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Suicide and I have a relationship.

I would not say we are friends, but we go way back.

Way back to that day in 1975 when I was four years old and my father took the rope of a robe and tied it around his neck.

It’s the relationship I just can’t shake. It’s always there.

It was there when my mother moved us, not just from the house he died in, but the state.

It was there when I slept in my mother’s bed next to her for several years. She would buy me colorful new bedding hoping to lure me back to my room, but the sheets went unused.

It was there as I sat in our back room watching videos of my father over and over until the tape wore out and his image went missing.

It was there when each new school year I secretly hoped he hadn’t really died and had just lost his memory roaming the world aimlessly. He’d be my new math teacher and during attendance he’d see me and snap out of it.

It was there when my mother made me take down a photograph of him from my bedroom. And wouldn’t explain why.

It was there when I looked in the mirror and saw my father’s features. And there when my mother would tell me to stop making a certain face, so closely resembling him in that moment, upsetting her with just my smile.

It was there as I saw her huddled on our couch reading, alone.

It was there as I asked my friends each night on the phone if they were really my friends. Did they think I was funny? Pretty? Smart?

It was there when as I grew older I kissed more boys than I should have. And there when I excused those boys who turned out to be liars or cheats, and let them back into my bed.

It was there when I worried, at the end of my own rope, if it was my time now. The words would whisper from deep within and I knew that these same words spoke to him. I thought about following the sounds.

It was there when my grandfather after a few Grey Goose and tonics would grow quiet and sigh, “stupid kid” under his breath, but loud enough for me feel each word.

It was there as I traveled from place to place seeking out information. I went looking for his thesis at his college, now my college. I got his autopsy report and held it in my hands. I had dinner with his friend and felt jealous at his memories of him.

It was there when I got married and he didn’t walk me down the aisle.

It was there when I made my husband promise that if we had a son we would not name him after him. I did not want to chance being sad each and every time I called after my child.

It was there as thirty years later I found myself in a Survivors After Suicide group therapy meeting pleading and hoping to no longer be so burdened by his action.

It was there when I swore I did not want it to be there any more.

I was more than just the girl whose father killed himself.

It was there when determined to do good work I signed up to be a grief counselor. I cried as I toured the facility for the little four year old girl that I was that did not have a place like that. And it was there when I sat during the first day’s training and knew I would quit. I had a secret. I was two months pregnant and there in that moment I realized I was no longer interested in being so enmeshed with death, with suicide. I wanted to concentrate on this new life, not the one that I had never really known.

It was there when my son was born in an emergency, dire situation. “No. Why me?” I thought. “I have already had my tragedy.”

It was there when as my son got stronger, I realized I too had great strength from many years of practice.

It was there when we named our son after each of our grandfathers. And it was there, but by my invitation, when we gave him my father’s Hebrew name, needing to connect them. I needed to honor him.

I am determined to share with my son how my father lived. That includes how he died. But it will no longer be the first and only information about him.

My father was charming.

He made people laugh for a living.

He proposed to my mother in Italy.

He struggled with his weight.

And he killed himself.

My son will know these things.

My father’s baby picture hangs on my son’s bedroom wall along with all of his other grandparents’ baby pictures. Each night, I tell my son how much they love him. I have come to refer to my father as Grandpa Daddy. He holds equal weight each night with the other grandparents. But when I scan the pictures, it is Grandpa Daddy who my son most resembles.

Sometimes I get sad as I say our goodnights and place my son in his crib.

I am sad that they will not know each other. Sad that he is just a photograph to him.

I am sad that I never really got to know him, except through other people’s memories.

I am sad that he died, but not as sad for how he died.

There in that moment, after thirty years of hard work, how he died does not seem as important.

It does not go away. It is always there.

But now more like just a little bit over there.

Not right here.

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RACHEL ZIENTS SCHINDERMAN is originally from New York City, but has been living in Los Angeles since 1996. In LA, she has been an actress, a waitress, a student and a TV producer. Now, she is a mom and writes a column about motherhood for The Santa Monica Daily Press called Mommie Brain and also runs writing groups for Moms also called Mommie Brain. Besides working on the TV show Blind Date, her minor claim to fame is her mother, Eileen Douglas, wrote a children's book about her called Rachel and the Upside Down Heart. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband and son.

9 responses to “It is There”

  1. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    Rachel, what a stark and beautiful story. All constraint. You get the feeling for the work it takes to keep a day aligned. Such good writing.

  2. Kristen Elde says:

    Powerful reflections, Rachel. Thanks for sharing.

    And I’m glad that “not right here” has become “just a little bit over there,” as I can only imagine that it would bring some relief.

  3. Marni Grossman says:

    Rachel, you’re breaking my heart all over again. So vivid and affecting. Your son is so lucky to have you.

  4. Like Kristen, I’m glad too that it has moved over from where it was.

    And yes, this was good writing.

  5. That’s a really sad story, Rachel. Really moving.

  6. Brin Friesen says:

    That really is a heartbreaking story but very moving to see you brave enough to tell it.

  7. That was gorgeously evocative. Or provocative. I can’t remember which. All I know is I felt that, so thank you for sharing it. I’m very glad it is a little bit over there, now. I like the idea of future generations bringing with them some hope that helps heal, in however small a way, the past.

    “I was more than just the girl whose father killed himself.”

    Yes, you truly are. I think this is a truly revelatory thing to express, and I hope you have found power in it. I always worry about groups like the one you mention, not in that they might not help people who seek it but that they might perhaps limit those who do to an identity, an action, a label. Everything that happens, everything we’ve done, is part of our identity, but I think we must be careful not to let it become our identity, nor build our identity around it.

    Again, thanks for sharing it.

  8. Zara Potts says:

    Simply lovely.

  9. Ducky says:

    Tragically beautiful. So many memorable lines – but this:

    It was there as I sat in our back room watching videos of my father over and over until the tape wore out and his image went missing.

    Powerful.

    Thank you for sharing.

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