Home > Girl on the Line

Girl on the Line
Author: Faith Gardner


Part


One

 

 

Past


I imagined suicide would be simple: a bottle of pills swallowed on a sunny afternoon, lying alone in the lakeside grass, staring up at the shifting shapes of clouds against a sky as blue as a heartbreaker’s eyes. I imagined the sound of the leaves in the oak trees whispering goodbye in a language I didn’t speak, my pulse and my pain slowing to a stop. My body slackening, my eyes fluttering shut, something like the classic reprinted painting I had hung in my room, Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais, dead in a brook, surrounded by greenery, covered in flowers.

I hadn’t imagined the cold of the October day, the way the dry brown grasses scratched rough against my neck as I lay down, the sky gaping back cloudless and pale. I hadn’t imagined there would be ants everywhere and the vague smell of dog shit wafting from the brush, or that I would forget a pen to write a note to leave behind. I hadn’t imagined that I would forget to bring water, too, the way my dry throat would hurt from so many pills chafing on the way down, the excruciating minutes that ticked by where nothing happened, or how I sobbed, envisioning my family weeping at the news. I hadn’t imagined dying in regret and uncertainty in thirsty grasses, no flowers in sight, only empty Bud Light cans from someone else’s party. I hadn’t imagined it would feel like the furthest thing from Ophelia. I hadn’t imagined the internal thunder of nausea that rolled in, the deafening ear ringing, my stomach like someone holding a drill to it, the vomiting of bitter pills shrunken and softened by my own body. I hadn’t imagined I’d have to swallow them again as they heaved up, that it would taste so disgusting, that all I would hear would be an everlasting earsplitting bell as I lost consciousness.

And I never, ever would have imagined my last thought before the darkness closed upon me like a book shutting would be, Please don’t let me die.

It was July. I lay on a trampoline next to Jonah in his backyard; his parents were out of town. The night started when the sun and moon were trading shifts. I brought my Edna St. Vincent Millay book. We took turns reading aloud.

Am I kin to Sorrow?

Are we kin?

That so oft upon my door—

Oh, come in!

Nothing turns me on like poetry read aloud. So soon our clothes were half off, our breath shallow, sweat cooling on my face, the hot night air feeling like not enough, never enough, in the best way. His hand was on my hand. My gaze was up to where the stars swam in a black, forever sea. Dark shapes of leaves seemed to shiver our names. Life moved through me, wild, alive. I was so in love it was a scream and not a feeling. Jonah and I were eternal in that moment. We were in the eye of that hot summer night. I could feel his pulse in our grasped hands and it could have been my own.

“I want all of life to be like this,” I said.

“Journey,” he told me. “It can’t.”

I knew he was right and yet I still didn’t believe him.

I wrote a note to myself that night in the back of the Edna St. Vincent Millay book.

Dear future self,

When you get sad, don’t forget the night you lay under the stars with Jonah Patterson. The way the air smelled, like honeysuckle blossoms. The warmth of him. The way the atmosphere darkened so gradually you barely noticed until it was night.

If you could look at a graph of my life, at the events and resulting moods that shaped it up until my suicide attempt, it would resemble a jagged mountaintop. Sharp peaks drop gut-wrenchingly into valleys. No plateaus. But is that a negative thing? Sometimes it’s been heart-burstingly wonderful. My love can swallow the whole world. My sadness can eclipse it.

It’s always been that way, since I was a kid. My parents called them “big feelings.” I threw epic tantrums when I didn’t get my way, screamed loud enough to wake the neighbors, bawled at sad movies. But I was also funny and made people laugh. I loved art and singing. My little sisters followed me everywhere and hung on my every word.

“When you walk into a room,” my dad’s always told me, “the sun rises.”

Do you still feel that way, Dad, as you sit with me in this fluorescent white hospital room with a wet face, your chin in your hands? As Mom paces the linoleum floor in her running shoes, squeaksqueaksqueak, and asks me again why, why did I do it? I can’t answer. Not just because I don’t know, but because my throat is rubbed raw from where the tube went down so they could pump my stomach this morning. Out the water-flecked window, it’s raining, a rarity in Southern California. Good. The world should be raining when I feel this way—like my entire body, my whole being, is one giant ache. I don’t even have it in me to weep, though the want is there. I’m a shell, pumped clean and empty.

“Why, Journey? Just tell me why,” Mom repeats, standing in front of the window so I’ll look at her. Her bottle-red hair’s a cloud around her head, her signature smoky eyeliner’s not there, she’s wearing exercise clothes like she raced from the gym. She doesn’t even look like my mother right now.

I close my eyes, thinking, I am such a screwup I can’t even die properly. I remember how I panicked when the black curtain pulled itself over my eyes yesterday and I thought I was dying. Then suddenly I didn’t want to die. I make no goddamn sense.

“Stop asking her that,” Dad says. “If you can’t compose yourself, go take a walk around the block.”

My dad’s still wearing his badge from work that has a smiling picture of himself with much shorter hair on it and says “Seth Smith, Guidance Counselor.” He’s wearing the same shirt now as he is in the picture—a dorky Hawaiian number with flamingos on it.

“Compose myself?” Mom asks him, hand on hip. “Like you, you mean, sitting there in silence?”

Dad points to his tear-wet face. “What do you think these are?”

“I don’t know, your cheeks?” Mom says.

“I’ve been crying my eyes out,” Dad says.

“You want a Parent of the Year trophy?”

My dad stands up, grabs his pork pie hat.

“I’m sorry,” Mom tells him. “I’m—stressed. And hangry. My blood sugar—”

“I’m going to sample the scenery” is all he says before walking out the door.

Sample the scenery is a classic Dad euphemism. It means he’s pissed and he’s going for a walk. Just like when he snores on the couch and claims he’s deeply meditating.

I close my eyes, pretend to sleep, while Mom sighs. “This is what he does,” she says, to no one in particular. “This is what we do.”

This is the first time my parents have lingered in the same room since the family meeting ten months ago when they broke the news of their separation to me and my two sisters, Ruby and Stevie. The Christmas tree was still up; tinsel shrapnel littered the floor. My sisters’ tear-sparkly eyes matched the tinsel.

“We’ll always love each other. This doesn’t mean we’re any less of a family,” Mom had said, her eye shadow suspiciously blue, her outfit showing a bit too much cleavage. Like she was already relishing the thought of singlehood.

“We’ll still be the best of friends,” Dad had said then, reaching over the coffee table to pat Mom’s ringless hand.

Now Mom slides a stool next to me and takes my hand. She kisses it. My mom has the loveliest eyes—pale gold, an almost impossible color. Right now, though, they are cried tiny, crusted with yesterday’s mascara.

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