled on a destination. I curled up on the living room couch where I snuggled with my mom a thousand times. Tears rolled down my cheeks like a waterfall. My skin burned from the salty cascade but as my breathing slowed, my tears began to dry up. I sat up as my mind unraveled the details of what had occurred. Feeling utterly lost, I picked up the phone to call my boyfriend Mike. I hesitated, he was working, but I needed someone and didn’t know who else to call.
“Hello?” Hearing his voice, I froze. Was I prepared to bring these words to life, to speak them aloud? Again he asked, “Hello?” With an eerie calmness, I began.
I was barely aware of the time, but twenty minutes must have passed because he was at my door. Our eyes met, no words were spoken, there was only a deafening silence. He wrapped his arms around me. I couldn’t keep the calm breathing and dry eyes any longer. I shook uncontrollably as sobs overtook me.
When I was able to catch my breath, the tears long gone dry, Mike said, “I wish I could stay, but I have to get back to work.”
“What? Really? You can’t stay?” I said, shocked.
“I’m sorry,” Mike’s voice was not without a hint of annoyance.
Had I any strength left in me, I would have been furious. Instead, I just shook my head and he left. Again, I was alone, trying to make sense of what felt like a sick joke.
My father came home after midnight. He sat at the kitchen table, looking absolutely drained.
“So, what now?” The simple question was all I could muster.
“I don’t know,” my father said, his face deteriorated over the couple hours since he left.. “I guess we help your mother through this.”
“Why did she do this?” was all I could think to ask.
“It’s something she can’t control.”
“I thought her medication was helping?”
“She tried to hide this from you and has been able to for years.”
I couldn’t make eye contact.“I think I need some sleep.”
“I love you,” his voice was soft.
“I love you too,” I whispered as I trudged downstairs.
My mind was like a tornado swirling uncontrollably through the night’s events and then disappearing, leaving nothing but devastation. I dropped my head on the pillow and fell into darkness. I had spent the day in an emotional hell and couldn’t keep going another second.
My eyes opened and found the familiar glow of my digital clock. 6:47am. Just like any other day. Pressure slowly built on my shoulders. I tightly shut my eyes in a futile attempt to forget. Slices of last night appeared, like electric shocks behind my eyes. I shook my head trying to lose the images and curled up tight, with my arms wrapped around my knees. But it had really happened. It wasn’t some horrible nightmare.
Realizing my opportunity to rest had passed,I dragged myself out of bed. My hair was matted to my salty cheeks and with bloodshot, pallid eyes, I went up stairs. Dad was sitting in the living room, a cup of coffee cradled in his hands, staring at the television. It was evident he had showered. Dressed and clean shaven he looked as though yesterday had not been the worst day of our lives. Then, he smiled at me. The muscles fighting hard against my cheeks, I gave the slightest smile back. Having no strength, I shuffled my feet into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. As the coffee swirled and filled my cup, so did thoughts of what I would say to my mother.
My father came into the kitchen. “I need your help.”
I looked at him, but was silent.
“I need you to pack some things your mother will need while at the hospital. Some comfortable clothes. Enough for a couple of days,” he continued.
I nodded and we went into the bedroom together. Picking out some sweatpants and sweatshirts, tears trailed down my face as I was overwhelmed by her scent. My father put his arm around me but said nothing. I wiped my face and continued packing. When I had finished with the clothing, we went through her make-up, picking out some items.
“Nothing with a mirror or any sharp edges,” my father mentioned, as though it was a completely normal detail..
I stopped in my tracks, the air feeling devoid of oxygen. I tried to breathe in but was frozen, fighting for my lungs to re-inflate. I understood why she couldn’t have these objects, but the reality of those words knocked me back. I stood there holding a nail file in my hand, knowing I would never look at it the same way again.
I thought a shower might wake me up. I stood in the shower, trying to keep my attention on the feeling of the water rolling over my body. I looked at my wrists glistening with soap.
After I dressed, I went upstairs and sat with my father. Neither of us was actually watching the television. We sat there, letting the silence surround us, blocking the weight of emotions for a moment.
Turning to me, my father said, “I need to call a bunch of people. What do I say?”
“The truth,” I said, before reconsidering. “Well, some of it.”
“What do you mean?” my father asked.
“We say that she was going through a rough patch with her depression and she needed some help, so she put herself into a program for a while,” I said, shocked with how quickly I came up with the half-true story.
After the calls, it was time to go. Feelings of fear filled the car so completely there was no room for words. As I passed through the automatic doors and into the hospital’s stark white interior, a militia of chills marched down my spine. With each step down the tiled hall, the beats of my heart grew louder.
“Have a seat and wait. Visiting hour isn’t for another five minutes,” the receptionist stated, her tone kind. She smiled and gestured to two chairs near the windows. The smell of cleaning products stung my nose and the ticking of the clock was irritatingly loud. My dad and I remained silent. He tapped his foot and I picked at my fingernails. We waited.
An eternity later the receptionist’s warm voice sailed over the high counter to where we sat. “You can go in now.” At the sight of the electronic locks, I exhaled sharply. We were met with a rush of stale air as the doors swung open. Passing by the different rooms, it was ironic that they reminded me of a college dorm. People were lying on their beds, reading or writing in notebooks. Too quickly, we reached my mother’s room. The last vision I had of my mother clawed its way to the forefront of my mind. I saw her slumped over, covered in blood. Fear enveloped me, not knowing what she looks like now. With a deep breath,I forced my legs to walk in. She was there, a blanket wrapped around her, looking small,like a child. A flurry of emotion rushed over me. First sadness, then anger. Heat rose through my body like a furnace.
“Hi.” The only word I could force out.
“I’m going to go talk with the nurse. I’ll be right back,” my father said.
How could he leave me alone here? I’m not strong enough to do this without him.
My mother didn’t look me in the eye.
“I’m so sorry for last night,” she whispered. “I feel terrible. My medications weren’t working. I don’t know what I was doing.”
Her eyes continued to seek out anything but me. “I am feeling better right now. I am so sorry you had to see that.”
I didn’t know how to respond. My whole being was screaming from the inside. In my thoughts, I grabbed at her fragile frame and screamed. “Sorry for seeing that? That’s what you’re apologizing for? Not for what you did! I don’t accept your apology. How could you do this to yourself; your family?”
Instead I smiled and gave her a hug.