That was the night I stopped believing words were enough for people.
There were actions, things you did when life went wrong. You sat in your bedroom and cried in your little black dress before the funeral. You spread band-aids on scraped ankles. You held your sister’s hand when she got stung by a bee and spent all Saturday soothing it with an icy can of Sprite.
But you couldn’t talk people out of pain. You couldn’t say the right thing, at the right time, and shake off all that hurt.
If you asked me about it, whether the earth shook beneath me the night everything changed, I’ll tell you no. No, not at all.
In fact, it took almost two years to figure out what to do with all the fear in my bones.
There was a girl. There was a ringing phone. There was the backlit blink of 12:30 in the morning. And on the other side of the phone, there was me.
She was standing at the top of her very own metaphorical cliff that night, hope bleeding out of her, falling to the depths of the darkness beneath her. She was begging someone to illuminate those caverns below. She was talking about life, and ending it.
I said what I could. What I had figured out thus far. And let me tell you, it ain’t much when you’re barely 20 years old and just a few steps back from that cliff yourself, learning to walk away from depression so real it whittles you away for months.
As bad as it got, as tough as it was for me to climb, I never once wanted my life to end. And so when she called, drunk and tired and depressed and lonely and walking back from some bar, I couldn’t find the best words. Mine fell flat. They weren’t what she wanted to hear.
So she shook me off, said she was done with this life, said she was thinking maybe she ought to just end it, and said nevermind, and hung up on me.
In the hour that followed, after I called a friend and begged her to drive the 45 minutes to this girl, or for God’s sake call her and say anything better than I did, I couldn’t sleep.
Suicide, that nasty little word, became real.
Now, five years later, I believe there was something different there, a tiny drop of light she saw, a name on her iPhone contacts list, a girl in a bed with stars wallpapered to her ceiling.
She could have gone home, found a knife, a gun, a bottle of her anxiety medication. She could have been another girl to not wake up on Saturday morning. But she did. She would. Wake up, I mean.
A few of my favorite people in the world right now are struggling hard with these obstacles they cannot overcome. These uncontrollable facts about life. These waiting games they’re playing, until the sun rises on their own little ending. And sometimes, when I talk to them, I catch myself thinking of her, all those years ago. And I wonder if words will ever feel like enough to the recipient.
And then I remember – sometimes, it’s not what you say, but that you say anything at all.
Sometimes, it’s not how you answer the phone, but that you answer it at all. At three a.m. and midnight and seven a.m. When you’re stuck in rush hour traffic or cooking dinner or winding down to go to bed.
The moments you pause and let someone else find the ocean of possibilities just beyond the cliff? Those are the ones that fill you up and keep you whole.