UPON HEARING OF AN OLD FRIEND’S SUICIDE
Did I know her? How do you answer a question like that? We grew up together. She was my closest friend in childhood years; as close as two kids can get, which, let’s be honest, isn’t very close. We experienced our first tastes of alcohol together. We rebelled against our parents together. We were always there for each other, shared each other’s problems. Including a pregnancy, hers, and a near engagement to an abusive boyfriend, mine. Out of which we both somehow managed to wiggle.
But did I know her? I can think of a million different answers to that one simple question. I could answer in the past tense, once upon a time in a land far far away we knew each other quite well. I could answer in the abstract, I thought I knew her but now I’m not so sure. I could answer in the pessimistic, nobody ever really knows anybody. But what difference does any of that make? Why should it matter if I knew her, if I felt I knew her, or didn’t know her as well as I thought?
They said the note was filled with claims of constant misunderstanding and so much endless pain. In all our years of friendship she had never seemed depressed. There were no warning signs. Not really. I mean, everybody has their problems, especially in high school. I remember once coming over to her house and finding her in her room crying. But she was sixteen. I didn’t ask what was wrong. I figured it was probably nothing and she would have told me if it had really been all that important, right?
I could say I’m angry. Didn’t she care how this would affect me? Me, her longest and most devoted friend. I could claim to be hurt that she never mentioned this pain she had apparently been carrying around for so long. Yes, I’ve been away but we wrote letters. Well, Christmas cards. And we talked on the phone. Sometimes. We grew up, we were busy. It didn’t mean we weren’t still there for each other. She should have known that. It should have gone without saying.
I suppose I feel betrayed. She knew so much about me and now that she’s gone I’m beginning to think she had been hiding her true self from me all those years. When I used to call her we would talk for hours. About my boyfriends, my job, my family. Now and then she would make some elusive comment about herself but the conversations would always come back to me. I guess maybe I steered them that way, I don’t know. Was that wrong? She never really seemed interested in talking about herself, anyway.
I called her the day I got into town this last time. She said she couldn’t get away that day. She was really busy but would see me soon. The next day I called and she didn’t answer. I guess I could have kept calling but I had things to do, too. I spent time with my parents, visited an old boyfriend; my hands were full. I figured it was for the best. I would just see her some other time. When I got home her Mom had left me a message. She was crying. She said she was sorry to have to tell the news to my machine. I didn’t cry. Not because I wasn’t sad, of course I was. But I was more angry than sad. I realized that all this time she had been someone else altogether. Would I even have loved this stranger the way I had once loved my friend?
So you ask me did I know her and I’m finding myself at a loss for words. Most of my memories of us are dominated by me. She was a wallflower in our friendship. Why did she never open up to me the way I did to her? I still cherish my memories of her. She was a great listener. Not much of a talker. Or was she talking all along and I just wasn’t listening? It doesn’t matter; I don’t care. Because it’s true that you can never trust anyone. You can never count on anyone but yourself.
I don’t believe that her pain was unbearable but that doesn’t really matter, either. Because I no longer believe that she ever loved me. She took her listening ear away. Who did she think she was, killing herself, making my life that much harder? My love for her has turned to hate. I hate her for never having given herself to me and I hate her for taking herself away.
Did I know her, you ask me.
No. I suppose the answer is no.
ASHLEY COWGER studies Creative Writing at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where she is currently working on an MFA degree. She also works as a TA and volunteers for Permafrost, a literary magazine run by her fellow Grad students.
"This story actually grew from an exercise in an introductory creative writing class I took years ago. I've always thought the complaint that people who commit suicide are "selfish" was somewhat narrow minded and I wanted to explore the issue from the other side."