Chewing on Summer
The truth. If I could tell you the truth, you’d never look my way again. You’d run in the other direction screaming my atrocities to the world because I must be undeserving of even the fringes of understanding. If the roles were reversed and I was the one listening to the things I’ve done, the choices I’ve made, and the things I have said, I might just do the same. I’ve gone low and moved like I was always swinging high, self-righteous in the hurt I’ve caused.
When you’ve hurt people, and they don’t know you’ve hurt them, does it still count? If your conscience is living and breathing, then yes, it still counts. It still counts because it will suck the life out of you, the having done the terrible, deplorable things. It still lives in your veins, a muscle memory that begs you to let it out of its hiding place.
When I was a kid, I read a book called Punish the Sinners. The book is about a string of violent suicides at a catholic high school. Each teenage girl has a different reason for taking their life, yet their reasoning, their strife, and complaints all string back to a similar source.
I can’t remember how old I was when I read the book; I think I was in middle school. Let’s face it, middle school was a horrible time for most of us. I know for me, it was a special realm of hell I’m grateful I will never have to return back to, at least not in the conscious world. Yet those formative years still live in me. I still find them sometimes at the most unsuspecting but alarming of times. You see when I read Punish the Sinners, I wasn’t just reading the book; I became the book. I was each character. I was each girl, slicing and snuffing out their lives in the name of shame and blame. The world said they were a blight on humanity, and they believed it. So much so that they decided they had to die.
Punish the Sinners took me for a ride my adolescent mind wasn’t prepared to take.
When I selected the book, I didn’t know what would ensue. There was no way of knowing that my mind would wrap itself around the pages and envelope the story into my own existence.
It was my mom's book, one of the many John Saul books I had borrowed and devoured. My sisters had done the same. We loved to borrow our mom's books.
I read with vivacity for other worlds, written existences that were anything but mine. Sometimes, I wonder what direction my life might have taken if I had had the words to tell my mom how entangled I would become in stories that didn’t belong to me. Would something have changed sooner? Would I have discovered the truth about myself sooner? Now, all grown up, I’ve never told her what I did that summer after I finished reading Punish the Sinners. After I turned the last page, read the last line, ate the last suicide.
I don’t know if I have ever told anyone what I did. How I decided I also had to take my life, just like the girls in the book. How it failed, and I wished it hadn’t. How I think I never actually wanted to die, yet felt like I deserved to die. How I was only finding a way to scream to be seen, to unfold into an existence where I could finally step onto the road of figuring out who I was, just like all the other kids around me were doing, without the shame of living for myself and the barrage of bullying that came with it.
Sometimes, things seep into my mind and set up camp without me realizing what’s snaked its way into my breathing.
Chewing on Summer is about my first suicide attempt. If you are not able to read something like this, then don’t. I won’t be offended. Your mental space and what you can handle being put into it is more important than powering through anything that could be harmful to you.
Chewing on Summer
Summer mountain life cascaded behind me as the last pages of Punish the Sinners read through my mind. I needed it to end, but I needed it to keep going just as much. Sometimes, when I finished a book, I felt like I was losing a vital piece of my existence. Sometimes, that need was so powerful that I would flip to the beginning and start again.
With Punish the Sinners, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t read each girl's death again, their fictional lives only a few years ahead of mine. One by one, they snuffed their flames. Each one took me closer to doing the same. Now, as the last lines were no longer avoidable, my young mind grappled with how to handle the emptiness left in my hands.
The sweet, stifling, august air billowed through my hair, picking up the pages of the now discarded book dropped at my sandal clad, dirt dusted toes. I hadn’t noticed I’d let the tattered paperback drop to the mountain floor.
A beetle ticked its toss of time, skittering towards Punish the Sinners, was it a sinner, too?
I couldn’t explain how or why some stories devoured my brain, taking hold of my thoughts, taking me in like a game of Jumanji. The tick of the beetle taunted my consciousness as it jumped its beetle dance toward the yellowed lines of fiction.
You can have it, I whispered to the unknowing creature. The forest could have its brethren back for all I cared. As far as I could tell, I was in this world and the world of Punish the Sinners.
I could have spat my grievances on the earth, itching my toes. Instead, I kept them locked in my mind where they could go on killing me. I wasn’t any better than the teenagers in the book. Surely, I deserved the same fate. So young, and the world had already worn me out. Killing myself seemed like a favor I could serve on a platter, rid myself of oxygen, and relieve the world of my existence.
Abandoning the book but still walking its world, I left my hiding spot in the woods and crept back to my dad's trailer. Sunlight filtered my unworn path out of the trees as I moved as quietly as I could. My family was somewhere nearby. I threw up a silent prayer of hope that they were out of earshot of my footsteps crunching over the forest floor. Their presence wouldn’t suit the plan I had already decided was fate. I wondered who would find me and what it would be like for them. I hoped it was my stepmom. Out of all of them, she deserved it the most.
Inside the trailer, I gave a tepid glance around. When I was sure I was alone, I turned to lock the door but hesitated. Would it be better to leave it unlocked? Unsure, I decided against it. But I would need to move quickly. I turned from the door, searching my surroundings for what I needed for my plan to unfold.
Quickly and alone, that’s how the girls had done it in the book.
Eyes casting a line for something to use, I spotted the cords on the window dressings. Cheap off-white blinds adorned each window, double strands of cords swinging to the right of their glass bed. Windows lined each panel of the trailer, even the pocket extensions that extended out when the trailer was in stationary use. I doubted my dad would miss a set of cords, but just in case, I chose the least used window, one tucked to the right of one of the recliners secured to the floor.
Gripping the handle of a kitchen drawer, I yanked it open, finding a fresh pair of scissors, their metal still glistening from little use.
I snipped the set of cords from their pulley and tied them together to make one long strand, hopefully long enough to tie around a neck. I dragged a chair from the small four-seater table and placed it under the ceiling fan. A bead of heart sped sweat trickled down my red tinged cheek with the effort it took to loop the cord around one of the blades at its base, the metal room temperature against my clammy touch. I gave it a small tug, unsure if it would hold. Chewing at my lips in rushed worry, I decided it was too late to find something better and secured the other end around my neck. There wasn’t much length between me and the base of the fan, but I supposed that wasn’t a bad thing for what I intended to achieve.
A noose, that was how one of the girls in the book had done it. My mind was still trapped in the story, still sick of existing in this world just as much as the world of the book. I put my trust into the weak white cord and stepped off the chair.
Almost immediately, I crashed to the floor, the cord snapping and plummeting my heavy, youthful body out of what I had just tried to do. Shame flooded my senses as I rushed to hide my crime. Climbing the chair one more time, I unhooked what was left of the cord.
The chair back in its place, the scissors back in the drawer, and the cord at the bottom of the trashcan, I surveyed what I had just done.
A sullenness washed over my body, sinking into my mind and flooding my brain as the door to the trailer slammed open, my stepmom climbing the three short steps inside. “There you are, we’re cooking over the fire pit at the Kelly’s, come on, let’s go,” nodding towards the door, she turned to go, expecting me to immediately follow.
“In a minute,” I replied.
A blank look crossed her face, instantly followed up with indifference-tinged annoyance, “Ok, well, hurry up.”
If the cord had held, would she have tried to save me?
Collecting myself as much as I could, I slid the mental mask of survival back on, readying myself to step outside where what they wanted to see would be expected to be visible, nothing more, nothing less. Letting the metal door boom shut, I left my plan behind.
Later, I realized that my dad never asked about the cut cords to the blinds by the recliners. It shouldn’t have surprised me. I was used to not being seen, to being more of an afterthought than a considered entity of human life. Nonetheless, I would always wonder what he thought happened that summer to the missing cords.