March 22, 2004, is a day I will not soon forget. A day I shouldn’t forget.
At exactly three o’clock in the morning, my body radiated from its core with the kind of heat that woke me up only to make sure I didn’t pass out from dehydration. I kicked off the covers not even disturbing my lightly snoring husband next to me and the cat in between us. I stripped naked, used the toilet, washed my face, drank a glass of water and lay back in the bed. Now, I could finally sleep.
I closed my eyes but a flash ripped them open. The window above us, an odd and large size and therefore too expensive to cover, was made of glass blocks. The light danced through them like a disco ball, throwing bright shrapnel against the walls and ceiling. As soon as it came, the light was gone. I settled in but was quickly assaulted again. And again. Then I realized: the light was my neighbor’s motion detection sensor above his garage door. Geez man, what the hell are you doing over there? My eyes closed. I’m sure it’s just raccoons. Eyes opened again. This was futile: I was now fully awake. Irritated. I thought of revenge. Of waking up my husband so he could tell me a bedtime story. I thought of hot milk. Of being one of those neighbors who open the door at the littlest provocation, yelling, Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?
Still the light continued. Three, four minutes apart. Blinking, blinking, blinking. Finally, at 3:45, I had an idea. My husband kept a CD of thunderstorms in the stereo in the living room. I reached over him and grabbed the remote control. When I pressed play, the house nearly vibrated. Damn, that’s loud. It was unlike me but I left the volume where it was. Rain set a steady rhythm drowning out its accompanying thunder and my lightning. I fell asleep immediately.
At five o’clock, the front door pounded into the silence left by the long-extinguished CD. Startled, we both woke up. I threw on a robe and my husband went to the door. Police.
“Yes, sir?” My husband sounded as if he had been awake for hours. Calm. “How can I help you?”
“I’m sorry to say your neighbor committed suicide.”
“What? He killed himself?”
“Not he, ma’am. She.”
“She? I didn’t even know there was a woman there.” When we had moved in the previous August, my neighbor, a young man in his twenties, had been friendly. By November, we saw less and less of him. Apparently that is when his girlfriend moved in with him and hid from the world.
“Oh, my God,” I said.
“We were wondering if you heard anything?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“It seems she was pacing for a while before she finally pulled the trigger.”
“She shot herself?”
“Yes, ma’am. About an hour ago. Well, if you remember anything, here’s my card.”
My husband shut the door. “What’s wrong?”
I whispered, “I was awake. I was awake! The light kept turning on and off and it disturbed me. Honey, it was her! She was out there trying to decide if she should kill herself. And I was awake.” I told him about the CD. How loud it was. My eyes began to tear.
“Sweetheart, there’s nothing you could have done.” He hugged me and kissed the side of my head.
As my husband took a shower, I returned to bed. Listening to the investigation winding down, I imagined my neighbor sitting on a chair in his kitchen: sick yet numb; innocent but questioned as if he were guilty; perhaps even feeling guilty. I thought of myself. How glass block, a chain link fence and five yards of snow-covered grass separated me from the back of my neighbor’s garage. The place where a woman, desperate and unknown to me, put a gun to her head and ended her life. After my husband left for work, with the first pink rays of sun almost cleansing the night, I went to the upstairs and looked out the window. I saw the front of the garage and the side yard. But not the back; it was blocked by the angle. Snow was matted under perhaps half a dozen footprints of the police, the coroner, my neighbor. And underneath them all, beginning this dirty intrusion, were hers, wearing a groove of indecision…until she finally decided.
“How dare you,” I said to the trampled snow, “How dare you take your life!” For this woman, anger burned through me hotter than the heat that had awakened me originally. Anger quickly released into compassion. I cried for her then: she never knew we shared her most intimate, desperate moments.
And I thanked God.
Our souls seemed to have connected: how difficult to have been privy to every time the light turned on and off, every time she contemplated ending her life. Or to realize that after fretting for forty-five minutes I fell asleep just before she killed herself. But if I had heard the gunshot, that would have been a devastation I don’t think I could easily endure. God, who to me is just a mysterious and loving Higher Power, perhaps knew this. Why else would I do something so against my nature? Loud and constant noises are torturous not just to my ears, but to my head. They fill me with chaos. Yet, I turned on the CD, blasting the house with a cacophony of booms. Even more incredible, I fell asleep. Why? Because it drowned out so completely the noise that took a young woman’s life. I was not meant to hear the gunshot. If I had, I may have run out of the house and tried to offer help…and been imprinted with a violent, bloody image from which I would never escape. I believe this.
Of course, the argument could be made that if God was looking out for me, why wasn’t God with her? I believe God was. After all, she walked into the light. Over and over she paced, perhaps giving God hope. But darkness won out: she walked away from the light to the back of the garage. God despaired but it was her decision, after all. The hell of free will.
I will never know this woman’s name. How tall she was. The color of her hair or skin. If life ever gave her a moment of joy. If she liked coffee or the Blues or baseball. All I know is the exact time and date of her death. Setting aside all dogma, I believe she is in a better place…even if in the ground. Because whatever drove her to end her life must have been hell. Now, she is at peace.
I am, too. Protected. Given a gift of knowing and connection that transcends coincidence.
Sometimes, however, I wish the light would have just stayed on.