NONFICTION September 13, 2019

Suicide in Second Person

Nonfiction by Julianna Thibodeaux

The phone rings, and because you are writing you debate whether to pick it up—but then you see that it’s your husband, and he so rarely calls you during the day. At first you are glad you answered; you are happy to hear your husband’s voice. But if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have known, for a few more precious hours, that someone you knew, your first cousin by marriage, had killed herself and left her three-year-old daughter motherless.
At first it didn’t make you sad, it made you mad, because you had been through this before except that the last time—just seven months before—the person had been a best friend. One of a very small handful of best friends. The one you called “soul sister” and who had flown out to visit you just months before she did it. And when she visited that last time, you did what you had been doing since you first met twenty years before: you sat at the dining room table and laid your hands on a clear plastic disk and watched it dart around the Angel board, uncovering mysteries and explaining your miseries (you no longer used the Ouija board because sometimes it seemed to carry the messages of dark spirits, and you preferred to avoid those).
That last time the two of you spun the disk you drank, maybe too much, and listened to funk and R&B, music you had listened to since your oldest children were toddlers. That’s when you had first tried the Ouija board and asked questions about future loves because both of you, within months of each other, had divorced your first husbands. No, she did not end up marrying the tall redhead in finance—he didn’t even call her back for a second date. But sometimes a chill pricked your arms because the board had told you, kept telling you, about the “lake man,” and you had met him and married him just as the board said you would.
She may have resented you for that. Maybe you were on the list of reasons she did it—you betrayed her by marrying again, finding new love, this time lasting love; you had more children even though you hadn’t expected to, had given up on the idea, even though one of them died in your womb. And when that happened your friend brought you and your husband your favorite Greek pizza in the hospital, and she cried as she handed it to you, the box still warm, and then she hugged you and fled, fearing your grief or giving you space to grieve, you weren’t sure which.
You had almost lost her once before when she had breast cancer and decided to keep them—they were part of her identity, a large part of it, in fact, you realize now, but when she was in the hospital recovering from her lumpectomy you didn’t bring her pizza because she couldn’t keep anything down—the chemicals bathing her cells rejected everything. Instead, when her treatment ended, you brought her homemade granola. Unlike you she didn’t have a new husband or more children. Her only son lived with his father, so she saw him only every other weekend and on certain holidays. Because she was mostly alone you visited her. Hauled the double stroller out and pushed it up to her house with your two new children.
Soon enough she was working again, dating again, displaying proudly the things that had almost killed her—and you spun the disk again, always you spun the disk; always it assured her that true love was on its way.
When she moved to the West Coast—why not?—you saw her when she flew back to the Midwest to see her son, and sometimes she stayed with you, gifting to your girls jewelry and glittered t-shirts. Still you spun the disk. Still you stayed up drinking, probably too much, dropping pomegranate seeds sizzling into fluted glasses of champagne.
And then you moved, too, but to the East Coast. Still she came—she flew out with gifts and the board, and you spun the disk, always you spun it. The last time you did she was still looking for Mr. Right. She asked your eight-year-old daughter which men to date and which ones to reject, asking her to swipe to the right or left on her dating app. Your daughter laughed that hearty laugh that draws appreciative glances from complete strangers because no one you’ve known laughed with such gusto, except, at times, your friend, who was still waiting for the one the Angel board had promised—the One.
And then he arrived.
He’s the One, she whispered on the phone . . . And then she disappeared into new love and you thought she was happy, but then too much time passed and you wondered.
And then she called—and she wasn’t happy. The two of you debated whether she should ask him to move out, and then it was clear. He needed to go. You advised her to change the locks. More than once you talked to her from the opposite coast on your cellphone outside your daughter’s school when you had arrived early, hoping to steal a few minutes to write. Instead you talked to your friend, and you told her she was strong—stronger than she knew.
And then time passed. You should have called to check on her more than you did, but you didn’t. You told yourself she needed time to heal, but that was a lie. You were preoccupied with your own life, your own troubles. Your own dramas.
When she texted you next you were walking with your husband, looking out from a rock ledge onto the twilit Atlantic Ocean on a June evening, the breeze warm and soft. You didn’t know she was texting from her backyard, clear on the other coast, preparing a ritual drowning of her sorrows, except that she meant this one to be final. Her text said she loved you, and that was all—and this sent a shiver up your back, turned the breeze cold. Your husband said to call her—so you did. Right there from the rock, looking out at a pink sky the color of pomegranate seeds in champagne.
When she promised—you made her promise—that she was OK and that you would talk again the next day, you had a feeling something wasn’t right. But hell, you thought, she just went through a break-up. Just had her dream of true love go all to hell. So the next day you had it in your mind to call but did not—the two of you had gone through so much, she had gone through so much, and she always came out on top. You could only see into the future, imagining her next visit and walks to your ocean, where she would compare it to hers. You saw the board and the disk spinning around telling of your brilliant futures. You imagined the sizzle of pomegranate seeds in champagne.
The next day was your birthday, and you thought she will call because she always did, but she didn’t and you thought it would be rude to call her on your own birthday so you waited another day and then you called—and she didn’t answer. She didn’t call back. She didn’t answer your texts. You thought she was mad—she was like you, very sensitive, and sometimes in her hurt she hid from you—so you gave her the space you thought she needed.
When an entire week had passed and she still didn’t answer, still didn’t return your texts, you called her son and he promised to check on her. And then you waited, again—and then you couldn’t wait any longer. You called him again, and when he answered, this twenty-two-year-old boy you had known since he and your daughter flung sand in each other’s faces told you his mother was dead. Found by neighbors in her backyard. She had died only hours after your phone call from the top of the ledge—except she didn’t jump from a ledge, she took the right number and kind of pills. She was a nurse, so she knew which ones and how many—and she washed it down, maybe with champagne, pomegranate seeds hissing into the glass, but you will never know. All of this happened after you hung up the phone.
And now, because you answered the phone, you have to live through it all again.

So when the phone rang and it was your husband, you knew from the lower register of his voice that he wasn’t calling to shoot the breeze, but you didn’t expect this—you didn’t expect that the young mother you had just seen at your niece’s wedding, smiling and chasing after her three-year-old, who reminded you so much of your youngest daughter when she was that age, would be dead six weeks later. That she would shoot herself in the heart after her husband left for work, her baby at the neighbor’s. That she would repeat her own mother’s exit, except that her own mother had overdosed on drugs. Like your friend, except your friend’s were from a prescription.
And then you started to write because you felt again the anger, the guilt, the disbelief that your friend would hurt herself and you in this way because you are sensitive—you were both sensitive, which is why you spun the disk around the board, to find some sense of safety, to convince yourselves the world was benevolent and there was such a thing as true love. You went through all the phases of grief—you blamed yourself, yes, you did, while others tried to convince you that you were powerless to save her—and it took you months to convince yourself that maybe they were right. Maybe.
Still it took the next December coming and going and your friend not showing up with mermaid-themed gifts for your girls and insisting you take her to the liquor store so she could buy you Veuve Clicquot champagne—into which you could drop pomegranate seeds—to know that she was truly gone. And you were still mad—just a little bit mad—because you would never spin the disk around the board again. You don’t even know what happened to the damn board, imagining it sold for a dollar at the garage sale her relatives probably held, or worse, in the garbage because maybe they thought it was evil. Maybe, even, the board was to blame for putting false notions about true love into her head—the disappointment ultimately being too great for life to continue.
But really you hope she can rest in peace. Her last words to you, as told to you by her son, were written on a piece of paper. They said, “I will see you in the next life.”
And maybe she will. But you don’t know. You just don’t know.

Julianna Thibodeaux is a journalist, art critic, and teacher of writing and art history based in the Boston area. Her writing has earned awards from Glimmer Train Stories and the Society of Professional Journalists and she’s the recipient of numerous individual artists grants. Recent work has appeared in Ruminate, Flash Frontier, and Literary Mama, and she writes regularly for Art New England. She's currently at work on a novel and a collection of short stories.
Julianna Thibodeaux is a journalist, art critic, and teacher of writing and art history based in the Boston area. Her writing has earned awards from Glimmer Train Stories and the Society of Professional Journalists and she’s the recipient of numerous individual artists grants. Recent work has appeared in Ruminate, Flash Frontier, and Literary Mama, and she writes regularly for Art New England. She's currently at work on a novel and a collection of short stories.