For Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I would share my own personal story of suicide. I have published this on here before, but I’m putting it up again because I think it is important to share these experiences. I got help. I continue to. I’m better now. You can too. I know you can.
I know it was sometime in the winter five years ago that I tried to kill myself.
It happened after a bad fight with an ex-girlfriend. It wasn’t our relationship that drove me to the High Bridge of Saint Paul. Our love had been living on borrowed time, like a ghoulish corpse you resurrect every once in a while to see if you can make it work. It wasn’t my parents, family, or friends. I was loved by all of them. I had a good life. My father and mother had worked hard to provide for me, to allow me to make my own choices in life. It wasn’t just my depression, seasonal depression, or anxiety that made the rushing water look welcoming.
It was the thought of starting over.
I was tired of making mistakes. I was tired of refreshing my life. I was 28 years old. I should have kids. I should have a family. I should have a job and a pension. I should have all those things people post about on Facebook. I should have answers to all the questions my extended family asked me about at Easter or Christmas.
“Where are you working now?”
“When are you getting married?”
“You could get married if you want to.”
“Are you still going to school?”
“Do you want children?”
Instead of answers to these questions, I had another broken road in an apocalyptic wasteland of bad choices. I still had no real home, moving from place to place and renting. I had more stuff jammed into boxes than anywhere else. I recognized dust better than sunlight. I had no future, having wandered through creative writing programs at various institutions like some sort of diction-drunk vagrant.
So when I heard the siren’s call and the urge to end my life, I listened, and drove to the High Bridge in Saint Paul.
Others had this aspiration for the High Bridge and the sediment-wild waters of the Mississippi. I worked at a bank just across the High Bridge for almost four years. More than once, I had been driving to the bank early in the morning and there’d be a galaxy of spinning police lights and star-fire flares blazing on the bridge. They looked like little toy pegs for a Light Bright set. Another suicide had happened. Another tortured soul gliding through the clear air above the flowing river. They’d been that wavering dot trickling down the bridge’s ominous arches.
In the dark when I approached it that night, the bridge looked like an illuminated slab of antique lights and flat river-darkness. Behind me, as I crossed into South Saint Paul, I looked for the final image that I’d leech onto as I parked my car and walked down to the bridge. I turned back to downtown Saint Paul, which looked buzzing, hardened, and meshed with bubbles of streetlights. The fading twilight washed away the developed edge of its buildings, pulling the colors around like an impressionist painting. Every shape looked black, steel-soft, and coursing with streaks of red, yellow, and orange radiance. It looked pulsing and moving, a metropolis saluting the High Bridge as it rose out of its belly like a long lost soldier.
It looked so alive. I hated it.
I watched the bridge for people as I cruised along. I checked for police, walkers, bikers, or anyone else who wasn’t as polarized by the winter cold as I was. Nobody moved along the neat and simple rails dividing the river and bridge. One lone car drifted by me in a wandering wall of headlights. When they passed me on the two-lane bridge I laughed, and said through a few hot tears: “Ha, do you even know you just passed a dead man?”
I’d been crying since I left her house. It was the ugly crying, the one that constricts the muscles between your skin and ribs so you convulse and tremble with every salty wail. It made me sweat too, in warm little claps between the rolls of fat on my stomach and back. Everything was pushing water out of me. The tears knew. They knew my skin would be claimed by the Mississippi. I’d be full of water soon, and there’d be no extra room for the salt in my body.
I parked on a side street with quiet houses and little drifts of snow with solemn white edges. There were lights on in the houses, but nobody moved inside of them. It felt like they were watching me. I turned the car off and cried back in my seat. I remember trying to touch everything I could in the car, like the nerves on the tips of my fingers would tap into something marked happy by memory. This forgotten joy would spring forward and pull me away from the water. The glove compartment, dashboard, doors, seats, I felt everything I could, but nothing hit me.
The road was short and downhill towards the river’s edge. I could walk less than a hundred feet, and find the dark and brambly riverbanks. It’d be ready to spin me down to oblivion. I could also walk past the shore to Smith Ave, and down to the bridge to dive into the air like a wingless bird. I had options. I kept repeating them in my mind. Then, in one sweaty lunge I said, “I’m sorry,” to my steering wheel, and grabbed the door handle.
I slammed the door, and got about ten feet before I heard it.
My dog, a small brown miniature dachshund was scratching at my car’s windows, like someone stuck in a submarine sinking into an abyss.
“Shit,” I said.
I had forgotten about her completely. If I go, she’ll be left here all night in the cold. If I leave my car on she’ll suffocate from exhaust. If I leave the window open for fresh air, someone could steal the car and ditch her out in the cold. My dog’s good for cuddling and sleeping, but not surviving a winter night. I pulled back on the door, sat back inside my car, and rubbed my wet forehead.
“Goddammit,” I said. For a second, I contemplated asking a person inside one of the house’s around us to keep an eye on my car for a second. Some of these people might know me from working at the bank. Maybe they can do me the favor of watching my dog while I die.
I look back at her for a few minutes. She’s in the backseat. She moved forward with her big ears and marble eyes. Her tail is touching the seat beneath her feet. She trusts that I’m not okay. She’s smart.
“Can you be okay here?” I asked. She wags her tail at me slightly though it’s still angled down.
“I mean, you’ve got fur, and it shouldn’t get too cold inside the car,” I said, feeling the window with my hand. The heat had just been off a few minutes. The windows were fogging up from our panicked breaths. It skewed the landscape into distant shapes. Pretty soon the imagery would have us locked in here.
“Okay, well, maybe you will be okay in the cold,” I said. I pulled out my iPhone and started to Google miniature dachshund information. Resiliency to cold, body type, healthy weight, I did a whole investigation. None of it seemed it right, who could trust the sources on the internet? It said dachshunds could survive pretty cold temperatures, but my dog Millie had a hard time walking around when it was below zero for just a few minutes. It wasn’t that cold now, but it would creep into the car and sink in eventually.
It would get her.
“Well, maybe I can throw my coat over you or something,” I said, taking off my grey coat. I threw it at her gently, but she dived beneath it and popped up at me trying to lick my face. I pulled back and huddled against the door. She yipped at me and waged her tail.
“Shut up!” I yelled.
She whined and wobbled back at me in the moonlight.
“Can’t I do anything right,” I said. I rested my forehead on the steering wheel. Millie quickly jumped onto me from the backseat. In a second, she was now on my lap smothering my hidden face with kisses.
“Stop, stop, stop,” I said holding her close to me. She was shaking enough to make my teeth and chin chatter.
Then, in that simple moment of having something love and depend on me, every good memory stocked with laughter, warmth, and light came spinning through my eyes. Family, friends, events in my life appeared. It was like when a scent, sound, or even a song reminds you of a chunk of time that was from the past, but not really gone.
I cried. I cried. I cried harder, until my dog’s shoulder was wet below my face with a slimy mixture of tears and hair.
Years removed, I still cry about my time on the river’s edge. Now, I feel blessed because I went through so much pain it molded me into the person I am today. It made me into a person who now cries for the real reason this story is sad.
There are so many who listen to the siren’s song.
Right until the end.
If you’re suffering from mental illness, there is nothing to be ashamed of by getting help. I have countless times. You are worth it. Click HERE for a link to Suicide Prevention Resources. Be safe. Be well.