Men grieve differently. I know that. But still I was surprised when I found myself acting like a typical guy following my sister-in-law’s 2008 suicide. A few months after I joined a writing class in the winter of 2010, I wrote a third-person story about that experience–about a man who hacks down a row of hedges in the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide. No question that it’s my story, but I’m guessing that I wrote it in third person because I was still too close to the suicide to write in my own voice. That story follows.
WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?
What to do?, he thought, as he surveyed the ten-foot tall tree-like stems of the privet hedge lined up like a row of Queen Elizabeth’s foot guards who had stuck their fingers in electric sockets—bare decades-old spindly trunks, rigid against the ivy-covered trellis, each ending at the wall’s top in a blunt woody knob. And spouting from the knobs sprays of young twigs, fat with buds on this late-winter day.
Leaning on the aluminum pruning pole he takes a deep breath, testing the air for signs of spring, but finding only a damp, musty chill. This is going to be painful, he thinks, imagining how many minutes, how many hours, he’ll need to reach up and hold up this razor-sharp tool designed for precision cutting that he’d wielded like an ax last winter. He has only himself to blame for the aching joints he’ll take to bed with him tonight. And so he begins, lifting the pole and carefully directing it’s scissors-like tip toward its prey. Snip, snip, snip, and snip again. From one little branch to the next, he savors the satisfying snap as he compresses the ice-cold handle and the blades slice through the young wood.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees something fall from the parapet of the apartment building across the yard. First one, then another. Pigeons, throwing themselves into the still air, their breasts catching the morning light as they plummet to the earth, beating their wings only at the last moment to save themselves from almost certain death.
Is that what she did? Fling herself from the ten-story building? Or did she step off, as if descending a flight of stairs. Does it matter? But he wonders. Did she walk back and forth, stopping occasionally to examine the parapet’s edge with the tip of her white sneaker? Did she look down to see where she’d land? Did she care? Did the sun illuminate her blond curls then like it does now the silvery feathers of the dive-bombing birds? How did she do it? With outstretched arms and the grace of an Olympic diver? Or did she tumble from the sky like a bundle of rags? Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Did she watch? Were her eyes open on the way down? What was the last thing she saw? Was it the clear blue sky as she lay broken on the ground, her lungs empty of air, her body pressed into the earth?
So this is where he came on that winter afternoon when he learned of her leap from life, to his blue-stone paved backyard, to the towering, overgrown privet that he assaulted with a fierceness that drove him from limb to limb hacking through their dense, leafy crowns until only stranded stumps remained. Breathless, he stood in a knee-deep pile of branches and leaves, arms and shoulders aching, wondering what he’d done, hoping the neighbors hadn’t noticed that a madman had just murdered his innocent hedge.
But you can’t kill a privet, which he knew even then, as he gathered the evidence of his crime in black plastic bags and hauled them out to the curb. Come spring, from the woody stumps grew the tender, wild sprays of arrow-straight branches that now occupied his attention. Snip, snip, snip, from one to the next. And he imagined to himself that by late summer, the grievous wounds he’d inflicted on a bitter November day would disappear behind a dense screen of new growth and maybe then he could look at the privets without thinking of death.
About This Blog
Welcome to my blog, which grew out of my experience as a suicide survivor and my experience writing Why Suicide? (see below). On occasion I’ll be posting an essay based on something I’ve read, someone I’ve met, an experience I’ve had, or just a memory of someone in my life who took his or her life. If you have a thought on something I’ve written, I hope you won’t hesitate to join the conversation by leaving a comment.
About Eric Marcus
Eric Marcus is the author of several books, including Why Suicide?, Is It A Choice?, and Making Gay History. He is also co-author of Breaking the Surface, the #1 New York Times bestselling autobiography of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. And he currently serves on the national board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (Photo Credit: Dixie Sheridan.)