It was my junior year of college - spring mid-terms, upstate New York. It was the middle of March, there was a thick blanket of snow on the ground, and I was mired in a hopeless sea of cold, dark, exhausted misery.
At that point I was majoring in psychology. I didn't really want to major in psychology, it was just where I had landed after trying and rejecting German, Geology, History, and Sociology/Anthropology. I guess some part of me was laboring under the misguided notion that I might uncover some secret hidden truth about the human condition which would allow me to outsmart all of my personal demons.
But after my first "lab" class, which involved starving rats so they'd be properly motivated to run through mazes, and an oppressive accompanying workload, I knew I'd made a terrible mistake.
What sort of career awaited me as a psych major? The prospect of a life in academia sounded horrific, and the idea of becoming a clinical psychologist seemed utterly absurd. How could someone as screwed up as I was ever presume to think they might be able to help anybody else sort out their problems? I'd probably end up with a meaningless desk job in a nameless office building doing the bidding of some faceless corporation.
I saw my future spread out before me in a maze of twisting passages, just like the ones that poor tortured creature had been forced to endure. And like my wretched starving rat, the only reward I'd get would be a small morsel of sustenance... just enough to keep me alive, but never enough to feel satiated, let alone happy.
But there wasn't really time to worry about any of that now. I had several exams the next day and a major paper due. I was pretty sure Phi Beta Kappa would revoke my early admittance status if I didn't keep up my GPA, and the thought of adding public humiliation to my private anguish was almost more than I could bear. To make matters worse, I was scheduled to take a semester abroad in Italy the next fall, which meant that I'd need to complete three psych labs my senior spring in order to graduate. One lab had nearly killed me, how could I even contemplate three?
So there I was, feeling hopeless and demoralized, when I made one of the more curious decisions of my life. I decided to call my mother. I really don't know why I thought this was a good idea. It's not like my mother had ever been a font of unconditional love and support. I guess I was just hoping against hope that she might provide some source of comfort. I desperately needed to hear that I, as a human being, was more important than what I accomplished.
"Well, if you don't get all A's, you're not going to Italy."
She said it in a rather flippant manner, just like she always did - with enough of a sarcastic laugh so she couldn't really be held accountable for saying such a cruel thing, but enough of a biting edge to let me know that some part of her meant it. Did I think she'd really prevent me from going to Italy if I got a B? No. Did she succeed in delivering the message that I was expected to achieve? Loud and clear.
I hung up the phone. I felt completely vacant... there was no anger, no sadness, no nothing... just an overwhelming hollow sensation. I really couldn't see what the point of any of it was any more, and there didn't seem to be any direction to turn. So I decided that I only had one option left.
I was going to kill myself.
Of course, being the cowardly non-committal soul that I am, I wasn't about to choose a method that involved pain, or blood, or suffering. Slitting my wrists was definitely out. Pills seemed like a good choice, but the strongest thing I had on hand was Tylenol - and a long protracted death via liver failure didn't exactly fulfill my desire to "end it all" quickly.
So I got in my car and I drove. I didn't know where I was going, and I didn't care. I just drove and drove into the dark snowy night. I contemplated turning the steering wheel into the path of an oncoming semi, but it seemed unfair to force some unwitting truck driver to share my fate. Plus, knowing my luck I'd probably only succeed in making myself into a quadriplegic, at which point they'd undoubtedly turn me over to my mother's care - and that would indeed be a fate worse than death!
Then all of a sudden it hit me... the perfect solution... hypothermia! I realize it may sound far fetched, but when you grow up in Colorado you hear stories each winter of some idiot tourist who gets lost in the back country and freezes to death. At school they taught us all about hypothermia and how people don't realize they're in such danger because once the body temperature falls low enough you loose the sensation of coldness and are simply overtaken by a pleasant warm drowsiness.
Pleasant warm drowsiness?!? It was the answer to my prayers! No pain, no blood, no chance of a paralyzed dependency on my mother... just a nice little nap and then... oblivion. So I pulled off the road at an abandoned campsite. I got out of the car, took off my jacket, laid down on a snow covered picnic table and waited....
And waited... and waited... and waited.
Here's the thing. Now I'm not saying that the folks who told me about the "pleasant warm drowsiness" weren't telling the truth, but unless one is willing to do something really dramatic, like say, jump into a freezing river, one apparently has to freeze one's ass off for a really, Really, REALLY long time before anything even remotely resembling pleasant, warm or drowsy starts to set in.
After a few hours I decided that I was being ridiculous. I got back into the car and reluctantly drove back to campus. I felt like a total failure. I didn't even have the emotional fortitude to kill myself, let alone to face my life.
I couldn't bear the thought of going back to my dorm, so instead I went to the campus spirituality center. It was a small building tucked away on a back road, with private prayer/meditation rooms that were open 24/7. I tiptoed through the dark building, locked myself into one of the closet sized rooms, sat on the floor and sobbed. I cried, and cried and cried.
I've never been a Christian, so I don't think it would be accurate to say that I prayed, but I certainly begged for guidance.
And then it happened.
I had a realization - more like a revelation... an actual epiphany in fact.
It suddenly dawned on me that if my life was making me so utterly miserable that offing myself truly seemed like a viable alternative, laughable though my attempt may have been, then I had absolutely nothing to lose.
I'm not sure that I can accurately describe the emotion that I experienced in that moment. It was as if a wave of euphoria washed over me, taking with it all of the angst, fear, and hopelessness which had so consumed me just a moment before.
Suddenly nothing mattered. Who cared if I got a B? Or an F? Or if I dropped out of school completely for that matter? If the alternative was becoming a human Popsicle splayed out on some picnic table in the middle of nowhere, then nothing else held any importance whatsoever.
And thus I took my first tentative steps down the proverbial road less traveled.
I dropped out of the Italy study group. The only real reason I was going was to have an excuse to get close to a guy named JP on whom I had a terrible crush. But I was damned if I was gonna let my mother hold it over me.
I looked at my transcript and realized that my musical "habit" had amassed me a huge number of credits from singing in the choir and playing in the orchestra. In fact, I only needed to take one more class to fulfill the requirements for a music major, and I already had enough credits for a psychology minor. So I took the final music class the next fall, refused to study and got the one and only B of my academic career. YES!
I had a total blast my senior year in college. I took art classes, and photography, and women's studies, and absolutely NO classes that met any time before noon. I didn't know what the future would bring, but whenever I started to worry, I always had two words to set me straight: Human Popsicle.
"Well, I guess you can probably tell that I'm not just writing to say hello. I don't know any easy way of telling you this so I'm just going to say it. I'm gay."
Human Popsicle indeed!
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