Opinion: Getting rid of the s-word

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Cameron Gorman


I was afraid to sit down and write this column. I made myself tea. I steadied my hands. Now I’m sitting here, and I’m still scared. I’m avoiding telling you the reason you came here to read this, and I’m avoiding typing out the word I know I have to put to paper. I’m scared to say the wrong thing, to use the wrong term, to accidentally conjure the wrong image. It’s so easy, after all, to do something wrong when you talk about suicide. There’s no right way to do it. How can there be, when you’re talking about something like that? It feels wrong. The word rolls around wrong in your mouth. Even when you think about it, it hurts.

I’ve heard people say they hate the c-word, the f-word, the r-word. I’ve heard people say these words like dropping pennies on the sidewalk, scream these words because they sound so ugly, because they hurt other people, because they’ve been screamed at them loudly enough to break something inside. I’ll tell you what word I hate. I hate the s-word. The s-word. I hate to say it. I hate to think it. It hurts.

Or maybe that’s just me. There have been times in my own life when that word has felt like a blanket, like an escape, like something that was the only solution. And in those times, my mind savored in tasting that word, in considering its origin, in imagining the false deliciousness of losing myself to it. I would be remiss to lie to you about those darkest of times, sitting alone in the chilly Ohio air, waiting for summer to die around me. In those times, I fooled only myself. I took that foul, tarry word and convinced myself it was beautiful.

But life happens around you, and it keeps happening and no matter how hard you try to stick things together, life decides to throw a few punches. Life decides to have you finally fall out of love with that word, and life decides that when you do, you lose someone else to it.

Life decides that you’ll stay awake at night, at all hours, staring at the ceiling and imagining infinite timelines of salvation. Life decides that you can’t ever get rid of that word, that it clings to you now, that when you call someone to tell them you can’t sleep and they ask you what’s wrong that you say “I don’t wanna say it. You know, you know. That thing, I told you before. I won’t say it.”

The s-word. If I could erase one word from the lexicons of all languages, it’d be the s-word. I would take it from every book and dictionary and television show, and burn it. I would burn the letters out of every mind if I could, pull everyone who thought like me back to Earth. There would be no more posts about the prevention hotline, no more thoughts, no more prayers. We would never have considered it. We would never have needed them. It would never have scratched at the inside of our skulls, begging to be rationalized, begging to be accepted. We would push back. You never were an option. You never were a thief.

I won’t say that suicide is selfish. I won’t be a hard-liner, someone who tells you it was their fault. But I will tell you this: that s-word, that awful thing, it will only cause hurt. It will only cause pain. Whatever blissful existence we imagine for those we leave behind will not come. It does not create peace. You are not erased as if you were never here, fading into the ground like an afterthought.

No. The ground opens, jagged and ugly, and the heat of pain and grief scorches the ground. There is a lineage of the greatest agony created in that moment. There is no peace in that way. There is only peace in finding yourself again, loving others, in trying to heal.

The s-word, some say, is poetic. It has long, slithering vowels. It winds around our ankles, a glimmering serpent in the garden, seducing us into believing it is something we want. It is floral, they say. It is crystalline and sacred. It is dried flowers, kept letters, thorny stems.

We know the truth. We see past its glamour to its dry, rotten heart, false promises like fairy food, leaving only ash on our tongues. We know that it brings only pain, leaves only unfinished dreams and broken people in its wake. There is nothing for us there. We grasp the thing by its tail. We, who still have time to reverse this awful dance. Get out, we say. And this time, we hurl the thing over the walls of the garden. We brandish our certainty. We turn away from its promises. Get out, we say, finally. Get out.We know what you are.

 Cameron Gorman is an opinion columnist. Contact her at [email protected]