Content warning: suicidal ideation and hospitalization.
What Is Truth
after the Atlanta spa shootings, 16 March 2021
The woman in the bed next to mine
was also a wife, also a suicide, and refused
to take off her head scarf.
Both of us had been emptied,
self-hazed in the bleak hours
before dawn. She had more to say
than I did, more right to her grief,
though our charts read the same,
neither of us content,
neither white. Without my glasses,
the room a yellow blur,
her coal-dark eyes startling
as a reflection caught
in passing. Alone with her,
far from my life, we were
a calm pair, propped up
on white sheets stiffened by daily
bleaching, every touch sterilized,
unfeeling. Like me, she had taken pills:
vicodin, percoset, poisoned anapests
choking our throats. She had not chosen
her own life and so endeavored
to leave it—the indifferent husband,
the children, pitiless, pulling at her sleeves,
her hands, pant legs and hems,
because what body? Her voice hoarsened
by the tube stuck down her throat
to rid her gut of death, now
half-cackle, half-croak, she mocked
herself, there is no body—
I, too, feel the ache that is all
mind. On the bed beside hers
I was without skin bloodless
boneless worn down by a weeping
that bore no tears. Here, at the threshold
of death’s vault, from which we’d both been shut out,
my silence and her voice knocked
at the invisible door.
. Or am I fooling myself
to think our stories are the same,
our twin suffering on identical twin beds,
two griefs, strangers to each other?
Two women who wake up day after day
done is a banality.
I have a bounty of friends
I call sisters; none of them know
the truth, that I was dying
in my youth, what one teacher
called salad days then kissed me on the cheek
unbidden. If only I’d told the truth: don’t touch me,
don’t serve me on the plate
of your sympathy. Oh, it hurt, the process
of being saved. The nurses on the graveyard shift
did not mourn us, their nonchalance
a critique of our dying
and our living. I was not yet thirty.
I did not have to go home,
though I would the next day
because it was easier to hate my life
than to have no home, to commune
in the shadow of a woman
bound to the world as if by law.
I loved her voice, the steely surety of each word.
I loved her voice for not being mine. I believed
that what brought us together was proof
there is no law, only the murmurs
of other women in other rooms, only us
at this late hour in the western world.
I would be lying if I said those rooms are past.
Now that I am a mother
and no longer want to die,
she is next to me
picking out new words
for pain. Choose this one,
that one, purple blooms
that wipe out the winter, choose
the word that swears we’ll survive again.