Dispatch from the 7th Level of Hell

The report of Fairfax, Va., police officer Tracy Perkins is written in clean, clinical prose: “At approximately 1500 hours on Aug. 29, Katie Meeks, a 19-year-old white Fairfax female, attempted suicide by jumping from the parking structure of the Annandale NOVA campus. Attempt was thwarted by myself and three other Fairfax officers. Subject was taken into custody, processed according to procedure and remanded to a local adult mental facility. A court date to judge her mental stability is set for Aug. 31.”

Katie is my daughter. She is alive today through the heroic action of four Fairfax police officers who literally snatched her from death’s grasp as she attempted to leap from the top of a six-story parking lot onto the concrete pavement below. Just 10 minutes before she made the attempt she had called 911 to leave a verbal suicide note; she told the operator she intended to kill herself by jumping off the ledge and would she “please be sure to tell my mom and dad that I love them.” The operator pinged her phone for a location, alerted the local police station, which is a mere half mile away from the community college campus where she stood, and they responded in record time to save her life.

My life has now officially entered the seventh level of Hell. You see, three years ago tomorrow, on Aug. 31, Torrey, my 31-year-old second son, took his own life by slashing his wrists and cutting his own throat.

Katie and Torrey were close, despite being half-siblings. Their mutual mental illness defined them and bonded them to one another across the width of a continent. In my son, my daughter experienced her future in real time, his suicide snapped something inside her that she has never been able to fully piece back together. The pending anniversary of his death, combined with news that she had just lost her job, catapulted her into the abyss of her own mind where her darker angels swallowed her whole. There would be no escape for her this day.

The pain she felt overrode the laundry list of medication that typically courses though her veins each day; the tools installed through countless hours of therapy failed in swift and horrifying fashion, falling away as easily as a child’s tinker toy tower at the slightest touch. The exit sign read “death” and it beckoned her with a brilliance that was irresistible.

I am now an unwitting member of the most unique of fraternities: a parent that has buried one child and is all but waiting to bury another…

Three years ago I wrote to my colleagues at AMS that we would all agree to a part of a grand experiment, I would pretend that “everything was alright” if they would pretend along with me. I would show up, do my job and there would be no questions asked. If asked “how you doing?” I would say, “things are fine, thanks” and we would all secretly participate in a spectacular lie. That has been my life for three years as I grapple with profound grief on a routine basis. Most days I get by pretty well, others not so much.

And now I have been hurled back in time to the immediate aftermath of Torrey’s death and again I ask for your patience with me. I am short-tempered, ill-mannered and foul-mouthed. Those stumbling into my current orbit would find the atmosphere toxic and stifling. I am emotionally broken on every level and what little remains of my humanity is as brittle as 100-year-old rusted iron, unstable and vulnerable to the slightest torque. And my whole world is nothing but torque right now.

You will not see me for a while. This is for the best, trust me on this. I will still perform my job because that is what I do: I perform. But this big red “S” that I wear under my shirt is growing dangerously tattered and threadbare and so for the sake of everyone, I am staying away. I will return at some point and we will again commence our grand experiment. I will lie and we live in a world of make believe where everything is “just fine” while I silently wait and pray the phone call I most dread never comes…

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