A Sugar Coated Suicide, Part One: The Test
Trigger warning: Suicide
“Am I dead?” I asked the man beside me. Smiling, he checked the ID bracelet wrapped a little too tightly around my wrist. His hand was smooth and dark brown. He turned my wrist this way and that to read my name, Mary Beth McAfee-Hallman. I cringed. Hundreds of miles separated me from my biological family, but surely he knew. The McAfees were lunatics. The name was a confirmation of my particular brand of Crazies.
This man had a brilliant smile made up of perfectly white teeth. His smile made me feel safe. I smiled back. What was happening here wasn’t a “Holy shit! Am I dead?!” kinda moment. I simply wanted to know if I’d finally done it. I asked him if I was dead in the same way I’d ask a stranger the time. The time was important information, but casually asked. Unless, of course, you were in a hurry. I didn’t feel the least bit hurried anymore. What I felt was this delicious, confusing mix of light and dark, a heaviness without the struggle. Maybe the only thing stopping me from floating away was this man’s hand on my arm. The thought of my fat body floating, hot air balloon style, into the night almost made me giggle. Almost.
The man’s smile became a chuckle, a deep well of soul energy I could feel coming from his hand. When the energy hit my toes, they tingled. “No, ma’am. You’re not dead. You’re right here with me!” He patted my arm gently once it was tucked beside me on the gurney.
Where was here? Suspicious, but not questioning whatever authority this man may have in The Wherever I was, I whispered in my sweetest voice, “Are you sure I’m not dead? On accounta I just saw Grandmom Amison.”
“Did your grandmother bring you to the hospital? I bet you’ll see her as soon as we’re through with this test.”
I didn’t want to tell him Grandmom Amison had been dead going on six years now. Also, shit a’mighty, I was still at the hospital. I said, “No sir, my husband drove me here, but I think… I think…”
“You don’t have to do anymore thinking right now. You just relax.”
As the smiling man walked away, I tried to concentrate. Now was not the time for relaxing. Not yet. I couldn’t get my head around taking a test. Wasn’t the past 41 years the test? I’d seen the report card. I’d failed already. No makeup work was gonna save me now. Whatever we were about to do sounded more like a pop quiz. That’s bullshit in life, let alone death. If I failed it, was I gonna have to go back? I didn’t want a do over. Whatever rules were in play here better not include do overs.
Perhaps this was why Grandmom Amison was here, to help me cheat my way through to death. She was a good cheater. I knew firsthand from all those games of Monopoly we played when I was a kid. She never wore a bra. Grandmom’s huge, unleashed breasts rested on the card table. Money and hotels disappeared underneath them when she thought I wasn’t looking. The table would shake as she plopped a breast over her ill-gotten gains. The tremor signaled another bank heist. Despite her hidden stash, every now and again, she was in danger of losing. I’d drop money on the floor around her and make a show of how she was knocking her money off the table with her knockers. Sometimes, I did that even when she was winning, because it always made her laugh.
The scent of her overpowering, musky sweet Avon perfume came swirling down the hallway to wrap me in the warmth of one of her hugs. I squinted to try to see her better. Grandmom Amison was there, just at the corner, waving her hand back and forth in short little bursts. She used to wave at me like that as we drove up the dirt road that led to her house and summers filled with her delicious cooking and succulent laughter. Summers at her house meant being outside in the country. They meant being safe.
Grandmom Amison was the embodiment of too much. She jingled and jangled as she walked heavy footed through the farmhouse where she lived. Costume jewelry languished decadently on her ample frame for no one’s pleasure but her own. She hoarded copies of The National Enquirer, letting me read all the absurd stories she wholeheartedly believed. Her great big glasses made her eyes ginormous to match her short, fantastically fat body. She laughed too loud and too long at jokes only she had the balls to find funny. For me, Grandmom Amison was never too much. She was just enough.
Perpetually wearing the house dresses favored by small town fat folks, my Grandmom Amison grew still as she stood in the hospital hallway, her folded arms resting on the abundance of her belly. She blinked at me from behind those huge glasses like an owl, silent in her observations, but ready to take flight. Maybe my summer with Grandmom Amison would last forever. I saw a little slip of a girl press herself against Grandmom’s side. At first, I thought it was my youngest daughter, Gracie. She was partially hidden in the folds of Grandmom’s house dress. Thick glasses and unkempt hair overpowered her tiny face. Hesitantly, she raised her hand and waved at me. Her shy smile came slowly, never reaching her eyes. I reached back forty years to remember this child. She was me. Part of me died when I was a child. Therapists called trauma and abuse “soul murder.” Well, the vessel was ready to join that soul in death. Her presence sealed the deal. I was dead.
I kinda thought when I finally died, I’d join the Oneness or whatever. No bright lights or angel choirs. The afterlife would be a reunion with all these cool people like Grandmom Amison, Gandhi and John Belushi, people gone way before me who were aching to welcome me home. I’d meet Nora Ephron who’d tell me I’m a real writer. She wouldn’t say it like she felt sorry for my lost potential. She wasn’t chastising me for killing myself. Nora Ephron would say it more like an affirmation and, for once, I’d believe it.
If somebody started talking pearly gates, I’d need Grandmom Amison and Jesus too. Jesus was still a friend of mine. We quit dating after high school, but our relationship wasn’t awkward anymore. Yeah, Jesus would be my Ace in the hole. If this test got Biblical, I might not be screwed with an assist from the J-Man and Grandmom Amison. No one was gonna throw open any gates for the likes of me. I wasn’t a bad person. I didn’t kick puppies or anything. I was bad at the living part of being a person which is why I just made my heart explode with four years’ worth of binge eating.
When I was a kid, we used to break into the church playground. The Methodists held their holy monkey bars hostage behind a chain link fence so all the heathen children couldn’t get in there to play during non-churchy hours. I needed a boost back in the day and that was a regular old fence. Now, I had 300 pounds’ worth of weight to hoist over what would have to be something akin to The Wall that protected the Seven Kingdoms from the White Walkers. I’d be alright. Jon Snow knew nothing. Jesus, Grandmom, and I would figure this shit out right quick.
I could always float on over to the other side. Floating was what I was feeling right then. Whatever was waiting for me, even if it was John Belushi ready to push me on a swing, was starting to sound like Destination Doucheville. I mean, what kinda place makes you take a test before you can even get there? The afterlife sounded as if it wasn’t gonna be a release like I thought it would be, a place where I’d finally fit. I had not planned well.
The smiling man patted my hand as we started to move toward a bright light. “Let’s just take this little test. Don’t you want to see your husband?”
I couldn’t tell him I didn’t need to see Johnny Hallman. I needed to see Grandmom Amison, Jesus and maybe John Belushi too. I wanted to be dead! I was sure I shouldn’t admit that even now. Seeking death isn’t kosher, that’s why I’d been so sneaky about it in the first place. All I could remember of Johnny was a worried smile that transformed his handsome face into a mask of fear. His smile sparked a guilt deep inside of me. I’d met Guilt through my oldest buddy, Self-Loathing. One on one, they were hard to handle. Together they controlled everything. We did most of our hanging out on the sly. Johnny never realized we’d been double dating with them for over 20 years now.
I couldn’t hold onto to Johnny or guilt as I floated into a blinding light. The smiling man apologized when the gurney bounced off the sides of a doorway. Still, I felt no fear, only confusion. I was headed into the light backwards. Good things seldom happen when you can’t see what’s coming.
Part Two: Baseball Season