I stepped out of my dress and draped it across a small leather recliner to the right of my bed. I traced the lace across the sweetheart neckline. It was the most elegant dress I had ever seen. No doubt I had just set the world record for the shortest time in a wedding dress. I had it on less than 30 minutes before I bolted from the church. I climbed into bed as if sleeping would magically erase the last few hours.
I wondered if Uncle Caleb would have been as emotional had I not been wearing Mom’s wedding dress. He was noticeably shaken when I walked out of the dressing area. He said I had never looked more like Mom than in that moment. My long strawberry-blonde hair was piled high and tucked behind a short veil. I had her athletic build and the dress fit perfectly right out of the silk-lined cedar chest that had kept it safe all these years. Had he not gone on and on about Mom and Dad being soulmates would the doubts about marrying Sam have crept in as I waited for the wedding march to start? Would I have gone through with it?
I couldn’t blame Uncle Caleb. On some level, the doubts would have surfaced. It wasn’t just Uncle Caleb questioning if Sam Gallagher was my soulmate. I’d had nagging doubts ever since he proposed but I just hadn’t let myself entertain them. That was a costly mistake and out of character for me. As a Homicide Detective, my gut instinct is what usually helped solve the case. Admittedly, I should have examined the red flags and talked it out with Sam. He deserved that.
Would my fears have been alleviated had I shared my doubts? Would I be waking up in Hawaii on my honeymoon as Mrs. Katie Gallagher?
Now I have three reasons to hate this day: the anniversary of my brother Jim’s death, the anniversary of Mom taking her life two years to the day after Jim’s death and bailing on my wedding. I had made a real mess of things.
I thought back to Sam’s proposal last year. It was on the anniversary of Jim’s and Mom’s deaths. He had said he wanted to replace my horrible memories with new loving ones. It made sense at the time. But standing in the church trying to analyze why I felt so panicked, it felt more like he had taken advantage of the fact that I was in a vulnerable state.
Having the wedding to plan was a distraction and helped push out the usual depression that set in at this time of year but now, with the guilt of leaving Sam at the altar compounded with the ever-deepening grief of losing Mom and Jim, I couldn’t see a happy future for myself.
I felt more alone and depressed than ever. I couldn’t pull myself out from that dark place that took hold of me every year at this time. Portland was a few months into the rainy season. The steady downpour of rain the last few weeks didn’t help. In the past, I could muster the strength I needed by accessing the memory of my father’s voice shouting, “Keep it together, soldier”; “boot-straps, young lady”; or “I’ll give you something to cry about.” I used to hate it when he said that, but I found myself drawing on it over the years and, ironically, it would give me comfort and strength. But on this cold, wet, and gray day, it wasn’t working. I couldn’t shake the melancholy feeling that enveloped me like a wet blanket.
In a feeble attempt to block the tears from falling, I squeezed my eyes closed. It didn’t work. They flowed freely despite the dam I tried to create. I gave into the tears and let the sobs rack my body. After a few minutes, I focused on catching my breath between the sobs. Slowly, they subsided. I sat up pressing my back against the headboard. My slip wasn’t much of a buffer. I shivered in response to the coldness of the wood.
The sudden awareness of my body drew me out of my head, out of the past, and back to the present. I took a deep breath. I was surprised by the sense of calm that washed over me. It was as though the crying released the feeling of hopelessness. I surrendered to the calm as thoughts of suicide made their way to the surface. I knew the reason for the calm: I was going to follow in Mom’s footsteps and take my life.
I wasn’t alarmed. I was used to suicidal thoughts. I was able to keep them at bay most of the time but, every year since their deaths, the weeks leading to the anniversary the feelings surfaced almost every day. I knew from my research after Mom’s suicide that a general sense of relief floods the body when the decision to commit suicide is made. In a sense the problem is solved, the pain is about to end.
I know I should have reached out to someone instead of dealing with it on my own. Vicky was my best friend and confidante. I let her in each year, but it was superficial. She respected my need to withdraw each year, but she didn’t let me stay there. She was like a bulldog and wouldn’t give it a rest if she felt I was getting too deep into the depression. I shared just enough to satisfy her that I was letting things out. I couldn’t go deeper than that. I spent so many years creating a persona of strength and togetherness that showing anything else seemed a lie. I never have been able to share a weakness, let alone my thoughts of suicide and my inability to cope. Vicky was the only one that knew I suffered from depression. I couldn’t let anyone on the Force know. I didn’t want to appear weak; I didn’t want anyone to know the daughter of the infamous Detective James Hanson, was flawed. I know how stupid that sounds. I felt that my appearance of having it all together was somehow a source of strength for everyone around me. How could I possibly let on that I was as scared and confused as the friends and victims I consoled?
I tried to push the suicidal thoughts away using the same techniques I used while meditating. When I meditated, my mind filled with rapid random thoughts. I called these thoughts monkey chatter. Today was no exception. The chatter was constant, and the theme remained suicide. I decided to give the monkey his due. Duly noted, ending my life is a solution to my problems. Not the most favored solution granted, but a solution.
Without a doubt, I missed Mom and Jim every anniversary of their deaths. Most days I could push away the thoughts of a life that could have been, but not during times that I called defining moments. Those moments that happen in your life that make you want to pick up the phone and call the ones you love and share your news, whether it be the joy of being proposed to or the sorrow of leaving a man standing at the altar.
Standing at the church trying to decide if Sam was my soulmate was definitely a defining moment and one in which I wished I could have turned to Mom for advice. Unfortunately, there was no Mom to turn to, and there were no pearls of wisdom sent my way. I was on my own as I had been since I was 12.
This wasn’t the first anniversary that I thought about ending my life or even acted on it. Five years ago I started an annual tradition. I took my service revolver, put one bullet in and spun the chamber and put the gun to my head. I continued this practice every anniversary alternating between putting the gun to my temple for the first shot and putting it in my mouth for the second. I allowed myself two tries each anniversary. I prayed the gun would go off. To never again feel the pain from the most debilitating loss one could ever imagine was indeed a selling point. I stopped at two tries. I figured if it were meant to be, the gun would go off. This anniversary I had a bonus. To not have to face my friends’ and family’s questions about why I ran from the church had an appeal all its own. It worked for Mom. Why not me? The first few years I hated her for it, but as the years passed and I struggled with my depression I came to see that her solution appeared to be a reasonable solution after all. My anger towards her turned to empathy.
I closed my eyes and let the magnitude of what was happening seep into my consciousness. I’m going to kill myself today. This year the gun would go off. I just knew it. I felt it in my core. The thought scared me, yet it didn’t. It felt right. I took my service revolver out of my nightstand and removed all of the bullets but one. I gave the chamber a spin. I raised the gun to my temple and fired. Click. I put the barrel in my mouth and fired. Click. I lowered the gun and stared at it. I couldn’t believe it didn’t go off. I had been certain today was the day. I wondered about the statistics of Russian Roulette. This was my fifth game and tenth round. At what point would the odds be in my favor? I put the gun back in my nightstand drawer and saw the sleeping pills.
Maybe it hasn’t worked before because of Vicky. Maybe she wasn’t meant to find my brains scattered across the room. Maybe it was more than just Vicky. Some of my closest friends were first responders. I considered them family.
I took seeing the pills as a sign. I decided to go the route most women choose and I picked up the bottle. I didn’t need to count them; I knew the bottle was full. The sleeping pills were left over from a case I had worked six months ago. It was a horrific murder of an 18-year-old freshman. It took me months to get the images from popping into my mind every time I closed my eyes.
Like many detectives, I had been taking sleeping pills on and off over the years, especially during the height of a case. As my most recent case came to a close and the killer was convicted, I found I needed them less and less. I had filled the last 30-day prescription just in case the nightmares returned. The bottle that remained unopened all these months had a deeper mission than erasing painful memories for eight hours. The pills would now wipe out a lifetime of painful memories forever.
I held the bottle tightly and headed to the kitchen to find something to wash them down. I saw a half-empty bottle of vodka on top of the refrigerator. I grabbed it and sat down at the kitchen table. I turned on the radio for background noise and “Why Not” by Spring Fever—an up-and-coming rock band— was playing. As the music filled the kitchen, I listened to the words. It’s a sign, I thought. Why not? I had a million reasons why I should end my life but couldn’t come up with a single why not.
I played quarters with a shot glass, a souvenir from a Vegas trip years ago. When I missed, I took a pill and a shot. After the first few shots, I missed almost all of the time. I finished the bottle of pills within five minutes and took the next five to finish the vodka.
I was still holding on to the empty vodka bottle when I made my way back to the bedroom. The bottle was comforting in some strange way. It was a wobbly walk back. At one point, I tipped to the right with my left foot hovering off the ground. My arms stretched out like an airplane as a natural reaction to regaining balance. I seemed frozen in place for a moment; then, without any effort on my part, I tipped back to the left and righted myself.
I was without a doubt in the advanced stages of inebriation. I sat the empty bottle on the nightstand next to the photo of Dad, Jim and me on our last camping trip. The three of us were dressed alike in our Outfitters vests and wading boots, arm in arm, grinning like idiots. Jim was holding up his fishing pole with a small trout dangling from the hook. Dad at 6’2 towered over us. His thick black hair flattened by his baseball cap, coupled with a deepening tan and five-day stubble, made him look more like a fishing guide than a Homicide Detective. I grabbed the photo and climbed back into bed.
I stretched the quilt over me and flattened the rose pattern. I loved that quilt. It wasn’t handmade, it wasn’t a gift, and it wasn’t handed down from generations past. All the same, I loved it as if it were such a gift, every stitch made with love by some great-, great-, great-grandmother. And now it was my turn to have sweet dreams while tucked safely under its magical protection. Maybe subconsciously, that is what I pretended as I fell asleep each night. Something that would make me feel rooted and connected to a family, even if it were in my imagination.
As I felt the thinness of the quilt, my heart sank. I hated this time of year; it was getting colder and time to switch to a heavy comforter. You’ll be back, I told the quilt and gave it a comforting pat. The next realization lifted me out of my drunken fog, maybe not entirely, but enough to let the magnitude of what I had just done sink in. The consequence of my action would be that I would not be switching out the bedding but, in fact, I would be dead in…I don’t know how long…five, maybe ten minutes.
Profound regret followed this realization. I felt sick to my stomach, and the room started to spin. A wave of anxiety mixed with fear moved through me, slowly at first and then with an intensity that took my breath away. I fought to regain my breath; I wiped at the tears rolling down my cheeks. My sense of calm disappeared… all I had left was the sudden urge to live.
God, what have I done? The vodka and pills had a paralyzing effect, and I couldn’t reach my phone. As I lay back on my bed, I thought about Vicky, my best friend. Vicky, I will never give you a hard time about being a psychic again if you come through for me now. I rested my head against the pillow. Vicky, I need your help, save me, send the paramedics. I repeated this over and over like a mantra.
Within seconds, my phone rang. Thank God, it worked. I could see her picture flash across my phone’s screen. I couldn’t believe how quickly she picked up on my panic. The phone continued to ring, but I couldn’t move. I smiled and closed my eyes. I had no doubt that Vicky would send the paramedics. I just hoped that it would be in time. I felt myself drifting off.