A woman struggles to convince a friend not to commit suicide.
by Vivian Gilbert Zabel
The still quietness soothed my mind and body as I washed the last of the lunch dishes. Both boys napped, for once without a fuss. My husband had gone back to work immediately after eating. My daughter mingled with other first graders in the school a block away. I could finish the dishes and read a few pages in that new book, finally. The shrill call of the phone interrupted my thoughts of escaping into the fantasy world of romance and excitement. Wiping my hands on a towel, I reached for the receiver. The conversation shattered all thoughts of reading.
"Vivian, would you please pick up my kids when you get Rene?" Marge, a friend whose husband had died on the job, asked.
"Sure, any special reason?" I blithely asked.
"I don't want them to find my body." Her voice seemed so lifeless.
"Your body?" What language was she speaking?
"I can't take any more. I have the pills ready. I just don't want the kids to walk in and find me."
I grasped the telephone receiver so tightly my fingers turned white. My mind at first refused to believe what I heard. Marge had retreated from life since the death of her husband two months earlier, trying to escape her grief. But I refused to accept the solution my friend chose.
"Wait, Marge, I don't understand. You can't... I mean you... your kids... Why?" I stuttered in shock. I knew first-hand how devastating the death of someone loved could be. Why hadn’t I seen her considering such a solution?
The nearly monotone voice, not like Marge's at all, answered, "There's nothing left. I can't stand this... this endless pain. Everyone says I'll adapt, that I'll manage, that Rob would want me to go on with my life." A sigh breathed across the line. "But I can't. I just can't. They don't know. You don't know."
"But.. but your children. How can you do this to them? They've lost their father... aren't even used to his being gone. How do you think... oh, my, how will they survive losing their mother, too? Especially..."
"Don't you think I've thought of that over and over and over?" the mechanical voice continued. "I'm not any good to them like I am. They'll be better off without me. Now, will you please pick them up after school?"
"On one condition."
"What? That I talk with a therapist or some holier-than-me preacher?" Marge sneered, changing the thou to me, but with emotion in her voice for the first time.
"No," I sighed, "but if you want me to face your three children, I must be able to say I tried every way I could to change your mind. Facing me is the least you can do."
“I can’t. I won’t.” Again no emotion sounded in her voice.
“Marge, you owe me this much. You’re asking more than... I don’t know if I can...” I could feel tears trying to choke me. “You can at least talk to me, let me talk to you for, what, ten minutes. What harm can that do? Are you afraid I’ll talk you out of killing yourself?” Panic and fear caused me to lose all concern about hurting her feelings. I could live with her anger and hurt, as long as she lived.
“Then come on over.” The disgust and anger in her voice sounded better than the nothingness of before.
“I... I can’t leave. The boys are asleep, and I don’t want them...”
"All right, all right!” she interrupted. “I'll be there in a few minutes, but you won't change my mind."
As I slowly replaced the phone, I silently prayed for a way to help my troubled friend. "Suicide, oh, dear Lord, what can I do?" I whispered as I stumbled into the living room and slumped onto the sofa. "She doesn't think I know, but I do. Oh, I do."
Rubbing a hand over the cover of the family Bible resting on the corner table, my thoughts wandered back to the insanity of a year ago. Insanity was the right word because I nearly lost my mind after the baby died: the dreams every time I slept, dreams of holding the infant, caring for her; the reoccurring shock of loss every time I awoke to find my arms still empty, so achingly empty. No one seemed to understand my torment. I was locked in a never-ending nightmare, one that started a few days before Christmas as I lay in the delivery room at the hospital. I heard the baby, my Regina, cry; I saw her when the doctor lay her on my stomach for a moment; I heard him say, "We have a little one here."
A little one? What did he mean? A nurse whisked my baby out of the room, but she returned quickly, too quickly. "Only three pounds, fifteen ounces," she announced in a near whisper.
"No, no," I moaned. "Something's wrong with my baby."
I tried to muffle my cries, stop the tears, but everything couldn't be all right with my baby, not with her being so small. Sobs still shook my body, tears streamed down my face into the long hair pillowed around my head, when the gurney arrived back in my room. The doctor ordered a hypo before sending one of the nurses to bring my baby to me, telling her to wrap Regina in warm blankets.
To this day, I will always be thankful for that brief visit with my baby girl. I counted her tiny fingers, touched her downy cheek, examined her long lashes, listened to her whimper, watched her chew her fist. I didn't have a camera, but the picture was burned into my heart and my mind.
A few hours later, a nurse stood in my room complaining about having to work overtime because of my baby, while, in the nursery, Regina struggled and lost her fight to live.
A knock on the door brought me back to the present and to the current nightmare. After inviting Marge to sit on the sofa, I dropped into the matching armchair and leaned toward her. Our knees nearly touched, but I couldn't speak. I bit my bottom lip as tears slid down my cheeks. Finally, after wiping my face and nose on a tissue, I cleared my throat.
"Marge, I wish I could reach you, the sane, inner you. You think you're alone, but you really aren't." I shook my head slightly. How could I reach this cold, seemingly unfeeling woman? "One person can't know exactly how another feels, but we can understand to some extent. Please, Marge, let someone help you." I reached across the corner of the table, laying my hand on Marge's arm, as if touching her physically would trigger an inner response.
"What do you know about helping anyone? You have your perfect life, a husband who comes home after work." Her eyes bored into mine, anger and hate in their depths.
"Have you forgotten Regina? I suffered. Maybe I do still have Robert, but you have your children." I wiped my tears away again. "Think of them."
"Maybe you're stonger. I don't know. Maybe you didn't really feel the pain as much. If you had you couldn't sit there and tell me I . . ." Bitterness filled her words.
We argued; I pleaded; she scoffed or ignored what I said; I felt as if the battle had lasted a lifetime. In a way it had: what was left of Marge’s lifetime. Exhaustion weighted my mind, any hope I had. I was losing the battle.
Pursing her lips tightly, Marge rolled her eyes as if to laugh at my efforts. "I've tried. I've listened. Nobody knows the agony, the horrible aching in my chest." When I started to speak, Marge held up a hand to silence me. "No, don't say another word. I..." The clamor of the telephone caused her to pause and glance toward the door to the kitchen where the phone hung.
"Never mind that," I told her. "Whoever is calling will call back."
"Go ahead, answer it. I need to leave, anyway. Please, remember your promise. I'll call my mother after I get back to the house and ask her to pick up the kids here, later."
"I'm not finished. You can't leave yet, please, please, don't leave yet," I begged, leaning forward in the chair as if my intensity could influence the other woman. "Wait at least until I tell the person on the phone that I'll call back. Don't leave yet, please."
"Okay, answer the phone. I guess a few minutes more won't matter."
I hurried to the kitchen to stop the jarring ring. Soon, frustration swamped me as my mother continued chattering for several minutes after I explained I couldn't talk.
"Mother, I'm sorry, but I must hang up. I really can't visit. I'm in the middle of an emergency. I can't give any details, but, please, pray that God will give me wisdom."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize... I'll talk to you later, and I'll be praying."
When I reentered the living room, Marge looked up from a handful of multi-colored sheets of paper. The opened Bible on the table revealed more sheets of blue, pink, and green. Tears streaked the gaunt woman's face.
Pointing to the words on the top page in her hand, Marge sobbed, "You do understand. You...you really do understand. You have it.. all written right... here." Motioning toward the other sheets still on the open Bible, she continued, "Page after page. How did you... you survive the desolation?"
After a sniff, she read aloud from the sheet in her hand, "I can't stand this. I'm going crazy. I dreamed about Regina again. I held her. She snuggled in my arms. Finally they felt so right, so full. No one told me how empty arms could hurt, really hurt, matching the horrible pain in my chest." She looked into my face. "You know."
Blowing my breath in a silent whistle, I sank to the sofa beside my friend. "I had forgotten those were in the Bible."
"I, uh, I didn't mean to be nosy, but I saw colored papers sticking out, and... well, I found these."
Handing Marge several tissues, I started my story. "Those pages saved my sanity after Regina died. I was afraid to sleep. I told you how I dreamed of her being alive, caring for her, holding her. Then when I awoke, I couldn't stand the reality that she was gone." I took a tissue for myself before continuing.
"I had a new pad of that colored stationery. One night after a particularly realistic dream and devastating awakening, I started writing the dreams, the feelings of disorientation, the thought of going crazy, everything. As I finished a sheet, I placed it in the Bible. After that, every time I awoke from one of those dreams, I wrote." I sighed as I briefly paused. Taking a deep breath, I added, "Before too many weeks, the dreams came farther and farther apart, and I wrote less and less." I nodded toward the papers. "You've read some of the results of my struggle to stay sane."
Marge bowed her head and wiped her eyes again. "Now I know I'm not really alone. You put into words what I've been feeling."
"At least my experience helps you." I smiled wanly. "My mother always said God could use even the worst of things for His good if we allowed Him to. Well, I guess He gave me the idea to write so that I could cope; now, He's used those colored pages of despair to help you."
"Whew." After a time of healing tears, Marge shivered. "I, uh, I can't believe...I almost..." Stopping, she covered her face with trembling hands. "Yes, what you wrote helped, more than I can explain. Maybe later I'll even listen when you tell me about your God." Lowering her hands, she smiled a small, sad, but real smile. "Thank you." She stood and touched me on the shoulder. "I need to go home and wait for my children."
I watched her walk from my door to her car, her head lifted higher than when she had arrived. I returned to the living room, replacing the pastel pages in the Bible, gently touching some of the new tear stains.
The pages still reside in the Bible, thirty-five years after they were written, with two photos of a tiny baby dressed in a pink gown, lying in a white casket. When I wrote through my heartbreak, searching for sanity all those years ago, I never thought the words would ever mean anything to anyone but me. I also didn't know the pain could, and would, last so long.
Word count: 2159