[CONTENT WARNING: this piece was written from a raw place, speaking boldly of suicide and grief. If you’re fighting to breathe through another day, PLEASE ask for help. If you aren’t ready to speak to friends or family, call (800) 273-TALK — it’s free, it’s anonymous, and someone will answer, 24/7.]
Did you know her very well?”
“Barely. We used to be friends back in…”
These conversations drift about in the air; I can hear them in this place. My spirit is tethered to this plane between molecules, this ethereal no-space called Purgatory. Restless beings drift between small pools, dingy mirrors, and writhing silver cords that flutter through the non-air. Pick your poison, pick your worst sin. Pick your religion.
These conversations filter in and out of my mother’s ears, too. Her shoulders drop and she clings to a pendant around her neck. I guess didn’t know her at all, she laments to St. Jude, in holy prayer. What did I do? What could I have done? Her watery, brown gaze moves over the urn nestled in freshly turned soil.
My dad stands off to her side and a pace behind her; it’s hard to tell if he’s listening to anyone. He’s been silent since it happened. It reminds me of when I was pregnant — we existed around each other, not speaking much until Shiloh was born. But in the weeks and months following their birth, the man who never took breaks was quick to scoop up the baby for a relaxing rock in his favorite chair. People approach him with condolences and they’re met with a damp, distant stare. He looks pleasant enough, but he’s somewhere else. I’d like to think it was the mid 80’s, summertime. Weekends at the cabin through the decades after.
Groundskeepers are urging them to go.
What’s this? I’m not ready for this. I’m not fit to stand witness to what happens after. I wasn’t expecting this to be a thing that happens, period, and I don’t want to be here for my funeral.
But it’s out of my hands. Someone higher up decides these things.
They respect my feelings even though I disrespected theirs. I didn’t want to be nailed up in a box and buried underground. I wanted to be cremated, and they could place an urn with some of my remains wherever they chose. It’s funny, the things I’d start talking about after several rounds of vodka and cigarettes. Even better is that my older brother remembered those years, settling the kinds of arguments triggered by dying before you get your shit sorted out on paper.
My husband stands like a stone wall. The brickwork of him is beautiful in its intricacy; slabs of confusion and anger are bonded with the mortar of grief. A precarious patch job after the grenade I threw.
Oh, God. My heart, my love.
Please tell me this is just a nightmare.
Turn over now, and wake me up
His eyes are casting icy shards of keep-away, but his free hand comes to rest on the narrow shoulder of my child. Shiloh is my flipturnt replica; they are the light and the dark of me. From me they gained their love of art, music, and pulling people into worlds spun with words. From me, they gained an empathetic nature and a heart that yearns to fix more than what it’s sometimes able.
From me, they also gained the weight of depression and anxiety. They know the feeling of a rocky keel and torn sails, when the storms of self-doubt and self-loathing kick up another violent maelstrom… and yet the rubble hasn’t cleared from the last one.
Whether plagued by a family tree poisoned with mental illness or by the simple fact that their mother should’ve done her job to keep personal scars from the eyes of her child, they understand the inscription etching pale, gray stone:
“as she becomes away”
This line is from my favorite poem in See a Grown Man Cry, Now Watch Him Die, by Henry Rollins. Really, the writing is too brutal to be called, simply, poetry. This epitaph is another tidbit from my brother. Rollins’ books were bibles to both of us in bad times.
If I was able to reach out and comfort them, I would. That I can’t sends chills through bones I don’t even have. It aches more than living ever did. But in this place, I can’t cry. I can’t breathe. I can only hang here, suspended and writhing with it.
I wasn’t expecting this to be a thing that happens.
They all thought I was okay. Some days, I believed I was. But I caved to memories that gnawed at my insides like gnats, spreading from scars carved out by the narcissists in my life. They hunker in my mind, standing beneath the wash of gaslit-lamps. Dripping promises, then poison. The years fade but the vapor trails never do. They puff whispers through the air in all the right (and wrong) moments. If not for this sickness I wouldn’t be watching tears fall from the doe-brown eyes of my child.
“I mean… she loved me… right?” Shiloh asks, voice trembling. Keith’s hand tightens on her shoulder in solidarity. In this gray-scale trade for suicide, I’m learning that nothing is worse than hearing my love being called into question…
(pick your poison, pick your sin)
…except that I’m also feeling it. This place has no distractions. Feelings magnify to unfathomable proportions. I’m starting to wonder if this is how grief works in every death, or if it’s just linked to suicide. I wonder if it’s when the soul combusts with the pressure of having to soak up the aftermath, the hollow tangle between anger and anguish, and the sobs swallowed back in the middle of the night, that the living are finally freed of their melancholy.
It’s been four days since I shot myself. It feels like four years in this place. Time doesn’t move here like it does on Earth. I’m staring at Shiloh, who darts an imploring look between my husband and mother.
I’d exist in this place for all of Time, suspended in this non-body, if it meant freeing Shiloh of having to doubt my love for them. I can’t come back from ripping this hole in their life. How do I make up for that? How do I even atone for leaving this kind of mess for those I love the most? I thought I was saving everyone misery. Worry. Exasperation. I thought this was better than wearing patience down to rubble.
I love them, I thought. So I’ll spare them.
Yeah. Famous last thoughts.
I’m cuffed to the consequences, now. This isn’t even Hell, so I can’t even imagine what that’s like. I should probably get ready for that.
“Oh, Shiloh,” my mother whispers, trying and failing at a smile. “She loved — loves — you so very much.” My kid nods but the words fall short, dropping like arrows hitting stone. My husband says nothing, but his fingers stay warm on their shoulder.
One by one, the small gathering of family and friends file away. I drift along in their wake like they drifted through my own. My non-guts are twisting. I want to leave but I don’t have a body to pilot.
Shiloh lingers behind the rest to stare at my urn, and it annihilates me.
This is real. This is now. I want to take this back. I want to add more steel to my addled spine. Atop all the gas-lit fallout, I was so bitter about what I lost because of my back injury that I never gave anything else a chance to take root. I never took the time to nurture fresh seeds to replace what I lost. It hits me that no matter how dark the days got, I had a fruitful plot among my friends and family. But I dropped anchor somewhere else, and left a mess no one should ever have to clean. And there are no chances here. I can’t rectify a damn thing. I can’t wipe away a single tear and I can’t wrap anyone in a hug.
I can’t apologize and I don’t want to be forgiven, anyway. I want to get out of here. I need to get out of here. The velocity of this place outclasses the worst of any nightmare or HSP episode I’ve ever had.
But there’s no waking up, here.
Beyond the cluster of my immediate family, Azrael stands. The Angel of Death is quite the shape-shifter, all writhing tongues and watchful eyes. In this moment he’s wraith-thin and wingless, catering to the stature that Western civilization wrapped him in… and he’s not supposed to be here. He’s breaking the rules. He’s already read my name from his scroll forty (plus four) days ago, so the bastard knew I was going to do this. He sidles up behind me, silent and looming. He hunkers over my shoulder and analyzes my urn in the plane next to where we hover.
Seconds creep like eternities. My non-skin crawls with a dichotomous blend of ice-ants and fire-worms. Words don’t take shape here. There are no boundaries like vocal cords, so I throw my thoughts to wherever they go in this place: why are you here? Why did you let this happen? What about the Cherubim; why didn’t you send one if you knew? I mean… you KNOW this!
His hood seethes condescending shadows and amused mists. It’s not up to me, I hear. Someone higher up decides these things.
But where were the Cherubim? I scream, regardless. They’re the guardians! Why didn’t I have one?
You cannot just believe part-time, Azrael chastises me. This is not a game. One would have come if you had faith.
In what, in Catholicism? I spit. In Christianity? Or should I have stayed on my Pagan path?
In… anything. This place primordial and, just like angels, it transcends everything. Including written religions. But I am talking about you. Faith and belief in yourself.
His faceless hood tips to the side; shadow and silk spills down where there used to be an arm.
And perhaps a little faith in those who were there for you.
I can’t look at his shape anymore. I watch Shiloh instead. Since distance means nothing here I’m able to hear them ask Keith about stopping by the house later. They want to grab some Pokémon Oddish figurines they’d given me over the years. They want to tuck them in my urn so I’ll know, no matter where I am, that they aren’t angry with me.
Oh, God, I’m here — I’m right here!
A bare-boned sigh shatters the space where my heart used to be. It, along with my other organs and skin, have found homes in bodies bound for second chances. I turn back to the Angel of Death. It wasn’t ever about any of them…
Of course not, but doing this has made it so. You gave them your pain. The Sun raged at your selfishness. The Moon wept for your tangled soul. God Himself could not console them — but He sees your soul is clean. He sees you. And so, you are forgiven.
I’m trying to scratch at skin that doesn’t exist, to unleash a wave of sobs meant to wrack a body to pieces… but this space I occupy won’t allow it.
But what about them? A whisper-that-isn’t. Please…
Everything you are feeling? Oh, I promise you, it is worse for them, Azrael’s voice drags in a knowing whisper. You left them with nothing. But it will not be forever.
I didn’t leave any letters. A writer, and I couldn’t find the words. After days of radio silence across my social media and text messages, it just happened. I was sobbing, tearing at my skin because the self-doubt was so strong that simple decisions froze me in panic. I was angry at everything. I was sad because I knew I was losing the fight. I’d lost a lot and was giving up even more. I was exasperated because I couldn’t just shake myself out of it. Everything I was doing for my mental health felt futile. Like the system was laughing at me, setting me up to fail by making me wait weeks, months for the care I needed. Everyone was tip-toeing around me. I’d become a thing, no longer a person. It was an endless cycle.
I couldn’t breathe my way through it. My five senses weren’t having the little mindful meditation exercises or cutesy self-care rituals.
But I was expecting clarity when my fingers wrapped around the butt of my Ruger. I honestly believed I’d put it right back. Every time, without fail, just touching it would send me reeling back into reality. Remind me what a mistake I’d be making.
And now I’m here. And I can’t do anything.
Azrael agreed. This has to run its course. You have to trust they will make better decisions than you. There is no coming back from this, but I suppose I can let you go.
The velocity of what he says slams into me like a tidal wave. To go, I have to make peace. He’s going to let me separate from this nothing-scape into the physical realm.
Azrael is going to let me touch Shi one last time.
The shift between planes hits like vertigo amplified. My head spins; the urge to puke rises. When the twisting and whirling is over I still can’t see or feel my limbs, but they exist in the sense that I no longer feel restrained and suffocated.
It’s more like drifting than walking. I reach Shiloh’s side. My fingers pass over the soft fuzz of their dark brown buzzcut. I touch their shoulder. I burn to wrap my arms around them, but the sheer force of such little contact is too much to take. The crow-like hunch of their body makes them seem small. Childlike. Shi feels me. They duck, then glance over their shoulder. It feels like our eyes meet even though they can’t see me. They smile cautiously. Hopeful. Most would’ve taken these things for an errant breeze skimming over their skin, but not Shiloh. We’re closer than that. Our bond is tighter than the thickest pull of gravity, despite life getting flip-turnt upside down. I’ve shaken them. Rocked them to the core. But death can’t shake what we have… can it?
I’m sorry. I love you. I ache. I burn.
As I become away, I watch myself try to hold onto them. I have never known a pain like this.
The poem, again. But this time in full.
Azrael studies us, silent. I breathe these words as Shiloh frantically tells my husband what happened. I watch him struggle with an answer. Agony swells through my whole being. I move to touch him, to lean into him, but something’s holding me back—a pliant webbing I can’t see. These aren’t things he believes in, so maybe he’s harder for me to reach.
Ain’t that a kick in the head?
Like I said, time doesn’t move here like it does on Earth. In a cruel reverse, these tiny seconds add three more hours to my time in Purgatory. Azrael pulls me back across the plane before I can break through the brickwork of my beloved.
The angel and I are face to face. No words filter through our soul-currents, now. He points to the east, past restless pools and fretful mirrors. A sliver-thin cord of silver and white snakes through the air, alive and active. It reaches further than I can see. Up and out, not down. Not Hell.
But mine’s not like other lines. There’s a myriad of twists and turns along this cord, and it’s littered with kinks and gaps. Suicide guarantees a tricky ascension.
If I climb far enough, will I combust? Will they be free?
I turn to Azrael but he’s gone.
References & Inspiration:
- See a Grown Man Cry/Now Watch Him Die (Henry Rollins; 2.13.61 publications)
- The Fresh-Prince of Bel-Air (NBC Network; airing 1990–1996)
- “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin (featured in Fallout 4)
[This story is not affiliated with or sponsored by any of the above references or backlinks.]