A few people reached out to me after this article ran in the Question – with encouraging notes, with expressions of condolence, with knowing “been there, I see you, I’ve felt that pain” nods, with some of their own writing. And I realised that, even though my own sense of friendship is all shaken up these days, I’m still part of a community. Humanity, in fact (not to get too overblown about it). To all those people who took the time to drop a note, to say, “I read that, I really read it, and I heard what you were saying, and I recognise that place you’re coming from, that place you’re speaking of…” (you know who you are), thanks. Thank you. Thank you for reminding me that it’s not about good friends and bad friends, blame or score-keeping or any of that elementary-school-flashback-shit. We are, all of us, lurching and bumping around in the same dark room, and if we are ever brave enough to put our arms out, despite our deep fear about what we might end up touching, we sometimes discover other lovely warm brave hands reaching right back. *Squeeze.*
Two years ago one of my oldest and dearest friends jumped off a concrete shopping centre parkade to her death.
I have not written about this because I can’t ever get past this first sentence.
How can I call her a dear friend if I didn’t realize, couldn’t stop her, missed all the signs, wasn’t there? How can I explain the straight-up narrative of events when there are so many holes and I can’t just keep asking the people who were around her at the time, “so, what happened again?” How do I say, “took her life” without coming up hard against the violence of her choice? How can I put anything about her in print when her daughter, barely three-months old at the time, might one day read it? Why write about her, having nothing intelligent or insightful to add when the wisest thing I’ve ever heard, was a Quaker-ish call to refrain from speaking at all, unless you are moved to say something brave and true and kind, and everything I have falls far, far short.
I imagined her speaking to me, in the days immediately afterwards. I was 7,000 miles away from the memorial gathering, unsure what to do with my throat-lump of sadness, how to disentangle it from a nasty hairball of anger and guilt and all the unsaid things, and so I shoveled soil and pulled weeds and tried to prepare a garden bed, and as my mind quietened, it seemed as if she was standing behind me for a brief moment. She whispered, “Are you disappointed in me?” using an old pet name from our University days.
She was a notorious arm-tickler. She’d find this spot, on the inside of the upper arm that was tender, never calloused, and she’d stroke you there. She did it to everyone. Emotion flowed through her like salt water, osmotically; she wasn’t afraid to touch people or to dance in front of a crowd or to break loudly into a harmony to the radio. That square inch of flesh on my inner arm still feels as though it belongs to her.
How can I call her a dear friend if I didn’t realize, couldn’t stop her, missed all the signs, wasn’t there?
In 2006, Jamie Twokworski founded To Write Love on Her Arms, after a story he wrote about a friend struggling with depression, injury and self-harm, went viral. His blog and effort to sell t-shirts to help fund her treatment has grown into a global movement, a film, and a funding agency with a mission to present hope, and challenge stigma, to tell people: “no one else can claim your part.”
“We live in a difficult world,” states the TWLOHA mission. “A broken world. We believe everyone can relate to pain, all of us live with questions and all of us get stuck in moments. You need to know you’re not alone in the places you feel stuck. We all wake to the human condition. We wake to mystery and beauty, but also to tragedy and loss. Millions of people live with the problems of pain. Millions of homes are filled with questions — moments, and seasons, and cycles that come as thieves and aim to stay. We know pain is very real. It is our privilege to suggest that hope is real and help is real. The vision is better endings. The vision is the possibility that your best days are ahead. The vision is the possibility that we’re more loved than we’ll ever know. You are not alone, and this is not the end of your story.”
So, if you don’t mind, roll up your sleeve a little, and let me find that soft spot on the inside of your bicep. I’ll trace a tangle of letters there, and who knows, they just might spell out the words you most need to hear.