19 and counting
I remember 19, physically feeling the word leak underneath shut doors and hushed conversations. So much I could almost see the news like an infection slowly encroaching on the limbs of the student body, crawling to the center of campus, crawling, kneeling, crawling. Like a deformed creature scuffling up the street towards you in a dream with you stapled to the ground too petrified to move. Too loud of a silence left throbbing at the bottom of the tallest library.
12 floors. I remember 12.
Some people said 9. Others 11. Words ping ponged out of people’s mouths while it felt like someone shoved a fist down mine. My jaw unhinged, open, gaping, as I tried to chew on what people didn’t know how to say. Suicide had suddenly become the deformed creature thrust into a room no one knew how to look at, the disease no one knew how to address. Except with such soft words, cotton words, such cautious words, just so many many many words. As if, they could cushion his fall. As if, they could help.
But as other people started to mourn the loss of Hyoun Ju Sohn, I desperately sank my teeth into my fist and clenched my jaw shut. I took off that night running, praying I could run from myself, terrified of my thoughts, the tremor in my hands, the underbellies of my feet. Because underneath the layers of hurt and pain, I felt so, so incredibly happy.
He did it.
He succeeded. He really did it.
And he fucking beat me to it. When days before I was climbing Gano Street Bridge to figure out if it was tall enough to jump off, he beat me to it. I reeled sickened at myself for being so exhilarated that in his death I found the answer I had been looking for: 12 floors. 12 floors was all it would take. A weight crushed my chest but I felt so light. I could do it too. 12 floors. I could do it.
My heart leaped out in front of me. An eager voice begged at my chest.
I remember 17, people didn’t fully believe him.
They told me only soldiers who came back from war suffered from PTSD. He couldn’t possibly have it. He was just saying it for attention, just clinging to you for attention. Can we even really believe everything he says? Look, he never actually follows through with it, he just says he will over and over again. He doesn’t actually want to get help. I think you should just stop trying to talk to him. I think you should just
I opened one ear and closed the other. I opened the other and closed that one ear. Months dragged on and I didn’t know what to believe anymore. Maybe it was just for attention. If it was real he would have really followed through by now. It was only legitimate if you actually wanted help. Right? Doubt slowly dribbled onto my eyelids as I began to wonder if they were right about him.
But in the back of my mind I also began to wonder if they would be right about me.
I remember 14, I started flirting with cars. A close friend of mine had chopped me off from her arm and I found myself dangling from thin sinews off her elbows, trembling to find another landing point. She told me to never talk to her again.
Objectively, I suppose it wasn’t that huge of a deal but it was the trigger that snapped a bowstring made from so many factors that’d been twisting painfully for months. I began daring cars to hit me when I walked home. I cut my hips, I cut my ankles. I began sobbing in my closet stuffing blankets into my mouth so I wouldn’t wake my little sister. I found myself teetering on the yellow line in the middle of streets, wondering what I could have done differently, wondering why I hadn’t already crossed the line, wondering why I was such a coward.
I never crossed the line.
It was as if I could never finish anything I set out to do. Whenever I ate I always left something behind. Whenever I turned in an assignment, I never fully completed it. I started obsessively writing the date on everything to prove that I had existed that day. It was like leaving mementos. To prove that I had at least finished the day when everything else felt so unfinished. My music, my ambitions, my relationships.
How every year, someone close to me would cut me off from their body like I was a tumor. Chopped, shaved, cut. You start to hate your whole self because they give no specific reason. You start to amputate your own limbs off because you realize you’re too much.
It was like clockwork or watching the same movie repeat around me, with me unable to control any of the scenes. Unfinished relationships, torn off midsentence at the torso. Never talk to me again. Or they’d say nothing at all.
But God. I never crossed that line.
I remember 18, I began to wonder if I was an imposter. A fake.
I still hadn’t killed myself.
It had been 4 years and I still wasn’t dead. Paranoia sank deep into my chest as I wondered if I had been making all of this up. Maybe I wasn’t actually suicidal. Or depressed. Or anxious. Or anything at all. What in my life really warranted any of these feelings, especially when my immigrant parents worked so hard for me to even be here. In the light of their struggles, lamenting almost seemed like a luxury. Maybe it was just for attention. Maybe they were right.
I reasoned I was just some melodramatic brat acting up an elaborate storyline and wilting poetically in pity. I felt so ashamed. I wanted desperately to erase myself that kept spilling over into other people’s hands.
Hating yourself becomes an eternally silent witch hunt. An exorcism you have in the bathroom in front of mirrors with more eyes than yours following you around. I’d stare at myself for hours, turning my head, hoping one day I’d catch my reflection turn its head the opposite way.
Nothing seemed real. Eyes seemed to bud off walls to blink at me. Days felt like dreams stitched together. My brain fizzled numb on static fuse and I wondered if I had already died.
But I wasn’t dead. And that terrified me even more.
20. Not yet 20.
It was an odd revelation a few months ago when it finally occurred to me I would be turning 20 this year.
2.0. a second chance
I felt I should have done something bigger by now. I should be more than what I had become almost as if to justify my lack of action, my failure of following through. Guilt splinters between my ribcage each day with some type of feeling I’m leaving this decade so pathetically unfinished.
Instead this summer I died each night only to be birthed the next morning in a wooden box, in rising subway cars coming up occasionally from the ground to breathe. I remember subway tunnels squeezing around my body as I imagined my neck cooling on rustwet train tracks each day I ran late to work. I remember streetlights lining up in the corner of my eye, the East River sloshing underneath me like the multitudes of lives I could have lived splitting themselves upon yellow lines and rimmed edges.
I look down and hold my heart tightly between my teeth. The idea of my twenties spreads out in front of me, flesh colored and peach. The whites of my eyes like whipped egg whites, foaming. My pupils dissolving into mush, pulpy and soft. The feeling that I’m lacking something. Something vital. Something I should have figured out long, long ago.
And I left my suicide sitting on the edge of Williamsburg bridge, unfinished.
For now I’m 19 and I’m still counting, I’m still here. I still wash my self hate like I wash pink scars, knowing they won’t disappear anytime soon. I still panic sometimes in front of mirrors though I try my best not to shake.
But this weekend I stared into a different mirror as I dragged out old photo albums and sipped through them slowly, retracing the way my parents held my hand lovingly, rereading the little notes my mother scribbled next to my drooling baby pictures. I found a girl smiling widely back at the camera and I paused.
I couldn’t quite grasp that she was me. That I was her. That she was me. I turned my head to see if she’d turn hers, but instead she gazed straight back, unassuming and unafraid. My parents later joined me, pointing out the odd habits I had as a toddler. They reexamined which of my facial features belonged to whom. Wrinkling stories spilled over the edges of their eyes and down their chins as they reminisced in their memories as I tried to rediscover mine. But as I paged through this girl’s plump and cheeky faces I felt a different life slowly sprout from my fingertips, dewy and green — an unraveling fern finally pulling away something that had been blocked up in my chest for years.
To be honest I had a different ending written for months at the end of this article, one riddled with uncertainty as to where I was going, why I keep stumbling. But it seems only now I’ve finally found an edit in this suture attempting to hold these vignettes together. This body has stopped trembling in search for words it could never find the strength to say.
Just left now with this ever burning image of streetlights aligning till the end of my sight searing me awake. Just this little girl’s foolish smile that would end up saving herself years later. I tip over this edge and continue to fall into life, into life, into life.
So tomorrow, Happy Birthday to me again, once more, alive and living.
Also, a quote I like —
In college I had a physics professor who wrote the date and time in red marker on a sheet of white paper and then lit the paper on fire and placed it on a metallic mesh basket on the lab table where it burned to ashes. He asked us whether or not the information on the paper was destroyed and not recoverable, and of course we were wrong, because physics tells us that information is never lost, not even in a black hole, and that what is seemingly destroyed is, in fact, retrievable. In that burning paper the markings of ink on the page are preserved in the way the flame flickers and the smoke curls. Wildly distorted to the point of chaos, the information is nonetheless not dead. Nothing, really, dies. Nothing dies. Nothing dies.
— Nicholas Rombes, The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing