jerġa ‘jibda

I planned my suicide in the spring of 2008, after this happened. I was going to check out before checkout time; fuck the continental breakfast.

Canada’s handgun laws are inconvenient when you want to die. I could take care of this in 20 minutes back in Arizona, I thought, staring resentfully at the billboards looming outside the window of The Worst Apartment Ever (TWAW). Located in Toronto’s Little Malta, TWAE was a cross between a haunted office building and an over-lit dormitory. It was basically one long hallway with my terrifying cokehead roommate at one end and a steep set of stairs at the other. When I went down those stairs and opened the door, I was greeted with an Arctic blast of air, screaming sirens, and usually some guy throwing up behind the bus station. I also saw this:

TWAE had previously been home to several prostitutes, none of whom had informed their extensive clientele that they were relocating. Go figure. So, as I sat there trying to plan my death, I kept getting interrupted by the hopeful, staccato knocks of Little Malta johns. The language barrier meant I had a hard time running them off.

“L-onorevoli marru!” I’d say firmly (“The ladies went away.”) Then I’d trudge back up the stairs and root around in my pile of blankets, trying to get warm. I was working 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. security shifts, living my days backwards, so I’d watch the sunset thinking it was sunrise and vice-versa. I couldn’t tell the difference between beginning and ending; between the start of my days and their close.

I wanted a rest. I wanted not to feel ashamed and alone, and the only way to do that was to put a stop to everything. There’s a difference between wanting things to stop and wanting to die, but you can’t do one without the other unless you know someone willing to put you into a medically-induced coma. I only knew bartenders and freelance writers.

Then, one day, I opened up an e-mail that said my friend C. had gotten there first. It wasn’t a “cry for help,” either.  It was potassium cyanide gas off the Internet and a note: “It was not you; you were beautiful.”

I made a terrible sound. Not a scream, not a groan, but a noise like I’d been hit in the stomach. My cokehead roommate, who cared about no one but herself, came running.

You know when people say, “The world is poorer without him” when someone dies? I didn’t understand what that meant until C. died. Imagine the funniest, most complex and exhilarating and flavorful person you know. Now imagine that person gone.

I spent the rest of the day re-reading every e-mail C. ever sent:

All is well, though hectic, on the C. front. Will soon write a longer e-mail with sentences, unlike this one, that contain a defined subject. Will tell you about the nerdy girl with whom I had a whirlwind evening stretching into early morning involving both shoulder massages and Chrispy-administered ink tattoos (“Julio 4Ever”, a ring of retarded dolphins around her navel, an anchor). Will explain to you just how horribly a young man can botch sweet potatoes. All this and more. Coming soon to an in-box near you. 

and

I’ve got another 11 months’ tour of duty here, I surmise (gotta have me another go ’round of that fabulous summer, you betcha), but after that, it’s the LA Times, baby, all the way. At least that’s the dream I had last night. Well, also that I owned a pair of talking gay dogs. (They talked and were gay, not that they talked gay. Though one of them did have a sibilant S.) They fought crime on the gritty streets of east Mesa when not coming home for leftover spaghetti.

Besides “angry” and “sad” — the words don’t do the feelings justice — I was jealous: C. had made everything stop.

My jealousy told me I needed to leave Toronto; to let go of the dream I had of a life there. The city and the person I loved were one and the same: I wanted them, but they didn’t want me. They were present, yet inaccessible. They were a torment. They were tainted.

I thought, Yeah, C. isn’t in pain anymore, but he’ll also never know how the November election turns out. He’ll never get to touch an iPad, and he was such an early adopter of gadgetry. His connection with life stopped in May of 2008, and as the years ticked by, I realized, he’d become more and more anecdotal. The world would spin one way; he’d spin another. Soon, C. would belong to “a long time ago.” He occupied such a tiny slice of time. And, even though so many signs pointed to his death — only after he was gone did I see how many hints he’d left; how many trail-markers for us to find — only then did I think, Of course this is how it turned out — maybe something could have altered his trajectory. A great therapist? Backpacking through Asia? I don’t know.

And also I thought, What an ass pain, trying to get a body shipped from Toronto to Southern Arizona. I pictured my father, old and heartbroken, trying to navigate some horribly complex, bureaucratic Ontario phone tree, agreeing to fees and pickups; getting disconnected and having to go through the whole fucking thing again. I couldn’t stand it.

So, here’s what C’s death did for me: I packed up a U-Haul, came back to the arid, politically-backward land of my birth, and started graduate school.

I promised myself: You can still check out early if you want to. In a year. If you don’t feel any better. In the meantime, why don’t you try to do something useful? Teaching is useful. Maybe you could be useful and help somebody, doing that.

I unpacked that U-Haul in the early hours of an April morning. In Canada, April was winter, but in Arizona, it was spring. I locked the door of my new place and took off down the street, marveling at my ability to walk again; to run. I wanted to be on campus when the bookstore opened. For the first time in years, I wanted to be where people were. And, while that’s the beginning of another story, it’s the end of this one.

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7 thoughts on “jerġa ‘jibda

  1. *whew*, what a beautifully sad and hopeful story, phona. I’m so glad you’re still here, the world wouldn’t be nearly as nice without your wonderful writing and I’m sure that goes double for the person you are in Real Life, even though I don’t know you there.

  2. I read this yesterday. It helped me sit quietly on the ledge instead of manically ruminating on emergency levels of anxiety and shame. Thank you. Your work helps people.

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