When I logged into Facebook, I got an eyeful of alternate history.
“Can’t believe it was 25 years ago today that we graduated!” said the merry message from the “Norwalk High School Class of 1987″ group I belong to. Except I didn’t attend my own graduation. I was in the hospital psych ward, because I’d attempted to kill myself.
The reasons I’d tried to kill myself were embarrassing in retrospect. My girlfriend had broken up with me to go back to her ex-boyfriend, and as a lonely and socially awkward teen, I was convinced that I’d never have another love like that again. So I snuck back to my house and swallowed a handful of pills, then called up some friends to tearfully say goodbye, and lay down on the bed to sink into oblivion.
Everything about that suicide attempt was laughable, in retrospect. I called my friends, and what were they going to do? Support me in this venture? And I’d chosen the pill bottle at random, so what I attempted to overdose on was prescription antihistamines. The ER technicians laughed when they found what I’d done.
Still, I was serious about the death. I think about what had happened if I’d been a little more clinical about the suicide… And today, my parents could be mourning on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day their son killed himself.
And I think of everything I would have missed:
- The joy of performing on stage as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, becoming a sex star in high heels and fishnets, discovering that joy of transformation;
- The thrill of writing a silly humor column for Southern Connecticut State University, and finding that I could make people laugh;
- All the happy silliness of going on local poetry tours and playing gigs with my bands – none of which went anywhere, of course, but the pure delight of hanging with wonderful people aligned towards a common cause turned out to be more lasting than the art we created;
- The incredible honor when Borders Books chose a mere store clerk to head its new software-selling department, because I’d done such a good job selling computer books there they trust me with its new initiative;
- The agonizing challenge of using every one of my skills to try to make software possible in bookstores – I failed, but that was the first time in my life I’d ever poured literally everything I had into a taskgoaland it taught me not to be afraid of failure;
- The breathtakingly wild mountains of Alaska, the windy perfection of Chicago’s urban sprawls, climbing in abandoned castles in Germany, gawking at all the movies in Hollywood, and travelling to a hundred other cities I would never had seen had I shut that door;
- Taking that bold risk of going, “Yes, I love this woman, I’ll drop everything to move to Alaska to be with her,” and knowing that it was a crazy risk but taking a strange pride that yes, I had become the sort of person who would take wild risks;
- That first day I split my hibachi shrimp to my daughters Amy and Erin, the hibachi shrimp I’d always stolen from Uncle Tommy and Mom, realizing that I now loved my two daughters enough to give them the selfish things I’d always craved, and be glad to sacrifice for them;
- The incredible honor of being accepted into the Clarion Workshop, and that first realization that I might be good enough to make it;
- That first professional short story sale to Asimov’s, the magazine I’d always wanted to be published in;
- Signing my membership application to SFWA, knowing that I’d made three short story sales to some of the toughest markets in the country, and had managed a feat that only a handful of writers had been able to do;
- Getting the phone call telling me I was nominated for a Nebula award, an achievement of a lifetime, and then people being very casual in their confidence that I’d be back to get another nomination some day.
- All the friends I’d gather as I moved from place to place – the card-playing misfits at SCSU, my Champions-playing Ann Arbor buddies, the Alaska Magic players, and all the wonderful warm people in Cleveland.
- All the times spent with my family and friends – years spent with Dad, Mom, Tommy, Grammy, Grampop, Gramma, a thousand hugs and smiles and conversations that would have been erased had I dropped into that hole.
There’s a hundred thousand things that I’d never have gotten to see, had I swallowed the right set of pills that day. There’s this ad campaign for gay teens saying, “It gets better,” which helps… But looking back over the last twenty-five years, I’ve had such a wonderous and varied life full of such happiness, that to throw it all away over a broken heart seems like a personal holocaust, burning a quarter-century of life experiences on one bad day.
I want to go back in time and take my seventeen-year-old self’s hand and whisper: “Listen. I know it hurts. But some day, you’re going to be just this lonely and aching, and you’re going to go online to a meeting place… And there, you’ll start to argue with some girl over the tactics the Alliance used to blow up the Death Star. That girl is going to become the love of your life. You will love her so much that you will surpass yourself for her, caught in the throes of a love so gargantuan that you will find yourself changing because you need to in order to keep her happy. And you will grow wise, and strong, and competent, and all of that will only take place if you live. So put down those pills, my friend. Put down that hopelessness, because all of that will disappear if you do that one, irrevocable thing.”
And if I could, I would whisper my story into the ears of every suicide out there, to tell them the truth: there’s more. There’s always more than this.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.