Savannah Morning News column, March 30, 2014
Suicide: never easy.
Did I know she was a cheerleader, a hottie, a smarty-pants? No. No idea. Did I know her as a traveler – to Chile, to Morocco, to Patagonia or Hungary? Negative. Did I know she was a reader and sometimes smoked cigarettes and loved spas? Not really.
Did I know her?
I knew her as much as you can know anyone you see three or four times a week on a certain corner, at a certain coffee shop, in a certain small town called Savannah. I knew to want to hug her at a New Year’s Eve party and to mean it, to bend down to pet her low-to-the-ground dog and to hold the leash while she went inside to get a cup of coffee. I knew her dress style enough to kid about her dress-for-success outfits and to say, “Must be a work day, eh?” or maybe, “Got an interview?”
I knew her car.
I knew her smile.
I knew enough to wonder, while we were both coming and going, stopping and starting, fishing and wishing, how the job hunt was coming. Ah, the job hunt question. That’s like asking how someone’s book project is going or their work on a painting. Bad form but you can’t help yourself. You want to know but you don’t want to ask; you don’t want to jinx it. You’ll find out soon enough, right?
I knew she liked pencils and lingerie and purses. I knew she was from Hawaii and went to school in Minnesota, so I wasn’t surprised to hear about the night of her first snowfall, how she made snow angels, how the blanket of silence from snow must have draped around her.
I knew she wasn’t doing what she expected to be doing, but that’s true for a lot of people, right?
I didn’t know she was facing bankruptcy.
I didn’t know that in her misery, in her distress, in her suffering, she would steal away, furtively, stealthily, telling a few friends she was going one place before changing course and going somewhere else. No one knew she had left town with purpose: to take her life. If anyone had a clue, all the friends who came later from Oregon, California, Tennessee, Germany, New York to be together last week, in town, at the coffee shop, at the beach, to mourn, to cry, to tell stories, well, few were saying they knew this would happen. Bad form.
The trouble with suicide is it’s just so darn final. It makes mincemeat out of hope. It buries the possibility of change. Maybe if she had taken the right yoga class this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if the perfect job in law had come around she could have dug out of the hole. Maybe if something she read in all those books in her apartment had spoken to her, really spoken, she’d be on another path.
Maybe if she had reread a hand-written inscription from a friend in a Dr. Seuss children’s book I snagged, “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” things would be different. It read, “No matter how dark and impossible things may seem, always remember that we are lucky! Lucky to be blessed with good health and good friends.”
For people who knew her she’ll never be a statistic. She’ll always be Esther.
But for the statisticians her death follows a horrific trend, which is that more people die from suicide than homicide. And those numbers don’t count the people who are shielded from that definition by family members or friends. In 2009 there were roughly 36,500 suicides in the U.S. Homicides in that same year numbered 16,500. We kill ourselves more than we kill each other.
There’s something terribly wrong with that.
But there’s something really wonderful about all the people who in her death came to remember, to laugh, to try to make sense of what was and what could have been. She left her mark – on new friends, on old friends. Of that, I think she would be pleased.