The day A— died marked a turning point for me. Suicide was no longer just a theoretical concept; it was real.
It’s hard to describe how it felt: I remember a kind of hissing noise in my ears, like when a radio channel isn’t quite tuned in. It also felt like either the event itself was a dream, or my life was an episode of the Twilight Zone, and sooner or later the show would be over and everything would return to regular programming.
Except, of course, that didn’t happen. I remember driving to the house where A— had lived and where her friends now gathered after her death. We sat around in the living room, some of us having never met before. K—, A—‘s partner, seemed the most well-adjusted of all of us. She described going to the coroner’s office to identify A—‘s body. She described how, earlier in the day, she had seen A— amidst the city traffic but had been unable to follow her to wherever she was headed. She mentioned that A— had made personal videos instead of leaving a suicide note. She offered to show them to me, but I declined. They weren’t made for me, I said. I eventually saw one of them at the memorial we held in her honour. She looked drugged, out of sorts. She advised us, her friends, to love each other. She said she felt she had given too much of herself at times, and not enough at others. It was hard to watch.
I later found out how it all went down. A— went to the Sandman Hotel, poured herself a glass of wine and ran herself a bath. Someone, maybe K—, told me she drank Chinese herbal medicines to relax herself, then she slit open her wrists and bled to death. I calculated the timing and realized that while she was doing this I was at Cinecenta, a movie theatre at the university, watching a documentary on the life and times of Edvard Munch, the guy who painted The Scream. A— had left me a voicemail earlier in the day, telling me that she was going on a long journey. I had listened to it and dialed *69 to find out where she was calling from but the number was blocked. I had known something was wrong but instead of contacting K— or anyone else, I chose to go to the cinema with a friend. I felt sick thinking about it.
Unlike K—, I hadn’t had to ID the body once they found her. And yet, without something tangible, some actual proof that she was no longer alive, my brain struggled to make sense of it. I thought back to our last conversation, when we had enjoyed oysters together at a local restaurant. That had been three weeks earlier. She had seemed somewhat subdued but not depressed.
I found myself seeing A— everywhere. Strangers constantly reminded me of her as I walked the streets. When the feelings overwhelmed me, I listened on repeat to David Gray’s Sail Away and Jorane’s Film III, songs A— herself had introduced me to. A restless numbness seeped into my soul.
I visited K— often during the aftermath. I admired K—‘s strength; she seemed so much more grounded than anyone else, a role model on how to handle grief. And yet she had been closer to A— than all of us. She was hurting too, of course. I remember her calling me and asking if I wanted to go to the bug zoo with her. Sure, I said, and off we went. I think it was a Sunday afternoon.
The bug zoo was fascinating. I was mesmerized by insects that disguised themselves so effectively that you couldn’t tell them apart from a leaf. Or the scorpions that turned indigo under a UV light. Or the tarantula the guide placed on my hand and that crawled up my arm, harmlessly. Or the spider that had figured out that it could copy-cat the black widow quite effectively even if it had no poison of its own. A black widow’s bite, the guide explained, rarely kills people but it hurts on a par to a woman giving birth. I wondered how much pain A— was in when she died.
After the bug zoo visit, we went our separate ways, K— and I. Eventually she met a nurse and moved to Vancouver. We visited a few times, but slowly drifted apart. Maybe I reminded her too much of A—. K— conceived and had a baby. I never got to meet the little girl, though I hear from friends we have in common that she is quite cute. I am happy K— has been able to move on. She deserves a happy, enjoyable life.
But for me the descent into madness continued after A—‘s death. Five months after she killed herself, my father passed away from cancer and my family disowned me for being transgender. It seemed like a cruel joke, like the universe was trying to tell me something, only I couldn’t figure out what. The Twilight Zone episode that my life had become continued on; I tumbled deeper and deeper into the abyss.
(to be continued)