Please note: this piece contains descriptions of suicide which some readers may find distressing.
I had ‘abuse victim’ tattooed on my brain. I was still watching cartoons when it first started. The dust on my dolls had barely begun to settle. I still had that naive trust children have towards adults. I just had the bad luck to trust the wrong adult. The hurt and the helplessness melted into rage, simmering away beneath the surface. My mother thought I was a typical teenager, hiding in my room, slamming doors and throwing things. My brother thought I hated him when I avoided spending time with him.
Six years later, I found the courage to go to the police. Three hours, fifteen sheets of A4 paper and several cups of tea later, I’d finally told my whole story. Temporary relief surged through my veins. Months later, the letter came. Not enough physical evidence. No prosecution.
One day, he turned up where I worked. I didn’t see him, but he handed my boss a brown paper package. He told her I’d know what it was. A book I’d lent him once, and a pocket watch I’d gifted him as a birthday present before it had all started. I had a meltdown. He was reminding me that he was free to do whatever he wanted.
It didn’t matter where I went, or what I did, it was always there in the back of my mind. One moment, I would be present, and then a smell or a word would send me into the past. I was told it was PTSD, along with an unhealthy dose of depression. I began to break down, small pieces fracturing and snapping off. My life felt like it was on pause, though the clock kept ticking, and I kept on breaking.
I got up one day, made my cup of tea with milk and two sugars. Waved my fiancé off to work. I ignored my antidepressants, staring listlessly at the opposite wall of my living room as memories percolated. I felt numb. Slowly, thoughts started creeping in. The kind of thoughts that means you should really get on the phone to the Samaritans. I didn’t get on the phone.
A sense of purpose started swelling through me. It was the first time in ages I’d felt anything other than pain or numbness. My feet took me to a hardware shop, where I spent too long looking at rope. There wasn’t really an option to try before you buy. (Yes, Reader, that was a little bit of gallows humour.) I bought it, went home, stashed it under the bed and began writing letters to people I cared about. Explanations, apologies, the pleas for understanding. They went in my backpack. Name tags found their way round my most precious belongings which were then carefully placed inside a shoe box under my bed. I walked through my home. There was nowhere I could do it. And anyway, I didn’t want my fiancé to be the one to find me.
He came home from work, none the wiser about what was going through my mind. We ate and I encouraged him to go see his friends. It had been a while since he had seen them. He left. I thought it would be the last time. It got dark outside. I brought out the rope, watched a tutorial on how to tie a hangman’s noose. Pierrepoint would have been proud.
It was quiet outside except for the rustling of the trees and the occasional creaking of their boughs. The stars were beautiful too. I stood on a bench beneath a wooden canopy with headphones on and the noose around my neck. I sent my last messages, pressed play on my chosen music, slid my phone into the pocket of my coat and then cuffed my hands. I felt an overwhelming sense of finality, that this was it. All that was left to do was to push myself off that bench.
My legs froze as I teetered. The struggle between my mind and the rest of my body was real - I wanted to die, but every cell in my body was fighting against it. I started trying to kneel instead. The music lulled as my body slowly started giving up. Suddenly, I heard a shout. A passing dog walker had shouted something at me. It was pitch black, so they couldn’t quite see me, nor I them, but they obviously thought I was doing something I shouldn’t. They walked away, but they’d unknowingly given a dying woman the kiss of life.
My phone started ringing, the headphones roaring in my ears. I was barely able to answer. My fiancé was begging me to tell him where I was. God knows how long it was, but he found me, still hanging. I was still handcuffed and hadn’t been able to free myself. I guess that part of my plan worked well. He was crying as he undid everything. Paramedics turned up, and I went on my first ambulance ride to a hospital. I went to the bathroom and caught sight of my face. It was bad. Some hours later, I was set free to go home.
Life slowly began to change after that. I found that in trying to press the stop button, I’d accidentally pressed play. I didn’t want to end my life; I’d wanted to stop the pain. Each new day I live through is another chance to laugh and to love. Each new day is a victory. I don’t know what my future holds for me. Maybe I’ll finally get to university, become a historian or a world-famous singer (okay, that last one will never happen, but even awful singers like me can dream). I had ‘abuse victim’ tattooed on my brain. Now I’ve got ‘survivor’ stamped over it, and a semicolon on my wrist. One thing I do know about my future is this - I won’t be the one who ends it.
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