My wife sits on the sofa across from me in the den. She has said nothing for the past ten minutes. Her glazed eyes are swollen from crying and seem fixed on some point in outer space. Her cheeks and neck are a splotchy red. Twice now she has tried to kill herself, and both times she looked like this and acted like this.
And both times, I rescued her. The first time was when she left home one night, checked into a motel, and took about fifty sleeping pills. Instead of killing her, they made her sick. She threw up and called me. I can hear her voice repeating my name over and over, not even as loud as a whisper, and me yelling in the phone, “Where, where are you?” and her answer, barely audible.
The ambulance beat me to her that time, but a month later, when she did it again, I beat the ambulance. I also beat the odds. For instead of waiting for her to call me, I started calling motels in the area, and by extraordinary chance, found the one she was in. I took her to the hospital. They pumped out her stomach and kept her overnight for observation.
I have tried everything I know to help her. I have enlisted the aid of family and friends, our pastor, psychologists and psychiatrists. I have reminded her again and again of all she has to live for. Nothing has worked. I cannot say anything to her that matters because she is convinced she does not matter.
I have thought about committing her to a mental institution, but I can’t bring myself to do that. Nor can I bring myself to rescue her anymore. If she is so intent on dying, even after every known method to prevent it, what am I supposed to do? I think I am supposed to let her. But is that the same as murder?
I cannot bear to look at her anymore, and I can no longer to pretend to read the book in front of me. So I go to bed. I lay in the darkness. Each sound seems magnified out of all proportion to its source. I think of the pain my wife must feel. Presently, she enters the bedroom and continues on to the adjoining bath. I hear her pulling tissue from a box. I hear her blowing her nose. I hear the medicine cabinet opening, and I imagine her staring at row upon row of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. I hear the sound of pills shaking in a bottle. I hear the faucet and the rush of water into a glass. Moments pass. The water comes on again. It is repeated twice more.
How many pills has she taken this time? Should I intervene? No. I will not rescue her. If this is a sick game she is playing, she must play it alone. I will not be a part of it.
The bathroom door opens and my wife reenters the bedroom. Then something for which I am not prepared happens: she slips into bed beside me.
For some reason, I have always thought suicide was committed alone. But here she is settling her head on the pillow beside me for a final sleep. Our bodies touch under the covers, and I am repulsed. She is forcing me to participate in her death.
A half hour later, her breathing becomes labored. I try to find a pulse. Nothing. Under the bedding, she does not move at all.
How can I allow this to happen? There is still time to prevent it. I could get her out of bed, rush her to the hospital. Or I could force her to throw up, put her in a cold shower, give her coffee, find an antidote for whatever it is she has taken.
But what is the antidote for life? That is the question.
She has to find that herself. Which is why I cannot rescue her anymore. It is also why no one else can, either. If she does not want to live, no one can make her. And then I ask myself if that is the real reason I lie passive beside her, unmoving and unmoved to help. But I already know the answer: no. The real reason is that I do not want her to live.
I think about how my unwillingness to help her coincides so nicely with her own unwillingness to survive. And how free I will be when this source of pain is removed from me. If she dies, I am absolved. I will never again have to wonder what she is doing in front of the medicine cabinet. Never again wonder why she is suddenly crying. Never again wonder where she is going when she drives off in the car without even saying good-by. Her death will free me of everything.
Except maybe that you could have prevented it.
But I can’t give her the will to live; she has to give herself that.
You could give her a chance, one more chance. Then, maybe, somehow, she would find the will.
I have given her all the chances anybody deserves.
You are trying to be God.
I am trying to be free.
Knowing there is a chance for her to become well again and happy, will you, if she dies, ever be free?
The question fills up the dark room and settles over all, and I feel her limbs growing cold and clammy. Is this how it works, from the extremities — the toes, the feet, the legs, the fingers, the hands, the arms, moving ever inward until there is nothing?
And then, towards morning, while the first birds sing and the first rays of light awaken the room, I still have not rescued her, but she stirs ever so slightly under the covers. And she has rescued me.