When you put distance between yourself and death, it becomes harder to write about. Not for lack of courage or will to do so, but for the inevitably hazy details that come with trying to recall a face you've only seen once or twice in your lifetime. That brush with mortality fades into obscurity, until it seems that your encounter is a memory belonging to someone else. It is much like standing in a museum, staring at a painting of the scene of your own person hailing death with weak but open arms, ignorant of the impending fallout.
Surely that is not me, you think, squinting at the featureless mask glazed over the mock depiction of your face. Those arms, so weak. They belong to one of lesser constitution.
Yet the more you gaze upon that convergence of the finite facing the immutable, the aspect of that harrowing scene becomes one of unassailable truth, save for one detail: that poor soul in the painting was you, but no longer. The scene was set, the struggle played out, and you survived to stand in front of your own memory in art form. Victory - there is no other word for it.
No thought of victory appeared when I was led to a cold room armored in cinder-blocks in the hours following my first attempted suicide. The pillow was a dirty lump sheathed in plastic. My roommate was a bear of a man who uttered murderous threats in his sleep. It was Halloween, and I had set to haunting myself for a lifetime. What victory lies in this?
Victory did not manifest itself after my second suicide attempt, as I voided my blackened bowels into a bedpan while a nurse blithely stood mere feet away, bored eyes never leaving her clipboard. They were trying to get what I had swallowed to kill myself out of me, and it was working gloriously. All dignity vanished. The room stank of failure and worse. Another strange bed in another frigid room. Is this the reward for my victory, my overcoming death?
I had forced my hand in a matter that did not belong to me. No power had been given to me in choosing my time to go. It was never my time to begin with.
A different scene: four and a half years removed from my first suicidal episode, I sit on the end of a jetty. The tide is low, and normally submerged rocks are upturned in their barnacle-encrusted immodesty. Shrill cries from boys stumbling upon a giant crab in the shallows. Across the sound stand the hulking Olympics, a solemn barrier upon the distant horizon. I have driven by those mountains, stood in their shade. I have walked through these waters. I have taken the ferry across the sound to Kingston, feeling as if I were in a European film. This, this is the painting I want to see. That was this morning. This is that elusive victory.
After moving to Seattle, I never thought I'd try to kill myself a second time. But then, suicide is often accompanied without the faculties of deep thought in its haste to rectify a life no longer worth living, personally speaking. There is no contingency plan, it's a blackout or nothing at all.
When I sought to bleed myself out, I saw nothing past my naked wrists, ripe for carving. Nor did I think about tomorrow as all feeling fled my legs when I stumbled about the ER waiting room. I saw what I thought I had to do, because there was nothing else that could be done.
I didn't see my wedding day. I didn't see my wife walking down the aisle. I didn't see all of my family gathered in one place for the first time in years. Moving into our apartment, setting off down the coast of Oregon for our honeymoon, beginning life together as a married couple.
Would I put down the knives if I saw what the future held? Not only would someone choose to love me, they would surrender their heart to me for all time - and I to them - would I possess the willpower to bring that ghastly scene to an end? A man backed into a corner sees only one way out. I saw my exit.
And now, nearly six months into marriage, I nearly weep at the memory of that cornered man. Don't you see?! There is no corner at all, to your back lies liberation, through those before you that would entangle your spirit lies liberation as well. There is no exit, friend. There are only open doors all about.
I've repainted that scene twice. I've been diagnosed with multiple mental disorders, various medications, met with several therapists. And through all of that, I finally see that victory. None of those burdens succeed in dragging me down, just as my past encounters with death are rendered to a scene I can only stare at in disbelief. I was there, but no longer. My spirit grows stronger as the colors of that painting fade.
I write this post today because I have survived. I no longer entertain thoughts of death. I am in love, and I have a future. You do, too. Never in my wildest dreams did I see my life as it is today. The empty husk of the person I was would have laughed at the bliss of my present self, because he did not believe that such joys were attainable. They are, and they always have been. I do not regret that I emptied myself of all hope, if only to be led to the victory that I was meant to find. That I was meant to live, and live on.
I'll never be able to erase the details of that painting. I can only hope to dull the colors until it becomes a foothold on the path to a full life. There is not enough canvas in the world to depict how I intend to live out my life, in spite of that first frame. There are not enough museums to contain the victories I intend to achieve.
Victory will come to you, too. It belongs to all of us.