Sunday, August 12, 2012

The right notes

What do you wear when you’re going to go die with a group of strangers? This is the question today.

Details matter. I can’t live well, but maybe I can die well.
There becomes a glow about my trivial things. The last pair of earrings I’ll ever wear. The shoes I’ll be found dead in. They’ll describe these items in a police report, maybe even in a news article. A reader will imbue the items with symbolic significance that’s accurate or not accurate, and which ultimately doesn’t matter.
“Don’t be a statistic,” an infiltrator typed in a message posted on the group-suicide forum, interrupting our thread in which we were making plans. His words were rote, as if he were a volunteer for a suicide-prevention group and typing a sentence he had been given on a laminated card.
“Really?” I posted back. “Is that the best you’ve got?” I’m not this acerbic in my real life.
I was going to be a music teacher. I’ve taken piano lessons since I was four years old, but I was only accepted at a mediocre university, where I earned mediocre grades to match. Afterward I was unable to find a job. I lacked the presence and authority of a natural-born teacher, and didn’t have any remarkable talent to make up for it. I could hit the notes in the correct rhythm and that was all.
After today none of this will matter. I don’t want to hurt them – my family, my few friends and acquaintances – I only want to be worthy of their love.
There was a day at the beach. It was cold and windy and I was alone, and I felt sad but also alive, and happy to be alive. I was going to figure out a new direction, a new career, make myself loveable so someone would fall in love with me. I was going to fix my life, and it was going to be OK. I was in love with the world, with its lonely undercurrents even in nature, chilly despair on the wind. I felt a kinship with it, and I didn’t want to leave it. 
My parents had only one child. I could have turned out worse but I could have been so much better. My mother bought me an expensive interview suit in coral wool bouclé, a bright color to make me seem like a positive person. I see it hanging in my closet and think of how many failures it has accompanied me to. Sometimes I can see myself the way my mother wishes I were – successful at my job, with a nice house and family, a baby for her to bounce on her lap – and it hurts so much. The armpits of the bouclé jacket bear permanent stains from all the times I’ve sweated in it, in air-conditioned offices, ineptly negotiating my fate.  
I bought myself an abalone-shell ring at a souvenir shop at the beach. I want to die in that. No one will know what it means to me. I won’t leave a note.
I enter the address into my GPS. My parents bought me the car, and the GPS. We pretended I was going to pay them back after I got a job.
My mother tells me pointedly about my cousins who have had babies, who are pregnant again. My father asks brightly whether I have job interviews lined up for this week.
The town is close to mine. Most of the suicide groups are geography-based. I will die with these three young men only because they live within a certain mile radius of my parents’ house. I still sleep in the same room that held my crib.
It’s a sunny day and I drive on the parkway where it’s leafy and green. I drive on the parkway because it’s the shortest route, so that’s what the GPS tells me to do. It isn’t sentimental.
The others are already there. One guy has what we need: a small grill like one you’d find in a bachelor’s apartment, and charcoal briquettes, both easy to obtain. Another guy has sleeping pills, harder to get but not impossible. Someone, I’m not sure who, brought sleeping masks. They get passed around. They’re plain black satin.
We get into the car. The guys offer me the passenger seat in some last act of gallantry. The organizer gets behind the wheel – it’s his car, also given to him by his parents – and the other three sit in the back. The organizer sticks the key in and starts the car that’s going nowhere. We slip on our masks. One guy begins to cry in the back seat. We can all hear him but we politely ignore him – this is about dignity.
I reach over with my right hand to feel the abalone-shell ring on my left hand. I wear it on that hand as a private joke, as if I’m married to myself, as if the only ring that will ever be on that finger is one that I bought for myself. I stroke the familiar iridescent panels, shards of shell laid in metal.
And then I want to see it one last time, the rainbows that shift colors when I turn my hand. I want it to be the last thing I see.
 I slip my mask up above my eyes. The car is fast filling with smoke. The doors aren’t locked in case anyone changes his or her mind. The procedure is always like this, loose and polite, no one forced to do anything. I can still see the others. They look like passengers on a doomed plane, going to sleep in a thickening cloud.
I was in love with the world, with its lonely undercurrents. I didn’t want to leave it.
I open the door. I get out of the car. I slam the door shut. I run through the woods, coughing smoke out of my lungs. I stop running and try to breathe. I look up toward the leafy branches and see a clearing. I swear to you, right there, there was a clearing and there was the sky.

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