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Pain throbs in every direction. I am encased in agony, trapped in a shell of bandaged layers. Please don’t jump off a bridge. It’s not as efficient and liberating as you might imagine. First there were these two men shouting at me, charging toward me on the ledge. I could have used them six months ago, but then again, I didn’t even know them, and they didn’t even know me. What prompted them to scream at me about the sanctity of life? For all they knew, I could have been a murderer. I could have been running a pyramid scheme. I could have been a pathological liar who had engaged in multiple manipulative and abusive relationships, over and over, without any sense of remorse or consequence, but of course I was none of those people, people who acted in their own self-interest. Battling the infinitesimal bit of self-preservation I still possessed that told me not to move my ballet flats off this very narrow ledge, to choose one side of the limbo and not the unknowable, irreversible other, I looked down. It was windy and the water beneath me beckoned. There was heavy traffic, and cars had slowed down to watch me. My ex-boyfriend D would have told me I was silly to wear ballet flats and a fur coat to jump off a bridge. So melodramatic. Dancing on the edge of the freeway. Interrupting tragic. People had to go to work. Don’t interrupt their commute with your petty depression. Who do you think you are? I thought I was someone, obviously—otherwise, I would have tried to die in private. It would have been very rude after all if I hadn’t gone through with it, if I had made all those people late to work for nothing, if I hadn’t even left them with a traumatic story. Jumping, though, would have left me somewhere else, I reasoned. I didn’t know where but definitely outside of the jurisdiction of earthly morality. Also, I had taken all these expensive high diving classes and had gotten pretty good at it. I thought if I practiced jumping enough times, tumbling through the air, it would be easier the real time, the final time, but I ended up getting stage fright when a crowd started forming and didn’t dive very gracefully; I just waved goodbye to the two men and plunged.
There’s a one-in-two-hundred chance of surviving a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, and it just so happens that I am and always will be lucky.
Now I lie in a dreary room at a rehabilitation center in the country, unable to physically move my body from the neck down. It’s like being decapitated and sewn back together. I call myself the Severed Head. The Floating Mind. The Isolated Brain. Most people would call me crippled or whatever the politically correct term is, but I didn’t have a negative worldview like that. I don’t not define myself by lack. My brain and face were perfectly intact. I could see, smell, cry, hear, and talk, although I don’t speak very often.
Unfortunately, being here, there is not much to stimulate the senses. I have a lovely view of the garden, but after a while it becomes still, as if it were a boring landscape painting I’d been staring at for hours. I instead traverse the material world through my memories. I concentrate very deeply, conjuring it from the recesses of my psyche. I am a Gemini. My mind does not know which way to fly. It takes great fortitude to calm my nerves, to settle on a memory and sink into it. I remind myself that there is nothing to be anxious about anyway because I am not going anywhere.
When I was nine years old, I would often wake in the middle of the night unable to move my body, paralyzed under a bright light in the shape of a man. I burned beneath him, trapped in my mind, imprisoned by my imagination. He would never get up and leave no matter how much I pleaded, so slowly I grew to accept his presence. He was, after all, a product of some part of my subconscious. It was useless and self-loathing to fight him. I had to fall asleep with tranquility, and only then would he disappear, disseminate into stardust. This is called dream paralysis, but it feels very similar to what I am experiencing now.
Before my accident, I had all kinds of nightmares. I’d always be in some hellish room, walls covered in blood, with some boyfriend who shapeshifted into a demon clad in leather chaps. Or I’d be lost at sea on some barge that was too tall. Now that they tell me I’ll never walk again and will be bed-bound for an indeterminate amount of time, my brain no longer frets in these directions. Dreaming is now one of my favorite hobbies. It is like giving angels the wheel. I was in a coma for a few months I guess, and during that time I inadvertently taught myself how to only dream pure thoughts. Now my dreams are as languid and squishy as a whale’s insides. My consciousness is in sync with nature. I understand those animal planet documentaries, the grace that propels each unspeaking creature. I am no longer diseased with the notion of choice, the virus of free will. My world is one long dreamy drive through the country. I am but a passenger.
My doctors have removed all my bandages. I am purple all over, but the doctor says I am healing quite nicely. Inhabiting this new body is very strange. It feels like a costume. I look like some kind of ugly alien, but thankfully, I still have a nice face. It is recommended to dive head first if you truly want to perish, but I couldn’t let myself do that, and anyway, that’s not the way the diving instructor taught me to dive. I hate that the media keeps referring to my dive as a “failed suicide attempt” instead of a “record-breaking high dive.” At least for an amateur, I think I’ve set some kind of record and deserve some credit. And I didn’t fail at committing suicide; I succeeded at not dying. One in two hundred! My family members look at me and cry when I brag about this statistic. It frightens them that I was so close to dying, and they are threatened by my ironclad sense of humor. They see me as tragic and wish for me to feel remorseful and grateful for every moment. They are so pedestrian. They would never have survived a bridge suicide attempt, and they certainly wouldn’t have gotten to keep their faces. They are simply jealous of my cosmic success. Many people have survived jumping off the bridge, but I think I am probably the cutest. Most women who jump die right away, especially if they are skinny. I think it was all those high diving classes I took that allowed me to hit the water at just the right angle, just the right speed, just the right cosmic moment for those men to dredge me up. I also have a rich, famous father. He is very upset with all the publicity I am getting. I get lots of letters from strangers because I was on the news. They interviewed me in here, brought a makeup crew in and filmed me hooked up to all these machines. They asked me why I did it. They asked me if I regretted it. They asked me if I thought building safety nets or barriers would discourage people from jumping. “Duh,” I laughed. “The barriers are only that low because the man who engineered the Golden Gate bridge was 4’10” and wanted to see over the ledge. Isn’t that funny?” They didn’t laugh, but ended up using my quote in their headline “Thousands of preventable suicides happen because Golden Gate bridge engineer had a Napoleon complex.” I killed that interview. It incited public outcry! People had been lobbying for years for the city to do something about all the suicide attempts at the Golden Gate Bridge, but nobody who had lobbied had mycharm, my joie de vivre or at least my father’s money. He agreed to pay for a good part of the construction, not because he cared about the other suicides—he didn’t, he said, “worry about people who threw themselves away like cigarette butts”—but he wanted his name attached to the project. I think they are giving him some kind of plaque. Ironic, since it is I who did all the work. People have very little sympathy for the suicidal, even the people put in charge of talking us out of it. They say, “We all have problems” as though everyone doesn’t know that. People have problems. Suicides have solutions. One simple solution, the only catch is, you can only do it once.
Every morning, before I remember my fate, before I look down at my dead, immovable body, my ritual is to recall the moments of my life with the most adrenaline. Some moments to focus my mania. Once upon a time, I was a wistful shoplifter. I liked the sensation of stealing from IKEA, Zara, Gucci, Ross, Whole Foods, and the dollar store. I didn’t care where I was or what I stole. I didn’t desire anything except that radical, immortal excitement that only comes from breaking the law. Once at a bookstore, I put a large illustrated Edgar Allan Poe collection in my coat. The corners bulged out, forming a point where my right nipple ought to be. As I exited, I made eye contact with the buff security guard, who scanned my entire body with his eyes. I smiled, and he nodded and opened the door for me. I ended up donating the book a few days later to a thrift store. I have always wanted to feel eternal, apart from the mundanity of monetary exchange. I hate spending money; the act of handing it over repulsed me. Cash is completely germ-ridden, and you can never wash it. Just touching it makes me queasy. Spending it is an exchange of filth, and I feel immediately disgusted with any object I have purchased with cash. Most people think stealing is immoral because you are taking something that is not yours, but they never consider how the objects themselves feel about it, how relieved they must feel when they are plucked off the shelves, liberated from the confines of inventory. Imagine how unwanted, how orphaned, they must feel if they are not purchased or stolen, rotting away in cold warehouses. Especially books. They don’t even donate the paperbacks. They just rip the covers off and send them back to the publisher because it’s too expensive to ship the whole book. They strip them as though they didn’t have lives and authors, even though if given the right home, they might be passed around and loved for generations. That’s life, I suppose. Every book has that potential, but some just get decapitated and thrown away like garbage.
I used to love to get high. Cocaine, heroin, crack, ketamine, Xanax. Just get me out of this body. Today I lie here and conjure the sensation of smoking crystal meth. Looking at it alone is spectacular, its radiance engineered to induce just the right amount of mania and inspiration. Flying, especially mentally, is one of my favorite activities. If I ever get out of this body, I hope I go somewhere where I can fly or at least hover among the stars. I hope I become a star. I have always believed getting sucked into a black hole would be the most sublime of deaths, a death that really obliterated you. Spaghettification, they call it, because you end up looking like a long noodle worm.
Unfortunately, because of my past issues, they are very careful to monitor the painkillers they administer, and I cannot get morphine at all. I mean, I barely get enough painkillers to be comfortable. They don’t even give me coffee because they don’t understand why I would want it. The stardust drips very, very slowly, and I must focus very intentionally when it hits. I try to evacuate my mind and think of nothing, so when I feel a tinge different, I may really focus on the sensation and slurp it up. Today, in the middle of my supposed high, right when I was savoring a tiny morsel of tenderness and hope, my ex-boyfriend appeared, ready to ruin my day or, as he puts it, “check in on me.” I guess technically he was still my boyfriend, but I had broken up with him in my head a long time ago, had orchestrated a funeral up there in his honor. It was very elaborate. I didn’t invite his mother.
Of course, in the material world, we still shared an apartment. All of my possessions are still there, though I suppose I don’t really need them. Funny, he used to always call me flighty, and now he’s gotten his wish confirmed. I am finally rooted in one place! “Am I ‘grounded’ and ‘in touch with reality’ enough for you now?” I joked. He put his manipulative palm on my thigh, and I, paralyzed and unable to do anything about it, lay here and watched him cry. I cultivated my best evil stare, really filled my features with rage and death, glared at him with all the hatred I could muster, invoking all the “body language” available to me, but he didn’t even notice; he just looked at the space between my eyes and said, “I love you.”
“I suppose you want to know why I did it,” I told him. “Well, it’s not that interesting. I just saw the wrong movie and got on the wrong medications during the wrong month and the wrong astrological transit. I slipped on a cosmic hair.”
“I have read your suicide note, which is really more of a suicide novel.”
“That’s another thing I wanted to ask you. Did they publish it in the media?”
“No. But someone leaked it to reddit. Your father and I have been trying to get it taken down.”
“What’s the matter? You didn’t think it was well written?”
He scoffed. “How long have you been planning this?”
“I don’t remember. I didn’t give myself a deadline. You can’t rush the creative process.”
“Look, I know you’ve been acting strange lately, taking up all these random hobbies, but it doesn’t look like ‘a cosmic hair’ or a depressing movie. It looks like you wanted to die, and you didn’t care about the people you hurt.”
I couldn’t wave my arms, so I rolled my eyes. “Well, I’m here now.”
“Barely.” he said.
“Am I that horrible that you would rather die than be with me?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
He got up and picked up the gruesome bouquet he had brought—baby’s breath, calla lilies, carnations—those flowers they bring to dead women. He couldn’t even do one thing right. It was as though he walked into the flower store planning to bring flowers to my funeral, and someone had told him I had survived, and he hadn’t bothered to pick out a new arrangement.
People like to make generalizations like “You’re not present” or “You have no direction,” but in the reality of this space–time continuum, there is no linearity; we are all on the same plane in this life, hurtling through space, and it’s only a problem when you cannot accept it and feel you have to fight your path, try to go against your natural proclivities. Astrology teaches how to work with your fate. I, for instance, am made up almost entirely of air. I have an Aquarius stellium. There isn’t an earth placement in my entire chart, no root to hold onto. This gets to be a problem when trying to do things like cross the street. People are always yelling at me when I walk around or drive. They’re not as creative as I am with the way they move about the world. They think that if there is a red light and no other cars around, it’s wrong to go through it because society wants us to obey. They don’t see how irrational and arbitrary that kind of behavior is. They waste valuable seconds staring at a streetlight, watching life go by. Not me! I’ve got places to go. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking made it very easy to jump off that bridge. I’d read about other survivors who and described how hard it is to leap, but I didn’t even hesitate. They also said that they regretted it, which I think I do too because now I’m a quadriplegic. It takes only four second to fall, but that moment is enough to contemplate what you have done, and I’m pretty sure I have more thoughts per second than most people, and I definitely had more thoughts per second in that moment. The truth is it’s not a quick or romantic death at all; it feels incredibly slow, as though someone is rewinding your existence over and over. And you don’t hit the water all at once; you hit it several times, like glass shattering.
For most people, it takes as much effort to work yourself up to ending your life as it does to work on making it better, or at least tolerable. The problem is that people get stuck in a suicidal well sometimes for a few months after they slip on a cosmic hair, and during that time, which feels very hopeless and doomed, people feel trapped in a liminal space with no exit other than obliteration. Someone or something has to guide you back to safety, which doesn’t always happen.
You might be wondering what I mean by “cosmic hair,” but if you don’t believe in astrology, it might not be that interesting. I like astrology for the same reasons people like religion—because it renders you a small spec in the middle of the universe, albeit a unique spec. Except unlike religion, astrology makes total sense. The Bible is like wacky experimental fiction. There is no order. God always gets mad at the people for no reason, and then he just creates great floods to get rid of them and start a new batch of humans, as if they’re weren’t going to be just as terrible as the last. Anyway, the stars were not aligned for me that day for whatever reason, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to fight it. I got fired from a job I didn’t even like, then had a fight with a boyfriend I didn’t ever like. Then I watched several Disney movies, including Dumbo, which really put me over the edge, confronting me with the extent of human cruelty, the inevitability of victimhood, the heartbreaking reality that sweetness invites scorn. Of course those things are all mendable, I see now, but the mind is much worse a prison and a hell than any external torture.
Luckily, I don’t have to worry about any of that now, the dog-eat-dog nature of life, the sadomasochism that propels most human relationships. I am, as D put it, “barely even here.” Pure consciousness. Pure hell. Sorrow permeates every cell. Sorry; the poet in me gets a bit manic with the rhyming. Because I get tired of always talking to myself, I’ve started playing a game where I invent a group of people in my head, each with a different personality, so that I can have other people to talk to. One is me, of course, because I cannot erase her, as much as I have tried. Another is a very pretentious cartoon who speaks only in verse. Then there’s this rugby player who won’t stop hitting on me. There aren’t any women in my group. I tried to invite one in once. She spoiled the game, took all the attention for herself, dominated all the conversations. Why, she simply wouldn’t shut up. She yacked on and on about absolutely nothing. I replaced her with a mansplaining high school English teacher, because there will always be someone who talks too much, and at least he and I had common interests, and besides, the other two men hardly talk at all, although they are very good-looking.
I have lost track of what day it is. I think I have been conscious for two weeks, and they have to monitor me for another two. Asking the nurse for the time no longer serves any purpose. Existence is a cycle of light and dark, hope and fear, pain and relief. I am beginning to grow bored of the unending hell of my own thoughts. Today I asked the one nurse who seems to like me if I could have an audiobook to listen to, and she went down to the hospital library to look for one. She brought back Pride and Prejudice. I never liked Jane Austen because they force-fed her to us in school and because I considered her books elevated dating manuals, but I decided to listen to her because the people in my head had started fighting. I loved the narrator’s voice and finally having someone else’s thoughts in my head. The books had a lot of dialogue, so it was almost like having a conversation. I had become so lonely that I was starting to go a little mad. Soon I finished all of Jane Austen’s books. They were basically the only audiobooks in the library other than some contemporary romance novels. It made me sad every time they ended, but I slept much better. The people in my head left the party, and I didn’t really miss them. The doctors have increased my morphine dose, and I am in much less physical and psychic pain.
I had an instance of sleep paralysis for the first time in years, though this time it was in the shape of a woman, a transparent, luminescent prism. Her body was covered in strange mystical symbols. She didn’t feel threatening or oppressive to me. Her weight on top of me felt like an internal hug, like someone was petting my organs and massaging my skin. She told me to go back to sleep.
When I woke, I was in someone else’s apartment. It was a girly apartment, almost anachronistic. I looked down at my body. My arms and legs were pale and no longer bruised, and it seemed as though I had gained some weight since my accident. I thought I might be dreaming, but I could move my limbs. I felt conscious. I felt alive. I stood up and felt my stomach in knots. I was ambulatory but so nauseous I could barely walk. I crawled to the mirror and stared at the body I was inhabiting. I was blonde, and my face was rounder and not as pretty as I had been before. I was probably only slightly above average. I looked at the nightstand. My vision was blurry, but I could see a note and several empty medication bottles. I read the labels but didn’t recognize any of them other than one antidepressant I had been on as a teenager. I assumed they were sleeping pills because they were only to be taken at night. I had done my research; overdosing wasn’t a good way to go. This woman clearly hadn’t thought this through. High rate of agony, low rate of success. Maybe in a country with a decent healthcare system it wouldn’t be so bad, but it was just plain stupid to overdose as a cry for help in America. I wondered why she wanted to do this. I supposed I could figure that out later. My hands and knees cracked as I crawled on the bathroom tile and lifted the toilet seat. Clear liquid came up, mixed with some powder and what smelled like vodka. I stood up. My bones cracked. My stomach rumbled. I hadn’t heard or felt my body in months. It was gross, but I felt grateful. I lay down on her bed and looked through her phone as I waited for the stomach pain to pass. There was not much in her text messages to detect why she’d come to the conclusion to end her life. Some exchanges with her mother that looked frustrating. A couple of booty calls that she didn’t respond to. Collections agencies for her student loans. I looked through her photos, mostly selfies, photos of nature, some random funny things on the street. I picked up the note and read it aloud:
People may wonder why I would want to take my life. I ask— what life?