I am laying agonizingly still. Each breath is guarded. I cradle it tightly in my chest and let it slip away and disappear into the blackness. Moments pass. Just one more breath. Everything is out of place. Or is it I who am out of place and everything else is normal? My eyes swoop around the room. Silence. Darkness. The calm feeds the chaos in my mind. Heart races. Muscles ache with tightness. I could do something, something more than bounce around the blank walls of my restless mind. But, no. It’s nighttime. Time for disjointed quiet. All the world is sleeping. All the world but me.
Inside I am screaming, but I don’t understand why. My life is typical. Wake-eat-school-leisure… whatever else. Each day is different and each day is the same. They all run together after a while. I can go all day long, but when I am alone I feel like clawing my eyes out just to break the monotony. I don’t understand it myself, so I don’t expect you to understand.
At first, everyone will be sad. They’ll feel guilty and cry and miss me. But that’s not the point of this. I know how it works. Days will pass and shock and sadness will dull. The first day they don’t think of me will be marred with guilt and relapse in sadness. Then they will think, wasn’t that day better, the day I didn’t think of her? Maybe it’s ok to stop being sad. And once that thought invades their mind, grief unofficially ends. Once in a while something will remind them. But no, I’m not so foolish as to think time will stop. It will only stop for me. That is the point.
Melanie read silently to herself. She wondered how many drafts of this letter she had planned out. This was the first time she had allowed herself to actually set the words to paper. She read it again. It sounded a little preachy, and there were more errors than she realized. Part of Melanie wanted to rewrite it to be more pristine. She wanted it to be perfect. The dark ink against the sheer white paper was beautiful. She wondered if tacking a ‘goodbye’ on the end would help it seem more sentimental. No. She decided she liked it as it was. The words should be flawed. Perhaps even a little cliché. Nowadays maybe suicide itself was becoming a cliché. It didn’t matter though. The letter was a way to finalize the decision in her mind. She signed her life away at the bottom of the page. Now, it was official.
Her eyes fell in and out of focus. It felt like her body was sinking into the mattress, as though a weight was pressing down against her petite limbs. She looked at the empty pill bottle on the nightstand. Suddenly, she was so very sleepy.
The sun rose the next morning. Melanie didn’t get up when her alarm chirped. She didn’t splash water on her face, or comb through her thick brown hair. After a while the alarm gave up, and turned off. The sun shined in her window. It nestled against her grey-toned skin.
She was slumped face-down into her pillows, breathing gently. She forced open one eye. It was a long time before she got up. She ran her hands over her arms. They were pale and clammy. She didn’t feel sick. She firmly jabbed her belly. Aside from being somewhat bloated, everything seemed normal. It didn’t hurt. She weighed the options. Life didn’t always seem so bad while the sun was up. It was just another day. More of the Goddamn same. She balled the note up and threw it next to her. It was the story of her life. A few moments passed. She couldn’t leave it like this. She took the note back out and uncrumpled the edges. It ripped a bit. The signature at the bottom was laughing at her. The perfectly white page was shadowed in wrinkles. She inhaled deeply and let out a sigh.
She missed class already. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Her eyes were too dark. A little concealer wasn’t enough to mask out the grey tones still clinging to her skin. Someone would notice. Someone would intervene.
Smearing cold, blobby jelly onto a toasted piece of bread made her begin to cry. The ribbed edge of the steak knife was flaking off chunks of the once fluffy bread. Crumbs jumped from the edge of the counter to the floor. Why did she pick such a poorly suited knife anyway? The skin on her hand looked blotchy. Grey-green-blue. She couldn’t quite decide. But then, she’d already come this far.
She went back to her bedroom and found the wrinkled note. She set it on the table and carved lines into her flesh with the knife. The first were shallow, on her legs for practice. Her heart was beating quickly. The pain was a rush, like being drunk. Little nicks here and there made her feel in control of her body. It gave the pain festering inside a place to bubble to the surface. She began to relax. It felt so right. Bolstering her courage, she took a few final swings on her arms. Blood poured from the wounds in gobs. Thick, dark globs.
The note was marked with a few spots of blood, or jelly. It was all starting to look the same to her, just more of the same. She reached to save the paper, but then quickly backed away. Her hands and wrists were dripping. She rummaged in the drawer for a moment. It was much less peaceful than a moment ago. Cast off from every motion soaked into everything. This requires too much thinking.
Damn Internet dosage chart, she thought to herself. Everything was harder than it had to be. Finally she let out a tired, yet, victorious sigh and withdrew some tongs from the drawer. She moved the note to the fridge and carefully stuck a magnet to it. She sat quietly on the floor. The words on the note were still legible, weren’t they? She read them once.
I know what it says, so maybe I have a blind spot for the places that don’t make sense. She tried to read over it again, but everything seemed dim. She could only make out the outlines. Finally, peace from all these little details. She smiled sweetly into the blackness.
It felt like hours passed. For a long time, she couldn’t move. She opened her eyes and looked around. There was blood everywhere. It was setting firm. When she finally lifted her head clumps of hair were glued to the side of her face with crimson spackle. She looked at her arms and tugged at the torn skin. It separated easily, but no more blood bloomed out of the opening wounds.
She crawled to the bathroom. It left a slug trail behind her. Her brow furrowed into an angry scowl. Every few yards she stopped to pound her worthless palms into the floor. She tore at her hair and clothes, but her fingers wouldn’t always work. She rubbed her arms. Rather than wipe away the mark of her failure, it smeared it. Covered in failure. Wait, you missed a spot.
The mirror waited patiently in the bathroom. She opened and closed her hands. They wouldn’t close all the way. The girl in the mirror was ragged. One eyelid was propped open a crack even when she tried to relax it. There was no color to her face. Her eyes looked glassy. No matter how many tears she cried, she couldn’t wash them clear again.
It was supposed to be simple, peaceful, and quiet. Like everything else her expectations fell short. She had come so far. Her body was worn. Her mind hinged on the edge of shattering. Surely, it was almost time. It was harder than she had thought. Hesitation made her miss her mark. Overthinking made her underestimate modern medicine. She wrapped her arms around herself and rocked slowly back and forth.
There were some things that were sure to work. A gun, which she had already ruled out because it made a terrible mess. But shit, look at the place now. The police would come. An investigation would be conducted. Oh right, the note. It was more important than ever. She wandered back to the kitchen and grabbed it off the fridge. It was a mess too, nothing like the perfect sheet from last night.
A fire might hurt other people, and the note surely wouldn’t survive. The most effective methods were a little scary. She wondered if her body would panic and try to save her again. The body is capable of amazing things. It has to be today. There was no hiding all the blood. Even if she died from her wounds, it could take hours or days to finally expire. No, it had to be all or nothing now.
There was one surefire method that you couldn’t back out of even if you panic. The thought of it frightened her terribly. Her battered hands were shaking when she tied the knot. It was slow work. The tips of her fingers were numb. She began to hyperventilate when she set up the stool and fitted the strand around her neck. The cord was strong enough as long as her improvised knot held out, and it might not. It was the best she could do in her current state. She used a long sleeve shirt to tie her hands and stepped one foot over the other through the loop her arms made. Stretching that much hurt her wounds.
I should try to have a really solid final thought, she mused. Her mind went blank. Melanie searched for something. It didn’t have to be perfect, just something to take her focus. Blank. Empty. She didn’t have any more thoughts left. That’s nice, she decided. A good conclusion. When she kicked the stool backwards it slammed into the closest leg of the kitchen table. Her note fell on the floor and wafted into the dust and dirt. Melanie pretended not to notice. She opened her mouth to suck in a breath. Nothing came in, nothing came out. She bobbed like a worm on a hook. Her neck craned unnaturally sideways.
Except, it wasn’t the end. Melanie dangled on the edge of the room. Her eyes were already open. Suddenly, she could see again. Panic. It washed over her like a rising tide until it completely consumed her. Thoughts came too quickly to decipher. The contents of her stomach rose into her throat, but stopped at the knot around her neck. She wasn’t breathing. She felt herself not breathing. The oxygen parched lungs in her chest were burning up to ashes. She wiggled her feet helplessly. Her body moved enough to bump against the walls.
What the hell is going on? Her body was too damaged to move much. Her arms were carved and lifeless. The gentle curve of her neck was frozen in an unnatural twist. Her fingers were numb. Her skin was cold and grey. She tried to remove her hands from behind her back. The cord was strong. Swinging her body made her neck twist farther.
I couldn’t have survived this. This was her end game: her last ditch effort. She wriggled as much as she could against the bindings. So, just what the hell was going on? There were too many possibilities. Zombie apocalypse? A twisted dream? Overdose coma? Hell? She couldn’t get down.
As Melanie hung, she saw the note on the floor and scrunched up her nose. It was ruined. It could never be any better. She tried to curse, but her voice box didn’t reverberate. Either it was crushed or there was no breath to pass through it. She flailed as much as she could at the note. In that moment, she caught a break, and her already loosening knot slipped free and she fell to the floor. Standing up was much easier than getting down had been.
Her head wouldn’t straighten. One eye wouldn’t close. Both hands might as well have been stumps at her sides. The skin on her arms had begun to peel away from all of the exertion. Her throat had collapsed. She couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t speak. But none of that had stopped the day from coming. Another day. Just more of the God-Damn same.
To learn more about Sarah Doebereiner and her writing visit sarahadoebereiner.com. A Study in Grey was first published in the March 2014 issue of Wright State University’s literary journal Nexus.