From One Survivor to the Next
A scream erupted from my throat, raw and wild, its sound echoing in the room. My eyes snapped open and the overwhelming sensation of my throat tightening overshadowed the fear pumping through my veins. Flinging my body off the mattress and onto the floor, pain dug its claws into my gut ,drawing out a fit of gasps and gagging. My stomach squeezed all it could until a wave of lightheadedness swept over me, the dizziness countering the heaviness settling in my bones.
Once I regained some control over my body, I leaned back against the side of the bed and closed my eyes. The movement of my chest moved in rhythm with my panted breaths as I gasped as much air into my deprived lungs. The coldness of the room’s atmosphere both stung and numbed the burning sensation in my throat with each breath I took. Slowly, my body began to relax, my brain silencing the alarms going off in my head one by one, realizing it wasn’t in danger. Still, the hairs on my neck remained standing, and my hands tremored.
I looked down at my fists and counted my fingers silently, unraveling one at a time. My voice came out weak and dry, each number a staggering breath. When I reached ten, there were no more digits to count. I let out a breath of relief and let my eyes flutter shut. I felt my body slowly start to relax, each nerve loosening one after the other. The shaking subsided enough, allowing my breathing to even out and the burning sensation in my chest to cool, loosening the muscles in my body.
Once calmed, I forced my eyes open and lean my head back. My already blurred vision degraded more as tears welled in my eyes. I whimpered pathetically and looked at the ceiling above me. A name sat on the tip of my tongue but my voice remained caught in my throat, squeezing the trapped syllables and choking me.
“This is the third time in two days,” I whispered hoarsely to myself, the words escaping on the back of my exhaled breath. My lips pulled into a flat line as the meaning of the words set in.
Weakly and slowly, I moved to my legs, holding onto the bedside as they wobbled and shook under me. Slowly and carefully, I made it to the light switch and flipped it on. The change in brightness burned, assaulting my sensitive vision and drawing forward tears. I blinked the water away from my vision and returned back to my bed with a notebook and pencil in hand. I glared at the clutched phone, its painfully bright Google search engine gazing at me, mocking me. My eyebrows furrowed, a scowl emerging.
Before I could realize what I was doing, my thumbs were typing away at the screen. The page turned white and my eyes were directed towards bar slowly worming its way across the screen, loading.
The Cambridge Dictionary page popped up and the word “survivor” sits at the top. Below, the definition refers to it as a person who continues to live and cope after and in spite of experiencing a dangerous event, bad situation, or affliction. It provides examples such as a natural disaster, abuse, and a “mass” tragedy.
I scoffed at the definition. “People understand someone could be a cancer survivor, a survivor of abuse, a survivor of drugs, but what about a survivor of suicide? What happens when someone finds themselves a survivor of this situation? How do they go about it and take on their new role when the script doesn’t say how to play their part? There’s no manual, no script, no anything that provides them with the knowledge to understand the new part of themselves. What then?”
For a few moments, I just sat there, the electronic hum of the tv a soundtrack to the moment. My jaw ticked and my teeth dug into the soft flesh of my lip, chewing agitatedly. I finally sighed and frowned. “I have to do it..” I whispered, my voice cracking. Taking a deep breath, I listened to the pencil’s leaded tip pressing onto the page. Closing my eyes, I listened to the familiar scratching of the pencil scrapping sounded as I let everything out.
To Those who had their Hearts torn out by an Overdose, a Suffocation, a Cut, a Gun
Answer the phone. Ignore the bundles of thorns growing in the pit of your stomach as it illuminates fluorescent, signaling an incoming call at 9:27 P.M., 11:42 P.M., 12:13 A.M. Keep your voice steady when you first speak; there’ll be time for it to crack after the news has been delivered. When they first tell you, you’ll scream, breakdown, and cry all at once. Your heart will freeze and burn , and you won’t understand why. Your cries will warp into pleas, blubbering begging asking them to tell you anything,anything but the truth, and you’ll know it’s the truth because why else would your lungs feel like you’re drowning? Your voice will become hoarse and strained as the seconds tick by. The moment you pause to catch a gasp of air, you’ll freeze. You’ll hear their own stuffy voice, dry and raw. They’ll start to break down and you’ll feel weaker so you hang up mid-sob, dial other numbers and beg each one to tell you it’s not true. “I’m sorry for your loss” will echo over the speaker.
You’ll turn your room into a tomb and your bed into a coffin. Memories, nightmares, dreams of the past, of what the future could’ve been, should’ve been will be all that fills your head. You’ll replay them over and over until you’re screaming in class. Don’t spend your nights reimagining his final moments, envisioning his death. It’ll forever shadow the bright smile you’d fallen for, becoming engraved in your eyelids, an image you’ll relive every time you close your eyes. So you’ll occupy yourself with other things; reading a series a night, diving into the mysteries of the criminal mind, going for late night and early morning walks, sitting on the roof with the thought “What if I jump right now?” But you’ll hide your midnight activities; tuck the book back under your pillow, turn the tv off, slip back in through your window, climb down the ladder before the sun wakes and slink back into the funeral that’s become your darkened room.
You’ll find yourself talking to everything and anything that reminds you of him, asking the same questions and begging for an answer. You’ll ask the walls why he left, ask your cat why he never told you, ask the mirror why you weren’t good enough. You’ll scream it until your voice is no more and you’re staring at a person you don’t recognize anymore. Try not to destroy the mirror. Distorting your image won’t let you see him again. You’ll stop looking for him when it finally sets in that he’s gone, and you’ll turn your attention to the pieces he left behind. You’ll try to put them together like a puzzle, searching and constructing the suicide note he never left. You’ll follow the clues, interrogate everyone you can think of. You’ll find out things that even six years later, you don’t know if the search was worth it. You’ll lose people you thought were friends, develop the fear of letting anyone get too close and wind up isolating yourself.
Your phone will ring and your voicemail will fill. Friends and family will call to talk though they won’t know what to say. They’ll try to be there for you. They’ll try to understand. They’ll try and so will you, but there will be times when they say the wrong things and you’ll bare your fangs, snarling at the outstretched hand warped into a weapon. Remember you didn’t mean it. Remember your body has been in survival mode since that fateful day months ago. Remember it’s okay to hurt. Remember they understand.
In the shower, you’ll turn the water up high until your body is burned, an attempt to forget the feeling of his touch on your skin, but the sensation only worsens. It’ll travel across your skin, the steam the scream you no longer could muster. Don’t stay in too long; the memories will slip in through the cracks and drag you to the floor until you’re coughing up the water you tried drowning in. Through your blurred vision, you’ll catch a glimpse of silver. Don’t dismantle the razor and press it to the snare drum of your wrist. Don’t tear your skin open by the seams though it feels too tight around you. The numbness only lasts so long, and then it all sinks back in. You’ll try to cope by repeating the action again. Don’t. This is an addiction forming, one that will leave you teetering on a beam between life and death. You know if they saw you, they wouldn’t approve of it, but the emptiness they left behind in the hollow auditorium of your chest longs for their presence at one more show.
You’ll go by his house long after they left. You’ll go there when you’re high, when you’re drunk, when you’re somewhere in between. You’ll go there long after the packages of body parts addressed to you have been removed so you’ll search for him. You’ll see pieces of him in everyone you meet, catch glimpses of his smile in the young boy’s eyes, swear you heard his voice in the thunderstorm’s midnight roar, insist you felt his embrace holding you. You’ll go there hoping that maybe if you knock on the door, he will answer and you’ll wake up from this nightmare, but you never make it past the driveway. Your brain is tricking you, trying to guide you out of your deteriorating mindset and into the light. Let it. This is the only way you can save the remaining parts of yourself. You’ll want to return to the person you used to be before your world shifted, but you can’t. Parts of you went up in flames, torched by the match “he died” so you’ll settle for changing how you feel. You’ll fill your lungs with cigarette smoke, trying to feel the suffocation that he did; the smoke ring a noose around your neck. You’ll throw back shots of burning liquid, hoping to burn out the sadness in your bones. You’ll swallow pill after pill, hoping that the colorful substances will remove the gray lens you’re viewing from. Your friends will save you, time and time again. On purpose and without knowing it. You’ll hate them for it, but you’ll love them for it.
Time will pass and you’ll learn to live with the void, but not without him. You’ll still flinch and snap the band around your wrists when you’re reminded. Your skin will still feel uncomfortable to wear. You’ll be tender, but just remember: “Your body is made of the same elements that lionesses are built from. Three-quarters of you is the same kind of water that beat rocks to rubble and wears stones away. Your DNA translates into the same twenty amino acids that wolf genes code for. When you look in the mirror and feel weak, remember, the air you breathe in fuels forest fires capable of destroying everything they touch.”
From One Survivor to the Next
As I hit the last key, I felt the first of many tears break through the dams. I felt the gentle thump as it threw itself onto my cheek, rolling. Slowly, it picked up speed before finally leaping off the curve of my chin. I held my breath as it twisted and twirled and, for at least a second, appeared to fly. For a couple moments, it defied the laws of gravity, cursed Newton’s discovery and stuck a middle finger to the air. My eyes followed its movements as it got closer to the ground until the end, and when it finally landed, I I watched its shattering demise. Its surface rippled from the force of the impact, the sudden action disturbing its frail construction until finally exploding. I looked down at the tear sprawled out and so open, and smiled tiredly, opening the door and releasing the rest, letting them stampede down my cheeks.
As the fragments of the first tear slid across my skin and disappeared, I felt the weight on my shoulders lift. I had done my part. Now it was up to them to continue.