The latest draft of my suicide note is thus far unimpressive:
To whom it may concern,
I couldn’t decide which tie to wear to Jenna’s wedding. Really, I tried. But it was too much.
So now you can choose which tie I wear in the coffin.
It has potential, I think. I mean, as much potential as any of the hundreds of iterations that came before it.
My last attempt began ‘Attention pedestrians!’ and shot back at the passersby who heckled me for cycling on the footpath because, ironically, I don’t feel safe navigating the traffic-dense streets of Tallaght.
As the drafts get sillier and sillier, the grim weight of it all ebbs away and I’m hoping that somewhere along the way, the real thing will emerge from me, guilt-free and perfectly formed.
Someday, I’ll get it right.
The crumpled note lies at the foot of my bed, forgotten, as I turn my attention to more pressing matters.
My eyes flit back and forth between two men’s ties, one silver and one lilac, laid out for me by my mam alongside the suit I’m now crammed into. It’s so stiff I suspect it might be made of cardboard.
Silver or lilac?
Lilac or silver?
I can’t think of anything in the world I care less about. But, somehow, the decision paralyses me. It’s been about five minutes and sounds of clacking high-heels and the bustle of general wedding prep haunt me in the background.
Mam and Megs will be ready to leave soon. And I can’t choose a fucking tie.
I knock back a tumbler full of whiskey, wincing slightly at its sharpness but knowing it will be worth it for the boozy filter. I can’t take my eyes off the damn ties so I miss the bookcase when I go to put the tumbler down, glass shattering on the shitty composite floor.
Perfect, I think to myself as I examine the whiskey splatters on my trouser leg. I’m gonna smell like a drunkard before noon at a family event. I can see Mam and Jenna’s grimaces now.
I stare down at the mess around my feet, glass and sprays of liquor mingling with rotting takeaway containers, dirty cutlery, unwashed laundry and general rubbish.
Later, I decide, an uneasy squirm growing angrier in my stomach.
I sweep the ties aside and throw myself into the comfort of my unmade bed, taking deep breaths and trying to convince myself the next twelve hours will be bearable. Sure, I’ll have to see people and smile for photos and put on the mask of a normal person, but I can do that just for twelve hours, right?
My eyes close in defeat. Who am I kidding?
I fling my arms under the pillow to support my head when my fingers close around something unexpected, something alien and glossy that I’m pretty sure I didn’t put there.
It’s a pamphlet on mental hygiene, I realise as my eyes focus on the smiling model in his twenties with straight white teeth and perfect skin. This guy’s clearly never been depressed a day in his life.
Your roadmap to a healthy mind, the obnoxious block lettering reads. I snort a little but I hold back the eyeroll. This has Megs written all over it (or it could be the work of a particularly considerate anti-burglar… but I’m pretty sure it was Megs) and I can’t bring myself to condescend to a gesture of hers, even when she’s not around.
My little sister was the final one to give up on me, outlasting the others by a long shot. It took months of one-sided conversations and anecdotes left hanging in the air as I tried to calculate a response. She was able to pretend not to notice for a long time but eventually, it got to her.
Still, though, I guess she hasn’t given up on me entirely.
My fist curls around the multi-leaf brochure, clearly pulled from a doctor’s office, and I try not to picture it. Megan, with her pink cheeks, cute braces and her dazzlingly bright smile, asking for advice from a tired doctor with one eye on the clock. I have to push the visual aside to keep my chest from aching.
She’s the only one I can’t stand to leave behind, the only one I don’t want to read the final draft of my suicide note, even though she’s probably the only one who would care to read it.
An abrupt knock tap-tap-taps at my bedroom door, pulling me back to the present moment. I bolt upright and push the pamphlet deep into my pocket as if I’ve been caught reading something unspeakable.
As if I’ve summoned her, Megs pops her head around my bedroom door, just cracked open a sliver, and her nose crinkles. She’d never say it, but I’m sure my room must stink from neglect. Fortunately, the depression has eaten away at my capacity to feel shame.
Her deep hazel eyes land on the two ties, now tangled together at the foot of my bed.
“The silver one,” she says with certainty. “Need help?”
I stand up without a word and she closes the distance between us, her eyes only briefly lingering on the glass shards and tiny puddle of booze at our feet. She clamps her lips shut and visibly forces herself not to ask.
She pops my collar, stringing the silver tie around my neck and it’s feeling very definitely like a noose right about now. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at her properly but I make myself look now.
There she stands in a flowy silver and lilac bridesmaids dress: bright-eyed, pink-lipped and with a face the shape of a heart, hidden beneath a filter of makeup that distorts her youthful features into those of maturity. I’m confronted by a stranger who looks so much like my little sister. Where is her light dusting of freckles or the scattering of mid-teen pimples?
“You look good,” she lies, patting my shoulder when the tie is in place and then I notice something else that’s missing.
“Your braces-?” I say, without much of an ending to the sentence in sight.
She laughs. “I got them off, like, two months ago. Good riddance.”
Her smile used to prompt a mirrored response from me, but that reflex, like most others, died a while back.
“Shoes on,” she orders, turning to leave. “The car will be here in five and Mam is already fussing.”
I let out a long, deep breath, wishing it could be my last.
The etiquette for dramatic farewells, I think to myself as Jenna walks down the aisle arm-in-arm with my tearful mother, is complicated.
For a start, they probably shouldn’t be delivered via post-it note, so I’m already losing points there. But also, it should probably be addressed to my mam and sisters rather than the universally-disliked ‘To whom it may concern’.
The thing is, though, Mam and Jenna are little more than strangers to me now. There’s a distance between us that wasn’t there before. I’m invited to this wedding, not because of the undying bond between a brother and sister, but because people would give Jenna weird looks if her only brother didn’t make the guest list. I’ll stand beside her in all the family photos and I’ll get a courtesy mention in the speeches, but it’s a farce. I’m an interloper disguised as the brother Jenna once knew, the son my mam once had.
I try to focus on the ceremony but speeches and vows are just babbles in my ears. The white of her dress blinds me, all the details fading to nothing so that I can hardly tell where the dress ends and her pale white skin begins. Distant family members and Jenna’s friends sit around me in soft chairs laid out by the hotel, and they all laugh together as if it’s been scripted, but I can’t tell you what their cue is.
Ben, a bespectacled guy with a wide smile, short curls and a sandy complexion, leans in to kiss my dark-haired, neatly put-together sister, signalling that I’ve made it through the ceremony. People stand around me, strangers and relatives alike, and cheer for the newlyweds as they march down the aisle hand-in-hand.
Jenna doesn’t smile often. Her sharp librarian features are generally pulled into a thoughtful, pondering look instead. But now, she smiles wide and bright like it’s the first day back to school after a long summer break stuck at home.
She’s shining while my last embers are dwindling.
Several photographs and forced small talks later and I’m seated beside Megs and opposite Mam at a long banquet-like table, with Jenna and Ben at the head of it. The hotel function room is illuminated by a blazing sun that has no business being this bright and overbearing in mid-October. It bursts in through a wall of windows, hitting my eyes with such force they now ache just as much as my sore head and knotted stomach.
I swirl my green soup with a spoon, giving it my full attention, silently begging everyone to leave me alone in my own head. I can’t recite any more empty platitudes about how beautiful the ceremony was and how lucky they are to have such good weather and how time flies when you’re having fun. I can’t. I might scream if I try.
Between courses, Ben stands up at the head of the room and silences everyone by clinking his champagne flute with a knife.
He thanks everyone for being here and then he launches into the list of people who get special thanks; his parents for their lifelong support, my own greying mother in her carefully selected pantsuit for raising Jenna to be the girl of his dreams, his groomsmen for the killer stag do, Megan and the other bridesmaids for keeping Jenna sane amidst all the wedding planning. And then, somehow, there’s me.
“Jay,” he looks at me very deliberately, “you know how they say too many cooks spoil the broth? Well, thanks for keeping out of the way so we’d have one less cook in the kitchen!”
I let out a sharp laugh without meaning to and it’s loud enough that a few heads whip around to face me. Now with a little colour in my cheeks, I slump down in my chair until all eyes are back on Ben.
I’m actually impressed. It can’t have been easy to craft a ‘thank you’ out of thin air for someone who made himself scarce every time the word ‘wedding’ was uttered over the last year. But fair play to him, he somehow managed it.
He carries on with the thank yous, gesturing around the room with his champagne glass, perhaps a little merrily. When he waxes lyrical about being surrounded by loved ones, two families becoming one and all that blah blah blah, the crowd awes and applauds. Some of the more emotionally brittle among us even start tearing up, but I know this monologue is far from over. Ben is known for long and overly sentimental toasts, while Jenna is known for cutting them short and trying not to cringe too hard. Today, though, she lets her new husband gush.
He carries on, his own cheeks turning pink as I suspect the booze hits his bloodstream, and shares stories about their days as young college students.
He holds the room hostage, telling us how he fell in love with my sister basically immediately but was too shy to make a move. It wasn’t until long after they’d graduated with their degrees in English Lit and started their own private book club coffee dates that Jenna finally lost patience and asked him out instead. A few guffaws come from a circle of guests in their late twenties, the guys all stubbled, the ladies all in bright floral patterns, and it’s clear these are the college comrades.
“The moral of the story,” he concludes about a year later, “is if you want something, go after it or else you might waste five years reading books you’re not interested in just to impress a girl.”
The room claps and Ben finally takes his seat, pecking Jenna on the lips as his flute tips to spill champagne on the place setting they agonised over for weeks.
Something heavy drops in my stomach as a small selection of his words plays in my head on a loop.
“If you want something, go after it or else you might waste five years.“
I can’t do this for another five years, I think, my fingers mindlessly pulling at my collar as heat creeps up my neck. I can’t even picture myself in five years. Who would I be then? I’m already a shell of myself; what kind of lifeless husk will I be in five years?
My palms are sweating and nausea threatens to bring back up the few drinks I’d managed to sneak throughout the day.
Servers are emerging from doors and sweeping the room, placing main courses in front of every guest, the overpowering stench of fish making my stomach swirl.
Mam and Megs are conversing across the table so I don’t bother excusing myself; I just slip away while everyone else digs in.
Fumes from the cigarette push themselves out from between my tight lips, ash smudging a new stain on the thigh of my tux trousers. As I swallow back the taste of tobacco and nightmares, I can’t help but note with pride that I’m getting better at this.
It’s been a few weeks now, and it was tough at first, but my average of cigarettes smoked daily has risen from three to seven, and I almost don’t hate it. It’s still gross as hell, obviously, but now at least there’s some pride in having mastered a new skill. Although, the taste lingers longer than the pride.
Finally, the unwelcome remarks from strangers about all the ways in which I’m smoking incorrectly (“You have to actually inhale it, dickhead!”) have receded, and so too then have the majority of my daily conversations. I wonder, should my fellow smokers be addressed before or after my mam and sisters in my suicide note?
I’m sitting on the steps of the Milton Inn, a hotel not even a ten-minute drive from our kip of a bungalow, overlooking the scenic intersection where the traffic lights malfunction every two weeks or so. Ever since we moved here from the guts of Wicklow seven years ago, Jenna’s been in love with the relentless buzz of Tallaght, so it came as a shock to absolutely no one that she wanted to get married here. I guess no one had the heart to tell her the buzz comes from flies circling one great big shithole.
I stub out my third cigarette of the day, only a partial letter ‘D’ surviving on the crumpled butt. Earlier on, it had read the word ‘DEPRESSION’. Now, only ‘COLLEGE’, ‘SMALL TALK’, ‘BLUE’ and ‘FISH’, remain in the pack, all the hated things to remind me why I took up the gross habit.
Fish, I think to myself with disgust. I fucking hate fish.
I can’t believe Jenna put it as one of only two options on her wedding menu, condemning guests to a room at least half-filled with the funk of salmon. She knows my aversion but still, there it was, listed in the pre-wedding email that was sent en masse early last week. It’s like, for some reason, today isn’t all about me.
The cool air soothes me and the nausea subsides a little, but mostly it’s the whirring in my head that’s calming me down. I can’t put words on it yet, but a plan is forming. Pieces of a puzzle are coming together.
“If you want something, go after it…“
But I want nothing. My body and my being have forgotten how to want.
Ben had also said that everyone here today is family. For me, that’s mostly true. All the people I’m supposed to love are in that function room, chowing down on repulsive fish, clinking glasses and sharing anecdotes. And I don’t feel a damn thing for any of them.
My mind sews pieces of a plan together, bit by bit. I don’t know what it is yet, but from the second Ben said to go after what we want, my inner-self put its foot down. Enough is enough.
Even as I fantasise about my own death, I’ve never officially been diagnosed with anything. ‘Depression’, the word I had researched and quite confidently brought forward to my mother, was dismissed as a myth and an “attention-grabbing buzzword”.
The phrases and euphemisms Mam brought forward, “just a bit off”, “down in the dumps”, “a phase” and “puberty” were rejected by me almost as soon as she had uttered them.
Fucking puberty? At nineteen? Mam frequently holidays in the Land of Denial, but on this issue, she may as well have updated her passport and become a citizen.
And then there was her favourite one, the one that brought bile to my lips. The one she uttered in hushed tones to her peers with an eye twitch, subtle as a landslide.
“He’s just feeling a bit blue at the moment, you know yourself,” she would say.
And then they would confirm that, yes, they do know themselves, even though they themselves think that antidepressants are Tic Tacs and psychologists are fortune-tellers.
I fucking hate the colour blue. I’ve been boycotting it ever since Mam made the colour my formal diagnosis.
“Jay?” a small familiar voice reaches me as I’m caught red-handed lighting up another cig, this one suitably labelled ‘SMALL-TALK’.
Megan’s eyes rest on my face, my lips trying to form words to explain how this lit cigarette came to be in my possession and how I have zero intention of smoking it.
She takes a seat beside me on the cold concrete so she too can gaze upon Tallaght’s finest road rage.
“It’s okay,” she says, nodding at the cig. “I’ve known for a while now.”
She hands me a mug of something steaming and my grip tightens around it, enjoying the warmth against the mid-autumn chill. “I got us some tea from the bar. You looked like you could use it.”
Ahh. The only act of compassion we learned from Mam. At Chez O’Lear, tea is the antidote administered for any wound that should be handled in words. I’m convinced my body is ninety per cent Barry’s Tea and ten per cent dissatisfaction.
“Thanks,” I manage to choke out, although words are tough right now.
Strands of her dark brown hair tickle my cheek as the wind picks up around us and I’m struck, not for the first time, by how little we look alike.
Although we all got Mam’s expressive brows, ready to crinkle at the first sign of conflict or tension, my fiery red hair sets me miles apart from my sisters. It doesn’t matter the shape of our noses or if our ears stick out the same way; they clearly belong with Mam while I’ve got the shittier end of our shared genetic makeup.
I stub out my ‘SMALL-TALK’ cigarette on the step before it ever reaches my lips.
“Mam doesn’t know, by the way,” she continues between sips from her own mug. “The smoking, I mean. She has her suspicions, but she doesn’t know-know. It’s fine though, y’know? You’re an adult, Mam knows she can’t stop you if you want to smoke.”
I make a sound that might possibly be a word, or maybe just a grunt, but I follow it up by blowing on my blisteringly hot tea, so I figure that’s enough response.
“Of course, I think you’re a fucking idiot.”
Something breaks through the fuzzy white noise in my brain – it’s the word ‘fucking’. Who taught her that word?
I choke on my drink, partially in surprise and partially in shock. But instead of going ‘big brother mode’, I ask, “What is this crap? It’s gross.”
“It’s tea,” she lies. “Decaf, no sugar. Your regular tea order is bad for you.”
“Since forever, but mostly since I saw that documentary on sugar a few weeks ago.”
“You should stay off of Netflix if you’re only going to use it for evil.”
She giggles, a sound that used to be followed up by a snort which only made her laugh harder. It was a beautiful cycle that she sadly outgrew.
We sip silently for a while, watching the world slip by, trapped in the surreal day that is our older sister’s nuptials.
“So. You okay?” she prods, just slightly. Her eyes are trained on the cars whizzing by, giving me the space I need to answer honestly or craft a lie.
I decide to do both.
“Actually,” I start, the words coming together without much of my say-so, “I was feeling kinda nauseous-“
“The word is nauseated. You were feeling nauseated. Was it the fish?”
I nod, biting down on my tongue just enough that it hurts but not so much that I can taste blood. “So I think I might just go up to my room for a bit.”
Because, yes, Mam insisted that we get rooms at the hotel even though we could walk for a half hour and sleep in the comfort of our own beds. Twenty minutes, with my lanky legs.
“I’ll come back down for the dancing bit,” I fib, forcing myself to look at her.
She meets my gaze, her eyes pouring into mine, searching. “You hate the dancing bit.”
My lips turn up a little in the corner. “Okay, yeah, I’ll probably stay in the room and watch YouTube videos until I fall asleep.” I throw my hand up in surrender as if she’s caught me in my boldest lie.
“Okay,” she says, her own lips downturned with just a twinge of sadness. “I’ll let the others know.” She stands and smooths out her dress before accepting my half-drunk mug back from me.
I nod at her and she turns, the folds of her dress swishing around her knees as she makes her departure.
In seconds after she leaves, the plan takes its full form as if it’s written across my brain in big bold neon lettering. It’s like it’s been there all along, and with the swish of Megan’s dress flouncing away, a veil fluttered to the floor of my mental space, revealing the truth in all its glory.
This is the moment when suicidal ideation turns to suicidal intent.
I can’t go on like this.
I always knew this is how I would go, of course, but I figured it was some far-off day in the future, some eventuality for which I’d been overpreparing.
But no. It’s time.
If I can’t find even a smidge of joy, a trace of happiness, here among the people I’m supposed to love on a day full of celebrations, what hope do I have?
It’s time. And I know just how I’m going to do it.
A small vibration tickles my upper thigh and my phone, which is usually as lifeless as I am, notifies me of a text.
It’s from Megs.
‘Don’t forget to eat something, okay? And call me if you want company. I don’t want you to be left alone x,’ it reads.
I know that this is what should change my mind. The moment when I decide that no matter how unlivable my life is, I should mirror her sentiment and not leave her alone. My baby sister, who came to bring me tea when no one else noticed I was missing and who apparently can’t abide by sugar; I should be here to take care of her.
But she’s not alone and she doesn’t need to be taken care of.
She still lives the life she’s always had; she’s on a different plane with the same cast of characters she’s always known and loved. It’s me who’s slipped away, into a world that looks a lot like my old one but everything is colourless and empty. The characters I now know are just the skins of people I once knew, hollow.
Everything is hollow, including me.
So I don’t reconsider. I just stand up, close my fist around the pamphlet in my pocket and leave.