At that moment, I wanted that hill to last forever. I never wanted to reach the bottom. But I did, and my life would never be the same. Because when we reached the bottom of that hill, she turned to look at me. The contrast of her eyes to my elation felt like a jolt to my heart. For the look in her eyes could not be described as anything but hopelessness and desperation. I’ll never know what compelled her to do this at that moment, but she threw her bike to the ground and sat on the curb. When I joined her, she pulled down the waste bands of her jeans. She pulled up her sleeves. I would have missed the scars, if I had not already spent hours memorizing every inch of her skin months before. The same skin I used to trace my fingers over on lazy Sunday mornings was covered in faint self-inflicted scars. There were hundreds. Covering her hips, wrists, shoulders, thighs, everywhere. I swear my heart stopped for a while.
Eventually we went back home. We laid in her bed and I kissed every scar without saying a word. I was young and naïve at the time. I couldn't understand how the girl I loved with all of my heart could do this to herself. I thought if I loved her enough, she would get better. I tried everything I knew how. I would drive to Ann Arbor in the middle of the night just to hold her. I would constantly ask how she was doing, how I could help, what was wrong, everything. Nothing helped. Even that night, when we reached the bottom of the hill, she was telling me out of necessity not comfort. I didn’t understand at all. I wanted to fix her. I thought if I gave her enough of myself she would feel whole again. She didn’t love me the way I loved her, I knew that. So I even got a boyfriend, to make her more comfortable. Then one night, when I was with my fake boyfriend in a room full of fake people, I got a phone call. She had drank too much to kill the pain, and she cut herself. But this time it was different. She wanted to die that night. I was so lost. She stayed in the hospital for a while, but it didn’t help. Eventually, it was too much. I was never enough, and it broke my spirit trying to make her love herself as much as I loved her. I graduated high school and I moved across the country. We still talked, and maybe I even still loved her.
Eventually, after years of terror and helplessness, I learned how to let go. I learned that there’s only so much you can do. She wasn’t depressed or suicidal because she was alone, or because she didn’t have someone to try and fix her. She just was. And that’s okay. I’ve started to realize how depression and suicidal thoughts worked. I realized that I don’t have to tear myself down to build her back up. But I also refuse to think that I didn’t help at all. Even though it felt like I never made any difference, it must have helped to have someone there. In the end of the day, all you can do is support and love. You can listen to them, and find out what they need from you and what you can afford to give. You have to accept what you can help, and accept what you can not.
We grew apart when I moved away. I hadn’t talked to her in months, and I never kissed her scars or drove for hours to get her mind off of the pain. Several years later, she had three suicide attempts within two months. It hurt to have her in that kind of pain, but I no longer felt responsible. And I’m glad to say that she still had enough fight in her to figure out what was best for her. She moved back home and found help. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t from me.
You can love, and you can support, and you can try to understand that it’s not your fault or theirs. These things might not seem like much, but it can mean the world to someone. Even the most loved, fortunate people can suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts and it is no one’s fault but biology. This story doesn't have a very happy ending about how love conquers all, but it definitely taught me a lot about what to do when you reach the bottom of the hill. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.
- Dana Henderson; Biochemist