The almost-comedy of a failed suicide attempt

Photo via Flickr.com; some rights reserved.
Photo via Flickr.com; some rights reserved.

I should probably mention my suicide attempt. A little background first:

I found out about my husband’s four-year affair on July 22, 2012. Afterward, I stayed awake all night, thinking of what I could do, what I should do, and what I wanted to do. When I came downstairs the next morning to where my husband was sleeping on the sofa, I told him that I was not going to make a decision immediately on divorcing him, but that I would be letting him know my bare minimum conditions for my even considering remaining married to him.

That morning, the first requirements were that he cut all contact with her, change phone numbers, delete his profiles on all social media (they first hooked up via Facebook), and quit two of the three jobs he was working to fend off bankruptcy and foreclosure. One of his excuses for the affair was that he was overworked (by his choice) and feeling unappreciated. I told him we were going to eliminate all excuses for feeling “unappreciated,” and if that sank our financial ship, then we’d sink that motherfucker.

I also said we would have to get marriage counseling and that he should know that I was not going to cover this story up. This was his shame, not mine. I have acted like a woman with integrity. I am free to tell the story of his betrayal to anyone and everyone, as often as I want, as publicly as I want. There aren’t a lot of people “in real life” who I’ve told this to, but I reserved that right.

All of the above was non-negotiable. He quickly agreed to everything. Then I left for work.

I believe it was a week or two before I could get in to check out the marriage counselor and see if I felt comfortable. I did. So we went weekly for about three weeks. During that time period, my husband and I talked about difficult things we should have been talking about all along. I was brutally honest about some critical things I had never broached with him. He finally admitted that he was actually angry — sometimes furious — at me on the many times I had asked him if he was upset about something and he had demurred. There was progress. I was still a wreck, but there were glimmers of hope and change through all the pain and anger.

I also took a huge risk and made myself vulnerable when I resumed our sex life. It helped us connect, though. That skin-to-skin intimacy helped somehow.

So the days rolled around until it was Aug. 27, 2012. We had some unplanned morning sex and then rushed, giggling, to make it to our marriage counseling appointment. We were in separate cars because we were headed to work immediately afterward.

You know how it is sometimes, when you are still all touchy-feely right after sex? I don’t put my hands all over my husband in public, but I was still feeling like petting him. So there we were on the counselor’s sofa, with my arm first over his forearm, then over his shoulder, playing with the back of his hair just a little as we talked. He had recently gotten his hair cut super-short — a change I had always dreaded when he suggested it — and to my surprise I really, really liked it. The top of his head felt plush and velvety soft, like stroking the top of a teddy bear, and he looked more rugged, almost military. So I realized I was being a little handsy and did a quick affectionate brush across the velour-like hair and put my hands back in my lap.

The counselor stopped what she was saying and began to talk about how “dominant” I am. She pointed to how I draped my arm across him and how I “even” had my hand on top of his head briefly.

I was floored, and so was my husband. I tried to explain, but she had already gotten onto a theme that our relationship was too unbalanced, that he needed to be more dominant and I needed to be more willing for him to take some of the reins. (I’ve always been the mover and shaker because that’s my personality; he’s always been passive, because that’s his.) She wasn’t having any of it. She went on and on and on about this.

When we left, I got to the car and was shellshocked. I started sobbing and tried to tell my husband how I felt: I was already shattered about his infidelity, and now this counselor was telling me that the very essence of who I am was a bad thing and that even the way I touched my husband was wrong.

It was the straw that not only broke the camel’s back, it crushed the camel into just a dark smudge on the sand.

My husband was alarmed and tried to soothe me, but I waved him off, got in the car, dried my tears, and drove to work. It was about 30 minutes away. I had to pull over two or three times to blow my nose, dry my eyes and try to quit crying.

All along, I had been going to work every single weekday since the affair had come to light. God knows, I didn’t want to stay home for any reason and be trapped in the house with my own thoughts. That was a month of faithfully showing up and doing my job, day after day, as best I could, despite feeling alternately numb, enraged and griefstricken. But that day when I pulled into the parking lot, still not able to control my tears, the decision to go home was like flipping a switch. I couldn’t have gotten out of that car at all. So I picked up my cellphone and called my team leader to plead illness. I said I was in the parking lot but would have to head home. He assured me it was fine, and that he hoped I felt better soon.

I got home, and it only got worse. I spiraled down into a dark place I hope I never revisit. My thoughts were racing, and I was at first pacing and then almost running around in my house, wringing my hands, and talking to myself out loud while I tried to make sense of my life, my marriage and what that counselor had said about me.

I was so hopeless that it felt like a wash of sweet relief — like a drink of cool water after a long dry run — when I realized that I really did not have to remain alive and continue experiencing such pain.

I could check out any time I liked. And right now seemed like a good time. I didn’t have to hurt anymore.

That was actually kind of a freeing realization.

I realized my younger daughter (14 at the time) would be the first one home from school. So I wrote a letter to her that said I was feeling very, very sick and that she should call her daddy to come home and take care of me. I said my bedroom door would be locked because I was trying to get some sleep, and I didn’t want her to knock, to call through the door to me, or to try to jimmy the lock. Just call her daddy, and tell him to come home RIGHT NOW. I somehow made an awkward transition into writing that I loved her and her sister and that I knew they were both going to be wonderful adults and that I would always be proud of them — and that they should never consider any illness or failing on my part a reflection on them. They were and are the joys of my life.

I put a box outside my bedroom door and placed the note right on top of the box so she couldn’t miss seeing it.

Then I began looking for my daddy’s pistol, an old Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver. I found it in the top of one of our closets. After a little more thinking and rummaging around, I found the box of bullets stashed inside a bag (maybe an old pillowcase?) in the top of another closet.

Then I locked the bedroom door, texted my husband goodbye, turned my phone ringer off, and picked up the pistol. It was empty, and I put my mouth around the end of the barrel, trying to decide how to aim so I would definitely die and not just be maimed.

I could have used our other pistol, a cheap .22 caliber little silver pistol that loaded with a magazine, which my previous husband had given me for protection after we divorced. (He could be a very nice guy sometimes.) But it felt right to use the gun that was more “mine,” the .38 I had grown up shooting and had kept in the room with me when I was a teen and staying alone at home while my mom worked midnight shifts as a nurse.

So I flicked the cylinder out to one side, pulled a bullet out of the box and dropped it in. It went straight through the cylinder to the bedspread. I stared at it for a second. Then I realized the bullets were for the .22, which I couldn’t find.

Too small.

I barked out a laugh, thinking that even my suicide was like an “I Love Lucy” episode. I couldn’t even do THAT right.

Later on, I found out that the .22 was actually in the same bag with the bullets. I missed it somehow, despite rummaging around in there. Although I don’t believe in luck or fate or God, it still feels a little like providence was watching over me.

So there I sat on our bed for a while, my daddy’s pistol in my hands, with my cellphone buzzing continuously as my husband tried frantically to reach me. I had to pee, so I tossed the pistol on the bed and walked into the master bathroom. In there, I saw a steak knife, of all things, on the counter. I think I had used it to trim off part of a plant I had in the bathroom and had just forgotten to remove the knife later.

I stared at that knife for a while, wondering if I could really do it. Then I ran a super-hot bath, because I remember reading that warm water slows down how fast blood will clot in a wound. I wanted to bleed it all out.

I got in the tub with the knife, but then I stood up and put my clothes back on. It had occurred to me that when I died, someone would find me and the police would be called and there would be photos taken of the crime scene. I was NOT going to be this fat, bloody old dead woman marinating in a bloody tub, being passed around a police office. Nope, if I was going to die, I was going to do it with all my clothes on.

So I got back in the tub, with my clothes flapping around me in the hot water, and it was fish-or-cut-bait time. I debated the across-the-wrist cut but remembered from all the crime and forensic shows that I love that it’s more effective to cut deeply along the length of the arm, from the elbow toward the wrist.

Nope, couldn’t do it. I decided to cut across my left wrist.

This was an old, dull, dirty serrated steak knife, remember. It still had a few bits of dirt and leaf debris on the blade. I did a few hesitant sawing motions along the wrist, barely nicking the skin. I pressed it hard into the wrist once but couldn’t bring myself to actually draw the blade across my flesh with that much pressure.

I realized that I was too afraid I would survive, but only with damaged tendons and muscles — crippling my hands and arms.

I sighed. I kind of wanted to laugh, in an exhausted way, at my comically awful suicide attempt by that point.

Meanwhile, my phone kept buzzing and buzzing and buzzing and buzzing.

I finally picked it up and told my husband to relax, that the impulse was over, at least for that day. I wasn’t going to hurt myself.

That’s when I heard someone in our driveway, the blip of a police loudspeaker in my front yard and then a knock at my front door. It was too late. By then, the cops were there. Things were now out of my hands, quite literally.

I later learned that when my husband got the goodbye text and he couldn’t reach me by phone, he panicked because he worked a long distance from home. It was at least a half-hour drive, even with light traffic. No way was he going to make it in time to stop me.

So he dialed 911.

As it turned out, the very nice police officers who came to save me actually included one cop I knew. His daughter had been in the Girl Scout troop I’d been in charge of a few years previously. He later told me that when he heard my address and name come over the police radio that he had leapt up and raced to my house.

I don’t recall whether I called the police then or they called me, but at some point I was still sitting in the tub, talking to my cop-friend and sobbing. He was telling me to put down the gun or the knife and just come let him inside so we could talk. I finally was able to stammer out an agreement.

I don’t know how long it took for me to actually move. It seemed like forever.

But I did. I stood up, sopping wet, and slowly squished and slopped and splashed my way down the long, long flight of stairs. I felt like the Lady of the Lake, rising from the waters ghoulishly. Once downstairs, I unlocked the door, cracked it open slowly and held up my arms. I told them where the gun was. And I sat down at my dining room table, put my head down and wept.

My friend sat beside me and said he knew me, and this kind of desperate action definitely was NOT me. He coaxed me to tell what had brought me to this sorry state. I eventually spat out the dark, rotten black words, that my husband had an affair and that our counselor was finding all the fault with me and that I didn’t want to hurt like this anymore. It felt like I was heaving up a mix of compost and shit and gravel just to put the ugly reality out there. It felt good, like I was digging some inner rot out of me.

My words lingered in the air for a minute, and when he was sure I didn’t have any more things to say, my friend said he knew what that was like. That his wife had carried on an affair with their across-the-street neighbor. That it crushed him, but he survived. And I would too.

We talked a little more, and I gradually calmed, even though I didn’t feel any less desolate. He told me that now he wanted me to go get some help. I nodded and told him that I definitely would — I would call and make an appointment that very day.

He shook his head and said he meant something more urgent than that. He wanted me to immediately check myself into a local psychiatric hospital for evaluation, counseling and my own safety. I told him I wasn’t sure about that.

He said, “… Mmmm … well …”

That’s when the penny dropped for me. “Oh. I don’t have any choice, do I.”

He shook his head.

And I said okay — but could I change out of my wet clothes first? He said sure, as long as someone went upstairs with me. They had removed the pistol by then, and my husband was home. The gun was safely locked in the car trunk for the time being. My husband stayed with me while I changed clothes, and they allowed him to take me to the hospital. My friend-cop reminded me and him that he WOULD call the hospital to make sure I really went. We assured him that we were leaving right then.

And we did.

I didn’t even care for the full-body (and I do mean ALL of me) search they did at the hospital to ensure I wasn’t sneaking in any dangerous contraband. I just stripped, lifted up my boobs and spread my legs so they could see that neither they or I was in any danger except for burning their retinas and mine with my pale naked blobby splendor.

I ended up staying there for 10 days, sans shoelaces and any other safety threats (such as hair dryers with long cords or even eye makeup, since the pressed power is in little metal tins inside the case). Even the shower nozzle was nearly flush with the shower wall, to make it impossible for someone to hang herself there. Toilet paper rolls went into a hole in the all. You couldn’t hang ANYTHING in those rooms. Some books my family brought from home were turned away as not being upbeat enough for someone with depression.

The stay was a little longer than originally planned because my docs there wanted me to stay for a little EMDR therapy (I’ll write more about that someday). I was mostly in bed for the first 3-4 days. I felt like I had icewater or formaldehyde in my veins. I felt like a preserved specimen in a jar, just floating. Being watched. Being inspected.

The shock wore off around day 3 or 4, and that night was the only night that I requested and received a Xanax for the waves of anxiety. I went to some group sessions, and it got easier to tell my ugly truth about my husband’s affair, how devalued I felt, and how broken my life felt.

My family visited me several times while I was there. Most times, my husband arrived with tears in his eyes and left with more on his cheeks. As for me, I was just an obedient inmate who tried not to panic at the thought that I-am-a-prisoner-here–I-am-a-prisoner-here—I-AM-A-PRISONER-HERE. Being numb for a few days felt good, compared to the nightmare I’d been living in for the past month. And after a while, it was also somehow comforting to be among others who had felt the same “fuck this life” despair.

Black humor sometimes ruled. One gal had almost succeeded in killing herself; she remembers coming to when a policeman with shaking hands was unknotting a long cord from where she had wrapped it, digging into the soft flesh of her neck. We were all silent for a moment after she told her story . And I said, “Well, hell, I guess YOU’re why we can’t have our hair driers in here.” She looked at me, saw that I was grinning, and we laughed. Loudly.

Now that whole episode is a part of my life — my obliterated marriage, my suicidal despair, and a 10-day stint in a mental ward with other troubled women and teens — along with all the days that come after that, good or bad.

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