Suicide, an act prepared within the Silence of the heart, as is a great work of Art. –Albert Camus
There is a square, six-foot painting of Marilyn Monroe on the wall behind me, above the couch. Lynn once told me the artist had painted it upside-down; it’s why the colorful drips appear to be falling upward. It hangs in our downstairs living room: a static exhibit of meticulous housekeeping where we don’t dent the cushions, disturb the vacuum lines, or move the stone coasters from the center of the coffee table.
For five years, Lynn and I lived together in these rooms, identical to those in the surrounding townhomes that form a circle at the east end of Formage Street. Most Mondays, you’d see me, Lynn, or an orange cat drifting in and out of these doors. But today, investigators bubble from room to room like the ugly and vial fluids, I imagine, still seep from her body upstairs. I squeeze both eyes shut at the thought of this, shake my head back and forth, to make it pliable, possibly to make it belong to someone else, something almost bearable.
Lynn had short blond hair and pale blue eyes. She stood with her right hip cocked slightly higher than her left and wore silver jewelry, which I agree looked the best on her. She slept in men’s boxers and thin Hanes t-shirts, and there was a place between her breasts where her skin fell into a V; if I placed my hand there I could feel her heart beating thirteen years ahead of mine.
A detective looks down at me, holding his arm away from his side to accommodate the handgun holstered over his shoulder. A can of Snuff embosses a circle in his shirt pocket. He, most likely, has always wanted to be a cop.
“What happened?” he asks.
Not knowing, I try to escape into a single strand of beige carpet near his left foot.
I want to lay down right here on the couch and go to sleep like I do whenever something hurts too much. I’d wake up in a few days, buy a Sunday paper, and turn to the obituaries, discovering a new recognizable sorrow when I read about the death of someone I once knew.
The detective takes a deep breath and forms quotation marks with two of his stubby fingers, explaining to me that things like this don’t just happen.
I nod. Anyone who thinks things like this “just happen” is an idiot. I cross my arms tighter and try harder to escape into the carpet, wishing I were an idiot. But I’m just something else that once belonged to Lynn, something left behind like the faded pink slippers and the shapely cigarette burns by the bed. I’m evidence, like the blood on the sheets and the hole in the wall. The cops should slap a label across my face — Victim’s Lover — and ship me off to the lab, in a box, along with the gun.
From the backyard, a razor of daylight slashes the white wrist of my vertical blinds, illuminating my strand of carpet and its fifteen minutes of fame. Outside, the mailbox squeaks for townhouse 1125. It’s remarkable, I think, how the world continues to function in this new silence that had once been the boisterous air moving through my girlfriend’s nose.
By the time I was fourteen, I wanted to die. I had ulcers to prove it; the doctor prescribed me Zantac and asked, “What’s a pretty girl your age got to worry about?”
I thought about how Grandpa was still touching me after all those years and how my stomach always hurt. I thought about how, now that Grandma was dead, I’d be alone with him more often. I shrugged and told the doctor I was not worried.
When I finally ran away from home and saw my first city skyline, I got butterflies.
If only my friends hadn’t dialed 911 when I took the pills; if only I’d walked out before they strapped me to the emergency room bed, if only the nurse I’d called “bitch” for twelve hours hadn’t pumped charcoal through my nose to my stomach — I might have died. The nurse looked shockingly serious when she said, “your heart is beating dangerously fast.” “It’s fifty-fifty,” she’d threatened, “you might die.” I hated her for telling me I was half dead already — it made me not want to die.
Three days later, I walked out of the state mental hospital with a Baker Act under my belt. Standing on the socially acceptable side of the hospital doors, I left behind my family’s thriving passivity of women. I took one last look behind me to see what was there, determined not to miss it. I walked until I lost my southern accent, gained a profession, and defeated most every statistical outcome I’d inherited, until finding myself in a social class that made me feel embarrassed about ever needing to walk so far.
The year I was born, Lynn was touring the Italian Vineyards getting drunk with her mother; by the time I was fifteen, Lynn had a BFA, this townhouse, and alcoholism. I was eighteen when we met. She was thirty-one and had recently quit her job in advertising to publish an arts and entertainment magazine. Lynn was the first lesbian I’d ever met and like the skyline — I got butterflies. I wouldn’t see her again for six years.
The next time I saw Lynn, I was twenty-four, wearing a red hat and red lipstick on an ivory face. I had accepted an invitation to do cocaine at a party with the woman I’d met six years before. Her magazine had a monthly circulation of 50,000 and she was making a killing from advertising sells and design work. People gathered around her at parties and scribbled their home number on the backs of their business cards. Lynn was proof that it is, in fact, possible to quit your day job and follow the dream your parents, a seventh-grade teacher, or some other failure had stolen.
Lynn had created a superfluous universe where expensive things, habits, and desires eclipsed her. Liz Claiborne business suits and dresses filled her walk-in closet. She loved jazz music, especially David Sanborn, and her dream was to own a bed-n-breakfast in Key West where she’d grow plants, bake pies, and decorate — like she’d watch Martha Stewart do for one hour on Sunday mornings. She drove a white BMW with a day planner laid across the passenger’s seat to make appointments as she held a cell phone importantly to her ear.
However, Lynn faked success as much as one can fake such a thing and still be, by any definition, successful. What nobody knew was that she urinated in her sleep after a heavy vodka night and spent $1,200 on cocaine a week. She was in Chapter 13 bankruptcy and would lose her house, her car, and her business if she missed just one of her monthly $4,500 trustee payments.
I’d fantasize that someone would rescue her, maybe even me, or perhaps a mysterious doctor would ring our doorbell with a magic pill in his hand. I wonder why I’ve stayed with her this long; perhaps it was because her long pale hands couldn’t stop feeding her psychosis with gratuitous red wine, vodka, and cocaine, and I was, for the first time, the stronger one.
I’ve always denied the existence of God but I’d been secretly praying for years, “Please God, make her stop drinking; don’t let her get into another car accident.” I’d say these prayers while I was alone in our bed and she was at the bar. I’d stay awake changing shapes with the clock…2:45 am…4:18 am…the sun would come up. I’d hold my arms around my waist squeezing at a pain — not unlike the pain I had at Grandpa’s house — until I’d hear the garage door open at what ever time, or day, she’d come home.
My prayers might have been answered on some nights, like when she was arrested for a DUI, and the time my Grandpa stopped when I fought back despite my usual eagerness to please.
One night, Lynn crashed into the back of a car that was stopped at a red light, then she drove away. The police found her wrecked car parked at the bar. Unfortunately, these incidents resulted in little more than traffic fines and a suspended license. I remain fascinated that she avoided any serious jail time. Sometimes, I daydreamt the cops had found the cocaine in her purse and that, when I bring her a carton of Capris in jail, I find her clear-eyed and sober.
Life is hard, yet we still find reasons to get out of bed. The first of which, I think, is habit. I read somewhere that voluntary death implies that you’ve recognized this ridiculous habit and the absence of any profound reason for living. Lynn’s one fatal flaw was her helplessness to break dangerous habits. She was also enough of an intellectual to realize the pointlessness of it.
When I woke up this morning our bedroom reeked of the pungent, unsettling presence of recycled liquor. It was the scent of last night’s indulgences, emenating from her like invisible robbers fleeing the scene. I found a small Ziploc baggy floating in the toilet. It had been ripped open and licked before flushed, but it floated: unsinkable as the craving that makes us check our pockets twenty times and lick the mirror once the white lines are gone.
I sat on her side of the bed to put on my shoes and she asked me for a glass of water. I watched her tilt the glass to her mouth, studying the soft curve above her upper-lip where cocaine had fallen delicately from her French manicure. I ran my fingers through her hair and kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll come home early,” I said. She fell asleep.
Our cat was sitting in the window when I pulled away from the house. I imagine he turned his orange head to see if Lynn was getting up anytime soon, then looked back out the window to watch my blue Toyota pull away from 1125 Farmage Circle East. Maybe Lynn woke up a couple hours later, went to the bathroom and stood next to the toilet with her right hip cocked slightly higher than the left. Maybe she saw herself floating beside the little baggy in the toilet water — ripped open, licked clean, needing to be flushed.
Lynn had probably long recognized her insane routine, which consisted of daily self-defeat, suffering, and pointlessness. Perhaps, when she woke this morning, she momentarily forgot why she folds the bathroom towels so neatly, aligning them perfectly in the towel rack, and I was not there to remind her that she does it to control, at least something. Had she accepted that some of her habits would never be broken, like business meetings, happy hours, and Mondays? Perhaps she was frightened by the estranged reflection that she must have seen every morning: the uncomfortably familiar face, not what she expected as she searched the toilet-water for the woman in that 70s photo on my dresser: twenty-something, without routine, the one with a point. Instead, she’d find the unfamiliar scar across her forehead from a car crash she doesn’t remember. Internal and external pressures escalating so precipitously that perhaps it seemed reasonable to pull the pistol down from the top of the closet. Maybe she had done this too many times before, no longer fraught with emotion, and it was easy.
I guess it will be impossible for me to know the precise moment — quick as a pinprick perhaps — in which Lynn may have flinched at the thought of shooting herself. I’m sure she’d stalked herself for days, months, and years even, before growing fatally impatient this morning.
I look up at the detective’s bumpy chin thinking of another day she’d held a 22-cal handgun palm-up in her lap: She’d sat sideways on our bed. The red tip of her cigarette reflected off the gun’s obsidian-like barrel as if it were a tiny window to some other universe where an equally sad woman held an equally fatal gun in an equally dark room. I look down again at the famous carpet. But I can still see Lynn’s long pale legs hanging over the edge of our bed, so fragile in the boxer shorts that swallow her at the thighs. She turns to me, repeating the same unsteady words that had fought from between her lips that day, “I can’t believe I was going to shoot myself.” I’d put my arms around her, kissed her forehead, and lie to her, again, “It’s going to be alright” I said. I had known that would not be the last time she’d be seduced by a gun. It was also a Monday.
I came home early today like I’d promised. When I opened our bedroom door, her social mask was off. The extent of her self-beating revealed itself, as though twenty years on her hedonistic treadmill had finally pulled the very skin from her face, slinging parts of her onto the headboard. Lynn had put a bullet into her forehead, below her blond hairline, where I’d kiss her and say, “It’ll be alright.”
It’s as if ten years ago I’d unwittedly climbed into the back of a taxicab with her, but when the driver lost control she bailed out, leaving me alone with a lunatic and the bill. I wonder if I would have taken this particular route, in this particular taxi, on my own — I suppose, eventually, I would have. Still, I want to blame her somehow, like I did the nurse for making my heart race, not the pills.
I hear the awkward shuffling of feet as they maneuver Lynn’s body downstairs. The carpeted-footsteps are accompanied by dull thuds against the railing and wall. Nearly insane already, I’m paralyzed by the thought of recognizing one of the body bag’s lumps as Lynn’s hip, breast, or forehead. I look for them anyway, as she makes her clever escape past me, through the living room, in her fucking zippered Trojan Horse.