This is how you might die
suicide ideation, eating disorders, self harm
Your mother warned you not to go too far – you don’t know how to swim well yet, she says, so stick closer to the coast. Only where you can still stand. “What will happen if I go further?” you ask. She flaps her hands around her, dancing, and tells you you will drown. “You will go into the sea and your father and I won’t be able to bring you home.” So you take your child body into the water, thinking it is not the smartest idea to let a child be so close to deciding her own fate.
You walk until your feet leave the sand, and you bop up and down, up and down. Should you kick your legs? You’ve seen people do that on Baywatch. You try it, but you feel too heavy. You try moving your arms, but you are holding the sunburned tips of emerald water, and you don’t want to move your arms downward. “This is not going to work” you decide, and you are glad. You turn back to make sure no one is watching, and then you stop kicking altogether.
Every now and then you think about that day. Walking into the sea, dying in your favourite swimsuit and leaving your family only with happy photographs and hair accessories. Gilded gold, buried in a seabed like a perfect crab in shell. As a child you dreamt of dying beautiful and beautifully, but at 15 you got hit by a car. It ripped through your face, your arms, your legs. Your body became a stain shaped like a birthmark, and your mother dragged you to a plastic surgeon who suggested additional work to other parts of your face – you could be pretty, but you are not symmetrical. You refuse to go back. Your father asks again, after you complete months of physiotherapy and begin walking, if you’d like plastic surgery. You ask why, and he says that while you might not mind the scars now, as you grow older, you won’t be as forgiving. “Think about it,” he says, tickling your toes. You were relieved for a few months that the car didn’t kill you. Your parents told you that the prayers of poor people in Indonesia, where they’d donated cows and goats last Eid in your name, stretched that distance between life and death. Everyone tells you that the scars look horrible, what a pity, but to be thankful. Be thankful. You are such a lucky girl.
The thoughts start to fill the room again like a filtering light and now you think about dying even more intensely, hoping it will happen soon, and softly. Like egg-drop soup. “Don’t let it ruin my face, don’t let it ruin my face, don’t let it ruin my face,” you repeat, again and again and again, looking both ways as you cross the street but not looking at all when you start slicing your legs into ribbons. Now you relapse between apologies, and you’ve retired those earlier thoughts about dying. You don’t think you can speak of ‘sorrows’ honestly, so you don’t speak about them at all. When you came to Cambridge, everyone talked about death and it surprised you – you always thought only those stupid enough to be ungrateful (like you) thought about death all the time. Thought about it like shade and shelter and fresh air to breathe. So you rearrange your features when listening to them, carefully referring only to the days or weeks or months that were better than others. You express sympathy, but your years move past their weeping and there is no point in pretending that you are not just barely a petal falling.
It was in the turning of winter into spring, as clouds began threading garden-tangled trees in courtyards, when you began to feel certain: it will happen when you grow tired of pulling fingers like rabbit-tails from a hat. It will happen when the sharp sun streams down your throat, sprouting flowers from seaweed, and you have to call the plumbers twice. There will be no third time and it finally won’t matter what you soil. Time already made its black and blue knot. When you came to uni, you thought you were so smart you could trick the knot by loosening the buttery muscle around it. But the weave kept moving in opposite directions, and eventually you got so confused you fastened your flesh around it like a candyfloss cradle instead.
You are a child sleeping only when she passes out, suffocating into her pillow, counting down seconds into jewelled minutes. You are a child rushing into the kitchen on Eid to burn her legs on the oven door, the sides of her palms on the stove, an ear on a big metal pot. You are a child reading Foe and dreaming for weeks about Friday, about being lowered into a film of water so dense your screaming would take on shapes you could juggle. ‘But she is so quiet’ you imagine your mother thinking. ‘How can she be drowning when she doesn’t make a sound?’ And then you see her flapping her arms, dancing in the sand again, her ruby coloured cover-up curling in the breeze. You wonder how you ever believed she could keep you safe: this was a woman who’d never even seen someone hold their breath. God gave you to her, knowing this.
And as you fantasize about all the ways life might end, you hope you wrote this as a patient ghost in a grave opened like a mirror.
- Nami H