After I was baptized at age nine, my life didn’t magically get better. In fact, it didn’t change much at all from the outside. I withdrew further into myself, and into dream worlds that were much kinder than reality. In the early eighties, the small town we lived in had some hard times and my dad lost his job. Luckily, he was handy, so he found work – even if it wasn’t work he enjoyed.
Months later, he found a job that required us to move to a town that was two-and-a-half hours away. I cried because my grandparents wouldn’t live down the street from me anymore, but I wanted to go.
In December, I started school in the new town and was crushed to discover that those kids were just as mean. I accepted that it was my fault because I couldn’t convince myself that everyone else had a problem. I did make one friend – Anne. She moved out-of-state less than a month later, and I was alone again.
My parents found a church, but like the last one, they weren’t regular attenders. I didn’t like the new church; it just wasn’t the same without my grandparents. I missed waiting in the car with my grandpa while my grandma chatted with other church ladies for what seemed like an hour. It helped that we made regular visits to see my grandparents, but it didn’t match eating snacks at their house every day after school. Though I always looked forward to visits, the miles between us did put some distance in the relationship.
The next year, I started sixth grade in another school across town. I was still awkward and shy, but the kids were nicer. Then, during my three years in junior high, I made a few more friends. I wasn’t popular by any stretch of the imagination, but I didn’t care because the popular people weren’t on a mission to make my life miserable. Sure, some still called me “nerd” and “geek” but that was nothing compared to what people said to me in the last town. In fact, a few popular kids would even talk to me as long as their friends weren’t around. I was too grateful to realize that I should’ve been insulted 🙂
The town only had one high school, so I carried a sense of dread my entire last year of junior high. I worried that the mean kids from fifth grade would turn my friends against me. I was scared, desperate, and didn’t want to be lonely again. No, I resolved to not let that happen. My teenage mind could think of only one way out.
I had a plan. That is, until a strange conversation with my grandma during one of our weekend visits. While working on posters for her Sunday School class, just like we had done when I was younger, she started talking about God’s view of suicide. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I do recall that I was freaked out because it seemed like she knew what I’d been planning.
I remember asking her one question: “If you commit suicide, do you go to heaven?” I also recall her answer: “No.” During this conversation, we continued working on the lesson without making eye contact. She only talked in general terms and never made me the subject. She must have known it would’ve put me on the defensive; after all, fifteen-year-old girls aren’t the most stable creatures under the best of circumstances.
Growing up in a Baptist church, I heard plenty about the other place and “eternal damnation”- and I knew I didn’t want to go there. I doubted the plan that I had been so sure about, so I did nothing. God came through with more blessings: my dad lost his job in the small town, but they lined up a transfer to Arizona. My dad still had a job with the company and I got a shot at a new beginning.
So far, this has been the lowest point of my life. I am ashamed that I would have considered taking my own life. My grandma made it clear that she viewed it as a cowardly, selfish act. By virtue of my willingness to succumb to it, I became those things.
Although I detest this weakness, I remember it often – not to torture myself, but to make me stronger. I do have days where I’m not happy, but I make an effort to look up to the light instead of focusing on the depths of darkness because I know what it feels like to be pinned down and smothered by hopelessness. I will not go back. I have faith that God won’t let me go back.
I’ll never know for sure what prompted my grandma to start that conversation – but I know in my heart that it was God.