Sweet Melissa

This year as I celebrate 20 years of teaching Write Your Life as a Woman, I’m sharing some older articles and columns inspired by the class.

Many years ago in my skirt magazine column I wrote about losing my friend Melissa, who committed suicide. skirt was then a tiny magazine in Charleston, SC, and I had fled the south, a burned out activist, for a liberal reprieve in Boulder, Colorado. After the piece was published in Charleston, people wrote and called to comfort me. Strangers picked up the phone and dialed 411 and asked for me by name. (Yes, it was that long ago. I did not even have an email address.) People left messages and sent cards and letters to me telling me of their losses, their struggles, and of finding some comfort in simply connecting and acknowledging the pain. I’ve lost other friends since then to suicide and wrangled my own depression and anxiety.  It’s easy to forget, when you’re in pain, that help is just a phone call or even a click away by reaching out to friends or family. Also, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers help by 1-800-273-TALK (8255)or online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Sweet Melissa
by T. Dean Adams

My friend Melissa ended her life on New Year’s Eve. I cannot believe it, don’t want to believe it. I don’t have words for this feeling of loss. We met in 1988 while we were in school at the University of South Carolina. I remember the exact day she walked into my living room and into my life. The kind of friendship that immediately feels like, “Hey where have you been? Now I feel a little more complete.”

We haven’t lived in the same city in years, but our friendship never faded. We never went more than a month or so without speaking, and I never felt distant from her even though we were often thousands of miles apart. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1992, my mother rode cross-country with me and took the train back to South Carolina. The train stopped overnight in New Orleans on New Year’s Eve, and every hotel room in the city was booked. Melissa was at Tulane getting her MBA. She picked up my mom, who she’d never met before, at the train station by holding up a sign reading “Dean’s mom” and took her in for the night.

I could call Melissa anytime about anything. Phone calls always started with simply, “hey.” No need to say who was calling, no need for formalities. When I lived alone for the first time, she bought me a set of pots and pans and said, “You’re 25-years-old, learn to cook.” She would tell me bluntly when I was overreacting, when I was being slack. She was a great cook and had a great sense of style. She was brilliant and beautiful. We could sit on my couch for hours and talk about everything and nothing. To me, she was a given in life.

Now I cry and scream, “How?’ And “Why?” And nobody answers because nobody knows the answers. And I want to gather everyone I know into one room and keep them safe and close by. But I can’t. So I call or write everyone I know and tell them I love them and why, and that I’m sorry for any/everything and I forgive them for any/everything. Marcy quotes Marianne Williamson, “We’re just here to tend to human hearts.” “Including our own,” Michael reminds me. Nikki says, “Be careful and take good care of yourself.” Mom says, “Find one joy in every day.” Robbie says, “Write, just write.” Lisa, Angie and Phillis cry with me on the phone. Here in Colorado, Christi says, “Tell me everything about your friend.” Stephen says, “Get in the car, you can’t just sit home and cry.” Maura hugs me. My boss Ed says, “Call me at home if you need to talk.” And I want to write down everything I know to be true, to be fact. I want words. I want life to be neatly typed and double-spaced, and I want it to make sense. But this doesn’t.

I know most of what made Melissa sad. I cannot tell you the details because I respect her privacy. There are so many sad things in life and we do not honor our sadness. We try to cheer up, pop anti-depressants, buy stuff – hell, even move to other cities – to be happier. And maybe we should learn to face the sadness. We should know that it passes, and we will not shatter and break. And we have to be better – to our friends and families and to ourselves.

Here in Boulder it is sunny and 70 degrees in mid-January. Snow sits in piles, but we are blessed with a surprise touch of spring. Still I want the comfort of facts. Spring always follows winter, and dawn always follows night. I will always miss Melissa, and I have no words – but paper could not hold the pain of losing her anyway.

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