"I'm Taking a Break this Semester"

This was originally published on Medium in April, 2014.

Coming up on three months ago, after 10 hours and a tank and a half of gas, I pulled my faithful Accord off the side of the I-10.

“I’m going to do it.”

I reached for a tote bag on the passenger seat, my sole companion for the night of driving. Strange to think that a day ago, it meant nothing, and now it was my life. So little in it.

Tearing open the paper wrapper on a gauze pad and setting a roll of tape on the dash, I removed the last item from that small, white bag. Empty. Would I have used the bandage? I think I might not have cared enough to try, once the deed was done. But perhaps I might have, and maybe, just maybe, a hospital would have been the final destination of my midnight trip, instead of, well, you know what.

The knife! The knife that in my many terrorized nights of stalking the hallways looking for a nameless danger had been my only hope. Anxiety fuels anxiety, fear hungers for fear, and the knife was thirsty.

But dull. And so I’m here.

I’ve got a lot of people to thank for being in the state I’m in today: my doctors, for showing me that I am not the problem; my aunt, for finding them; my family, for never giving up; my coworkers, for bearing an extra load; the Flinn foundation, for understanding. But I don’t know who to thank for where I was the next minute, though I know that I’ve never felt the presence of God more than I did driving into the sunrise that day.

How do I move forward from that? How do I process the fact that three months ago I almost killed myself? The fear that drives someone to take a life is nearly incommensurate with everyday life. I keep searching for a way to contextualize what almost happened, but I’m beginning to recognize that it just doesn’t make any sense, and that it probably never will. Still, one doesn’t simply hold something so valuable and so beautiful as a human life in one’s hands and then walk away. A moment so consequential as that is not to be forgotten, not to be filed away somewhere deep in the back of your mind. So how do I move forward?

When people ask, I tell them I’m taking a break from school; I’m not sure how much they buy it, but it helps that I had plenty of room to do so and still graduate early. Lying is something we all do, and knowing how to do it well is an art form; in fact, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that all art is a collection of lies that reveal just the part of the truth worth seeing. But it’s a sham to say the truth worth seeing in my life is my academic prowess and nothing more. Living is telling a story, and it’s up to each of us to choose what story we’re going to live, or to not choose, and have our story told for us. I could go on letting people settle for their own assumptions, and in the odd case when that’s not enough, go on telling an intentionally uninteresting story, but I already almost gave away my chance to tell a story once, and I won’t fritter it away now.

Rather than shrugging off another “I’m taking a break this semester,” perhaps it’s time to tell a deeper truth. Clearly, I don’t need to dump the full weight of it on any random person’s head at the supermarket, but I can’t see the harm in letting it be known that I’m taking off the semester to get my life back on track after being so overcome with fear and anxiety that I nearly threw it away. No one can predict what historians will say about our generation, but it’s clear enough to me that anxiety is our most defining trait. Why not be open about it? I know I’m not the only one with this story.

Less than a week ago, I drove past the very spot I had pulled off at with my tote bag of life and death. This time, I was on my way back from an event in Tucson for my non-profit, Voices for the Voiceless. Voices is an organization dedicated to ending abortion; our slogan is “we are the 78%” because, since 1973, 22% of our generation has been eliminated by abortion. Unlike the (largely inaccurate) stereotype, we don’t picket and shout. We don’t hate the women who choose abortion. Our mission is not to pass a law, but to tell a story, the story of the generation that remains. At the Tucson event, an attendee brought up a comparison I, for obvious reasons, had considered before: that abortion is in many ways similar to suicide. The anti-abortion movement has failed for the past five decades on the message that abortion is murder, that the most apt comparison is homicide, specifically infanticide. Once again, I can’t predict the future, but I’d like to believe that the moment at which the pro-life movement begins to succeed is that in which it recognizes the far deeper truth. Abortion happens out of fear, and a fear that has almost nothing to do with everyday life, a fear that cannot be contextualized. Abortion and suicide both center around an individual, overwhelmed with fear, with an empty future and a precious human life in their hands.

I’m far from the only one with this story. Each and every member of my generation has been touched by abortion; each and every member of my generation has been overwhelmed by anxiety; each and every member of my generation has a story worth telling.

I can’t justify the lie anymore. A boring story just isn’t worth telling at all. But the story I do have, and that we all have, is just about the only thing worth telling at all.