I hold the blade to my wrist and press. The officers surround my kitchen; I slump down right in the middle of the room. One speaks, in that condescending, disgusted tone I so despise from law enforcement.
“Ma’am. Put down the knife or I’m gonna hafta taser you and you don’t want that, now, do ya?”
In my head I answer, “Use the gun. Please.” Out of my head, I lie down the knife in silence. I’m violently forced onto my stomach, my arms wrenched together behind me as the cuffs are applied.
They’re too tight.
The officers lead me out of my home. The home where I live with my family. With my children. The home I will never see again.
I didn’t know that yet. If I had, I might have fought harder. Or I might have ended everything, because I’d have seen no way past what came next.
That moment was both the end and a new beginning for me. In the last two months, I’d been kicked out of public restrooms all over the city. I’d come to in many of them with broken teeth, and black eyes, and third- degree burns. I’d been fired when my boss arrived at the office to find me unconscious on my office floor. I’d stopped eating. I was turning yellow.
I didn’t know how to ask for help because I didn’t know anyone who’d ever done what I was doing, and it carried an unbearable weight in shame.
My horrible secret.
I’d always been a drunk. I’d tried all sorts of drugs. None of those things embarrassed me, but this? People finding out I’d tried to kill myself with computer duster; that after the first failed attempt, the nothingness it plunged me into kept me coming back for more. And more. And more. Until when all was said and done, I had collected two lawn and leaf bags of used cans in the empty lot next to my house.
Since then, I’ve come to realize that my story is one that should be told. I’ve met parents who have lost beloved children to this thing that ensnared me and I know there are kids out there trying it every day. That I was grown has no bearing, though I admit that chasing a high pretty much known for being a school kid ‘thing’ was a big part of the shame I felt.
And so many people had seen that episode of “Intervention”.
I felt judged.
I forgot my promise to a God I didn’t believe in: that if he got me free from this beast, I’d tour schools and teach them the dangers and the signs and the consequences.
I’d tell kids the ugly part. I’d show the scar on my arm, from when I passed out and leaned on the can in such a way that it kept spraying the freezing chemicals on to my flesh until it was empty. I’d tell them how my whole forearm bubbled up and became necrotic; how I turned white and almost threw up from the pain every time I changed the bandage. I’d show them my missing front tooth. I’d show pictures of the time I blacked my eyes so badly, my whole face turned green as it healed.
I’d show them the quilt my kids made me that Christmas. The one my brother brought to me in treatment, because my ex-husband refused to bring them in person. For five months.
I’d show them my x-rays, and MRIs, and CAT scans. I’d explain how the chemicals sometimes induced seizures. And other times they caused me to hit the ground so fast and so hard that my brain would get knocked around in my skull. And I’d tell them that because of that, my frontal lobe was damaged. I’d lost my ability to think before I speak. I developed a stammer that was most pronounced when I was nervous. I couldn’t read faces anymore. I used to be a skilled communicator, able to speak to crowds with confidence. Now I panicked over the smallest conversation, because not understanding facial cues resulted in inappropriate responses.
I’d tell them how embarrassing it was when people looked at me with pity.
I’d tell them how much it hurt me when people who’d known me thought I was so different, and people who had just met me thought I was weird.
I meant to do all of that, but I was too afraid to get up in front of anybody.
I just quietly went on with my life like it never happened. Except, I had to rebuild. Almost from the ground up. Frontal lobe damage may not sound like much, but it meant having to reinvent myself, because the person I was before was gone. I couldn’t bring her back if I tried.
Believe me, I tried.
I’d always been a big talker. Since that stuff happened, I’ve had to learn to listen. If you have something to tell me, I’ll hear it.
All of it.
Since it happened, I’ve been more compassionate. I can compensate for what I lost, but not everyone has that luxury. That used to frustrate me, but this has taught me to see the person, not the handicap.
I wanted to die that night, and many nights before it. Now, I want to watch my children grow up. I want to hold my grandbabies. And the memory of being so depressed, and numb, and broken that those things didn’t matter is heartbreaking.
This was far from my only mistake in life, but it was the one that came closest to ending me. People ask me what the hell I was thinking. What state of mind must I have been in to get to that place?
I could blame it on lots of stuff; Lord knows I have an arsenal of excuses if anyone does.
I could blame a chaotic, unpredictable, scary childhood with my explosively violent alcoholic father.
I could blame my then-husband; a narcissistic rageaholic who could only build himself up by tearing me down.
I could blame the fact that I hadn’t been able to sleep since my son’s near-fatal lung hemorrhage the year before, or his recent clean bill of health from the pediatric pulmonologist.
The truth is, I don’t know what pushed me over the edge in 2009, beyond the fact that my soul was so sick that I couldn’t see any other way out from under the pain I was feeling.
I know that I had to get that low to begin building myself to be a different person than the one who ended up on that kitchen floor with the knife to her wrist.
And I’m still building her.
So, yeah. I made my mistakes.
But also, my mistakes made me.
I can live with that.