by Lisa Beebe
I’d always heard that if you kill yourself, you don’t go to heaven. I didn’t believe in heaven, so it didn’t affect my decision. I’m just mentioning it because of where I went — afterward.
One minute I was alive, and the next, my arms were behind me in handcuffs. A man and woman in gray uniforms escorted me into a room where everything was painted white.
“Do you know why you’re here?” the man asked.
It seemed obvious, so I said yes.
“Do you have any questions?”
I asked why I was in handcuffs, and the woman gave me a one-word answer:
Then, she unlocked a heavy steel door, and the man led me through it. That room was white, too, but much smaller — an empty white cube with a bench built into one wall. The man and woman left me there, alone.
I sat on the edge of the bench and twisted my wrists, which were still cuffed together behind my back. I couldn’t get comfortable. Around me, the white ceiling, walls, and floor seemed to glow in the light of the overhead fluorescents. I provided the only color in sight, and it wasn’t much. Faded blue jeans, a T-shirt from the software company where I’d worked a few years earlier, an ancient pair of canvas slip-ons, and my dirty, sunburned skin.
I knew time must be passing, but in the all-white room, nothing changed. There were no windows, except for a small square of wired glass in the door. From where I was sitting, all I could see through it was more whiteness. If I stood up, the window would be at eye level, and I could look out into the bigger white room where I had been. But I didn’t feel like getting up. I didn’t care what was going on out there. I didn’t care about anything.
I heard a distant voice asking the same questions I had been asked. “Do you know why you’re here?” “Do you have any questions?” The answers were a low mumble.
As I sat there, I halfheartedly wondered what would happen next. Whatever it was, it was out of my control. All I could do was wait, so I waited.
After a few minutes or maybe several hours, the man and woman returned. They asked a few questions about my life and why I’d decided to end it. I told them the truth, because I had no reason to lie.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had anything to eat or drink, so before they left, I asked for a glass of water. The man gave me an odd look, but a few minutes later, he brought me some in a white foam cup.
The woman removed the handcuffs so I could hold the cup, and as I drank, I realized there was no toilet in the room. No sink. What if I needed them?
But I didn’t. No matter how much time passed, I didn’t feel any pressure in my bladder. Why had I even asked for water? I hadn’t been thirsty, and they seemed to know that. But they had brought it to me anyway, and I drank it, even though it didn’t taste like anything. And now I had an empty cup and no handcuffs.
The cup felt special since it was the only thing with me in the room. I figured I’d ask for another one. I set the cup on the bench and knocked on the door. When they unlocked it, I asked for more water. They brought another cup, but when I turned back to the bench, the first cup was gone. I figured they must have taken it when I wasn’t looking. Later, I knocked on the door again, and this time, as I reached for the new cup, I watched the old one. As soon as the new cup was in the room with me, the old cup disappeared. It dissolved into nothing, as if it had never been there, as if only one cup could exist in the room at a time. I couldn’t make a wall of cups or a cup sculpture to keep me company. I only had one.
I sat back on the bench with a sigh. Without the handcuffs, it was more comfortable. I could even lie down, but the bench was too short for my whole body and so narrow that my bent knees stuck out over the side. I lay there a while, and then I sat up and leaned into the corner where the bench met the wall. Sitting up felt more professional, and I felt a vague urge to look presentable in case anyone came to check on me.
I wasn’t tired, not really, so I didn’t need to sleep. I didn’t need anything. I just was.
In the white room, time either passed or it didn’t. And then one day, or maybe just a few hours later, the door opened and a man and woman in gray uniforms entered. They might have been the same ones as before, but I wasn’t sure. Their faces had grown hazy in my memory.
The woman asked, “Do you want to try again?”
I wasn’t sure what she meant, so I didn’t say anything.
After a few seconds, she repeated herself. “Do you want to try again? Yes or no?” She looked at me, waiting for my answer.
I felt like I had nothing to lose by taking a chance, so I said, “Yes.”
The man asked me to stand and turn around. He handcuffed me and walked me out into the bigger white room and then down a white hallway. I blinked against the light, which was brighter than I remembered, almost blinding. The man opened a windowless door into a room so bright all I could see was whiteness. He guided me in front of him and pushed me forward.
As soon as I passed through the doorway, I was somewhere new. It was still indoors, and still very bright, but it smelled different — like a medical facility. The white room hadn’t smelled like anything. I was cold and wet and in pain. People were staring at me and grabbing at me, and I screamed.
Little by little, I started to understand what had happened. I was in a different body. I would have to go through life again. The thought of doing it all over was so depressing that I cried for hours. I couldn’t process what anyone was saying to me. I was so angry at having to redo everything — learning to make sounds, learning to walk, and then school and jobs and heartbreak, and bills and bills and bills. I couldn’t do it. I wanted out, from that first moment, but I was a baby. I had no options. All I could think about was ending it as soon as possible.
A few times, I tried to roll off of the changing table, but they always caught me. They laughed and babbled about how mobile I was. They grabbed me, hugged me, and put me in the crib. They weren’t bad people, but I had no freedom. I couldn’t get away. I cried and cried, hating almost every minute of it.
Then one day, after I’d been there for more than a year, they took me on a hike in the mountains. They kept me in a carrier the whole time, except when they stopped for a break. Near a cliff overlooking the whole valley, she told me to stand still as she prepared to take a photo.
I had only just learned to walk, but as soon as she let go of my hand, I saw my chance. I ran toward the cliff as fast as my little legs could carry me. I ran like a cartoon character, my feet still moving even after the earth was no longer beneath them.
And then I was back in cuffs, back in the white room.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“Do you have any questions?”
I did not.
They put me in another little white room or maybe the same one as before. This time, I didn’t ask for water. I didn’t try to sleep. I just sat where the bench met the wall and leaned into the corner. I sat and sat and thought and thought. I thought about the person I’d been, the person I’d wanted to be, and how hard it is to live. After lots and lots of time, or maybe just a little, the man and woman came in and asked, “Do you want to try again?”
This time, I knew the answer. “No.” It was infinitely easier to be still, at peace, in the white room. I didn’t need anything, and nobody needed anything from me.
Every time they asked, I said no.
I stayed in the white room and I sat and thought. Time passed or it didn’t, and I began to wonder what I should have done differently back in those old days, or what I could have done differently, or what I might do differently. More kindness. More deep breaths. More fresh air. More random chances. More live music. More laughter. More art. More waterfalls. More sweat. More mud. More kisses. Maybe I would be healthier, wilder, more impulsive. Maybe I would mountain bike or meditate or learn to fly. Maybe I would jump out of a plane and parachute back to earth. Maybe it would feel like flying as I descend toward the kelly green and forest green and blue, blue, blue.
“Do you want to try again?”
Maybe. Maybe this time I do.
“Yes or no?”
Image by Steve Johnson