@

[1967]

Dear Mom and Dad,

I didn’t know that I was two weeks late and that you were waiting for me. But it always made me feel special to know that Ingham County had to send a snowplow out to our house. It always made me feel special to think of Dad driving the car so slowly behind the snowplow and Mom with her hands on top of her stomach as if I were an important, but breakable, package. I always thought that there was some important destiny in that for me. I always thought that the path that was cleared through all of that cold and snow was somehow going to determine the rest of my life.

 

[1970]

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m sorry that I pulled the stitching out of my feather pillow and then pulled all of the feathers out of it. I thought that I was going to find a bird.

 

[1973]

Dear Kathy Granger,

Do you remember when I used to stand on the sidewalk outside your house and yell out your name until you came out to play with me? I didn’t know that you were just my babysitter and that my mom and dad paid you to watch me. I thought that you really liked me — and not just because I was a cute little boy. I thought that we were going to get married when I was old enough.

 

[1974]

Dear Grandma and Grandpa Winters,

Thank you for giving me the Etch-a-Sketch for my seventh birthday. I liked drawing with it better than drawing on the walls, but I always felt bad when I shook it and everything on its magic screen disappeared. It reminded me of how my dad would grab me by both of my shoulders and shake me until everything went blank inside of me too.

 

[1975]

Dear Scott Poor,

I’m not sorry that I hit you over the head with my Scooby-Doo lunch box and cracked your head open with it. You were a lot bigger than I was then and I was afraid of you and I wanted you and your brother to stop picking on me on the way home from school. But here’s what I want to know: Did the doctor show you what it looked like inside your head? If he did, I bet it looked mean.

 

[1977]

Dear Secret Admirer,

Thank you for giving me the Valentine on Valentine’s Day that asked me if I would be your Valentine. I would have been. I wanted to be. But I couldn’t ever figure out who you were.

 

[1978]

Dear Dad,

They taught us in our sexual education class that a baby lives in its mother for nine months. So I counted the nine months back from my birthday, added on the two weeks that I was late, and figured out that I must have been conceived around your birthday, which means that one of your birthday presents turned out to be me.

Happy birthday, Dad.

 

[1980]

Dear Dr. Fritch,

I cried when you told me that I had a cavity because I didn’t want you to drill a hole inside one of my teeth and then fill it back in with some kind of metal. I hated the idea that I was already beginning to rot.

 

[1982]

Dear Dr. Adler:

That test that you asked me to take knew how I felt. I did feel blue. I did feel sad. I did feel bored most of the time. But here is what I need to know: When I feel happy, what color will that be? Because I know that the red pills were supposed to make me feel better. But I stopped taking them because they were red and they made the whole world blurry. Sometimes, I would start to shake even when I wasn’t afraid of anything. Other times, I couldn’t think or I didn’t know where I was. And one time, those red pills gave me red spots on my skin that made me feel prickly and hot. I thought that I had set myself on fire.

 

[1984]

Dear Michael J. Fox or Alex P. Keaton,

I didn’t like your television show even though everybody at school talked about how funny it was. I didn’t think it was funny and I didn’t even believe that it was true that anybody’s family could get along like that. I know that television is made up, but it should at least be believable. I mean, we were supposed to be about the same age, so how could our lives be so different?

 

[1985]

Dear Jessica Cooper,

I’m sorry that I stood you up for the date that we were supposed to have on Valentine’s Day in 1985. Do you think that we could have been happy together?

 

[1988]

Dear Man in the White Pants and White Shirt Who Looked at Me Through a Face-Sized Window Every Half Hour,

I know that you were just looking in on me to make sure that I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I know that you were just checking off that I was still alive at 1:30, at 2:00, at 2:30, etc., but I liked seeing your face in that little window and I started to wait for you to appear. I found it reassuring.

 

[1990]

Dear State of Michigan,

Moving away from you that fall after college was easier than trying to run away when I was little. I had a car by then and could drive.

 

[1991]

Dear Weather Satellite,

I didn’t know many people when I first moved to Jefferson City. That’s why I used to watch you blinking your way across the sky at night and that made me think that you were winking at me and that made me think that we were friends. That’s why I climbed up onto the roof of my apartment building every night to look for you—even if it was cold, even if there were clouds. I was comforted to know that you were still traveling in your orbit around me.

 

[1993]

Dear Sara,

Thank you for moving into my apartment and living there with me. I needed somebody else to sit on the couch and the chairs with me. I needed somebody else to watch the television with me. I needed somebody else to eat at the kitchen table with me. I needed somebody else to put their clothes in the dresser drawers and the closet with my clothes.

 

[1996]

Dear Sara,

I smashed the television screen with a hammer because I thought that it was watching us. Even when it was off, I could see this faint reflection of somebody in the screen. Also, I unplugged the radio because I thought that it was listening to me and broadcasting everything that I thought outside my head. But even after I unplugged the radio, I could still hear them talking. That’s why I threw the radio outside in the rain where it probably got electrocuted.

What I’m trying to say is thank you for holding onto me so tightly when I couldn’t hold onto myself anymore. Sometimes, I can still feel your arms around me trying to hold me still.

 

[1997]

Dear Dr. Gregory,

Thank you for writing a new prescription for me. I think that it helped that the pills were red. That seemed to stop some of the voices from talking to me.

 

[1999]

Dear Sara,

I didn’t sign the divorce papers because I wanted to be married to you for as long as I could. I was even hoping that you wouldn’t be able to divorce me at all if I didn’t sign them. You didn’t have to go to a judge to prove that I was unfit for marriage.

Since we really are divorced now, I think that we should split up our memories too. I want the time when we met and the time when we went to the Grand Canyon. You can have our first date and the day we got married. You can also have the day when you left me, which I have no use for. I want when we moved in together and when we bought our house, though, and I want all of the times that we sat on the couch and watched television together. You can have the times we ate breakfast together, but I want most of the dinners. There are a lot more. Maybe we should talk about all of them.

TAGS: , , ,

MICHAEL KIMBALL’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, is now in paperback in the US, UK, and Canada. The Believer calls it “a curatorial masterpiece.” Time Out New York calls the writing “stunning.” And the Los Angeles Times says the book is “funny and warm and sad and heartbreaking.” His first two novels are THE WAY THE FAMILY GOT AWAY (2000) and HOW MUCH OF US THERE WAS (2005). All three of his novels have been translated (or are being translated) into many languages. His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Prairie Schooner, Post Road, Open City, Unsaid, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for the collaborative project Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)—and two documentary films (with Luca Dipierro), I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).

27 responses to “Dear Everybody: Excerpts from the Suicide Letters of Jonathon Bender (b.1967-d.1999)”

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    Dear Michael Kimball

    Hello. I especially liked the idea of the division of memories.

    OK

    Simon

  2. Dear Simon Smithson,

    Thank you for reading all the way to the end. I’m glad you liked it.

    best, Michael

  3. Gloria says:

    The 1990 letter is my absolute favorite. I’ve written a similar letter, dated 1995, to Roswell.

  4. New Orleans Lady says:

    Such great writing.
    I’m going buy this book.
    I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet!

    perfect.

  5. Laura says:

    I find this way of writing so beautiful and touching and simple.
    You have inspired me to write a few letters myself.
    Thanks, Gloria for reposting this link.
    I am glad to have found your writing, Mr. Kimball.

  6. Zara Potts says:

    Dear Michael Kimball,
    Thank you for writing this and filling my eyes with tears. I really needed that.
    Thank you for your beautiful and word-perfect letters that somehow speak to me, even though our experiences are not at all the same.
    Thank you for your gift of the idea of dividing memories. Thanks to you, I can now take hold of the good memories and bequeath him all of the bad.
    Yours truly,
    Zara

  7. Irene Zion says:

    Dear Michael Kimball,

    I love reading what you write even though it feels as though there are razors inside my throat when I swallow.

    I will buy every book you ever write.

  8. Thank you, Laura. I found that writing in the form of letters allowed me to write different things than in straight narrative.

  9. Katherine C. James says:

    I liked 1973 and 1980. I read just a few words and knew this sensitive person struggling to understand and stay attached to this planet. Really beautiful.

  10. Thank you, Katherine. I´m glad to hear the voice comes through so quickly. Best, Michael

  11. Marni Grossman says:

    This was so deceptively simple. Beautiful and heartbreaking. Particularly liked this line: “I hated the idea that I was already beginning to rot.”

  12. The 1988 letter brought tears to my eyes. I have been suicidal before; in fact, I just began a blog about my current struggle with major depression and anxiety (called “Inconvenient Blues”). I am definitely going to buy this book, not only because I can relate, but because your writing is fist-to-the-gut stunning.

  13. My fave brick-and-mortar booksellers didn’t have this in stock, and neither does my library, but I just ordered “Dear Everybody” from Amazon.

    Schuyler

  14. Jamie says:

    Unyielding in its truthfulness. Very vivid

  15. Richard Cox says:

    I enjoyed this immensely. You manage to convey so much emotion in such a small space, whereas other writers (including myself) can ramble on for hundreds of pages and not reach this sort of human truth. I’m in awe.

  16. Slade Ham says:

    Michael, this is fabulous. 1999. Geez. I want to type a thousand things here but I somehow feel like I wouldn’t do justice to what’s in my head. Just know that this was a truly amazing read. I’m sorry it took me so long to finally get to it.

  17. Judy Prince says:

    Love your idea of splitting up memories after the divorce, Michael.

  18. LitPark says:

    Oh, I love these. Gorgeous and heartbreaking and so very human.

  19. Thank you, Marni and Schuyler and Jamie and Richard and Slade and Judy and Susan. I’m glad so much of it comes through in an excerpt and it’s always reassuring to hear such kind words.

  20. Linda says:

    These excerpts moved me. All of them. I want to hear more from your extraordinarily brave and human Jonathon, and I will. Off to buy your book. Peace…

  21. herocious says:

    This is the kind of sparse and direct writing that reaches the center of its target. Thanks for the excerpt, Michael.

  22. awful television camera for just a founder…

    […]Michael Kimball | Dear Everybody: Excerpts from the Suicide Letters of Jonathon Bender (b.1967-d.1999) | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *