The D Word: Confessions of a Girl Who Cried Suicide
When I was thirteen, I was depressed.
The funny thing was, I didn’t realize I was depressed until a few weeks after my best friend Samantha did. Even before she announced that she was depressed, she showed plenty of warning signs. She’d begun to wear all black, dark eyeliner, and a studded belt. On her wrists she wore big square bandages, and we knew what that meant.
Samantha was the leader of our group of friends, and every day at recess she would drift away — because, you know, she was depressed, and couldn’t conjure up the energy to pretend to care for our trivial pre-teen antics. She’d go sit by herself, perched on the fence dividing where the boys played touch football and the girls did whatever it was that we did, and one by one we’d wander over and attempt to raise her spirits. Everyone was so distracted with trying to cheer up Samantha that hardly any attention was paid to the funny and clever things I said. That’s when I first started to feel depressed.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. If Samantha was depressed, how could I not be? Her life was so much better than mine, though we debated this often and she disagreed with me. For one, she was thinner and prettier. She had an extremely devoted boyfriend, a seemingly dumb jock who was smart enough to stay the hell away during her recess drama. Meanwhile, I was chubby and shy, and my brother was severely autistic and unable to speak, which had always been a trump card, up until this point. How could Samantha think she was more depressed than I was?
She’d argue that my parents were better than hers, and there I couldn’t disagree. Samantha’s mother had her at age 40, so her parents were significantly older than everyone else’s, and they were deeply, deeply unhip. Her dad, especially, was a weird, alienating guy who openly lusted after Sarah Michelle Gellar and didn’t even try to hide his collection of literature- themed porn (we all cringed when Samantha recounted joining her dad in watching “Alice’s Dirty Tea Party”). But weird dad aside, the rest of us were jealous of her home life. Her brother was fifteen years older, so Samantha was effectively an only child; her parents bought her everything she wanted and pretty much left her alone.
My parents, on the other hand, were very involved in my life, which meant they probably knew more about Samantha’s issues than her own parents did, as it had become such a big part of my own life.
“How was school today?” they’d ask, and I’d sigh.
“I’m worried about Samantha. She dyed her hair black.”
“And how are you?”
“Today Samantha found a piece of broken glass on the ground and thought about cutting herself with it.”
I was annoyed when they weren’t more concerned. Couldn’t they tell what a big deal this was? My parents just weren’t getting it, and that started to make me feel depressed.
But luckily, the rest of my friends got it, and every day was an uphill battle to cure Samantha. We praised her, we told her how much we loved her, we begged her not to be depressed anymore. And even as my own feelings of depression stirred within, I did my best to put them aside, for the sake of the team.
But Samantha would not budge on this depression thing, so one day at recess LeeAnn Burns decided to take matters into her own hands, and made the shocking announcement that she needed to talk to Samantha alone today. She took the walk to the chain-link fence alone, but the rest of us lingered close enough to witness the scene. LeeAnn took Samantha’s hands.
“Samantha,” she said. “When my mom died, it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.”
This was true. LeeAnn Burns’ mom had died, and it was something LeeAnn often found a way to work into casual conversation. It was kind of her defining character trait, like the girl in the Baby-Sitters Club who had diabetes. In fact, I hadn’t known much else about her before Samantha’s condition brought us closer together.
“So I understand what it’s like to go through a hard time. And that’s why I want you to have this.”
She pulled a jewelry box out of her sky-blue Dickie’s side bag and presented it to Samantha. She flipped it open, revealing a bracelet inside. “It was my mom’s,” she explained. “She gave it to me before she died, so I could pass it down to my daughter one day. But I want you to have it. And when you wear it, you can look at it and know how much we all love you.”
To her credit, Samantha tried not accept that bracelet. She would not take the box, so LeeAnn forcefully clasped it onto her wrist.
“I’m going to take this home and keep it somewhere safe,” Samantha said, “so that when you realize you want it back, it will still be in good condition.”
“I won’t want it back,” LeeAnn insisted.
“Yes, you will.”
LeeAnn and Samantha walked back in from recess arm-in-arm, the rest of the girls following behind. But that day I stayed behind, dumbfounded by the situation. And as worried as I was about Samantha, I couldn’t help but think about myself. If I were openly depressed, would any of my friends give me a Dead Mom Bracelet? Would any of them even notice, or care?
Samantha’s boyfriend shoved past me on his way in to the school, sweaty from football. “Hey,” he asked when he saw me, “what’s going on with Samantha lately?”
Would a boy ever care about me like that?
I skipped chorus after school and took the bus home. Would anyone even notice I wasn’t in chorus? I tore into my room, which suddenly seemed childish and bright. I took inventory and realized I had hardly any black clothes, and everything I owned was disgustingly pink or blue. I started to wonder: if need be, how would I attempt to commit suicide? (Before someone caught me and stopped me, of course.)
Cutting seemed too painful, so I looked through my medicine cabinet and thought of how my mom would respond when she walked in and caught me trying to overdose on…fiber pills? Iron supplements? These clearly wouldn’t do, so instead I perched on my second story window. What if my mom walked in as I was about to jump? Then she would understand how depressed I was.
I sat on the windowsill for what felt like an hour but was probably three minutes or so, until I got bored and was just annoyed with my mom for being so ignorant. Where was she? I guessed my brother was probably just getting home from school, and she was attending to him. She was always paying attention to him over me! I wrote in my diary about how stupid my mom was, and how much my life sucked, and how excited I was for the release of the second part to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. I didn’t even have a diary before then, I only started it for these complaints. Take that, Mom!
But my mom did turn up later, when I was crying myself to sleep, and stroked my hair and asked me if I was going through a hard time lately. Finally, I told her. I was depressed.
“Depressed is a strong word,” she said.
But I didn’t care. It was finally out in the open! I couldn’t wait to go to school and tell all my friends.
We gathered for recess that day, business as usual, and I tried to hide my excitement and nervousness over my big announcement. When the rest of us joined Samantha at the fence, I had my opening.
“Guys,” I announced. “I’m depressed.”
There was a long silence, finally broken by a groan from LeeAnn Burns. “No you’re not!” She rolled her eyes. The other girls seemed skeptical, if not so openly annoyed. I looked to Samantha, hoping she would understand, hoping she would look into my eyes and recognize our kinship. But nothing. She shrugged at me pityingly.
I ran away from my friends and back into the empty halls of the school, not knowing where to go or who would understand. It hurt so much. I mean, was I expecting a Dead Mom Bracelet? No. But I would have at least liked some acknowledgement that I was going through a hard time. The situation was worse than I thought. Without thinking about it, I ended up at the guidance counselor’s office, and realized this was the answer. I needed counseling.
The guidance counselor was eating her lunch at her desk when she noticed me. I asked her if she had some time to talk. Looking at the clock, she told me she could give me twenty minutes or so before her next appointment. I sat down.
I told her everything. How I’d been feeling depressed. How Samantha had been feeling depressed. How my friends doubted that I was as depressed as Samantha. How Samantha had a real credit card that her parents paid off for her, no questions asked. How sometimes my parents just didn’t get it.
The guidance counselor, strangely, did not seem particularly impressed with my problems. I could see her restlessness, her glances toward the clock, her appointment book. She was ready to wrap up, but I wasn’t ready to lose my audience. I knew I had to act fast.
“The other day,” I told her, “I sat by my window and thought about jumping.”
This was technically true! I had sat by my window. I had thought about jumping. And suddenly, the guidance counselor was totally there with me. She picked up the phone, but I don’t know who she called.
“Cancel my next appointment,” she said. “I have a suicidal teen here.”
She then had me sit in the next room, but I could hear what was going on. She called local therapists. She called my parents.
“Yes, suicide,” I heard her say to my mom. “I suggest you look around her room for clues. Does she keep a diary?”
I thought of my room, where my diary — which featured only one entry, written on the first page, about how stupid my mom was — was lying unlocked on the floor next to my bed, beside a bottle of fiber pills. The guidance counselor hung up with my mom, then dismissed me, telling me my parents would take it from there.
I came home to a sit-down with my parents, and they chastised me for talking to a guidance counselor — who was a stranger and clearly incompetent — before them. We began to lay out a plan of action. I’d see a therapist. I’d start spending some more one-on-one time with each of my parents — they realized that my brother’s disability took a lot of their attention. Of course I knew that I was too old and mature to need attention from my parents, but it was nice to have it offered.
When I was allowed to socialize again (my parents weren’t so much concerned about my mental health as pissed off about my diary) I went to Samantha’s house for dinner.
“I love the way your toenails match the stripes on your shirt!” Samantha’s mother complimented me. My toenails and the stripes on my shirt were a vibrant fuchsia.
Samantha rolled her eyes. “My hair matches my outfit every day. Don’t I get any credit?” Her mother didn’t respond.
Samantha’s dad cooked, and while we ate, I could tell that Samantha felt everything her dad said was completely mortifying, and she wasn’t wrong. And when Samantha told her family about her day at school — “it was fine” — it amazed me how little her parents knew. They had no idea that their daughter spent forty-three minutes a day perched on a fence, searching for pieces of debris to use to slit her wrists.
Sure, I was depressed too, but at least my parents were sending me to a nice young therapist to play Chutes and Ladders with once a week. Samantha’s parents were just paying off the credit card she used to buy razor blades. I finally appreciated that my parents did get it after all.
Samantha and I didn’t keep in touch much after high school, but we both moved west and I was the only guest at her wedding who knew the bride. She was only twenty-one, but the guy was in his thirties and took good care of her, and hopefully had no particular affinity for literary porn. We cut away from the reception and somehow got to talking about LeeAnn Burns’ mom’s bracelet. We talked about mailing it back, but Samantha didn’t seem enthusiastic about my plans to track LeeAnn down. I wondered if a part of her still wanted to look at it and remember that somebody loved her.
After my attempted suicide attempt, my depression mostly subsided, but there have been times I’ve been tempted to use The D Word in my adult life — when I wonder what I want to do with myself, when I lament that I don’t already know, when I’m jealous that seemingly everyone has a much better handle on it than I do. But every time I get the urge to reach for the bottle of iron supplements, I just tell myself it could be worse.
I could be thirteen again.
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