Please Note: Name and Locations have been Altered to Protect the Confidentiality of People Mentioned Below
My day started well enough, or at least it started like any other Monday. I woke up, glared at the clock, winced at the first few steps I took toward the bathroom, brushed my teeth, braced and prayed for patience before waking my sons and my daughter, and tapped the computer to wake it up. I like to check e-mail and Running from Hell with El before I start my coffee pot. The Facebook page may exist only in the virtual world but it sure feels pretty real to me. And the friends I have made through Facebook aren’t fake, not to me, so when I spotted a notification from a woman named Cary from Texas, I perked up and quickly scanned it. Cary has become a good friend of mine and I love hearing from her.
Lately, Cary’s been going through a rough divorce and like half the damn world, she lost her job when the entire mortgage industry collapsed. Our conversations have gotten darker but she never fails to crack a joke and tell sweet stories about her children. In today’s e-mail, Cary told me she was “going to end it all,” and as rushed as I was, I dashed off a quick note asking for more particulars and details. More than anything, I needed to assess the imminence of her suicidal intentions. As I typed, my sunny child, Jim, walked around the corner and I smiled (or grimaced) and asked him to please brush his teeth and get ready for school.
The remaining minutes leading up catching out the bus consisted of a battle among barely speaking and very angry children and a grouchy mama, and I lurched between pouring milk and contemplating my friend’s problems. I can’t get into it here, but I understood why she felt desperate. If I were in her shoes, I might be contemplating the pill bottles in my medicine cabinet. God knows I’ve thought about it before, and when things got bad, really bad, I handed the bottles over to my best friend. That morning I gratefully had tried to smile and my best friend, she had tried not to cry when she took the pills from me. I say that here neither for pity nor for shock value but merely to explain why I took Cary’s cry for help seriously.
I sighed and glanced longingly at the piles of half-written chapters on my desk and got busy on Cary. I wrote more to her, and her responses alarmed me. I contacted a friend who runs a suicide prevention site and ran the situation past her and she immediately gave me advice and tried to help me figure out what to say and what not to say. I private messaged (“PMd”) Paula, one of my dearest friends who lives in Dallas, and asked if she lived close enough to Cary to drive by Cary’s house. “Shoot,” Paula responded, “Cary lives closer to Houston.” Then I PMd another one of my closest friends, Alicia, who is also good friends with Cary. “Alicia,” I wrote, “Cary is suicidal. She needs help.” Alicia immediately got in contact with Cary and about an hour later, she wrote me back. “Yeah,” Alicia said, “I talked to her. She’s ready to end it. I don’t have her location, so I can’t call it in.” Alicia lives in the Pacific Northwest, so she could not get to Cary either.
We got in contact with another one of our close friends, Hannah, and if you’re thinking, “Crap, y’all are like a freakin’ female mafia,” why, yes, we are. We laugh with one another and sometimes we cry. And if we ever went to war, I’d want these women in my bunker with me.
Hannah is a brilliant, highly educated hard ass from some scary part of New York City, and as crazy as her Queens accent sounds, she graduated from NYU, so she is sneaky-smart, if that makes sense. I didn’t screw around with Hannah when I PM’d her: “Cary is desperate, which is code for suicidal, and we’re running out of options. None of us can get out there.” Hannah started making suggestions and as she usually does, took charge, which sort of relieved me because I dither and get lost in my own contemplations and story lines and shades and hues of gray. “Is there anyone out there we can talk to?” Hannah demanded. Alicia responded, “Yes, her parents.” In the back of my mind, I worried about Cary’s parents, who I recalled were ill, but I kept that to myself. And I chirped in that it might be good to call them as a last resort.
Hannah typed, “Not last resort. Now. Does anyone have Cary’s phone number?” Alicia and I had her cell phone number but not her home number, and Cary had stopped answering Alicia’s texts. “What about her parents’ phone number?” Hannah and I both spent the better part of an hour trying to track the parents down. I even called in a favor from a government investigator, who was able to get me the name and number of the owner of the parents’ rental home, but we could not find the parents’ number.
By now it was 2 p.m. The three of us had spent most of the day trying to talk to Cary and then to find her parents, and my kids were running around the house punching each other and I wanted to mull it over and suss it out and do nothing of use but I knew that wasn’t going to be good enough. Alicia wrote, “Someone needs to call this in and I’m hiking in the Everglades and am losing my signal.” I thought of how calling the police might result in lost custody and Hannah wrote back, “Guys, you really need to alert the police.” Alicia agreed. “Gals, I can’t find a number. It could be unlisted or I’m looking in the wrong place. If she’s serious and we believe she’s going to do this, we have to contact the police. I’d rather she hate me than have her death on my hands.”
I thought of Cary’s daughter, who is Madeline’s age, and at that exact moment, Madeline breezed into my room, wiping her wavy locks out of her eyes. “Mom?” I waved her off and then felt like a jerk, so I put my arms out and held her in a tight hug. “I’m really sorry hun, but a friend needs me. It’s very important I concentrate right now.” Madeline nodded at me and asked, “Which friend?” I smiled and shook my head. “I can’t say, but can you please take Ben outside with you?” She stood up straight. “Sure. Can we play in the water?” I thought of how cold it was outside and how much they love splashing in the creek and calculated the low risk of Ben somehow managing to drown in the ankle-high water. “Okay, but don’t go farther than I can see you through this window.”
Cary’s daughter needs her mother just as much as my daughter needs me. Back on the computer, Hannah had typed, “El, call them please. The non-emergency number is 555-555-5555 or give me the information and I will call them.” I asked yet again, “Alicia, is the threat imminent?” And Alicia responded, “It’s the only thing we can do. It’s the right thing.” As I dialed Houston, Texas, Hannah PM’d me and asked if I were calling. “Yes, on the phone with dispatch now.” I tried to understand the thick Texas drawl and read Hannah’s messages. “Good girl,” Hannah added. “I am shaking like a leaf.” I thought about this and realized that my hands were steady and my emotions, almost nonexistent. I would have time to feel later.