This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
Once, a very long time ago, I had a good job, a loving family, and a white picket fence. I started my own business, worked hard, and collected the toys that the wealthy have—a boat, a mansion, a few Harleys. I worried about the things you probably worry about—the stress of work every Monday morning, the bills that kept piling up, and the fact that the more we had, the more it didn’t quite seem like enough.
Then, following the financial crisis in 2007/8, I lost my business, my family, and my home. I lost everything.
After months of trying to dig myself out of a hole, I gave up. There was only one way out, I thought. One permanent, final solution. My uncle had done it years before. And as I swiped the rope like a rosary through my fingers, I thought about my wife or kids being called to the scene to identify me. I thought about the person who would discover me hanging from some tree, and about how maybe that would mess them up, too. But I had made up my mind.
I’d spent a few hours that day poring over my financial records. What the market crash hadn’t taken, I had spent on booze and weed and women. The only thing left was my life insurance policy, which fortunately for my family was pretty hefty. I read the fine print a million times: if I committed suicide, my family would still get the money as long as the policy was taken out more than three years ago. I looked at the date of the policy again, and again, and again, and again.
As soon as I’d confirm that I’d taken it out in August of 2003, I’d panic and go back to check. I even thought about asking a lawyer to look the suicide clause over, but was afraid of setting off a red flag. I just kept thinking that it would be a shame to kill myself and then have my family not get any money just on a technicality. Then my life would really have been pointless.
I played with the rope some more and looked around the empty parking lot. There was a patch of woods in the back of the lot, and I planned on finding a sturdy tree. I’d packed on some weight in the last few years. I thought about the insurance policy again and had to exercise some restraint to not go back to the office and check the dates one last time. Then, I reached into the back seat and grabbed my stool, opened the car door, and walked towards the woods.
That moment of decision will always stand out to me as one of my clearest, most crystalized memories. I felt no fear at all; on the contrary, I walked with a sense of hope. It was the first time I had thought of the future without feeling doomed. But I also knew myself well enough to know that I was a fickle man in life — a man filled with doubts and weaknesses, and that I needed to do this quickly, before I had a chance to change my mind.
I wanted to be somewhere in the middle of the woods — not so close to the lot that people would see me immediately, but also not so far back that it would take a while to discover my body. I didn’t want to stink the place up, and I didn’t want animals to find me first. I walked for about a minute, and then took out my phone and activated the flashlight feature.
I felt oddly calm and resolute, and I studied the trees with a certain matter-of-factness. It didn’t take me long to find the perfect branch and tie the knot I’d looked up on a YouTube tutorial. In the office I’d spent about an hour practicing the knot because I read that hanging yourself was a tricky business. If done incorrectly, it could result in some serious pain. And I didn’t want to feel pain, anymore.
I stood on the stool and put the rope around my own neck. Then I fiddled on my phone to deactivate the flashlight. I didn’t want people to see it through the woods and interrupt me before I was done.
As I held the phone, the screen lit up and my daughter’s name flashed across, pulsating in the darkness. I started crying in the sort of inconsolable way I’d never let my family see, and then, when I’d composed myself and sobered up enough, I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital.
My daughter saved my life that night.
I’ve never told her.
My wife and I are back together. We bought a nice Cape Cod—it’s just enough space for the two of us—no luxuries, and that’s okay. I talk to my daughters every day. I work a 9-5 and, in my spare time, I make things—little personalized tchotchkes for people. I sell them on Etsy. And I gotta tell you, I’m happy. Life sure is strange.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You are not alone. A counselor is available to help you 24/7, confidentially and for free. Call 1-800-273-8255.