Wednesday, December 07, 2016



As an old woman she reflected quite a bit on her three suicide attempts.  They were far in the past now, when she was young and drastic and not quite in control because she never thought about what her options were.

The first one was intended to be a kind of magic.  Before she married, she had been in love with her future husband’s sister and if she had been a lesbian, she would rather have married her than him, but same-sex marriage wasn’t done in those days no matter how she “self-identified.”  Peg and Putt were twins, fraternal obviously, but very much alike.  Except that since Putt’s DNA had a Y and Peg’s had an X, she always felt that Putt was Peg with something missing.  Of course, Peg had no male appendage, but the relationship was not about penetration.  It was about sharing and understanding.

They met when they were all taking the introductory English class together at university — not the bonehead class, but the one meant to sort of orient everyone and explain the focus of the department, which was very heavy on myth, both Greek and the derivatives like Jung and Joe Campbell.  They each picked some version of that terrain to work out.  Putt leaned towards the psychological which was nice and fuzzy so that he couldn’t be pinned down.  It was his life strategy and didn’t succeed very well.  The two women were sharper and more contemporary.  They liked the Imagists.

But when Peg developed fatal cancer, the old woman had succumbed to a half-unconscious idea that if she herself died, Peg would not.  Fate would take her in Peg’s place.  By this time much had changed.  Peg had married a college professor and produced three babies, one after the other, all of them dear and sweet but undistinguished otherwise.  The father was developing a strong career in administration, so there was plenty of money.

Putt had found a teaching job, mostly by staying where he was and making himself useful, so they remained on the little farm just outside town where the twins had grown up and sadly buried their parents, who died too young in a car crash.  The old woman had settled at the kitchen table to write, expecting to produce a novel that would pay some bills.  When they modernized the kitchen, they had kept the old wood stove and she was grateful for that, loving the sound and the intermittent interruptions to add more wood.  But she never tried to cook or bake on it.  Much of what she wrote was letters to Peg, counting on the dependable responses by return mail.

But Peg told her nothing about the cancer until it was too late.  Then the husband called to say there would be one last attempt at surgery, but she might not survive.  If they wanted to talk to her one last time, they would have to come and quickly.  

The old woman and Putt had a terrible battle that night.  He didn’t want to go, it would break his heart, the only way to get there quickly enough was by driving and he was convinced they would be killed in a crash on the way like his parents.  What good would that do?

She accused him of being afraid to die because he had never lived, which was partly true.  She claimed she was NOT afraid to die, then went quietly into the bathroom, drew a hot bath, and slashed her wrist.  She cut it crosswise, since the smart aleck cop procedurals had not yet explained that one must go wrist-to-elbow.  She dozed, then woke in pink water, and decided Putt was right.  She never knew where he was all that time, but they went to Peg.  Most of the way, she drove.

When they got to Peg, she was barely alive, withered and incoherent, her babies confused.  They went to their father’s aunt who raised them with no trauma.  She and Putt never saw them, but the administrator moved to a job near them and provided support.  There was no funeral because Peg hadn’t wanted one.

The old woman’s name was Lillian, but people called her “Lil” and she liked the kind of Old West saloon sound of that.  She developed a reputation for a newspaper column that was considered very funny, though a little bitter or maybe salty.  Lil and Putt were popular at cocktail parties and on panels.  They grew close together in an habitual way, because what choice did they have?  Lil took a new interest in the little farm, which was being engulfed by the university town.  She had a horse but not many places left to ride.

The second suicide attempt was almost performance art.  There was another fight between them, but it was the first in a long time and it got totally out of control.  She was drinking, which made her over-dramatic.  Because she had leaked the fact of her first suicide attempt to her friends and they had taken him aside to rebuke him harshly for not intervening, this time he was determined not to let her out of his sight.

So she ran from him, at first around the yard, but he was keeping up better than she expected, so she darted through the door into the little barn and climbed to the haymow with him right behind her.  A rope dangled from the rafters. There was a loop in the end of it.  She put the loop around her neck.  It was a rough thick rope and the whole barn smelled of hay and her horse, which was kicking his stall and neighing.  She had never felt so alive.  

Even Putt looked alive with his eyes wide open, suddenly eloquent about loving her and wanting her to stay with him because what else did he have to live for?  He made all sorts of promises, all the things he thought she would want.  She didn’t want any of them.  But she wanted her horse.  In the end that was enough.

Not much changed.  Things went along predictably until they were nearly old.  Then Putt died of a heart attack.  She sold the little farm to a developer and moved to the nearest big city where she bought a little studio-condo on a high floor of a tall building.  By now computers had been invented and the world opened out before her, quite literally, from first light when she made excellent coffee and sat by the east window.  All day she wrote and her agent said it was all good.  It all sold.  She was bored.

The third suicide attempt was not even with the intention of dying.  It was NOT suicide.  She just wanted a rest.  She told her agent she couldn’t sleep and with her help accumulated enough nembutal pills to keep herself unconscious for a couple of days, waking now and then to pee and brush her teeth.  But then her agent got suspicious and used a copy of the condo key to come find her and get her to the hospital where they scolded her and watched her through the possible aftermath, though there was none.  (There could have been convulsions.)

They made her talk to a shrink but he didn’t understand that she hadn’t tried to kill herself.  He signed off.  Her agent had kept her plants watered and brought her a cat.  It was almost as good as a horse.  She had a few good scribbling years left in her.  She began to consider whether she might be a lesbian after all.  It might be fun to go dancing with another woman.

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