The hardest part is knowing how to start. The scariest part is not knowing how it ends.
This is true in writing and in life. Today is a day that is embedded deep in my soul. It’s a day that’s almost…representative of my life. It’s World Suicide Prevention Day. My life has been so insanely impacted by suicide in so many ways, I’ve referred to myself as “suicide’s child”. I could have never imagined how enormous of an impact suicide would be in my life…even after the first one.
The first one was my father. I will never forget that day…what I was wearing, the movements of everyone around me, the smell of the air, the direction of the wind that froze the salt on my cheeks…the feeling of complete and utter helplessness. I was 12, and in the 7th grade. I had a tough morning getting ready for school-nothing new for an awkward, overweight, pubescent child who hated school. I couldn’t find anything to wear. Also, nothing new. I landed on stupid jeans, a stupid white t-shirt and the dumbest black sweater that left little black balls of fuzz all over everything. I had almost made it through the dumbest day ever. I was in the last period of the day-P.E.-definitely not my favorite class, but it was so close to the last bell. The intercom went off with that initial feedback that makes your teeth ache. “Will Jessica Plaxco please come to the principal’s office? Will Jessica Plaxco please come to the principal’s office?” This was followed by a round of childish oooooooo’s and uh ohhhhhhh’s, as I was known for getting into trouble from time to time. But I hadn’t done anything…not lately anyway. I grabbed my bag and went into the principal’s office. She had a strange disposition about her. She was uncomfortable even seeing me, being near me. She did the classic, hand out/palm up, “take a seat”. As I stared at her blankly, wondering what the hell I was doing in there, I noticed tiny beads of sweat on her forehead. She cleared her throat. “Jessica, uh, I just wanted to commend you on raising your grades in almost every class (not P.E.). You’ve done a great job, and I just wanted to encourage you to keep up the good work.” Of course, my smartass snarked back with, “that’s it? THAT’S why you called me in here?”. She was saved by the bell. I asked her if I could change back into my stupid clothes in her in-office bathroom, so I could catch the bus. I could SEE her thought process. “Sure”, she said…after alllll that thinkin’. I ran in and changed my clothes faster than I thought humanly possible. I flung the door open, and noticed a look of pity painted on her face. I couldn’t see the chair by the window in her office that was blocked by the bathroom door. I heard an abruptly shocking sniffle that didn’t come from the principal. I slowly started to close the door, and there sat my mother. She had clearly been crying for, what appeared on her face, to have been years. She sobbed at the sight of me. Immediately, my brain went to my brothers. One of them was dead, I knew it. They were both into drugs and constantly in trouble. I looked into the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen, with desperate confusion looking back in mine. “Jessie, baby, it’s your dad.” I fell to the floor. Tears were forming too quickly to fall from my tear ducts normally. They were sheets of tears. No one said anything. The first thought that popped into my brain was murder. He was murdered. Maybe an accident at the plant? Yeah. Yeah. It HAD to be one of those things. There were condolences, I was shuffled out of her office, and out of the back of the school. I was walking fast, looking up at my tall, thin mother. “What happened?”. “We don’t know yet”, she replied with nervousness. She was lying. One of my gifts in life is spotting a liar. In fact, that lie went on for a couple of days. In those couple of days, I couldn’t count the number of random faces that showed up at the door, with their random hams and casseroles. I laid in my ivy bedspread, just laid there numb and forever broken, with no clue why my dad was gone…until the newspaper came out. “Man found hanging in local park identified as David Plaxco.” FUCK.
Just imagine…you’re an awkward 12 year old who rarely-if ever-sees your father, you just found out he’s dead, but don’t know how or why, and then BAM - the entire county finds out at the same time you do. I don’t remember getting back up. I remember stealing a Camel Light from my brother. I remember the feeling of the thick smoke rolling across my tongue and down my throat, filling my shitty, asthmatic lungs. I remember stealing a wine cooler from my mom. It was blue. It was disgusting, but kind of not. I remember parts of the first funeral. The church was so full, people were standing outside and in the doorways. I remember the feeling of my nana’s hand on mine. She had the softest, thinnest skin. I counted her veins. I remember hearing, “look at that poor girl with her grandmother”, and “I know, isn’t it the saddest thing you’ve ever seen?”. The preacher walked out. Everyone fell silent. You could hear his footsteps echoing throughout the church. He cleared his throat and started digging through his pockets. He pulled out a pair of sunglasses and slid them over his eyes. “We’re gonna do this Dave’s way”, he said. My dad’s uniform was a bandana, a concert t-shirt, khaki shorts, flip flops and a Camel Light. At the end of the service, the preacher asked if anyone had a story they’d like to share about my father. I only recall one. An older black gentleman with a soft voice stood up. He held his hands together around the front of his waist. “Dave was the coolest guy I ever met. He was always makin’ mixed tapes for me. Any time I was down, or he just felt like there was music I had to hear - a new tape”. That was my pops. A man with a record collection no one could rival. A custom (self) built cassette unit with record space at the bottom…every single album with a sticker, with a number on it, that was recorded in a notebook. We all know where my OCD comes from. There was another funeral in his home town of Christiana, Tennessee. Don’t remember it. I do, however, remember my first day back to school, months later. I walked into my English class. The teacher who will forever be my first love, Mr. Horton, tried to make it as easy on me as possible. I sat down in my desk, and as he started his lesson, there was a tap on my shoulder. “Where have you been for so long?” I didn’t know what to say…I had never done this before. “My dad died”. She quickly snapped back, “What?! How?!”. Again…I had never done this before, so, I was me. I was honest. “He killed himself”. This stupid young girl would never know the impact what she was about to say would have on me for the rest of my life. “You know, people who kill themselves go to hell”.
In the years following, I lost count of the number of close friends and acquaintances who took their lives. I still couldn’t sit down and make a list if you paid me. It’s that many…and it’s still happening.
In order to save you from spending the next year of your life reading this instead of living, I suppose it’s on to the next life-altering suicide. Jesus…what a sentence.
I was in college. It was 2007, and I was 22. I lived in a $325/mo duplex behind the florist I worked at. My neighbors were a couple, younger than me. They were less…hardened by life, less exposed to horrors…at least for a few months. The male half of the couple was my favorite - there was just something comforting about him. It was football season in Tuscaloosa. That brings a heartbeat of its own to my city. There was a chill in the air, the leaves were crunchy, it smelled like earth and fire. It was late October, late one night, and I was doing college things. I’d had a few beers…smoked a few bowls…my phone rang. This was in the time of caller ID, but before I stopped answering numbers I didn’t know. I said “hello” with a intonation of questioning. It was a man on the other end. “Jessica?”. “Ummmmm maybe. Who is this?”, I said. “Hey, It’s Brad”. I won’t use his last name, because if you don’t know, you don’t need to. He continued without me speaking, “Ty gave me your number. I’ve been in Pensacola for a long time, but I’m back home. I had to get away from some bad people…some bad situations…and I remember you being a cool person. I remember you being a good person. So…I…I was wondering, would you maybe wanna meet me for a beer?”. Something you should know about Brad; he was ALWAYS in my life, but I never KNEW him. He dated a girl my brother dated, he was friends with some of my best friends, but we just always…passed each other by. While this phone call would seem very odd to me if it came now, in college, it was like, “did you say beer?”. So I went. I met him for a beer, and for the next 30 days, we were inseparable. Not in a romantic way. In a, “did we just become best friends?!” way. We would talk in my apartment for hours, smoking pot, crying, watching the sun rise. I’d go to his parents, and his mom would make us sandwiches and we’d fall asleep next to each other. He would ask me to pick him up in my flower delivery van - VERY against the rules - but I’ve never been big on the rules. We would drive around all day, smoking cigarettes and talking. Then…the first warning siren went off. We were sitting on my bed talking. He was talking about his best friend (also a very old friend of mine/my family), whom he found dead. Suicide. He blamed himself. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a revolver. He looked at it like an old, lost love, with longing in his eyes. He looked at me and said, “when he’s ready for me to be with him, the bullet will be in the chamber.” Then he put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. “CLICK”. Nothing. He was playing fucking Russian roulette on my bed, RIGHT next to me. I freaked out. I screamed at him. “What the fuck, Brad?! Don’t ever do that again. EVER. You know what I’ve been through. You know what YOU’VE been through. This isn’t a fucking game.” I told him to never bring his gun in my house again. I told him he needed help I, obviously, couldn’t give him. I told him he needed to see a professional.
Fast forward to November 20th (about 30 days after that beer) - exactly 10 years and 1 month to the day since my father had taken himself from this world. My neighbor (the male half) was having friends from his fraternity over to tap a keg and hang out. That’s just what you do in a college town. He asked me if I wanted to come by, and said, “bring someone if you want!” He is very much a “the more, the merrier” kinda person. So, I called Brad. Who else would I call? It was me and him. He came over, and like I knew he would, charmed the hell outta all of them. He was a presence. Very tall, very statuesque, very blonde, very intense blue eyes. He had a mysterious, but sensitive demeanor, that made it very easy to be at ease around him. We had maybe two beers a piece, and he looked at me and said, “I’m ready”. We said goodbye and went back over to my side of the duplex. Within moments of walking into my door, he was pacing around nervously. I told him to sit down and chill out. “Smoke a bowl, man. Everything’s fine”. I started to walk from the living room toward my bathroom. My apartment was a shotgun apartment, meaning, you could see straight from the front door to the back door. He stood up quickly. I turned around. There was something in his eyes…a combination of sparkle and emptiness. “I’m ready”, he said, as he slid the revolver out of his waistband. He started walking toward me with urgency. I turned to open the bathroom door and said, “this isn’t a joke, Brad. It’s not funny. Fucking stop.” I turned around, our eyes locked, he lifted the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger. It wasn’t a click this time. It wasn’t a fucking click. I watched the bullet come out of the other side of his head. The sparkle was gone…just emptiness in his eyes. I was frozen in that moment. Frozen. The bullet grazed by the left side of my eyebrow and burrowed into the wall behind my head. Gun in hand, the statue fell to my floor. I couldn’t move. I screamed his name so loudly, it felt like my vocal cords snapped. The pool of red was growing rapidly around him. I ran as fast as I could next door. I was beating on the door with both of my fists so hard, I thought I broke them. “Hold your fuckin’ horses”, said a distant voice from behind the door. “HE FUCKING SHOT HIMSELF, HE’S FUCKING DYING, SOMEONE HELP ME”. My neighbor ran out and grabbed my arms, trying to make sense of anything - they thought something fell off of the wall when it was actually the gun going off. I grabbed his arms, and ran him into my apartment. “Call 911, NOW!”, I screeched. He looked to the floor at Brad. “Oh my god”. He got on the phone. I don’t know what he said, because all I could hear was the deafening sound of Brad choking on his own blood. That sound will be in my head for the rest of my life. I hadn’t cried until that moment…I don’t remember when it stopped. I stood over him, screaming at him to just hold on…even though I knew the second he pulled that trigger, he was gone.
The detectives arrived well after the coroner. I was interrogated for the next 7 hours. Gun shot residue testing on my hands…the same questions over and over like they were trying to break me…but I was already broken. My brother picked me up and took me to his apartment in Birmingham. There was a lot of shuffling me around for a while. I had nowhere to go. I could never go back inside that apartment.
What I remember of the funeral was a nightmare. His mother was screaming at me. His father and oldest sisters were trying to comfort me. Everything went black.
My landlord then tried to sue me for the rent for the remainder of the lease, the SERVPRO bill to clean the massive amount of blood (as the coroner let him bleed out completely before taking his body), and the fees to rip out/replace the floor where he died. Luckily, my mom used to work for an attorney who took on my case, pro bono, and found a massive mistake in my lease that relinquished me from any responsibility.
I was given the choice to go back to work or be fired 3 days later. I could see the house from the parking spot for the flower van. I would be driving and suddenly smell gun powder. I could hear all of the sounds from that moment. I’d black out and come to…still driving, with no clue how I got there.
I had a flower delivery to a school right before Christmas. I didn’t realize until I walked in that it was the school Brad’s mother worked at. She walked into the office as the receptionist was signing for the floral arrangement. I snatched the clipboard and started running back to my van. I heard footsteps running behind me. “YOU! HEY, YOU”, screamed his mother. I jumped in the van, and she flung open the passenger door. “I will never forgive you for the death of my baby. I will blame YOU for the rest of my life…”. She kept screaming in sobs, but I couldn’t breathe, and the sheets of tears were blanketing my cheeks. I drove off with the door open. I knew she needed someone to blame, and I knew I was the easy target. I didn’t blame her for her misdirected anger, but god, was it a dagger in my already broken heart.
There will always be at least one person who chooses to carry the blame when someone they love leaves this world by their own hands. I blamed myself for my father for a long time…sometimes still wonder. I never blamed myself for Brad. With him, I had to rationalize to survive. It was almost like he chose me. Yeah, he DID know what I had been through. He also knew that I survived it all and came out a “good person”. I think he was afraid to die alone, so he found the number of someone who could survive his death.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression, suicidal thoughts, or any mental disorder that requires professional care, ask for help. If you’re afraid to, or don’t know where to look - I do. Message me, and I will find the resources you need. Just know that you have to be willing to actually get help. I will not have you reach out to me, threatening to harm yourself, and refuse help. I’ve lost too many people at this point to be afraid to call 911. I love each and every human being reading this. You ARE STRONG enough to make it through anything. It’s just up to you to find the strength to keep fighting. It’s ALWAYS there.
The hardest part is knowing how to start. The scariest part is not knowing how it ends.