Sylvia Plath made me want to commit suicide.
Not the dreary, sad sort of suicide where one dies alone and confused, feeling rejected or defeated. No. More of a romanticized version of suicide in which the departed is remembered, emulated for their grand exit, memorialized in their life’s work. It probably goes without saying that I was a melancholy adolescent, no Lydia Deetz, but melancholy all the same and I daydreamed of what life I would lead one day wrought with art and depth, even though at the time I could hardly say I had much worth mourning in the way of my life’s work.
This wasn’t an actual, immediate desire to end my life, instead a friend of mine and I would talk about it like it was to be scheduled for our future selves while working on a book report together about Plath.
Turn 18: Graduate
Age 21: Publish First Book, probably a collection of shorts peppered with poetic prose or something
Age 22: Get Hitched
By Age 26: Have Offspring
Age 28: Publish Second Book
Age 30: Die
Simple enough right?
Had I known more about numerology and astrology I would have been more apt to schedule my passing at 27. The age when Saturn’s return is said to come into effect in one’s life, or as numerology theories state the number is indicative of the end of a cycle. All theories point to a difficult time of transition or a struggle between isolation and intimacy. A time of great turmoil, when the beastly weight of humanity lies heavy on your shoulders and begs for change. Who’s to say? I know at 27 for me instead of passing through to another realm, it meant the end of a long term relationship which shortly after led to me connecting romantically with my now husband. Looking back the two were so vastly different, I may as well have been existing in a separate plain of existence, so I think the theories have some kernel of authenticity.
It wasn’t only Plath that made suicide seem like an eloquent exit from this cruel world. Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, Francesca Woodman all exquisite artists who met their demise by their own hands. But Plath and her gas stove seemed the most peaceful way to obliterate one’s own life, less of a messy affair, void of the annihilation of physical parts while departing this realm.
This was a juvenile train of thought of course. Suicide isn’t anything I condone, not even before I had a family of my own to consider the feelings of but it seemed to me very enchanting of an idea, to leave this world at the peak of perceived perfection.
It seems like a whole lifetime away that this was how I imagined life to be. Now, I have teens of my own and though they can be a dramatic bunch, I think it unlikely they are scheming their own future demise. And their presence, which was surprisingly close in time to when I as plotting my poetic passing, meant instead of obsessing about the end of life, I began obsessing about how to live it. One of my favorite quotes of all time is courtesy of Anais Nin when she wrote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” The words resonated with me, echoing eternally because it felt that she must have absolutely known how I had felt when she wrote these words. The ache that exists and forces us to flourish finally, or perish otherwise. I was swimming in it by the time I was 20. Not simply swimming but drowning in it and I absolutely had to take action or quite possibly leave my children motherless.
I had managed in my youth to find a relationship that may as well have been a form of suicide. It was self-destructive, toxic and literally, physically damaging. Then one day it was like a light switch had been flipped and I needed to flee. To live for my children and regain a sense of identity as mother and self. Even in these days I was still mooning over Plath’s verse but my ideals had changed. I was examining her work and wondering how, as a mother, she could choose to leave them. What must she have been feeling, what hopeless state overrides the instinctual and powerful need to remain a foundation for your children.
In the tumultuous days I lost my words. They only found their way from ink to page in a rare journal entry and never were uttered outside of those confines. I wonder now what stories I would have told, what words were swirling around begging to be lovingly placed together. I wonder if conveying them more fiercely and out loud as Plath did would have changed my course of action.
When I rediscovered my love affair with the written word it happened slowly. School essays and articles made writing easy but rarely left time for my creativity to peek its head around the corner and I thought maybe it wasn’t like riding a bike. It’s not a knowledge that is eternal if you do not use it. My creativity may very well have withered and died. Until one day, I was sitting in my car, waiting for a teen to get out of work and the following passage came to me:
“Staring down the dilapidated alley I marvel at the primal beauty of it. Nature’s refusal to retreat in its urban environment. Tangles of lush blackberry bushes vine around empty liquor bottles and long forgotten fence posts. The denial of resignation to any eyes who would take notice as if whispering defiantly, I am here, I have always been here and I will be here in the era after. “
It’s been several years now but I keep this phrase fresh in my mind because it was a milestone for me. A recognition of a need within myself that I felt to my very bones.
While I still admire Sylvia Plath for her body of work, she doesn’t make me want to commit suicide any longer but quite the contrary because……