I started writing in a journal because I felt betrayed; betrayed by someone I really, really, really trusted. Ever since then I’ve been mostly talking to myself, in the form of writing. I don’t mind talking to myself so much. Sometimes it gets lonely, and other times it feels very safe. One thing of which I am convinced, though, is that I’m absolutely crazy, and journaling keeps me sane. A friend once told me that “We all have our insanities and flaws, every one of us; there are just different flaws in different people.” Thank you, friend. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one with static in the background. Good thing a journal doesn’t care how perfectly imperfect I am.
Chapter 1: “I’ll cuss her out, instead.”
“Welcome to the Suicide Hotel. Will this be all the revenge in the middle of your hell?”
“No thanks. I think I’ll cuss the b**ch out instead.”
(I actually wrote the above sentences 15 years after the first journal entry that you are about to read. I can’t remember exactly why or when they were written; those sentences were so random. They really flow with the current subject matter, though.)
November 9th, 1986
“I don’t have much to say except I’ve been out of school for a week and I have a lot to make up. I’m so mad at Tess I could just scream! Today during the town festival Tess told Mrs. Angelle that I told her that Shannon Weston was going to kill herself. Shannon called me and explained to me what happened. Mrs. Angelle told me not to tell Tess that she told Shannon.”
I was 13 years old when I wrote this. That’s the only thing I wrote for that entry, with the exception of a few sentences I blacked-out because they were lies. At the time I wrote it I was paranoid that people would still be stealing my journals and reading them, so I tacked on a lie at the end to save my own butt. (It wasn’t an imagined paranoia; people had been reading my journals without my permission and it had been going on for a while.) Although I wrote very little in that first entry, the situation was very intense. I could have easily written a novel about it, if I had thought it was safe to do so.
Shannon was a year or two younger than me. She might have looked up to me, I don’t know for sure. All I know is she trusted me. She shared with me a very heavy secret, and I didn’t know what to do with it. Was she crying for help? Was she crying wolf? I knew in my gut that she wasn’t but if I’d had any doubt about the validity of it, all doubts were cleared once she showed me the physical damage from her attempt. As sickening as it looked to me, to her parents it meant nothing. She was able to walk through her own house, wounds exposed, without fear of being noticed. Some people think that suicidal people are really just attention pigs. But Shannon? She wasn’t the type that had a Munchausen’s complex. She didn’t do things and say things to get attention. It just wasn’t in her personality. And as far as I knew, I was the only person she told. I was her only audience.
I couldn’t figure out what to do with what I had been told. She had already made a suicide attempt and no one else knew about it. Maybe she didn’t have a whole lot of people her age that she trusted. (She was only 11, so I guess that would make it hard to find someone who could grasp the concept, let alone find someone who cared. Eleven year olds can’t be therapists, nor do they have the power to do much about something like that.) Maybe her friends were petty and they would spread secrets and rumors about her just for the fun of hurting her. (There are people who are well into adulthood that still do stupid things like that.) Whatever the reason, she trusted me. I wanted to keep her secret safe, but at the same time I adored her and I thought I was going to lose her if I didn’t do something. I cared about her so very much. I enjoyed her company; in some ways I wanted to be just like her: popular, pretty, friendly, and wanted. And rather selfishly, I wanted her to stay alive so that she wouldn’t leave me. I was scared because in my gut (that instinct inside of me to which I haven’t paid much attention, until just recently) I knew she wasn’t kidding. So I told an adult that I really trusted. She was in my mom and dad’s “art” circle, so she was supposed to be cool. I thought to myself, “She’s someone who would keep this big secret and not tell anybody, while at the same time magically making it all better so that it won’t happen again.” (I suppose I could have told my parents. I can’t remember why I didn’t.) At thirteen I thought that all adults were powerful and in control of things. I thought that no matter what happened in my life or life in general, adults had the capability and chose the capability of being in control of their emotions and actions. In this instance, I learned that not all adults choose to claim ownership of their behavior.
I listened to my younger friend. I had a million questions in my head. What do I do at that point? Did she want to be rescued? Would she get in a lot of trouble if I tell a teacher or guidance counselor? Would her parents punish her? Would she get mad that someone told on her? Was she reaching out with the only intent of trying that one last time to find someone who will be her true friend and understand her, and not get adults involved? Did she say that because she just wants to know if there is someone out there who cares enough to do something about it? I have been faced with this same situation a few other times, and it’s always hard to know for certain.
Some people start a suicide attempt and end up ruining their bodies. I always feel sad for these people, because now their livers or bladders or their brains are damaged from taking a few pills that they thought weren’t going to hurt them, and they did it because they were mad at someone. They were mad at being abused, and perhaps they weren’t in a situation where they felt like they could trust anyone with their secrets. Perhaps the only way they thought the abuse would stop would be to call an alarm of suicide to the situation, to make the grown-ups in their life wake up and get their heads out of the sand of problems that they (said adults) have created for themselves. Sometimes the adults in a growing kid’s life are scarred and they drag the kids down into their brain-mud and quicksand of dysfunctional existence. The kids/ teenagers are begging the adults in their lives to stop, but the adults have turned a deaf ear to them and then the kids think, ” I am hurting and I have no way out.” Was Shannon feeling this way? Was this revenge, an alarm to the problem, or was it Shannon knowing and believing that there was no other way to stop hurting?
“Mrs. Angelle knows what happened to me,” Shannon told me right after I picked up the phone. I crackled with adrenaline the moment I heard it. I knew that I didn’t want to lie to try and save my ego. I was certain that she would be incredibly mad at me, but she wasn’t. She was very calm and it was unsettling for me. I couldn’t make this about me and how badly I felt because Shannon was going through a tough time, and I needed to make sure she spent her time and energy on healing instead of trying to comfort me. I told Shannon how sorry I was without going into detail about how I felt like an absolutely stupid a**hole. Tess didn’t do too much damage (this time), and things turned out well in this case. Mrs. Angelle and Shannon were close, and Shannon was relieved to get it out in the open. She had on her side an adult she could trust. She got the help she needed. And because she was popular, no one really picked on her for it.
In the meantime, I was really angry with Tess. I knew what she was now, but to hear her side–she was “the saint who saved Shannon.” She had all sorts of versions of what happened. What was discouraging was that in all of her versions, I was made out to be the bad guy: the weirdo, the misfit, the socially inept. This was the 1980’s. Nobody ever questioned the adult back then, even if the adult was doing something very wrong. Tess knew she couldn’t look awesome without making me look bad. Tess had to be right and she had to hold onto her ego so tightly that she would say anything to look good, even if it meant lying about me. In her head, I was wrong, devious, and untrustworthy. I never understood that about her and the other grown ups I was forced to socialize with. They were supposed to be stable emotionally and mentally, and they were supposed to be in control of themselves. Tess certainly wanted everyone to think she was amazing, and because I didn’t support that theory she tried to tear me apart socially. If she had actually been as amazing and strong as she wanted everyone to believe, then wouldn’t she have the strength to admit when she was wrong? To me, it feels like it’s one of the strongest things I can do when I own what I do, how I act, and the way I think and feel. Tess blamed her behavior on me. Tess never wanted to be held accountable for her behavior and had instead decided to pretend she was helpless, and that the only option she had was to tell Shannon’s secret to others.
What I learned from all of this is that if I want to truly help myself or someone else through a difficult situation, I could be a better friend if I used the resources of a professional therapist, a school guidance counselor, or a police officer (if I ever knew one). Heck, I’ll even talk to a firefighter. I learned that I get better (and more satisfying) results if I talk to an expert whose job it is to deal with whatever challenges come up. I also learned that it’s very important to try and build the healthiest support structure I can by talking with many different kinds of people, no matter who they are or what they do. Supportive people can come from the most surprising places. (I have stopped trying to befriend everybody in the world, though. I’ve discovered it’s impossible to get everyone to like me, nor would I want everyone to like me, because there are some very dangerous, scary people out in the world.) If I have a good, supportive group of friends, then I’m not as likely to keep the toxic friends for fear of having no other company. I can also look to others for help, especially when I have a situation that’s more than I can handle all by myself.
I’ve also learned how I don’t want to be, just by watching Tess.
(And in case you’re wondering: The last time I spoke with Shannon, she was doing very well.)