I've worked on this post for many weeks, and there just isn't enough time or space to say everything I need to say. But to the friends of my heart, the ones who've been with me since the beginning of this, who have listened, who have counseled, who have loved me...thank you. I love you, too.
There also aren’t enough words to thank you, Monique and Sinfully, for opening your blog to me and providing me this forum to share my heart and find some catharsis. It means so much.
Trigger warning: Suicide
Friendship, Loss and HEAs
I’m a suicide survivor. A lot of people know the story of my cousin, who lost her battle with bipolar disorder six years ago. Our hearts were broken, but as tragic as it was, it wasn’t unexpected. She’d struggled for a lot of years, made more than one attempt, and truth be told, her doctor told us afterward it was only a matter of time.
A few months ago, right before the holidays, my best friend and her husband got into an argument. Things were said, awful things, as sharp-tongued and passionate people sometimes do. When her husband abruptly stormed into their bedroom, my friend thought he was going in there to cool off. Instead, he pulled out a gun and shot himself.
An impulsive, inexplicable, unexplainable act.
My friend had a rough childhood, one full of abuse and neglect. She was out on her own at age 16, and married young. The marriage was, not surprisingly, short and disastrous. Her second marriage lasted longer, but ended just as badly. Despite everything, she managed to achieve her dream of becoming a medical provider.
One day, purely by chance, she met a wonderful man. They had a whirlwind courtship and the most romantic proposal ever—he asked her to marry him in the middle of the Jungle Ride at Disneyland.
“I’ve found my happily ever after, Mel,” she would say to me. “Everything I’ve been through up to now has led to this.”
And it was true. They were that couple everyone envies. It seemed effortless for them, from blending their families to working through conflicts. They traveled to exotic places, they threw parties full of fun and laughter. I spent a lot of time with them, and I grew to love him for how happy he made her. She’s been my best friend for 12 years, and she was the happiest, most content, I’d ever seen her.
She deserved this life. She deserved him.
After he died, I didn’t know how to help her. She wouldn’t return my calls, my texts. She deleted her Facebook page and I didn’t know where she was. All I could do was keep trying. Finally one day she replied to a text with I’m back in the house. Can you come over?
I went over, to her beautiful house, spotless and elegant as ever. Except for the bedroom, which had been gutted. Everything was gone, his closet duct-taped shut.
“I can’t risk seeing his things, Mel. And I can’t go through them. I don’t know if I ever can.”
I mumbled something about time, and she rounded on me. “Don’t tell me time will heal all wounds. I’ll never be healed. And don’t you ever fucking tell me not to blame myself.”
Her pain wrapped its tendrils around me, until I couldn’t breathe. Until I couldn’t think of anything but the worst of platitudes and clichés to say. So I didn’t say anything. I sat with her and listened to all the details of that horrible day. To what she heard, what she saw, the exact words they said to each other right before he died. I can’t repeat it. I can’t bear to think of it.
I went home after that weekend physically ill and emotionally devastated. My husband told me I’m not equipped to deal with something like this again, and it’s okay if I distance myself. Yes, I know I’m not equipped, but she’s my friend. To me, friendship goes beyond gossiping over lunch and pedis. It’s for better or for worse, like any relationship involving love. And I love her.
“It doesn’t have to be you,” my husband argued.
But if not me, then who? True friendship, and loyalty, isn’t only during the good times. It’s also during the messy, ugly, heartbreaking times. It’s listening to awful things. It’s breaking down together in an aisle at Costco because of towels in his favorite shade of blue. It’s searching desperately for the words when she’s pleading for reassurance that no matter what he did, he loved her, didn’t he? It’s analyzing dreams, looking for messages. It’s letting her push me away because she wants to see if she can do that and I won’t die and leave her. It’s sitting quietly in her living room while she’s in her refurbished bedroom, because she doesn’t want company but she also doesn’t want to be alone.
It’s so many things. And I do it, willingly, because I love her.
Writing, my outlet and my joy, fell by the wayside. I had a book release, a book that means a lot to me and one I’d been excited and nervous about, and it barely made a blip on my radar. I was viciously blocked, and my three WIPs sat almost untouched. I tend to be a negative, glass-half-empty type person as it is, and my attitude at home and online became even meaner, even more cynical.
I felt guilty for trying to write stories with HEAs, because HEAs don’t exist, do they? How could I immerse myself in a fantasy life when real life is such a shitshow? I was with her one day, and we went to the gym to work out. It was fun, it was exhilarating, it was what we both needed. At one point I yelled out, “Whoo! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”
I meant it in the context of the workout, but she looked at me and said, "No. What doesn’t kill you just…doesn’t kill you.” I apologized, near tears at saying such a stupid thing, wondering if I’d messed up beyond redemption.
"Mel," she said. “It’s okay. You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me, worry so much about saying the wrong thing, telling me what I want to hear. You can’t fix me. Nothing can fix me. But the thing is, I love you for trying.”
When I got home, I fell apart. I’m a mom, and I’m a fixer. People I love aren’t supposed to be hurt on my watch, and if they are, I’ll do everything I can to make it better. But some things can’t be made better. It doesn’t matter how strong I try to be, how much I try to be there for her—I won’t be able to make this better. Ever. She’s upright, and she’s breathing, and she’s taking care of her kids. That’s all anyone can expect of her.
I found that once I let go of that self-imposed burden, I’ve been able to grieve. For him, because he was my friend too. For her, because she will never be the same person she used to be. For our friendship, irrevocably changed. She has a lot of bad days, but there are also some good days sprinkled in now. We can laugh about things, or get drunk and watch stupid movies, go for long hikes.
I’ve also been able to let go of some of my guilt at finding joy in writing about love, and happiness, and forever. She tells me that the old cliché is true, that even if she’d known the pain that was ahead, she still would have wanted the time they did have. So my words are coming at last. Slowly, and they might not be good words, but they’re coming.
That’s all I can ask for.
Melanie Hansen has spent time in Texas and Florida prisons…for work. She’s been in a room with a 17-year-old mass murderer who was also one of the most soft-spoken and polite teenagers she’s ever met. After a 13-year career as a court reporter, she can tell many stories both hilarious and heartbreaking.
She grew up with an Air Force dad, and ended up marrying a Navy man. After living and working all over the country, she hopes to bring these rich and varied life experiences to her stories about people finding love amidst real-life struggles.
Melanie left the stressful world of the courtroom behind and now enjoys a rewarding career transcribing for a deaf student. She currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.