I took a trip to the other side,
Got as clean as the ocean,
Found a place to rest my head;
I got swallowed by the tide!
Clear thoughts are makin’ their way
Out the door with emotion.
Can’t recall what happened today:
Am I losin’ my mind?
You’ve got life written all over your face
Friendly fires are burnin’ all over the place.
All over the place.
An’ we been working so long now
We’ve been trying so hard now
Oooh . . .
My sister always remembers 2006 and 2007 fondly. We were roommates at the time: going to school, getting on with our lives, and figuring out who and what we were going to be. Things had gone wrong for both of us at different times and been hard, of course, but we had an optimism that I don’t think either of us even knew we had, it was so pervasive and all-encompassing. We didn’t worry about things so much, and the things we felt deeply were often more abstract than concrete. That communicates a certain amount of privilege we both had, to be so untroubled at that age, but I don’t think that’s all of it. I’ve met a lot of people from many different backgrounds, and even those who’ve had very rough or underprivileged upbringings seem to maintain a particular kind of optimism at that age.
I don’t know if it’s merely the fact of getting older that changes that, or if life starts pitching knuckle balls, or some combination of the two. I do know that, though I am younger than she is, I mark the end of that era earlier than my sister does. Part of that may be a difference in our personalities, but equally so, I think, were the circumstances.
For my sister, you see, that era ends with my mother’s hemorrhagic stroke in August of 2008. I think it was already on the wane by the time our mom got sick, but our mom’s illness and the stress of the subsequent months changed us. There’s been a constant low level of stress and anxiety that has never quite left either of us since, and our life choices have, to a certain extent, been dictated by these circumstances beyond our control. The decision to take on certain responsibilities within the confines of those circumstances has, to me, been what has defined adulthood.
That said, I’d already lost some of that confidence or optimism or innocence (whatever you’d like to call it) by the time our mom had her stroke. The watershed moment that forced reality on my young self came almost a year and a half beforehand.
I still remember Sherri’s four-word electronic suicide note, so vague I didn’t realize that’s what it was until I found out she was dead: “well, this is anticlimactic . . .” It was not the first time she had tried. She had been wrestling with demons for years before I’d met her.
I remember it was Lent. I remember it was cold and wet. I remember that a few weeks before, I’d gone to Minneapolis to visit another friend for her birthday. Sherri couldn’t join us, so we printed out a picture of her and glued it to a popsicle stick. We took pictures and sent them to her, and she thought it was funny. We went to see my friend’s favourite band, Razorlight, the weekend I visited. Their lead singer was sick and their performance was just OK. In my mind, the night was saved by the opening band: mohair, all lower-case. Their Hammond player had come out to chat with us when we were waiting in line earlier that night, and I smoked silently with their bassist before he went in for sound check. It’s hard for an opening band to win over a crowd, but to my mind, they were better than the band we’d come to see. Their drummer played trumpet and drums at the same time in one song. They wore Edwardian waistcoats and Georgian coattails, and the lead singer had a cravat. We both bought their album, and I still have bumper stickers with the band’s name in a drawer in my apartment.
When Sherri killed herself, I thought of music, but I didn’t think of mohair. Our friendship had grown out of a mutual love for Ryan Adams, The Libertines, and later Dirty Pretty Things and The Cooper Temple Clause. I thought I remembered a line from Don’t Ask for the Water by Ryan Adams, but I didn’t. It’s quite close to some of the lyrics, but I made it up: “don’t ask for the water ’cause she’ll teach you to drown.” I listened to Talking to Pylons by The Cooper Temple Clause.
I didn’t realize I had stopped listening to mohair until many years later, when my sister was listening to the only single off their only album (they broke up shortly after we’d seen them). It was called Life. I couldn’t listen to it all the way through.
I don’t think of Sherri as often as I probably should, but I remember her during Lent — which she would find hilarious, I’m sure, because she was an atheist. There’s something appropriate about it, though, and not just because she died at that time of year. Today, close to the ninth anniversary of her death, I don’t think of her suicide as the end of my youthful optimism, but as the beginning of something more deeply seated in me. If Lent is about mindfulness, self-sacrifice, hope in the midst of suffering, I can’t think of a better way to mark it than by remembering a woman who fought so hard for so long. Now that I’m older, I realize: she was more hopeful than I could have ever been.
Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings