And I was thanking him. Sincerely, and repetitively, and robustly. I was thanking him for his time, apologising, all the apologising....I felt genuinely sorry that I'd dragged him into this, that my mumbled, hysterical, tearful voicemail had been left on HIS phone, that HE was the one who had had to destroy me, that I'd made that his role in the whole thing. He hadn't asked for it and he didn't deserve it. It was an accident of fate, and in one of the last feelings I was to have for 6 months, I felt bad for him.
In 2008, an ocean away from me, a good friend of mine took her life. The facts surrounding her suicide will never be clear. We will never know the truth of what happened, and that hurts. I can't last any of it to rest while there are so many pieces left out of this puzzle. We, her online support network, had known her for some years, and we were a tight-knit community. As far as we had known, she was in a residential psychiatric unit, so it was not at all strange to us that we hadn't heard from her in a while. When you're trying to bring the crazy under control, that can be a 24/7 experience, and access to the internet can be limited, if it's there at all. The first we heard that something was wrong was from an outsider, who sent the leader of the community a message saying that she was sorry to break the news, but J was dead. We, the moderators of the community, immediately broke into mass panic, and quickly mobilised in an attempt to find out whether this was true. We didn't trust any outside source to break news like this to us.
It was the Friday before a holiday weekend in Canada, and from my small flat in London I frantically phoned every hospital in and around her city, desperately leaving messages, trying to find anyone who could speak to me. When I reached a dead end (ha ha) with phoning morgues, I started on newspapers, figuring someone, somewhere, had to have a connection. I left strained, tearful, jumbled messages on answering machines, begging anyone who could possibly help to please please phone me or contact me.
At 22:15 on May 17th 2008 I received this message from a reporter at a local newspaper who had said he may be able to help me:
I would rather have spoken with you on the telephone about this, but it seems the sad information you have is correct. I have a source who just called me back and confirmed the news about J...... Once I got the information, I was sick with dread wondering if I should tell you at all...but I get the sense that you needed to know, one way or another. I am truly sorry for your loss.And I thanked him. And my heart washed over with ice water, and I thanked him. And my stomach puddled in a cold heap at my feet, and I thanked him. And I shut myself down at that moment and did not let myself open up again until November 8th, when 2 little lines on a little white stick threw me out of my orbit. And I thanked him.
Three years later, it is easier, and less painful. I've shut J up in a box in my heart and the muscle around the wound there has healed over and sometimes I feel her when it beats. I feel the sharp edges of that box and I feel the ice that gripped my nerves that night, before I drowned myself in alcohol so that I wouldn't have to feel something so immense.
Two years later, I watched J's sister via facebook as she went through a pregnancy with a nephew J would never meet. I watched her give birth to a beautiful son, and I'm watching him grow up. He will never know his beautiful, damaged, once-in-a-very-short-lifetime aunt, although I know she will influence his life immensely.
Sometimes I am angry, sometimes I am overwhelmed. But always, always I am thankful to the man who listened to his messages and heard a girl sobbing on the other end of the phone, and put a dampener on his holiday and put his professional life at risk to try to bring comfort to a group of strangers. He made a sacrifice that day, and we will never forget him for it.