I wrote this blog entry awhile ago, but couldn't publish it. I was worried what it would do to my readers--worried it was too raw, too graphic, too real--that it might open old wounds, or expose new ones. So I didn't post it on my blog.
I woke up, flipped on the news, and there she was.
Country Music Star. Blond. Beautiful. Talented. Troubled.
Police found her body in the same place where her boyfriend had killed himself about a month ago--her front porch. She died the same way too--self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Her life was laden with addiction, severe depression and scandal. Today she ended it all. She was only 37. Her two young sons now in foster care. I didn't know Mindy and am only vaguely familiar with her music, but I felt profound sadness when I heard the news. Suicide rips at my heart. I have seen it. Heard it. Touched it. Felt it. The entry below is about that experience.
All I heard was my neighbor screaming. The wall that separated our apartment was too thin to buffer her shrieks. I shot up from the couch, heart in my throat and ran next door.
Michelle was standing wide eyed in her front door, her hands outstretched as though she was free-falling toward me and wanted me to catch her. I rushed toward her.
"Ron killed himself!" She shouted, her voice wound up into an unnatural high. I froze. She lunged toward me, grabbed my arm and looked at me with wild, searching eyes, like she had just woken up from a bad dream and had no idea where she was. Her voice was hoarse, loud, hysterical.
"He killed himself! Ron! Ron!! Ron?! Oh my God, Ron!!!"
She let out a terrible, guttural half cry, half scream and ran back inside her apartment. I didn't follow her. I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe. A faint buzzing noise started up inside my head. The ground listed beneath me like a capsizing ship. I had no idea what to do. I heard heavy footsteps coming up fast behind me. Sean, a tall, hulking middle-aged USC student who lived in the apartment on the other side of Michelle's near the stairwell, pushed past me and into Michelle's apartment. I watched as he headed to the back bedroom. Michelle continued to wail from somewhere inside her apartment. She would shout things I couldn't understand, then sob loudly, then scream, "No!" or plead "Ron!" like she wanted him to answer her. Then there would be terrible, urgent, silence before her screaming would start again. I couldn't hear Sean. Maybe he wasn't saying anything. I don't know what he was doing. I stepped inside the front door and stood in Michelle's living room, leaning one hand on the edge of a couch for balance. I felt sick. Sean came running out of the back bedroom, his breathing heavy and erratic. He grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me slowly, but firmly backward out of Michelle's apartment. His face was pale and sweaty. A few strands of his dark hair stuck to his crinkled forehead.
"Do NOT go in there." His voice was low and serious and his eyes dark with intensity. "Go back to your apartment and call 911."
So I did.
A few minutes later the paramedics, Fire Department and Sheriff's Department pulled up the long driveway next to our complex in a long caravan of screaming red and green flashing vehicles. The landlady rushed toward them, unlocked the metal access gate and pointed them up the stairs towards Michelle's apartment on the 2nd floor. The paramedics rushed up the stairs past Sean's apartment to Michele's, as I stood gaping from my front door. They were inside her apartment for what seemed like a long time. I paced near my apartment, my legs as stable as play dough, talking in nervous spurts with one of the deputies who was standing between my apartment and Michelle's. Awhile later, the paramedics emerged from Michelle's apartment holding a stretcher. As they came down the stairs, one paramedic in front, one in back, I could see Ron wrapped in a off-white blanket, strapped down with large straps like someone about to be executed, his head braced in a large yellow block. They walked down each step carefully, methodically, silently. I remember how quiet it was at that moment. No one was talking. Michelle wasn't screaming. I didn't know where she was. I didn't see Sean either. From my apartment I heard the doors slam, the turn of the engine and then the piercing scream of the siren as the ambulance tore off toward the hospital across town.
Ron was already dead when they put him in the ambulance. The deputy told us this as he tested both my and Sean's hands for gun powder residue back in my apartment. He wiped our hands with swabs, methodically but casually, explaining that this was common practice while making sure to get in between each finger.
"I was in the back bedroom." The deputy said. He ran the swab along my index finger. "He was DOA."
Sean heaved a great sigh and nodded his head. He knew the ambulance ride to the hospital was in vain. They might as well have driven him straight to the mortuary. What Ron had wanted to accomplish -- he had.
Later that night, as we sat numb in my living room, Sean filled me in on the details.
Ron and Michelle had gotten into a fight. In the middle of their heated exchange, Ron ran to the bedroom to get his Glock 19 handgun out of the bedroom closet. Michelle ran after him. Ron jumped on the bed with the gun, cocked it, and threatened to kill himself, placing the gun to his temple. Michelle jumped in bed after him, tried to wrestle the gun away, but Ron managed to push her aside, kneel upright on the bed, put the gun to his head and pull the trigger. He fell back, rolled off the bed and on to the floor.
That was when I heard Michelle screaming.
I never heard the fight.
I never heard the gunshot.
But I did hear Michelle.
And over fifteen years later, I can still hear her screams --the screams of a woman in complete anguish and shock. Screams of Pain. Disbelief. Horror. Misery. Screams that make me shudder even now.
Ron didn't hear these screams. One shot and he was dead, deaf to her wails. He heard her scream before he pulled the trigger, but that was the last scream her heard. There were many more after that. Many, many more.
But those who commit suicide do not hear the screaming of those left behind. The last thing they hear might be the sound of a gun, someone screaming "No!", a ringing in their ears, a blaring television, loud music, dripping water, a train coming, cars rushing along a highway or the drone of engine idling in a closed garage.
They don't hear the ones they leave behind. The ones left to wonder, regret, suffer, plead, scream, rant, writhe and survive. The ones who must ask questions that can't be answered, apologize for tears that can't be stopped even years later in the most inopportune places - the ones left to wonder endlessly and aimlessly What if? What if? What if? until they finally fall asleep in the early morning hours or give up and become lifeless sleepwalkers during the day.
Eventually, Michelle stopped screaming. She moved away. She had family in Europe and I wonder if that is where she went. I wonder if she found hope in friends, in faith, in counseling and consoling or commiserating. I wonder if she ever found a way to completely soothe her wound - to relax the churning stomach, silence the sound of that single gunshot. Did she, like some, come crawling into God's lap and say, "I cannot let go of the one who let go. Help me."
After the ambulance left and deputy finished his interviews, the clean-up began. I was shocked to learn there was no professional clean-up crew to do the job. There was me, Sean, and my middle aged landlady. I don't remember being asked to help. I just remember sponges, towels, cold water, bleach and buckets and being down on my hands and knees in the living room of Michelle's apartment, next to her couch, sopping up blood with a thick green sponge. The paramedics had carried Ron out of the bedroom and laid him down in the living room before they placed him on the stretcher. This was that spot. I remember pressing the sponge into the blood and ringing it out in the bucket. I did this over and over. Methodically. I felt like I was watching myself do it, hovering above myself in a surrealistic state of consciousness. The noise inside my head, like a circling, nagging wasp, returned. I stopped once and looked at my hands. My fingers looked like they had been dipped in cherry Kool Aid. Only this wasn't punch. This was blood. Ron's blood. It never occurred to me that I should be wearing gloves. I wasn't thinking about AIDS or hepatitis. I wasn't thinking. I was outside of my mind, floating somewhere in space, kneeling and sopping, bending and scrubbing, dabbing and wringing, shaking and sweating, trying to get Ron's blood out of the carpet and Michelle's screaming out of my ears.
This is a story I have been meaning to write for a long time. One, to get it out of me. All these years later and it still feels like it happened last week. Maybe this will help silence the screams? Mainly though, I hope this story will encourage the hearts of those considering an exit from life to get help. Turn to your family, to friends, to a neighbor, a pastor, a teacher, turn to doctors, turn to God - turn to someone my brothers and sisters - don't turn on yourself. Scream for help now. Don't leave us behind, screaming without you.
Hope A. Horner
Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255