I remember the night I found out my step-mother killed herself. We were sitting in the bedroom (my mother, older brother, Tyler, and I) on one of the twin beds that conveniently stacked into bunk-beds. I believe I was five years old. Tyler must have been seven or eight. Wesley, our younger brother, wasn’t present. It wasn’t really any of his concern, and even if it had been, he couldn’t have been two years old at the time and would have understood the situation less than I did.
I don’t actually remember Suzanne. Sometimes I think I do, but they’re probably just those “memories” you accidentally make up to fill in those annoying gaps. I do know that at the time I held her in such high-esteem. She was so nice. And blonde. And pretty. But now when I look at her pictures she looks like she must have been a miserable drug addict… I don’t know if she was, but being that she was married to my father, I probably hit the nail right on the head. Married to my father… barely. I think he said they were married for thirteen days before she shot herself in the head. On his birthday. After he was allegedly passed out drunk in bed. Allegedly.
Anyway, we were sitting on the bed and Mum spoke to us real calm and kind.
“I’ve got to tell you something about Suzanne,” she said.
I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking, but I’m sure I was excited. I may not remember her face from anything more than her pictures, but I do remember how I felt about her. Maybe I thought she was going to come for a visit. Maybe I though I was going to get two moms instead of two moms and two dads. I don’t know…
“Sometimes people don’t get to stay here on Earth as long as we want them to,” she said. I’m sure Tyler knew what was coming next while I cluelessly wondered what she was talking about.
“Sometimes God needs them in Heaven to be an angel.”
Just so you know, I have no idea if this is how the conversation actually went down. It’s a vague memory obviously. I was five. But my memory of angel wings and clouds is strong.
“Well why can’t she be on Earth and be in Heaven?” I asked.
“Well because now she’s a spirit—like the Holy Ghost.”
The Holy Ghost… I always thought of him as Casper except with a bunch of holes. At that age you don’t have any grasp on spirituality. It’s all just fun and games.
Even Suzanne’s death was a fun thing for me to think about at the time. She was an angel now. How exciting, right? She got wings like they do in the movies and she would get to fly around and maybe even she would drop by my window one night to tell me hello.
Oh, she did. A lot. But it wasn’t to say hello. It was to scare the living hell out of me… but I’ll get into that later.
So this conversation came and went in our little trailer house in the middle of the mountains. Or was it the desert? Kind of both, I guess…
I remember seeing how sad people seemed to be. I didn’t understand why. It was a happy thing, right? Dad cried all the time. I think we saw him on the weekends… Mum just kind of looked at us with concern. People seemed to be walking on egg shells as if it would keep their emotions in check… I guess? It was a confusing time for me.
I was riding in the truck with Tyler and Dad later. It was a green truck, and even though I was small, the truck seemed tiny. I suppose it must have been.
“Dad, when Suzanne shot herself did the blood spurt out of her head like a water fountain?” I asked. How I knew she died of a gunshot wound to the head, I have no idea. Who the hell tells a five-year-old something like that? I understand children need to live in the real world, but the morbid details don’t seem necessary to me at such a young age. It’s something I wondered about a lot. Did it spurt out like a water fountain? It seemed like it would be the right way for someone’s head to bleed.
“Yes it did,” he said as he wiped a tear from his cheek. He seemed so mad at me for asking and I didn’t understand why. I know now he was just trying to get me to shut up. “Yes” was the answer I wanted to hear, so “yes” was the answer he gave.
And it worked. I just sat in the backseat staring out the window imagining what it was like, wondering if maybe Suzanne shot herself in the back of that very truck and watched her reflection in the window and saw the blood spray like a fountain.
On another occasion I was once again in the back of a truck—this time it was my mum and step-father’s big white truck. I hated that truck. It was so bumpy and we weren’t allowed to have food or drinks in it. Dumb.
“Mom, does Suzanne have wings like an angel?” I asked her.
“I’m not sure, Chance.”
“Why not? Angels in movies have wings.”
“Well I don’t know if she’s an angel.”
“But why? Aren’t all dead people angels?” I was so confused. She said God needed her to be in Heaven to be an angel and now she was saying she wasn’t sure? Plus, she didn’t know if angels had wings or not. What a disappointing answer. Moms were supposed to know everything. Maybe she was just not telling me the whole truth.
“I’m just not sure if she’s an angel or not. Only God knows that.”
“But why don’t you know if she’s an angel? Shouldn’t she be an angel? Why wouldn’t she be an angel?” I remember driving everyone crazy with my constant questions. People don’t like questions. Because people don’t ever have answers for the difficult ones and difficult questions are inevitable when dealing with someone who asks a lot of questions.
“Because she killed herself, Chance. People who kill themselves might not get to be angels.”
“Oh… Well is she still in Heaven?”
“I don’t know if she gets to go to Heaven either,” she answered. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
“Well, where will she go if she doesn’t go to Heaven?”
“She might go to Hell. But I doubt that. God forgives people for their mistakes.”
This was the first time I’d ever heard of Hell. It didn’t sound like a good place. People used that as a bad word which meant that it was surely a bad place to go. I didn’t want Suzanne to go to Hell. Finding out that it was a possibility had me distraught. Maybe there was something I could do to keep her from going to hell… It was a fleeting thought.
After that I remember the day that it hit me. Suzanne was not going to be in my life anymore. She was gone. Forever. Tyler and I were at Mum’s beauty school. If I remember correctly, it was two pale pink trailers placed next to each other. At the time, it was one of the coolest places I’d ever seen. I’m sure if I went back there today I would think of it as trash. But children don’t see social, political or economic class. They just see things. People. Everything is so neutral and equal. That is a beautiful thought. But no beautiful thoughts were being thought that day.
I sat outside on the bench by the backdoor with Tyler and Mum and cried with them while she held us. I cried so much for what seemed like forever. I just couldn’t believe that she was gone. How did that even work? How does someone just “be gone?” It came as such a shock to me to find out that the world worked in such cruel ways. That God worked in such cruel ways. Things were supposed to be happy. As long as we picked up our toys and ate our dinner and listened to Mum and Charlie and Dad and Suzanne everything was supposed to be good.
You know how they say a child’s brain development in the first five years is the most important? I’m assuming that five is also when their personality begins to bloom. I mean, I know that toddlers have personalities, but children seem to really start comprehending reality at age five.
This was the first reality I comprehended. People die. They will never come back. And people do that to themselves. People shoot themselves in the head and blood spurts out of them like a waterfall. Why? Because they’re sad on Earth and they want to be angels. But they won’t be angels because they’re going to Hell.