Drafts of a Suicide Note
by Mandy-Suzanne Wong
I wonder what to call you. You spirit, you disembodied creature, you dear, sweet, tantalizing phantom. You’re not just whatever designated word, whatever fleshless prefab vision is bound to fail you, even though all words are as enthralling and slippery as specters. As for me, everything in me amounts to the great void of the question we failed to ask; everything I am is falling in that chasm as if through the unrelenting emptiness of distant space that defies all knowledge. I am the question, and I am falling through it: the question of what we are. If you were always already gone and ghostly, can it be that everything you said is true? What strange gravity set us in the same orbit and moved us against each other?
Missing Woman Leaves 10 Suicide Notes.
I found it in an email digest from Bernews. The Royal Gazette led with the same story.
In connection with Aetna Simmons of Suffering Lane, St. George’s, who was reported missing by her landlady last week Monday, a BPS spokesperson said, “Police can confirm that a stack of ten documents was found in Ms. Simmons’ home. The content of these documents brings us to the unfortunate conclusion that Ms. Simmons chose to end her life.”
One suicide note is an unfortunate conclusion. Ten is no conclusion but the opposite. 10 Suicide Notes? That’s a provocation. As far as I know, you can only die once.
What kind of gross excess is this: ten different suicide notes or ten replicas of the same? Vulgar excess or feverish excess? Is there a difference between vulgar and feverish? Say it’s ten of the same. Like birth announcements. Invitations to a soiree. A newsletter for friends and family. Some people do that in lieu of Christmas cards.
“The Bermuda Police Service extends our gratitude to those who may have considered assisting in the island-wide search, which will be postponed until further notice.”
Say the documents are all different. Ten unique suicide notes. Why not nine, like the Muses? What’s so great about ten? An even number, five plus five. Stroke and circle. Ten fingers, ten commandments, ten Egyptian plagues.
Why bother with one, let alone ten? So you take leave of the living under a cloud of misunderstanding. What do you care, now that you’re dead? And the article said stack. Meaning paper documents, not on a computer. Why go to that kind of trouble? Before killing yourself, you’d have to go to the post office, stand in line, Good afternoon, I need some thirty-five-cent stamps. Oh, but this one’s going overseas…
I thought about this a lot. Driving to work. Parking in my exclusive spot. Being gentle with the door on my MG, green and seductive as jealousy and springtime. My job was to feed unwanted documents to an industrial shredder, so it’s not like I had a lot to think about.
Ten suicide notes.
What does that even look like? Glass panes in a skyscraper? Pieces of ruined church lying down on each other as they crumble? Dear Friends… But you may not have friends if you’re writing this kind of note. Dear Unfeeling World, Up yours. Signed sincerely…
Aetna Simmons left ten unique suicide notes at Suffering Lane. Altogether they form a corpus. But in the most telling hypothesis, they’re also a sequence in which each successive document replaces the one before. A series of drafts.
You know. A document wherein an author is doomed to discover that an unintelligible, even ugly reality has gobbled his or her intentions. This condition, symptomized by wailing and gnashing of teeth, is what writers call a draft. Remedies include the delete key, wastepaper basket, and starting over.
How do I know all this? I know the ten final dispatches of Aetna Simmons are all different from each other because I arranged to read them. I ordered photocopies with descriptions of the original inks and papers. How’d I get this stuff? Easy. I can get anything I want.
The suicide note happens on the threshold of the only empty moment. Yet it comes into its own to a clamor of lawyers, underwriters, creditors, and priests. Its composition proceeds in the most absolute of conscious solitudes, where emptiness eats into words as meaning trickles out. But the creation comes of age only when survivors begin to trawl for signs. This is the paradox of the suicide note, born to public duties out of sentiments too private to be understood.
I value privacy. So I appreciate that Aetna Simmons’ final words were really none of my business. Till I clicked that Bernews headline, I’d never heard of Aetna Simmons. Yet I bullied my way into a police station for a peek at her terminal scrawls.
Many an hour had I whiled away in my apartment, my cliffside balcony perched on Bermuda’s southern curve, watching the ocean change color as it caressed living corals: deep turquoise to midnight blue, silver as the sun moved over to the west, fire-colors of an evening. Here in the squawking company of unseen kiskadees, I considered.
Ten grayscale photocopies.
I reread them till the sky was dark. I painted their imagery in hues of my imagination, took their words into my mouth. I understood why the police gave up.
Ten suicide notes. My scribbles were vague at best. What the cops had was no better. They didn’t know what they were looking for. She told them ten times over, there was nothing worth looking for.
You don’t know what it took to find an order in these things. I spread out the suicidal encores of Aetna Simmons on my desk, on the bed, on the floor, on the sand down on the beach. I moved them around like pieces of a jigsaw. I read them upside down. I read them right side up. I typed them on my computer and moved blocks of text around. I stuck them all to a big piece of cardboard and drew arrows between words with a red pencil. Almost knew them by heart by the time I felt sure enough to number them. I believe what I call AS1 is the earliest of the Ten. It says:
Conspicuous imagery, rhythmically harried. A poisoned raconteur turns into a monster. She’s pursued, something has her scent; the price of escape may be her life. Fatal twist? Her pursuer is her doppelgänger: I have lived like a shadow. Classic horror tale on a three-by-five index card. And that’s not the half of it.
The position of the notes on Aetna Simmons’ desk. Off-center, left-hand edge. She wanted to make sure someone would see. I can’t be certain which one formed the summit of the stack, but AS1 is a good candidate. You can’t help but want to turn the page, and you are key. For Aetna Simmons, the audience was more important than the fact of her authorship. If the reverse were true, she’d have put the notes in the center of her desk, in front of the author’s chair: I was here, I did this.
I destroy things for a living. Things like promises and secrets. Put them in the shredder, they come out in shreds. You want to think shreds are like old skin cells dropping from sunburned cheeks, but a shredded document is an amputated lip and a gouged eye. Documents bear witness with their bodies.
Humans bear witness with their memories, but memories self-shred. Without witnesses, you have no proof that you were ever anything. Minu ga hana. Not seeing is a flower. Reality can’t compete with imagination.
The death of a document is never easy, never peaceful or silent, and never a sure thing. It takes a company like mine, serious equipment; you turn it into powder and then you burn the powder, but even then.
There might be a copy. Maybe someone took a scrap of damning evidence, turned it over, scribbled a note on the back. And the evidence survives. It sets sail on a new life beyond your reach. Your secret passes on, a ghost that keeps on coming back.
So why write anything at all? Because writing is a different kind of thinking from just thinking. Words appear under my hand. I see them and they see me. And I have to look. Excavating, I am the digger and the ground. And whatever’s hiding underneath.
History knows uncounted private papers that lived second lives as “literature.” Diary of Anne Frank. Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy (eight volumes). The Heiligenstadt Testament of Ludwig van Beethoven, quite apropos. These authors wrote for readerships of one or less. It takes a meddler like me to realize one man’s to-do list is another’s Book of Disquiet. Normally for such a discovery to occur, the author has to die first. In this, Aetna Simmons was obliging.
A series of drafts. Each meant to replace the one before as the comprehensive portrait of Aetna’s final moments. At the same time, all ten narrate a longer story.
It begins with a cry for help (AS1) full of self-loathing and guilt, a plea in hope of being rescued from herself. Later she decides (AS2) that the escape she has in mind is death. But at this point, she doesn’t quite believe it. She plays with the idea. Embittered (AS3), she starts getting serious. She drafts a credible suicide note that I can envision on monogrammed stationery or inside a card embossed with a hibiscus. She types it on a scrap of copy paper. And there’s a chance that it’s unfinished: maybe she’s not ready after all. What she writes next is indirect (AS4); but if you get the reference, you know she’s thinking hard about specifics: what will death feel like?
Now, is this the crux of the portfolio? Or are this page and the next irrelevant (AS4, AS5), mixed in with her papers when some copper dropped a bunch of files? Maybe we’ll never know. But I think Aetna’s bitterness turned acrid, her thoughts obsessive. Serious ideations (AS6): detailed, organized, feasible. Enter rage and violence (AS7), and at last her intention is unmistakable (AS8). She tidies her affairs (AS9), scribbles the denouement all in a rush (AS10) like she’s run out of time. Or she can’t bear to give herself the time to change her mind.
One problem. The Ten are rife with contradictions. It’s not a matter of imprecision. Her words, styles, even inks were scrupulously deployed. The problem is the fact that there are ten.
You wonder how she died, for example. AS1 suggests poison. Suicidological studies indicate poison as a favored method among authors of suicide notes. But you could also argue, based on AS6, that the author of AS1 displays a preference for a gunshot to the head.
And anyway, Aetna Simmons is nothing less than a suicidologist’s worst nightmare. Their statistics show that seventy to eighty-five percent of suicides don’t bother leaving notes at all, and of those who do, the intent is to issue instructions and explain themselves. But in her verbose obscurity, Aetna defies them all. She’s a textbook exemplar of Pestian’s intrapsychological theory of suicidal feelings, Joiner’s opposing theory that such feelings stem from thwarted interpersonal relationships, and nuanced theories that agree and disagree with both. She suits almost all of Durkheim’s and Améry’s classifications. Anomic, egoistic, fatalistic suicide. Dozing and balanced and short-circuit suicide. Revenge-suicide. Blackmail-suicide with a pinch of self-murder-by-ordeal.
One class she eludes. Altruistic suicide. This category is for people who dive in front of bullets meant for others. It covers kamikaze pilots, certain cases of seppuku. Dying for someone as opposed to dying-because-of.
Conclusions? Aetna Simmons had a cornucopia of reasons to quit this barbaric life. Love wasn’t one of them.
DRAFTS OF A SUICIDE NOTE
BY MANDY-SUZANNE WONG
Published: October 2019
Publisher: Regal House Publishing, LLC
“As far as I know, you can only die once…” But when Aetna Simmons disappears from her lonely Bermuda cottage, she leaves behind not one but ten suicide notes. Ten different suicide notes. And no other trace to speak of, not even a corpse, as if she’d never existed. Drafts of a Suicide Note tells the tale of the darkly enigmatic love letter written by Kenji Okada-Caines, a petty criminal who once exposited on English literary classics and now, marooned on his native isle, nurtures an obsession with Aetna’s writing. His murky images of a woman with ten voices and no face launch him into waking nightmares, driving him to confront his lifetime’s worth of failures as a scholar, lover, and opiate addict. His wild conspiracy theories of Aetna as an impostor ten times over lead him to the doorstep of the Japanese mother who turned her back on him–and to the horrifying discovery that the great love of his life isn’t who she seems to be. Kenji’s is a story of dire misunderstandings and the truths we hide even from the ones we love. (Google Books)
About the cover: Drafts of a Suicide Note features cover art and interior images by Dr. Heather Kettenis.