One of the sections from my piece deals with the first time a child realizes that they’re capable of taking their own life. Not out of a desire to do so, but just recognizing the ability of the act.
What’s so profound about realizing, for the first time, that you are capable of taking your own life? Is it just the shock value of a child, under the age of ten, even considering it? someone so young, would have to already know what death is. What it means to die, and that inevitability. We are talking about death here: the biggest deal. Becoming aware of it, something so pressing and filled with weight, marks a milestone. There is the before you know of death and the after. Suddenly the danger your mom knows so well, for you, starts to make sense; violent summer storms takes on a whole new kind of fear, becomes a new monster.—It won’t just level the house, ruining everything you know, but it will ruin you. Erase you.
Maybe this is where the spectre first starts to peer through. In the memories of the knife, with Dad, there could be a mirror in the background, and the reflection could stay after we’re both gone. But serenely. Always serene.
So then does there need to be a depiction of life, all sunshine and rainbows before, and all doom and gloom after? It’s not that it’s sunshine and rainbows though, there’s just an absence, an unawareness, an unconscious. This ignorance of the unknown is not an experience of total bliss. Though the knowing comes with a lifelong of dread, it’s a fleeting dread. It creeps up just as often as any other kind of fear. Instead of fearing an injury and the physical pain of it, the dread goes one step beyond into an unknowable lack of existence. You’ve never experienced it, so you know not what it will feel like and that is the dread, the mystery of not knowing. This creeping sense of oblivion which catches up with you on the freeway, just as the spectre does in the mirror, and just as nostalgic triggers induce your longing. These ghosts we collect and carry with us, that find us and haunt us, are the Rites of Longing.
I’ve been writing and thinking about death so much, I’ve forgotten to live.
There is the realization of death, that it is a thing which is inescapable. And then there is the realization that one can take their own life. That there is the power to do this.
The freeway suicide hotline. Once we’ve acquired the knowledge of death we become tempted by it. It’s like what Kundera says about Vertigo:
“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
Again the spectre speaks. Join me it says. I think Kundera’s quote makes it sound like it’s so hard to say no to the concrete median. It’s actually really simple. You recognize how odd of a thought it is, to impulsively kill yourself, and your mind moves on to the next thought. I think there needs to be a driving scene.
I’m heading up East I-94 in the silver Monte Carlo I’d bought just a few months prior. I barely knew how to drive. I’m convinced I know what I’m doing behind the wheel, but know better—I could probably count the times I’ve driven on the freeway with two hands. The dash says 1:23am and with nobody else on the freeway I take the opportunity to see what six cylinders can do. The black and white speed sign, in its highway gothic, reads 75. I take it up to 80. The RPM meter flicks up to three then back down to two. I push the pedal even further down, reaching 85 and then 90. At 90 miles per hour in the left lane I can feel the gravity of the cars momentum as I take the wide curve of freeway between the 8 Mile Rd. and 9 Mile Rd. It scares me and my body is tense in the driver’s seat, hands clutching the steering wheel. Music has been blaring out the stereo the entire time, but I can’t hear a lick while this deeply focused. As I clear the bend in the freeway, keeping the wheel turned to the right, it dawns on me that all I have to do is throw the wheel left, as quickly as possible, and I will collide with the concrete sound barrier wall—killing myself. It’s that simple. It makes me smirk, because of course I won’t. I’d never. But the impulse still rose up and for a few seconds I was undecided. I let the vehicle coast back down to 75mph.