This letter was originally written for dearteenme.com, which is an incredible read and well worth checking out. However, after some consideration, I've decided it might be better to post it here, instead. The letter is written from my current self to my teen self.
This letter is not for the faint of heart.
Dear Teen Me,
On an otherwise ordinary Sunday near the end of your teen years, you will write a suicide note. You'll wonder why they call it nothing more than a "note," since it is the most honest and difficult thing you've ever written. As you write it, you'll think about the many nights you spent alone in the darkness, coming to the conclusion that there was only one way to escape your shame. You'll think of similar notes you've written over the years, whenever you felt like you couldn't carry the burdens of a wicked world any longer. But tonight is different. Tonight, rather than bemoaning the miseries of your life and then deciding to endure for one more day, you are going to kill yourself. You find yourself wondering if anyone will say, after they find you tomorrow, "I knew something was wrong. Why didn't I speak to her?" You want to tell them, so badly, how much you're suffering, but good girls don't feel the way you do. Good girls would rather die than feel the feelings that are stirring in you now.
That is why you will start to write the most honest letter of your life, and by the end of it, you will be lying again, pretending that this tragic moment is all about who will get your stuffed animals, and who will read to your little brothers. Even your last words cannot be honest about the devil that lives inside you, the abominable thing that will drive you to commit the greatest sin of all. But even dying in sin seems preferable to living with the shame you feel now.
You will exhibit no warning signs; at this point in life, you don't even know that suicides often have warning signs – giving your most precious things to people you care about, sharing your note with someone you secretly hope will help you, hinting to others that you have come to terms with your life and are preparing to let it go. There will be no singular event that leads to the decision, on one of many nights in which you have stood naked before your bedroom mirror, a kitchen knife in your hand, that tonight will be the night you follow through with the destructive urge you feel every single day. It will simply be time, and being thus, you will set down the knife so that you can write your goodbyes to those who you strongly believe should feel no guilt or responsibility for what you are about to do. You will write to your closest friends to give them reassurances that you know they cared, to your parents to tell them that you were grateful for their love (the first of many lies you will write before the end), and especially to your brothers, who by then feel like they are your own children. You feel the most guilt at abandoning them, but aren't they better off being cared for and guided by someone who is less selfish, and less horrible, than you?
When you are done, you will set the suicide note by your bed, and then you will quietly return to the kitchen, passing by the only other room with a light on at one in the morning. It's the light to your father's office, spilling out under the closed door. You are both denizens on the night, often keeping each other company without saying a word. Tonight, you hesitate by that door. But what will change if you open it? In the religion that you have been raised in, men do not talk about the things you need to talk to your dad about, and, indeed, your father has proven to be downright terrified of discussing anything with his daughter. He has successfully avoided your efforts to reach out to him time and again and you see no reason why tonight would be any different. So you leave him to his comfortable role as the distant father figure and continue on your way.
In the kitchen, you trade your knife, which is a very dramatic display piece for someone contemplating death, for a more practical method of accomplishing your goal. Overdosing on medication is the only way you can think of to do this deed without causing yourself physical pain. You're a wussy who hates even being pinched, and while this is embarrassing for a girl with five brothers who like to wrestle each other to the ground as a means of saying "Hey, there!" it will be your most precious resource tonight, because it leads you to choose the least painful-sounding, and, it turns out, least-threatening means of ending your life. The bottle of pain pills is almost empty and there are no prescription medications kept in the kitchen cupboard. Your only option, unless you want to pick up that knife again, is a three-quarters full bottle of liquid Children's Tylenol. This will be the one time in life that ignorance saves you, for you assume that bottle of tame liquid will have the same effect as a pile of pills would.
You return to your bedroom, passing your father's office again, and then the door to your parents' bedroom, where your mother is fast asleep. It does not even occur to you to stop by that door. The last time you confided sacrilegious feelings to your mother (through a fictional story you wrote about about a teenage girl being raped by a boy she wanted to be raped by), she told you that if you kept writing stories like that one, she would never read your work again. Indeed, she never does read another word you've written, though that will be because you have realized she doesn't understand a word of it, and therefore there is no point in letting her read it in the first place.
Had someone asked you that night why you were contemplating suicide, you would not have been able to tell them. Words like shame, failure, humiliation, anger, worthlessness, and loneliness would have flitted through your mind, but you wouldn't have given them time to roost, because you did not want to think about them. Thinking might lead, after all, to feeling the deep, raw pain that you were running away from, and you would have to feel that pain alone, because you had discovered, time and time again, that no one else wanted to feel it with you.
As you sit down on your bed, the bottle resting in your lap, you think back, in spite of your attempts to think of nothing at all, to the testimony meeting earlier that afternoon. It was the first Sunday of the month, and as a devout Mormon, you fasted through the day so that you would be closer to the spirit when church began. During the meeting, the pulpit was left open, so that those who were inspired by the spirit could rise from the congregation and bear their testimonies that the church was true and talk about how God had blessed them because of their faith in His plan. You sat through the meeting with head ducked down, soaking in the testimonies of others until you felt so overwhelmed by the fervor of their faith that you had to get up yourself.
You walked slowly up to the front, aware that every eye was now on you. You had no idea what you were going to say; all you knew was that it was important. When you reached the pulpit, you had to adjust the microphone to reach it. Then you leaned into the mouthpiece, and looking into the audience with tearful eyes, you apologized. In time, the exact words you used will be forgotten, but you will always recall with startling clarity that sensation of begging the whole of the congregation in front of you to hear your small, pleading voice, just this once. You confessed that you were a sinner. You said that you must have done them wrong. Somewhere, somehow, you must have offended them. (Why else couldn't they see what was going on? Why else would they turn their cheek to you, when you needed them to look you in the eye?) You said you were sorry, you never meant to hurt anyone, you were trying really hard to be a good person, and anything you had done to upset them, would they please tell you so that you could apologize? Thank you. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Did I say you exhibited no warning signs? I take that back. Looking across the years, I can see now that that was your warning sign – telling every single person in your tiny, closed world that you needed just one person to recognize there was something wrong with you. Just one of them to pull you aside and say, Audry, sweetheart, what's wrong? Instead, as they stared back at you with baffled or indifferent expressions, the message you got was, What is wrong with that girl? Doesn't she know this is testimony meeting? Why is she ruining the spirit with such disturbing words?
After your testimony, you fled to the bathroom, where you hid in a stall until the meeting was over. As you walked through the hall looking for your parents, the Bishop (the local clergyman in charge of your ward) stopped you and pulled you aside. You felt hope. Here was God's servant, His mouthpiece, the anointed leader He had chosen to guide this portion of His flock. The spirit had touched upon him and let him know, One of God's children needs you.
"Audry," he said, "the pulpit is not for personal grievances. Please don't use it again that way."
Shock is white. It begins at the edges of your eyes, seeping towards your pupils until it blinds you, and then fades away just as quickly so that you are left staring into the face of truth. That afternoon, you will believe the Bishop is right. What you did was yet another thing you did wrong, one more tiny sin slicing away at your soul until there is no soul left for God to save. Death by a thousand sins.
And that night you will face what you believe is the truth again, sitting on your bed, fingers twisting the cap on the Children's Tylenol back and forth, back and forth. No one is going to hear you. Why should they? You are not a preacher, no bringer of holy words, not even a righteous servant of the Lord who bears her testimony the way she's supposed to, who behaves like the obedient and contented church member she is expected to be, who feels like a truly blessed and fortunate Latter-Day Saint, grateful for everything the church has taken away from her. You are supposed to be happy. You are supposed to be good. You aren't supposed to hate your life so much that you can't bear to live it one more day.
You lay back on the lacy white comforter of your childhood and drink down your death. Then you wait for the blackness to take you. No one intervenes; no one senses that anything is amiss in the quiet house. They sleep the sleep of the contented, and you die alone, not one person knowing why you have gone so suddenly from this world.
As the years pass, the details of that night will be safely tucked away in the back of your mind for those rare occasions that you need to look back and remind yourself how far you have come from those dreadful days. Two things will stand out in your memory about what happened after your failed death, both of them seared into your heart.
You will remember waiting outside an office door as your therapist tells your parents, with your permission, that you tried to kill yourself the night before. You will remember the door opening, your father rushing out and pulling you into his arms. You will remember, every minute of your life you will remember, that he finally told you what you wanted to hear all along. I don't want to lose you. The problem is, he told you one day too late.
You will remember Mom driving you home from the hospital, after the doctors confirmed that you were no longer a danger to yourself and could be taken home without fear of repeating your actions over again. You remember her words running together, the woman who could not find it in herself to hug you, her words melting into a blur of and then I felt and then I was and I needed and I wanted and I didn't want and I told them all about my and I can't believe my own daughter and I was so scared and I and I and I...and in that moment you will know.
You don't want to die. It took dying to know it, but now you know with an absolute certainty that an end to all things was not what you wanted. You thought you could not bear the burdens of life alone, but in a moment of clarity, you will realize you have borne them this far, and have done so without the help of those around you. Having the support of people who love you unconditionally will change your life for the better in future years, but for the moment, knowing that you can support yourself through the worst of times will be the grace that saves you. Your will to live, not anyone else's approval, will carry you through your darkest times.
I want to live. That's what you will think as your mother drives you home that day, pouring her despair and her selfishness and her loathing into the air around you. I'm going to live, no matter what anyone thinks of me, no matter how awful I am, because this is MY LIFE, and no one gets to take it away from me.
It will take years for you to unravel the tangle of emotions that led to your death, and your rebirth as the fearless woman you will someday become. Each thread unbound will weave a tapestry of revelations, about your true feelings towards your parents, about the narrowness of concepts like shame and sin, and the terrible weight of faith, when what you have faith in is the empty words of self-serving men. You will discover pride in the body you felt so ashamed of, and experience the joy of a life lived for the sake of love and desire, rather than out of self-hatred and the fear of damnation.
And one day, you will wake up in a bed for two, held in the arms of someone who loves you as unconditionally as you love him, and you'll know that every bit of suffering in your life was worth it, because it led you to this.
The life you will someday live is worth more than words can tell, and you are worth more than any of the words so-called "Children of God" will try to bury you with.
Oh—before I go, I want tell you a secret. It's the secret that saved your life. You didn't want to admit it to yourself at the time, but you knew that Children's Tylenol wouldn't do the trick. Deep down inside, you were already working hard to save yourself when you put down the knife and picked up the bottle instead.
Good for you, girl.
Good for you.