On the precious nature of life

Louisa Bacio has put together a bloghop titled “Authors Care” in support of Suicide Prevention Week. If you’re like me, you grew up with stilted, embarrassing suicide awareness videos but little interest in the matter…until it became personal. I tuned the message out, along with the yearly sex ed sessions and most of the lessons involving math.

When I got into high school, things changed. One friend found a note written by a mutual friend, describing how she wanted to take razors to herself. The first friend came to me for advice, and with the help of the school counselor we set up a suicide watch. A student in the grade above me was found with a bullet to his head. Another classmate’s younger brother lost his life…on Mother’s Day.

We read Ordinary People in English class and discussed suicide as if it were a literary device, while overworked school counselors passed out numbers to the suicide help line. I became a peer counselor and took classes on how to listen. Not to fix, to judge, or to diagnose, but simply to listen. For me, because this is how I handle most of life’s issues, I delved into the literary world. I wrote a play about a girl who commits suicide, and I read books about characters dealing with or recovering from suicide.

One of my favorite authors, Kyoko Mori, wrote the autobiographical Shizuko’s Daughter.  It’s a taut, elegant, and heartrending story of a girl growing up in the shadow of her mother’s suicide. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.

Another book I loved was Language of Goldfish by Zibby O’Neal. Although not in the same literary class as Shizuko’s Daughter, the book’s lyricism and emotional honesty are stunning. Carrie, an artist, realizes that she is not prepared to grow up. Instead of adjusting, her mental stability begins to falter. The story of her descent and recovery offers hope.

Over a decade ago, a character named Kat appeared. I didn’t know much about her, but I saw her lying on a rumpled bed, in the middle of days’ worth of mess and sick to her stomach. I saw her best friend, Natalie, pounding on the door and shouting. Breaking in to discover empty pill bottles. I wrote the story of Kat’s hospitalization after the suicide attempt, and I put it away.

One year ago, Kat and Natalie came back to me. Their story began ten years earlier this time, when they were young college girls full of energy, naivete, and love. I found, in writing their stories, that I could make sense of earlier events in my real life. Could I change people’s lives with what I wrote? Probably not. Could I change mine? Yes.

In writing Kat’s story, I created a friend who valued her, listened to her, and guided her out of the time in her life when living seemed impossible. Kat had reasons; everyone had reasons, but what she needed most of all was love. The love might not have come in the exact form she wished. 🙂 But it was still love.

People do care. We are worth it.

If you don’t believe that now, please reach out. Call a hotline. Message a friend. Google for resources.

Will you do something for me? Will you send a note to someone in your life, perhaps someone with whom you have not had contact lately? Will you let that person know what he or she means to you? Or compliment them on a job well done, a positive attribute, or remind him or her of special times together?

We’re stuck on this planet together, and our only option is to take care of each other.

I offer this small scene from The Way Home as a reminder that life does get better.

“Kat, goddamnit…”

I turn away from Natalie’s accusations. Dr. Mitchell’s repeated “Katherines” are easy to ignore, but Natalie’s anger is more difficult to shut out.

“…and then they ask me where you got them, and I told them no way could you have gotten them at my house. I’d been with you the whole time… but then I went to the bathroom and found the bottle half-empty. How could you? When I was right there?”

Why bother to mouth the apology she will not accept?

“Katty, if you hate me that much… You had to get back at me, didn’t you? I didn’t tell Mrs. Roach not to renew your lease. You’re mad at the wrong person. All I did was try to protect you. You yell at me to give you privacy, and the one time I respect it, you…” Her voice catches.

For the first time, I look at her. Her hands are clenched into fists as she blinks rapidly, looking at the bump in the bedclothes where my feet stick up. Her nose has gotten pink.

“Natty…” I croak.
A tear trickles down her face.
“Natty,” I try again.
Her chest heaves up and down, but still she does not speak. I reach out to her as best I can amidst all the wires. Natty jumps a little as she feels my arm reaching up to her in a half-hug, and she looks at me for the first time. As if without thinking, she holds my hand to keep the oxygen sensor in place. I sit up as far as I can, and I reach out my other arm to bring Natalie’s head closer to my shoulder. She resists at first, but finally she scoots closer on her stool and lets her weight fall into my body. I try to stroke her hair, but it gets tangled up in the cord. I mutter a bad word and return to holding her as she cries.

After a moment, Natalie straightens up, giving a rueful laugh. “Anyone would think I’m the one who’s sick,” she says as I give her a tissue so she can blow her nose.

I squeeze her hand as best as I can. “You can join me if you want,” I say as I indicate the empty bed next to me. “The meals suck, but at least you don’t have to cook or wash dishes.”

“Oh, I ought to—” Natalie’s first smile freezes as she catches her breath. She looks stricken, but I interrupt to finish her sentence.

“Spank me until I can’t sit down, just as soon as I’m better enough for it?”
Natalie shakes her head as tears fill her eyes, but I shake my head right back.
“Yes. You should. Or I’ll spank you.”
That startles a laugh out of her, and Natalie puts a hand on my shoulder. “If you ever

actually killed yourself, I’d…”
“Kill me?” I bite my tongue, too late, and I grimace as I anticipate the rebuke. But Natalie gives a wry laugh. “Yeah. I guess.”

We look at each other without speaking for a moment, and before I know it, it is not just Nat’s eyes that are watery. I cough a bit, unnecessarily, and let go of her hand to grab a small box left as a gift on my bedside table. I hold it up to Natalie.

“Let’s play checkers.”
“What? You don’t even like…”
I do my best to set up the board and the checkers, though, and Natalie eventually joins in.

She jumps my checkers, starting to giggle, and I move my pieces directly into her jumping line. She looks up at me, quizzically.

“Isn’t the point of checkers not to get jumped?”

“Not if you’re playing with someone who’s suicidal… OW!” I cannot help giggling as Natalie flicks her finger against my forehead.

“Oh, so that’s how you’re going to play, is it? Well how about if I don’t play along? How about if I just let your checkers win?” Natalie gives me a mock stern look.

“Then I guess I just sit here in sheer boredom until I get to go home,” I say, trying to sound as piteous as possible.

“Would serve you right,” Natalie sniffs.

“It would,” I whisper, starting to cry. And this time it is Natalie who reaches out to me, holding me close. Telling me that it will all be okay. For the first time ever, I believe her.

The-Way-Home
Natalie always wanted a little sister.  Kat didn’t know she was allowed to want anything…or anyone.

Kat, a shy farmgirl, arrives at her freshman dorm with a backpack, a suitcase, and her mother’s wish for Kat to attend college “at least until you get married”. Her roommate Natalie, a confident and fun-loving social butterfly, decides sight unseen that Kat will become her best friend for life. Natalie teaches Kat about college life, academics, and friendship by taking Kat under her wing…and over her knee.

Then their lives fall apart one fateful night on campus, and for the rest of the decade Kat and Natalie struggle to find their way back to each other. Their way home.

I’ll be offering copies of The Way Home as a prize for two random commenters (through the 14th). I realize that many of my regular visitors have already read the book. If that’s the case, you may designate an alternate recipient of your choice.

For the list of all participating authors, click here.

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28 thoughts on “On the precious nature of life

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I think sometimes we over-talk until it doesn’t mean anything, and when it’s real (up close and personal) we try to ignore it. I hope someone will read these posts and find comfort and support. Thanks for joining in.

      Like

  1. Katie says:

    Really great post, Ana! I LOVE Kat and Natalie! Thank you for writing about them. 🙂

    I will definitely reach out to an old friend. I know just the one. Thank you for the thought.

    I watched the anguish that one of my sons, as well as a relative of a relative went through when they watched a friend or a spouse lose their lives to suicide. I watched my son wonder, as just a teen, what he did not do to help his buddy know that life was worth living. It has been a while since I had seen my son smile. And more recently, with support, he and his fellow buddies and friends can understand that it was not about something that they failed to do. They are smiling once more. Quite sad and hard for us parents to watch but in many ways it was a wake up call to really see. Well. As best that we can. We love our kids!

    Many hugs to you, Ana and thank you!

    ❤ Katie

    Like

    • Katie says:

      I wanted to revisit this, Ana because as I continue to read through Kat and Natalie’s journey together I want to thank you again for writing such a moving and heartfelt story about these two women that loved each other so much. To understand how you came to write about them is a treat. I can feel the love that you have for them, and it is most contagious to us readers. They truly are great characters and lead one to think about it all, and what being a friend can mean, as well as so much more. Thanks again, Ana! Many hugs,

      ❤ Katie

      Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Katie, your comments make me smile. What an open-hearted response. Thank you. I’ll look forward to hearing whether your contact went well. I hope so. For those left behind, there never will be answers. The burden of guilt is heavy, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that it was not our fault. I am glad your son could have fun. It’s good to remember the reasons we enjoy life.

      The advent of Kat and Natalie was based on a lot of things (including, of course, spanking!), but this was an aspect I’d never been able to address directly before. When I saw this event, it came at the perfect time. I’ve always hoped my stories will speak to people who are struggling and who need some reassurance. If they’ve made you think about friendship in a new way, I’m grateful and humbled. It’s your love that has made it possible.

      Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Louisa, thank you for organizing this event. Your post was touching and breath-taking. I was interested when I saw the notice, but after reading your post I knew I wanted to be part of the event. Authors do care, and we can use our words for good. At least I hope so. Hugs back.

      Like

  2. Julie says:

    What a lovely post, Ana. I just sent my note – actually three of them.

    Thanks for reminding us that we each have the power to help, in our own way.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Julie, thank you for your constant support and presence even when I’m not always able to reciprocate. I hope you know how much it means to me. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend like you. 🙂 See, there’s your power to help right there.

      Like

  3. Irishey says:

    This was a beautiful post about a very sad and truly frightening topic, Ana. As always, you applied the great capacity of your heart and mind to share such a poignant description of your own experience with crisis intervention. Thank you for that, and for sharing it was your own processing that helped lead you to your creation of Kat and Natalie.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      I just remembered another one–Dead Poet’s Society. Adolescent suicide is a cliche, but cliches are built on truths. There is so much loneliness in our world. I wish that everyone had someone for support and love. Blessings to you.

      Like

  4. Roz says:

    Such a beautiful post Ana, thank you for sharing your experiences and story with us. I think it’s wonderful that you became involved in peer counseling. You have such a warm and caring heart.

    Suicide is such a sad and very difficult topic. I think it is a wonderful thing you and the other authors are doing.

    Hugs,
    Roz

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Roz, thank you for always cheering everyone up with your thoughtful comments. You’re such a wonderful member of this community. Your heart is warm and caring. 🙂 If we had more people like you, perhaps we would have fewer people turning to suicide.

      Like

  5. terpsichore says:

    Hi Ana,
    I love what you said about all being on the planet together and caring for one another. It is so true. Thank-you for sharing your heart. Many hugs, Terps

    Like

  6. Autumn says:

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the post! That is totally cool that you became a peer counselor, sometimes that is all a person wants is to have someone listen to their problems and offer advice to them in their darkest days. And thank you for the book recommendations. I think it is a great idea to bring it to light, especially with so many suicides happening with not only teens but adults. Please do not enter me into the contest. I just wanted to post what I thought about your post.

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Thank you, Autumn. Listening can’t solve problems, but sometimes feeling heard and understood is just as important.

      LOL…as if you need any more books to read! 🙂 But yes, these two are ones I like very much. Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  7. Cindi says:

    Thank you for participating, offering words of wisdom, sharing your story about your friend, and writing a book (series) that is based on this timely subject. I think this blog hop is the most awesome idea considering the teenage suicides prevalent in the news right now.
    thank you!!
    cc_clubbs at yahoo dot com

    Like

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      Cindi, so great to “meet” you here. The funny thing is that, at the time, I had no idea it was about suicide. It seems strange to think that way now, but I didn’t see it. I focused more on the friendship and their interactions with each other.

      As we see people judged more, and as intolerance becomes policy in many governments, I think we’ll see more people thinking life is hopeless. I believe (I have to believe) we can make this change. Thank you for being part of the change.

      Like

      • Cindi says:

        I have a teenaged daughter with depression–she cuts and has tried to overdose twice last year. She went through a stage where she was ‘trying on’ bisexuality. My son has bi-polar disorder and his teachers hated him from grade school on. I know and understand about intolerance. It’s people like you who speak out, speak up, join the peer support groups that help my kids:) Thank you and bless you!!

        Like

  8. Susie says:

    Very nicely said Ana. I was like you. I didn’t think much about this till it got very personal. There is so much work to be done is removing the shame and sharing support.

    Like

  9. minellesbreath says:

    This was such a poignant post. When suicide touches those you love….well the only thing we can do is fight back and open our hearts and minds to help. I have friends in my life who have had the tragedy of suicide and suicide attempts alter their lives.
    Education and the understanding of that knowledge make a difference.
    It does not surprise me all that such a sensitive, kind hearted young lady would be a peer counselor.

    Like

  10. Carolyn says:

    Beautiful post with a beautiful and important message. In answer to your questions. Yes, I definitely will. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

    Like

  11. kelworthfiles says:

    That’s definitely true.

    My mother attempted suicide once, ended up in the hospital. She’s coping with her depression much better these days. I’m very glad she’s still living and hope that she stays in my life for many years to come.

    Like

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