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The final days: Days 25-30:

I believe that the topics for days 25 and 26 go together nicely; therefore, I am going to write about them as such.

Day 25: The reason you believe you’re still alive today.

Day 26:  Have you ever thought about giving up on life? If so, when and why?

It is common knowledge that any 12 year old boy new to the neighborhood must be in want of a girlfriend. The summer before seventh grade, a new family moved into the house kitty-corner from us. With the two adults came two boys: one a year older than me and one two years younger than me. My friends and I, as adolescent girls do when such events occur, immediately began to twitter and flit about in my front yard whenever the boys were out helping their parents unload the moving van. Eventually, I was able to catch the eye of the eldest boy. We dated until the fall of my freshman year of high school (that’s a lifetime by the standards of a 14 year old) when he decided he liked a different girl and broke up with me.

He had been my first real romantic relationship (as far as middle school relationships go). He gave me my first real kiss, real date, and really emotionally invested relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Needless to say, when he broke up with me, I was devastated, confused: at a loss for what the entire world meant. I called my best friend in tears, swearing that my life was over, that I didn’t want to live, that it hurt too badly. In hindsight, I was the  most despicably over-attached, over-emotional, irrational, hormonal, and dramatic kind of teenager who I often find myself rolling my eyes at today. In the moment, however, my life was over and I wanted to stop the hurting. However, I had been raised by parents who taught me to value life, to rely on my friends and family when it felt like the worst had come. So, I called my best friend on the phone and cried. She came over and hugged me and let me ruin her shirt with the constant watery stream of my “dramatic” eyeliner. She told that mean heart-squashing jerk what for, and handed me tissues until my sobs were hiccups. Those first minutes of the break up, before my rational self took over and forced me to see reason and to call my friend, were the only time I truly considered ending my own life.

While I never thought about it seriously again, I spent quite a few years dwelling on what death and suicide meant and why people took the plunge, so to speak. I found a list online of the different ways people committed suicide and the morbidly funny names for each act. My mother found the list and had a conniption; she had a hard time believing me when I told her I wasn’t suicidal and that I just found the list “interesting”. When I started driving, I found myself scared at certain busy intersections, burdened with thoughts like, “What if I got in a car accident? What would happen? Who would come to the hospital to see me? Who would be at my funeral if I died? Would I be able to see or know or understand who was there? Where would I go? Was there really a heaven? What if there wasn’t? Would I simply cease to exist? Would I be reincarnated? Would I go to hell? Would there be a light? Would there be a questioning session? Would my good outweigh my bad? Would I find out that you had to be a certain religion in order to get into heaven? Would heaven be boring? Would heaven be like in What Dreams May Come?

I hadn’t really had any real experience with anyone dying other than my grandmother, who had had a closed casket viewing. She had died from complications due to pneumonia and had had Alzheimer’s since I was really young. While I was very sad that she had died, and absolutely heartbroken for the loss that my father and grandfather had to face with her death, I had never gotten to see or know the vibrant person she was in order to properly feel the heavy, unnerving loss that death brings.

It wasn’t until I lost a friend from high school due to a heroin overdose that I was truly able to see and accept death for what it was: unknown, devastating, unreasonable, a time for faith and holding tight with love and support to those who were left. I experienced loss further, and at a much deeper level (despite how much people may thing it’s ridiculous), when I lost my dog, Cocoa Bear, in college. He had been my confidant, my unconditional loving friend, my roommate, and my comfort for 12 years. He had fallen down a few steps, landed wrong, broken his elbow. He was too old to risk surgery, and he was already in a lot of discomfort from his arthritis; so, we had him euthanized. The whole family went to the vet office to say goodbye: to hug him, pet him, tell him we loved him, promise him that we wish it could be any other way, apologize for not watching him closely enough, for not walking him more, for not keeping him healthier, for not appreciating him for all that he was for our family. I held him as they pushed the plunger of the syringe, watched the pink liquid disappear into my friend’s arm, watched his eyes droop, watched as the light left his eyes and his body slackened and became heavy in my arms. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I don’t regret it. I was with him until the end. I promised to take care of him, and I did until the last possible moment. I never thought of death as interesting or something that I could ever even think of with curiosity after that day.

Years later, I had to face the shocking and surprising news that one of my students had shot himself in the head with his hand gun. His parents wanted it to be spoken of as an “accident”, and I wish I believed that was the case. They held an open casket viewing for Chase; the face that laid there so calmly, serenely, lifeless, was not his. His empty seat in my classroom left a hole in my heart. The absence of his smile, his laugh, his sincere politeness and friendliness was gone from my daily routine. Had I said hello to him yesterday? Had I asked him how his day was? Did any of that even matter? Thinking back to my own experience with thoughts of suicide, though they were clearly minuscule compared to his, I realized that I probably didn’t make a huge difference in the whole scheme of things. I just wish he had learned to value life more closely; he had had so much of it.

The reason I am still alive today is purely the love, support, and vigilance of my friends and family. When I was two and continued to think it was funny to stick my fingers near the light socket, my mother was vigilant enough to notice and to correct me with a firm smack on the butt so that I didn’t do it again. When she found that list, she was vigilant and brave enough to confront me about it and check in on me. My friends and family have always been there to promise me better tomorrows, swear that he/she/it wasn’t worth my time, frustration, or my tears, give me thousands of moments and experiences to be grateful for and to look back on fondly, and love me fiercely enough to keep away any harmful thoughts that might have lingered once in my youth. For them, I am grateful; for them, I live.

Day 27 → What’s the best thing going for you right now?

My marriage with my husband has been an ongoing active process of communicating and learning how to both live in the moment and grow for the future. I love him with my entire being and hate being away from him at night, especially when he goes away on business for days or weeks at a time. He’s currently on a trip to Florida (lucky guy) and I’m dreading going to sleep without him next to me. Plus, I had a terrifying dream the other night about an intruder in the house coming after me. I’ll be double checking the doors, under the bed, in the closets, and all the rooms tonight, and keeping my monstrosity of a dog by my bedside, thank you very much. I feel like I’ve written a lot about my husband though, so I’d also like to share something else that’s going well for me right now.

Right now, I am in the painstaking process of reviewing, changing, and adjusting my teaching methods to reflect the holes I have found in what and how I teach. It’s rough and depressing realizing how much I should have been doing last year. Alas, c’est la vie; as long as I continue to actively improve myself as an educator, I can not dwell on what I should have done. I ran into a couple of my old students at Subway today who told me that they learned more last year than they have this year. It made me smile and made me feel less like I’d gypped them of a quality education; apparently, my first try was good enough. I also got an email from one of my seniors from last year who told me that he was so thankful for having me as a teacher last year because he was able to pull off an A- in his first college English class. Then, the other day we had a brief reflection session at the end of my honors classes where I asked them what they’ve liked about the class, whether or not they feel like they’re learning, what they’d like to see more of, and how we could change existing on-going weekly activities to make them more beneficial for their education. I got a lot of really great feedback during that session as well. However, I know I can’t trust a 15/16 year old to 1. be brave enough to be brutally honest if they didn’t enjoy my class, and to 2. have the kind of perspective that an adult or other educator would have if they had been in my class; still, I value their opinions and am glad to hear that they feel like they’re really learning a lot this year. So, I’m happy that I’m moving forward, making changes, evolving in my career to become a better, more well rounded teacher.

Day 28 → What if you were pregnant or got someone pregnant, what would you do?

Seeing as that I do not have the genitalia to get someone pregnant, I guess I’ll attend to the first part of the question. This (starting at seconds 11-40 and 1:18-1:14) is how I think I feel about the prospect of pregnancy, and this is how I really feel about it.
Day 29 → Something you hope to change about yourself. And why.

I hope to be a more organized person with the time that I dedicate to myself. I hope to be a healthier person by using my personal time to walk, think, write, garden, stretch, dance, and play more often with my dog. I’ve already started taking daily prenatal vitamins to start to build my overall health for down the road when a little Jane might be a goal, and I’ve pushed myself to eliminate pop at home and drinking more water. I want to do this not only to lose weight and be healthier, but I want to get into healthy habits so that when I do have children, I will have healthy habits to pass on to them so that they won’t have to struggle with being overweight or having body image issues.

Day 30 → A letter to yourself, tell yourself EVERYTHING you love about yourself

Dear Jane,

I love that you are a blunt, straightforward, honest person, even if your mother thinks it’s not a good trait. I love that you are not a stick, even though you often wish certain styles (pencil skirts, tunics, fitted dresses) looked good on you. I love that you have learned how to keep your mouth shut when you need to and to open it wide  to shout out against injustices and share your opinion without abandon when it is called for. I love that you have become braver with age; I love that you have tried more things in the past four years and that you plan to try even more in the next four. I love that you have been able to admit more readily when you are wrong, and have found someone you can be completely honest with, without holding back. I love that you are finally more yourself than you have been in years. I love that you love dogs enough to save them when they are in danger; it makes you a hero in my eyes. I love that you care enough about your students to provide extra fun activities that give them an kinesthetic view of the curriculum at hand, even when the funds to do so come out of your own pocket. I love that you have learned how to love without restraint, to follow through on what you promise to do, and to read more often. I love how much you love your husband. I love how much you love your family and friends. I love that you haven’t given up on yourself or on this 30 days of truth thing, even though it was exhausting to be so honest about so many touchy subjects. Thank you Jane for changing for the better, for evolving, and I hope you continue to do so with as much passion and fervor as you have been this past year.

Love ,

Yourself (January 2011)