Turn on your iPod, plug it into the speakers, adjust the volume—not too loud that the neighbors will hear, but not too quiet that the voices aren’t drowned out. Tonight isn’t their time. First, delete “How to Save a Life” from your playlist. You won’t need conflicting messages, and anyway, you stopped listening to that song in college. Today, your tastes are more mature. Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, John Henry Bonham. Enjoy the greats with a common thread. You find it poetic: a life taken to the sounds of life taken. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on your deepness, on the philosophical debates that rage between your left and right brain. All of your college classes paid off. All those late nights studying under the dim light of a library lamp, the boy at the desk next to you blowing his nose for the dozenth time, your phone ringing, ringing, ringing from the calls of a girl you didn’t have time for. Those nights feel important now, your hero’s journey, your odyssey.
Choose “Mad World” as your farewell song. Find it kind of funny, find it kind of sad that the dreams in which you’re dying are the best you’ve ever had. Turn up the volume. Dance around the kitchen, the way you used to with the girl from your ethics class, remember the way her blue eyes always looked sad, remember that your storybooks and the novels you read in elementary told you that blue-eyed people were the most exciting, the most lively, the most beautiful. Remember that they lied. Worry that the music is too loud and turn it down. Turn it off. Listen to your neighbors walking across the floor above, assure yourself they don’t notice, that you have time. Turn the music back up.
You line up the pill bottles. Aspirin and Tylenol and every anti-depressant that never worked, every bottle that a sad-eyed doctor handed you in a crowded pharmacy. You turn them so the labels face away. Remove the child lock caps now. You won’t want to do it later. Pull out the knives and organize them by sharpness. Change your mind and organize them by size instead. Find your book on knots, the one your brother gave you when you were fifteen because you said you wanted to be a sailor. You’d never been on a boat. You get seasick. It takes you an hour to tie the right knot, but you think that your brother would be proud. You imagine that he finds your body. He watches you hanging there, rotting, your brown hair stiff, your feet cold, and he rubs his chin and says, “What a mighty good knot.”
Think of the paramedics, the poor, overworked, too-tired paramedics, and decide to clean the house. Scrub the floors and try not to think about your blood ruining the shining surfaces. Remember your old school counselor. The one with the wobble in her neck, the one with the gray hair, the one whose husband died in your senior year, who went “on vacation” and never came back. Hear her say: “Don’t waste your time on the things that don’t matter.” Give up on the floors. Do the laundry instead. When you’re gone, the paramedics will search the rooms for you, the police will search your belongings, your family will sort your things: don’t leave out dirty underwear. Throw away the granny-panties you never wanted anyone to see, make the bed so your mother will be proud. Your bedside drawer will leave an impression; throw away the vibrator. Take out the trash.
When you finish the laundry, remember that you hate the smell of your detergent. Run to the store and buy air freshener. Pick the fresh linen scent. In line, you’ll meet a woman with five kids. They hang off the edge of her cart and sing Christmas carols in January. She says: “Kids, right?” Nod to be polite; say you understand. You won’t.
Remember being pregnant. Remember painting the nursery yellow and green because you thought they were gender-neutral colors. Remember that you never believed in gender anyway. But the woman has boys, and her cart is filled with superhero figures and trucks. Sigh. Watch her leave the store, feel sorry; hope her car doesn’t freeze on the way home. As you watch the snow hug the store windows, think of buying your brother a new coat. You won’t, but for a moment, you will feel generous. Enjoy the moment.
`When the cashier asks you, “is that all?” nod and explain that you have a busy night ahead of you, smile, tell her a joke you heard at work. “What does Tarzan use to keep his loincloth on?” She’ll shake her head, wait for the answer, and ask you if you need a bag. Say: “Gorilla glue.” Refuse the bag.
If the traffic isn’t too bad, you’ll return home in time for your favorite late-night comedy. Turn it on while you spray the house with your new linen scent. Don’t laugh at the TV. Remind yourself that it’s easier if you don’t laugh.
But when you laugh—which you will—turn the television off and leave the room. Spray down the bathroom instead. The extra toothbrush by the sink will catch your eye. Ignore it. If this doesn’t work, throw the toothbrush away. Spray the garbage. Now the whole house will smell fresh. The paramedics will be pleased.
Hope that the neighbors don’t find you too soon; winter is busy, and between the ice-sliding car accidents and snow-caused-roof cave in’s, the paramedics will be too tired to take down your body that night. Give them until morning before the smell sets in. Contemplate spraying yourself with your new linen scent.
Back in the living room, touch the soft spots on your wrists. You’ll want a quick cut, an easy cut, so test the knives’ sharpness on the carrots you find at the bottom of your fridge. There are twenty-six knives in your kitchen; try them all. When you’ve finished, put the carrot pieces in the blender. Add celery and the beats you swore you’d make a salad out of but never did. Throw in the parsley that your father made you buy. Drink half the juice then pour yourself a glass of wine instead. Pour another. Finish the bottle.
When the wine settles into your brain instead of your stomach, remember that you don’t like pain. Remember falling off the swing set in the first grade and having Penny Clementine laugh at you beneath her pigtails while your knees bled. Remember her pout. Remember that she grew up to be an actress. You saw her face once on a magazine cover. You still have the scars on your knees.
Put the knives away and read every label on every pill bottle. Regret reading when you reach the side effects. Headaches, vomiting, dizziness, seizures. On television, the risks are always said quickly, quietly; the commercials do not dwell on the pain. Look for more wine. When you don’t find any, walk to the liquor store across the street. The shop smells like your brother, like musky, masculine mint, but the owner has blue eyes. Think: you could drown in blue eyes. Think: hers were prettier. Think: blue eyes cry better. Wish you knew more names for blue.
Buy wine and cigarettes. Smoke outside. Cough. Gag. Give the cigarettes to a man on the corner. Return home. Drink the wine.
“Nice night,” you’ll say to the empty room. Look out the window, watch the snow fall. Your nieces will have to buy new sleds this year. Imagine them in matching snowsuits, pink and purple and blue coats, the scarves you knitted them for Christmas, and beanies with their names embroidered on the side. Temporarily regret that you won’t see their next Christmas card. Put your glass in the sink and drink wine out of the bottle to forget. You’ll feel numb; enjoy the way your tongue disappears in your mouth; smack your lips together and feel nothing.
When the clock hits eleven, you’ll remember that you haven’t finished your note. Find it taped under the sink and grab a pen. The ink will be faded from all the times you rewrote it, from the water that dripped over your carefully crafted sentences when you hid it from your sister-in-law. Make a mental note: don’t store paper next to pipes. Remember that it won’t matter. Start the letter over. Write that you’re sorry. Cross it out.
By midnight, it reads:
I hope you have a great New Year. Someone please feed the cats. Missy (that’s the white one) is allergic to tuna. Sell the apartment to a college student. They’ll need it.
You’ll have read every self-help book on your shelf by then—the little blue one your mother gave you on your last birthday, and the three your boss lent you when she thought you were “looking down.” You know they will call you “selfish” but that your family will miss you when you’re gone. You know there are hotlines for these sorts of things. You know they’ll question you, will cry over each other, will shout “why” to the skies. You’re counting on it. You only wish you could attend the funeral. You hope they play Bob Dylan. You’ve never liked black at funerals, but you like the idea of a crowd wearing black for you. Imagine the eulogies as you open the first bottle of pills.
Group them by color and quickly forget what they’re for—headaches mixed with sadness mixed with menstrual cramps and the birth control you never really needed. Leave out your cat’s heartworm medicine; it will smell animalistic, and it will taste worst.
Your throat will burn. Be prepared for the coughing, prepare to gag worse than when you had that cigarette, worse than when you tried oysters for the first time, worse than your first blow job. He was sixteen and you were fifteen, and he was small, but you were young, and that made all the difference. Wash the pills down with wine.
At one a.m., the phone rings. Your sister, crying across the line, tells you that your father is dead. Heart attack. High cholesterol. Probably. They’re not sure yet. Know that he was only sixty-five, but had been overweight since you were twelve. Remember his laugh when he told you bedtime stories, your feet tucked under his legs and your head on his shoulder. Ask: “How’s mom?” Ask: “Should I fly home tonight?” Ask: “Did it hurt? Was he in pain?”
Hang up and run to the bathroom. Force yourself to throw up. Sit down by the toilet and cry. Come morning, take down the rope, put away the pills, find a new song.