It dawned on me the other day that I have started two novels and in both of them there is a character who commits suicide. They are very different characters and they kill themselves for very different reasons, but nonetheless they both off themselves. I wonder if I have some creepy obsession with suicide? I decided to count the number of people I have personally known who did it, and it was a little surprising. I’ve known 6 people. I’ve also known of a number of suicides through people I know, kind of twice-removed suicides. I’m not sure how many of those there are, but all in all, it seems like a lot of suicide.
Now, I realize that counting suicides I have known is a little strange. I think people at some point are expected to count how many jobs they’ve had, how many people they had sex with, how many times a day they floss. But most people do not go around counting and comparing the number of people they know who killed themselves.
Maybe I am trying to figure out why someone crosses that line and decides to end their life. There are people who try to kill themselves but don’t succeed. What’s that about? Is it that they are just looking for attention and don’t want to die or is it just hard to do, like loosing weight or learning another language and you just have to keep at it until you get it right? Or is it like Sissy Spacek’s character in Crimes of the Heart where she keeps trying to kill herself but the chandelier she’s hanging herself from falls out of the ceiling so she goes to the oven, turns on the gas and sticks her head in, but the phone rings which startles her and she bangs her head and swears and finally gets herself over to the phone dragging the chandelier and when she answers and the caller asks her how she is she says, Oh, I’m having a bad day.
The thing is, I’m not sure that suicide is the only way people kill themselves. In some ways, we are all on that ledge at times, pushing ourselves a little closer. Eating that pint of Ben & Jerry’s, driving buzzed, working 40+ hours a week at a job we don’t like, hating ourselves, saying yes when we want to say no, maxing out the credit card, lying to our spouse, using too much salt, shooting up with Botox, watching reality TV shows. There’s a million ways to chip away at it.
We have one foot in this world, one foot on the way out, and that makes us a little crazy. But most of us just stay in bed a little longer, keep walking past those open windows, chalk it up to a bad day. We read self-help books and go to yoga classes and try to find people who can make us laugh and plant perennials and throw dinner parties. And sometimes it helps. But most of us are in on the death thing. We know it’s coming. We realize we have no control so we waffle. Chocolate lava cake for breakfast, organic baby greens with salmon and fat-free dressing for dinner. Five percent in the 401K, charge the two-week trip to Fiji. Get those baby pictures framed, live with a leaky faucet for a few years. Subscribe to The New Yorker, read a story from it every 3-4 months. Say you’re a writer, never write.
It’s a wild ride. Some of us hold on and close our eyes, some of us lift our hands over our heads and scream, and then some of us jump. I guess it just depends on the day.