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“The Wood Song” — The Indigo Girls (i.e., the song that saved my life)

I tried to kill myself when I was 17.  I know, I know… you’re thinking “hell, who doesn’t?”… but really.  I did.

It wasn’t a particularly dramatic attempt.  No pills, pistols, nooses or knives.  I simply lay down in the parking lot of City Park East on a bitterly cold night in January and decided I wouldn’t get up again.  Hypothermia: effective, yet kinder to the people who would find me later.

Earlier that evening, I had gone to a funeral home for the very first time.  The body of a dear friend was laid out on display which was slightly amazing since he’d shot himself in the head two days prior.  I walked up to the casket and stared; I had never seen a dead body before.  He looked strange… his face and hands looked waxy and fake… a body sans soul.  Everything that made him look like him was gone.  And it was never coming back.  Ever.

Our last interaction was a fight.  The day he shot himself, I had actually written “Call John” on my to-do list so maybe we could reconnect.  That same day, he told the last person to see him alive that he hated me and wanted to make my life a living hell. He very nearly succeeded.

The rumors spread.  He did it to spite me.  It was my fault. Or so my little grief-mortared brain believed.  And so I lay down on that asphalt, determined to make amends – life for a life, right?  I stayed there a long, long time.  Long enough that I stopped feeling my fingers.  Long enough that I stopped feeling cold.  Long enough that I stopped feeling anything.

And then an odd, startling sound broke my reverie.

I flinched… who the hell is at the park at this time of night?  Is it a drug dealer, a rapist, a psycho?  Is someone going to kill me?  And then it occurred to me… maybe I didn’t really want to die just yet.  I crawled to my car chanting “I’m gonna live so goddamn long and be so goddamn happy just to spite them…” under my breath.

That’s how the next couple of months went – metaphorically speaking.  I was too numb to walk, so I crawled.  I felt wooden.  And tired.  And old.  And every day I listened to the Indigo Girls remind me that it was supposed to be hard but that it was worth it.

…but what it takes to cross the great divide

Seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside

But we get to have some answers when we reach the other side

The prize is always worth the rocky ride

 

Now… I didn’t really believe them.  But I wanted to.  I wanted an answer.  And a prize at the end of the ride.  And so I listened.  Sometimes just wanting to believe is good enough to get you through.

I wish I had an answer to the great big “WHY?” that hangs over this memory, but I don’t. The song speaks of a “greater hand” and a “tricky plan,” and while that gives many people comfort, I’m not convinced that the divine plan ever includes things like suicide.  Or murder, or drunken car wrecks or childhood cancer or any number of other awful things.  I just don’t think God is an asshole, sadist or tyrant.  I don’t think S/He sends tragedy to teach us lessons.

And yet tragedy happens.  With alarming (ir)regularity.  And we are changed by it.  No other event in my life has shaped me like this one.

How are we to live with this?  This knowing that tragedy can strike unbidden at any moment?

 

But the question drowns in its futility

And even I have got to laugh at me

‘Cause no one gets to miss the storm of what will be

Just holding on for the ride

We walk.  We crawl if need be.  We laugh at ourselves and we hold on.  To each other especially.

Seventeen years have passed since that night.  I still miss my friend.  I include this song on almost every mix cd I ever make.  I refer to it as “the song that saved my life.”  I have tried to wring some good out of his death by allowing it to change me for the better, but you can bet your ass I would trade any virtue I may have gained for a single night at the Waffle House with him.  But until a genie pops out of some half-empty bottle of Shiraz and offers to alter time in exchange for my firstborn, I keep sailing my little wooden boat and chuckling to myself how things work out — I grew up to be a grief counselor.


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