Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.
CAUTION: This post discusses suicide.
CAUTION: This post discusses suicide.
The stirrings of spring awaken the slumbering heart. The heady smells, the warmth and sunshine after a bleak winter, remind us of new life and new chances, poised and fecund and waiting only for us to say yes. Spring can make anything seem possible… or awaken deep longings for the things we do not have.
A cruel Denver winter, snow falling on packed snow for month after month, the daily routine of lifting feet high and crunching down with every step, slipping on the treacherous icy spots, bundling up but never warm enough outside, then retreating inside where it feels suffocatingly hot. And then the first hint of spring comes in strong, as it always does. Driving around Denver with the windows cranked down in our family car, a stick shift VW van, that I became licensed to drive just last year. I feel the warm breeze on my face, the mirror reflects back the edges of my hair that the sun has turned to flames. I am on the verge of adulthood, I’m behind the wheel, and the world is filled with possibility, endless possibility. I am elated and free.
Another Denver winter, no less cruel for its predictability, this time driving to work in a beat-up Rambler with bald tires, purposely skidding against the curb to come to a stop at snow-covered intersections. Then after it breaks down I take refuge from the bitter cold inside a Duncan Donuts, warming hands on the Styrofoam cup of hot water, waiting for my connecting bus to take me the rest of the way to work. The winter is hard and desolate, much as my marriage is starting to feel. But then overnight trees burst into riotous blossoms of pink, yellow and white, and bees buzz around in ecstasy. The heady smells of spring sweep through my body bringing the promise of new life and new hope. But their promises are empty, and two months later I walk out on my marriage for good.
My second marriage is coming to an end. He is good and generous and compassionate; but I am desperate to shed the confines of marriage to explore newly discovered parts of me. It isn’t until the divorce is complete that the sadness comes. He believed he would do anything for me; I wonder if I will ever again find someone who is so good to me; who is so good. I will miss him so much: his funny, enthusiastic, gregarious nature. He tells me REM’s new song “Losing My Religion” symbolizes our dissolution. Suddenly I can’t stand to be inside, so I choose to conceal myself in the crowds at the park. In sunny California the park is teeming with ducks, geese, children chasing the fowl, and parents chasing after the children; it is a glorious spring day. I put on big sunglasses to hide my tears and prevent any eye contact. I walk briskly, the pain coming in waves. A man on a bicycle rides by saying, “Smile! It’s a beautiful day.” I turn to face his retreating back and flip him off. How presumptuous; how dare he suggest that I should smile. He doesn’t know me; he doesn’t know that this morning I found out I’m no longer married. “Fuck off,” I say angrily but quietly as he disappears around the next bend.
My final spring as a park ranger. I have taken an assignment at our headquarters in Olympia, Washington managing an outdoor education grant. I love the job; love working with our advisory committee who represent nonprofits dedicated to environmental stewardship and education; love working with our grant recipients and seeing how they bring environmental awareness and love to children. I am living in an apartment across the street from headquarters, and on weekends drive to Astoria to my own 600 square foot, 100-year-old bungalow. The winter brings record-setting storms, and for a while Astoria is cut off from me and from the rest of the world by massive landslides. With the spring I am itching to make sure my little home has survived the storms, and to retreat to my beloved refuge. But spring surprises us with floods that sweep across the highway and make travel south impossible. I am unable to go home.
Spring comes to Oregon after a wet, gray winter. Sun bursts and stretches without rain lift the spirits. The good weather coaxes me out of my winter hobbit hole to walk my grateful little dog. As we return from a walk we run into my neighbor from two doors down, a pretty woman in her mid 30’s with long hair and a pronounced stoop. We haven’t talked much. I walk alongside her. It feels blissfully warm at 65 degrees, but she has sweat beaded on her forehead. I wonder what her physical condition is, and if walking causes her pain or slows her down. I ask if she might get another cat, feeling badly that her aged cat died a couple months ago. Her answer is vague, then she offers little Mags a dog biscuit fished from her pocket, and we retreat into our respective abodes.
I am at work when I get the news that a young man who is close to my sister’s family had tried to end his life. After being bandaged and released from intensive care, for four days he is hospitalized in a bleak and desolate room that is entirely lacking any of the things that make a person smile or feel hope. The beauty of spring is hidden, one small window looking out at a parking lot. It is not until his final day there that he agrees to start therapy and medication, and promises to not make another attempt at least until his medication kicks in. Will this young man now live in small increments of time, making promises to not hurt himself today, this week, this month? Will those who love him live in those same small increments of time? Will he be willing each time to make that promise? Will he keep his promise? Having suffered extraordinary loss this past autumn and winter, all he can see is his grief and despair and hopelessness. What experience does he have to draw on that might encourage him to hold on, because things may get better?
Two weeks have passed since my neighbor gave Mags a dog biscuit. I get home from work and there are two strangers at her closed door, talking with the landlord. They ask me if I know the woman who lives there (I say only a little), or if I’ve seen her in recent days (I shake my head no). They are worried; they haven’t heard from her, her car is here, and she hasn’t answered her phone.
Today the weather is quintessential Pacific Northwest: raging rain broken up with intermittent sunbreaks. But by evening the sky clears and I can’t resist taking the dog out for a walk. We walk for a long time, savoring the changing colors in the sky, looking around wildly every time a random floral scent wafts up my nose, feeling the cooling breeze on my face. When we return I see several bouquets of flowers propped up against my neighbor’s door. After letting my dog into our home I knock on my landlord’s door. “I’m sorry for bothering you.” I gesture to my neighbor’s door. “I’m worried, do you know what has happened?” Her face becomes rigid with self-control. “We’ve heard a couple different stories. She was depressed. You can figure it out.” My tears surprise me. How close to the surface tears are for me, these past years. I say, “She died.” A brusque nod. “It just goes to show, you can never count on anything. You never know what’s going on with a person.”
I thank her for telling me and go inside. I can imagine that the onset of spring, with its overabundance and garishness might seem obscene and mocking to my neighbor. Too late. Too late to make more of an effort, to reach out, to let her know that she doesn’t need to be alone with her demons. To let her know that no matter the depth of her pain, if she lives there is hope that she can find happiness again; but if she dies that hope dies with her. But when someone is in the depths of despair, how can another’s words of encouragement even touch that? And still I wonder, if I had known, if I had tried, if perhaps I may have said the words she needed to hear, to make the choice to live one more day.
As I breathe in the perfumed air and listen to birds chirp, and watch my cat hunt insects with fervor, I cannot imagine a darkness so deep to shut all this out. But then I see a family taking an evening stroll, and suddenly I cannot breathe. How is it possible to have come so far, and have so little? The spring does not uplift me, rather I want to close the shutters and hide from it. Spring makes us restless, and the restlessness is fickle: one moment it drives us to pursue our dreams, the next it ridicules us for our failures.
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