Home > Let Her Be

Let Her Be
Author: Lisa Unger


I move briskly down Second Avenue in the crisp autumn afternoon. The city hums, and the leaves are turning. My body pulses, my senses on high, taking it all in. The car horns, the chatter of people on their phones, pretty women striding to and from this and that, the aroma from Veselka, the church bells from St. Mark’s, even my own footfalls. It’s only recently that I’ve realized how precious is the mundane, the day-to-day.

In fact, the sad truth is that I didn’t understand a thing about life until mine was spilling, black-red, onto the white tile of my bathroom floor. Maybe no one does. Maybe we can’t grasp the gift—the crazy, mixed bag of tricks—until it is being wrested from us. My shrink says that most of his patients who survive a suicide attempt report a moment of clarity, that there’s deep regret, a clawing back toward the light. I’m here to tell you that it’s true. You cling at the end, realizing too late the blessing of it all, even the pain.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been one for half measures, or for leaving myself an escape hatch. I’m all in. So by the time I realized my mistake, it was too late.

I turn onto St. Mark’s Place, where there’s a sudden quiet from veering off the avenue. Trees, pretty stoops, plants in window boxes. Closer to Broadway, this street is a circus of shops and cafés, but as you head east, it takes on a quaintness that I love. To think I might never have walked the city again.

Most men shoot themselves, from what I understand. But I don’t have a gun, and like many urban millennials of privilege, I had no idea how to even get one. Online? A gun shop uptown? What kind of gun might I need? Too much. Also, it seemed a little distasteful—loud, so goddamned inconsiderate. I mean—my parents.

Or they jump. Buildings, bridges, cliffs, I guess. Certainly there are plenty of iconic places in Manhattan to do the deed in a spectacular final leap, to make a gruesome point with my untimely death. But truth be told, I’m a bit of a wuss. That final step—the vertiginous spin, the anticipation of impact—can you imagine?

A straight razor was easy enough to come by. A good one can be found online for about sixty-five bucks. No permits or background checks. It’s a hipster thing, apparently. You can get a straight razor, a badger-hair brush for shaving cream, all the cool accoutrements for the old-school shave.

Sharpness is key. Razor sharp, literally. Then, a long cut from the middle of the forearm to the wrist, deep, fast. Horizontal across the wrist is a cry for help. Vertical is for real.

It’s amazing how fast life drains, how the light around you dims, and that indefinable force that keeps you moving, striving, wanting, loving—it just slips away. A shade. A trick of light.

By the time the regret set in, I was immobile in the warm tub, my body limp, all strength gone. In those final moments, I thought of my mother, the novel I was almost finished writing, my childhood dog. I thought of writers’ retreats and children I’d never have, of martinis on balconies in European cities I wouldn’t visit, and the sound of a fireplace crackling inside while snow falls outside.

And I thought of what it felt like to love her.

That feeling—nothing to do with her or with me really. That miraculous lift of the heart, that buzzing in the brain that is wild, romantic love. If I’d lived, I thought in the waning light, if I could have just found a way to let her go, I might one day feel that feeling again.

And that’s when Anisa burst through the bathroom door, face pale, phone in her manicured hand. She wore that black coat I like, the one that ties at the waist. I think. The details are blurry. The whole thing felt like a dream at the time, and it feels even more like one now.

911. What’s your emergency? I heard the voice, tinny on the air.

My fr-friend. She stumbled over the word, and rightly so. I had never been a good friend to her. I was a shitty boyfriend. A worse ex. My friend, he—she gulped back a sob—slit his wrists. Oh God. There’s so much blood. She started crying. There was someone with her, someone who pulled her back from the pool of blood and bathwater on the floor.

Who was that? He stayed in the shadows.

Was it him? The new man in her life?

The memory brings an unwelcome rush of anger, darkens my mood. Dr. Black tells me to focus on my breath when this happens, to examine the anger. Why are you so angry? What story are you telling yourself? Then release it. Let the feelings, the thoughts, pass like ships on a river. I do that. It works sometimes.

And so, today, by the time I get to the café, the rush of feeling has faded. I stop at the entrance and hold the door for an elderly woman exiting. I gaze past her, looking for my friend Emily. Maybe I’m early.

But thoughts have a life of their own, don’t they? They’re not always ships on a river. Sometimes they’re gremlins.

As I’m searching for Emily, still holding the door, a young mother pushes a weeping toddler by in his stroller—his face a mask of unhappiness, wet with copious tears. And his sobs remind me of Anisa crying. Which, sadly, became a familiar echo in our final weeks. I made her cry a lot as our relationship entered its death spiral.

Once, I made her scream. Just stop, Will, she shrieked. You’re hurting me.

I still search for the details of that now-distant evening, as Dr. Black encourages me to do. What did I say? Why was I so angry? Did I get physical with her?

But all I can remember is the fear on her face, the dread and despair in her voice. I have no memory of myself in that moment at all. I wish I could recall, because that’s the last time we were together, before my suicide attempt.

All I know for certain is that the authorities were called that evening.

Not to save me from myself.

But to save Anisa from the man I became in that moment.

I remember afterward, though. The long, miserable hours in a city holding cell—wow, talk about how the other half lives. Before that very long night, I’d never met a person who thought it was a good idea to tattoo his whole face. My father bailed me out, looking old and confused. What happened, son?

Apparently, assault was on the table. Stalking. Anisa didn’t press charges, but she took out a restraining order against me.

That’s when I knew for sure that it was over between us. And this world? Without her? No thanks.

But when I called her, even after the horrible things I did and said, she came. Anisa, I told her voice mail before I put the razor to my skin, I’m sorry. I can’t do this without you. I just wanted to say goodbye.

Pathetic, I know. Downright maudlin. But that’s what I was, a suicide cliché.

She saved my life. I hadn’t been a good friend to her. But in the end, she was a good friend to me.

I slip into the warmth of the café, unwrap my scarf.

My phone pings in my pocket; I pull it out to look. My mom. Understandably, she worries. Hope you’re taking care of yourself, sweetie. We love you.

When someone’s life really goes badly—drugs, suicide attempts, breakdowns—everyone looks at mom and dad. What did they do wrong? How did they fuck up? But don’t blame my parents. They are kind people who love me well and always have. They were there, covering the bills and taking turns sleeping in the chair by my bed. After the acute crisis had passed, there were six weeks in a psychiatric hospital upstate, and that wasn’t cheap. They stayed in a vacation rental nearby, but they didn’t hover. They came in for the family sessions, but otherwise they let me work my shit out with the doctors. There was some detox; I’d been drinking too much.

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