Five years ago today, it was also rainy and grey, after several days of hopeful springiness. I was covered in bruises, much like I am today, and I was being discharged from the hospital after an apparent suicide attempt. Every year, this week forces me to reflect on why that happened, and how I’ve changed, if at all. The past few have been good- I’ve been trotting around like a miracle of psychiatric medicine, a person who has really and totally dealt with her shit- but for some reason, I don’t feel so accomplished this year. I don’t think that 2008 Haley could have fronted a rock band, and I don’t think she was anywhere in the neighborhood of developing a healthy relationship, let alone an engagement. But I don’t know, I feel lost and tired today. And all week, I’ve been making bad decisions and feeling chaotic. I’ve been fucking up friendships and blacking out and not exercising and hating on myself. Sometimes I wonder if people ever change, or if we just coat ourselves in experiences and pump ourselves full of dopamine until we give some outward appearance of progress. Today I feel just as weak and pathetic as I did five years ago, walking for the first time in days, my mom driving me home and buying me a bunch of bananas, asking “Do you want me to stay, so you can just have a mom for a while?”… and turning her down, because all I really wanted was to see the boy who put me in the hospital to begin with.
I’ve always felt like there was some design to what happened, despite absolutely not believing in design. I guess that, in order to know if I’ve changed, it helps to think that there were signs leading up to it- because it wasn’t just some crazy, reckless, thoughtless thing I did. It took years of malformation in order to suddenly be a person who tries to kill herself. I look back on that day- it was warm and sunny and beautiful, B__’s birthday- and I start seeing sinister shadows, I imagine myself being stalked by the devil through bright, happy Williamsburg. I think about our first date. We drank a bottle of wine and never stopped talking all night, and he stayed at my house the entire next day. That was when I started to realize that we hadn’t been talking, he had been talking, dumping on me. It occurred to me that whatever this was going to become, it was going to be something toxic, something painful, and I didn’t know why. You know on Mad Men, how they’re always talking about death, sketching nooses on their paperwork- there’s just something hanging in the air. Doom. I think about that, and I wonder if doom haunts me, too.
B__ and I dated for about two months, which was a struggle. He didn’t want to be in a relationship. He always seemed to have a mind/heart disconnect. Or maybe just a dick/heart disconnect. One moment he was telling me he loved me, the next he was telling me how much he felt he needed to have sex with his ex-girlfriend when she came to visit. This fed into my need for drama. It felt awful. When we broke up, I was hysterical- we had become very fast best friends, and I had already started ignoring everyone else I knew in favor of him. What would I do without him? And that’s when we decided on an arrangement. We would stay friends. It looks fun and always seems to end well in the movies! But… nope.
We were so incredibly dependent on each other by Spring, that I was cooking for him and doing his laundry, letting him call me in the middle of the night and come over after he didn’t have luck at the bars. We slept over at each other’s houses every night. Unless he wanted to sleep with someone else. He said it was hard for him, he was a sex addict- and it had to be strangers. If I didn’t get a call by 4 am, I knew he had found someone else. And it ATE my insides. I was sure that if I stayed around long enough, made myself indispensable, he would realize he loved me all along. I was addicted to the pain. I made excuses for him left and right. I pretended (poorly) that we weren’t sleeping together, in front of friends. I’ll never forget the degrading, humiliating things he did to me with the power he had. Of course, we fought all the time. Screaming matches where he’d tell me I was crazy, that I was ruining his life. Where I’d tell him that “No, no, you’re just my best friend, please don’t leave me, I don’t have feelings for you”. We were kicked out of bars after screaming at each other, I’d run home with my shoes in my hands, we’d both sob on the sidewalk. That’s foreshadowing, guys.
Five years ago, I had recently decided to start a theatre company- my self-esteem was in the shitter after graduation, I had left a waitressing job and started babysitting, but wasn’t making any art. Not much had been going right thus far- I tried unsuccessfully to get the rights to Rocky Horror for our first production, and my back-up plan was Pippin, which I’d directed before with my teen theatre company back home. I had a friend subletting from me at the time, and his boyfriend was also a director. He consoled me, “Pippin is actually really interesting. If you play into the fact that it’s all a fever dream leading up to his attempted suicide. The suicide has to color everything, it’s something sinister under the surface.” Dun dun dunnn.
On April 25, we had planned a fundraiser party for the theatre company. It was going to be at the apartment of a group of our friends who had just moved out but hadn’t finished their lease. So it was a mostly empty apartment, and the theme was “Red Light District”. I’m not sure why, someone had been to Amsterdam recently and thought it would be funny. B__ had been staying at my house for the past three days straight, and the day before, he had woken up covered in hives. I took him to Beth Israel Hospital on 14th St., where he got a steroid shot and they started to go away. He was relieved- he wanted to hook up with someone at the party that night, of course. The way I thought back then? Let him be covered in fucking hives, that way I’d be the only girl who’d want him.
We got to the guys’ apartment, and they had put red lights in the exposed closets and put plexiglass over the doors, so girls could dance inside. One of my friends was acting as bartender, and had dressed in full drag. I felt good. The air smelled good. It was real Spring on 3rd Ave and Twenty-something, and everything was blooming. Our “dancing girls” and “cocktail waitresses” arrived next, though… I had a lot of hot friends. They were all skinny dancers, and I had recently put on a lot of weight. And then B__ arrived and started flirting; I began to deflate. My only female friend at the time confronted him and accused him of stealing me away from everyone. It was true- I stayed by his side almost all night. Tipsy, I tried to hold his hand as we walked over to the “bar”- he snapped it away from me, furious. “Don’t be holding my hand like we’re together,” he growled through his teeth. Some girl he liked was there, and would see. I consider that the inciting incident, but I’m sure there was more. I got very, very drunk. I started talking to some of the girls he went to school with. I cried and told them all kinds of things about our weird relationship. They were so surprised, one of them must’ve said something to him about my revelations. He got angry, so I parked myself in front of the refrigerator, on the floor, and started eating all of the jello shots. There must’ve been at least a whole plate left. When everyone started to leave, I was a disheveled mess. There was only one photo of me from that party that I threw… I untagged it immediately, because of the associations and also because I looked like a fat disaster. B__ sighed and said we should go home, smoke some pot, and watch South Park. If we had just done that, nothing else would’ve happened. I would’ve cheered up and fallen asleep. We got a cab and piled the shopping cart and leftover vodka into the drunk.
The next thing I remember was fighting in my bathroom. He accused me of trying to sabotage his life. (Which wasn’t untrue.) He said he couldn’t believe I was going around telling all those girls about him and about us. He said I had ruined his life, and that he never wanted to see me again. I sobbed hysterically and swore that he and I were just friends, that I wasn’t trying to do anything, weren’t we best friends?? He shouted at me that we weren’t, that he never wanted to see me again. I ruined his birthday. This was nothing new, but somehow it escalated much faster and higher than usual. I slapped him at some point and broke the ring I was wearing… I only remember because I found it later, the band was snapped. At another point, I chased him through the building, down fifteen flights of stairs, into the courtyard, in my stocking feet. He said that because it was so late, he was just going to sleep in my bathtub, but he didn’t want to be near me. Hysterical, he finally said the few fateful words that changed the night… “You should just kill yourself- you’re a miserable person”. I said I would, I’d jump off the roof. He challenged me to do it. He was laying in the bathtub, I was a few yards away by my dresser. I said that I was going to take all of the sleeping pills I’d bought that morning. “I don’t care, I don’t care about you.”
Nothing flashed through my mind. I didn’t think of my parents, my sister, my friends. I just went for it. I didn’t want to die as much as I wanted to escape that moment… just go into a rabbithole and come out somewhere where we’d forgotten this awful night. I think, in my irrational haze, that I also assumed I’d just get my stomach pumped, like when you get alcohol poisoning. I opened the pill bottle and took a huge handful, stuffed them in my mouth, and washed them down with a glass of water. The fighting had been so futile and exhausting- I had done something, taken an action. I went to the bathroom door and shouted “I just took half of those pills.” He might have reacted then, I don’t remember. But that’s when my friend, who was subletting, burst into my room. Was I telling the truth? Yes, I took them. Which pills? I pointed. He turned to B__ for just a moment to shout at him, “What happened? Did you see her take them??” I took that opportunity to nearly empty out the bottle in my mouth, and swallow them all. Like a proud child who just crayoned all over the walls, I announced what I’d done. B__ grabbed me and held me over the toilet, trying to gag me into puking, but I couldn’t.
I went to lay down on my futon, and he came to lie with me. I felt really peaceful. He said he was so sorry, he loved me so much, he didn’t want anything to happen to me. He stroked my hair. It was sort of funny, I thought to myself- this was exactly what I wanted. That’s when the police burst in. It was frightening, they were huge and armored and we were small on the floor. They started shouting at me, asking me everything I took that day. I tried to recount. They were so angry and asked me if I knew how dangerous that was. I remember thinking, “no duh, I tried to kill myself, buddy”… but I think they asked me if I wanted to die and I said no. That wasn’t a lie. The cops hung out in my living room, making small talk with my roommate and his boyfriend, it was strange. Everyone carried me out onto the couch. Laying there, I started to fade in and out of consciousness. My roommate was a hilarious queen, and tried to make me laugh. He whispered, “Now you can be a gay icon… like Judy Garland”. I think I laughed faintly. And that’s when I passed out. I remember thinking that dying felt easy. Like sliding into a warm tub.
Apparently, I got put in a wheelchair but couldn’t sit upright- just flopped all over the place while a big black lady paramedic scolded me. I was still wearing my slutty theme party outfit. B__ and my roommate came with me in the ambulance, I think. It’s weird to not remember. We went to Woodhull Hospital- a dark monstrosity on a hill in East Williamsburg. I partially came to a few times, though I thought it was a dream- I was puking, black, all over the floor and on the attendant next to me. Maybe that was partially fabricated. But they fed me a lot of charcoal while I was out, and I puked plenty. An automated blood pressure thing on my arm kept constricting to a painful peak every few minutes, which also weaved into my dreams. When I woke up the next day, I was very confused and very drugged. It was incredibly hard to talk or string thoughts together. They asked me if I knew where I was. I asked if I was at Beth Israel on 14th St… that’s where the day had started. I was on an IV drip and was wearing a catheter. I had heart monitor stickers all over my body. A psychologist came to talk to me- I was high, so I tried to make jokes. He quickly (too quickly?) determined that I wasn’t a suicide risk, and that I needn’t be committed to the psych ward. Everyone- all the doctors- kept asking if the fight I had was with my boyfriend. I kept saying, “No, we’re just friends.” They’d always raise an eyebrow. I had even lied to myself. No wonder I exploded.
A doctor asked me if I wanted to see somebody. It was B__, and he brought my teddy bear and the book I’d been reading. His eyes were filled with tears. I had woken up thinking that I’d never see him again- this lunatic display was surely the breaking point. He stayed and told me how much he loved me, his best friend. And that he was so sorry, but, they had to call my parents. My mom appeared. I don’t know how I thought I’d get away with this insurance-wise, without them finding out, but for some reason I thought I’d get my stomach pumped and my family wouldn’t have to know. She was wearing a green sweater, and she looked sad but smiled at me and pretended everything was normal. She and my dad had been woken up by a phone call from my roommate at 4 or 5 in the morning. They jumped in the car right then and drove four hours to New York. My heart ached so badly. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as horrible as I did when I realized my mom had come to see her daughter who tried to kill herself. My dad was more emotional than my mom, which is always terrifying. No one wants to see their dad cry. We talked; I was so sorry. That was the only thing I could say, it was the saddest moment of my life.
Eventually, they moved me from the ER to the ICU. I had my own little room. They had to make sure I still had a functioning liver after what I’d done to it. My mom braided my hair and washed my face- it was covered in charcoal. I looked like the Little Match Girl, I suspect. My parents and B__ came to see me everyday, for long visits. Every doctor and nurse asked me “Why’d you try to kill yourself?” Every two hours, I had to get a heparin shot (to keep my blood from clotting) and drink a cup of the antidote- the most noxious solution known to man, I’m pretty sure. Like I said, the day I checked out- four days later- was miserable, grey and cold. It had felt like summer on the day of the party. My mom picked me up and drove me home. I should have told her to stay. I stood there in my apartment in my hospital socks, holding the bananas, as she left. I was so sad. I had always wanted drama, I’d gone after tragedy, chased darkness. Now it was a part of me. I got what I wanted.
I wish I could say that I turned my life around at the end of April that year. But I would get into another drunken fight with B__ just a month later, and we’d keep seeing each other in the same toxic way til the end of the summer. I wouldn’t really regain my friends til months- and in some cases, years- later. Some were gone forever. I saw a therapist- and two years later, a psychiatrist- but somehow it always feels like there’s more to unpack. The devil was always in the details, everything before it was a fever dream. The suicide colors everything, something sinister beneath the surface. And it’s hard to examine alone, because I see the doom everywhere in the story. I wonder what made me such a weak person in that moment, what would make me want to hold on to someone like B__. Over the course of five years, I’ve often tried to think of that day as an anomaly, some dumb shit I did when I was twenty-two. But it’s not- I’ve always been depressed. I’ve always gone after what will hurt me. I’ve always had chaos in my heart that I couldn’t contain. I just know that eventually, I’d like to forget what day it is when it rolls around, to not have to reflect. I’m writing this overly wordy piece of crap that no one will read to exorcise the ghost a little bit. I’m going to hit publish and cross my fingers. Secrets are heavy and they make me feel so lonely.