My old friend Ray died this past Monday. Suicide. She leapt to her death from a parking garage. I don’t know any more than that as yet. But Ray has been troubled for many years. There will be a memorial service next month.
Ray and I laughed and cried together since 7th grade, when serendipity moved me from one seat in Homeroom to one across the table from her. To be honest, I was terrified of her. You see, Ray was cool, she was popular, she was fun and funny. Everybody wanted to be her friend in 7th grade. But she wanted to be my friend. I’ve always felt that she changed my life with that action; she raised my social status in school. I was no longer a non-desirable. I was a “Friend of Ray’s.” And that was something special.
For the last 18 hours since I got home after learning the news, I’ve tried to write my feelings, my memories, my heartbreak. But I’m failing. How do you put a life — anyone’s life, but especially such a complex life into a few words?
Each relationship is a jar full of fragments of memories and laughter and tears. With Ray, the edges of them were sometimes jagged, and it was never clear when you’d reach into that jar and slice into something painful for her.
Because Ray’s life was full of disappointment and pain. But it was also full of laughter and memories that she held onto and didn’t let go. She was smart and funny. A talented actress in high school. A beautiful writer who wanted us all to write and once had a party where she gave us blue notebooks and we all spent the entire night writing.
Mostly, she wanted love. Craved it. Begged for it.
Still, she frequently acted to push love away. She alienated family and friends alike, especially by middle of the night phone calls – that continued in spite of constant requests, tears, anger, etc. Often, she just wanted to chat about old times. She didn’t show up when she was supposed to meetings with friends. Couldn’t stand to be in groups. Made many poor choices in life. She frankly pissed everybody off a lot. It made her a hard person to put up with. I along with everybody who cared about her became exasperated and felt helpless. We went in and out of her life. After the last time she called me in the middle of the night, I blocked her from my home phone; she had only my cell.
Friends and family tried to help, but helping is sometimes easier said than done. Certainly than done successfully.
For the last 12 years until about a year ago, Ray worked customer service in a Bed, Bath and Beyond. I learned of the difficulties of retail workers through her – how schedules were never firmed up, so workers who couldn’t survive on those low retail wages could get a second job.
She told the most wonderful stories she told of the people who came to her counter for returns. She could tell the stories so that the incredibly foolish mistakes of customers were endearing. As if each silly error were a personal gift to Ray. I’d been trying to talk her into writing a book.
One story stands out, though.
A man placed an oscillating fan on the counter, its head bent down at the hinge, facing the floor. Looking awkward.
“It doesn’t work,” he said (Ray imitating his voice). “It’s broken. Its neck is broken.”
The man had clearly never lifted the head of the fan from its packing position. So when he plugged it in and turned it on, it turned in a jerky motion like a Rocke ‘em, Sock ‘em Robot.
Ray straightened the neck, plugged it in, and showed him that it worked just fine. She sent the customer away, happily with his fan, somehow without making him feel foolish.
Since yesterday, I have been thinking that Ray herself was a lot like that fan. Her head was always bent incorrectly, awkwardly. In her case, it was towards the past – towards her (our) wonderful childhood. Sadly, there was no friendly customer service representative of life to help straighten her towards a life built more on the present and the future.
Good bye, Ray. I love you. I miss you. I will always hold you dear to my heart.
May you rest in the peace that always alluded you in life. But may your heart be ever full of love and laughter as it always was.
Many of us have thought about or attempted suicide, or know someone who is in crisis. There is help.
December is a particularly sad time for many.
Get help if you need it.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255 (24/7) (Press 1 for Veterans line)