An earlier blog post of mine focuses on my cousin Ray’s suicide that occurs in my formative years. It makes an impression on me that might be described as an epiphany.
After the fact I do not dwell on it, but the sharpness of the memory stays with me still. As a curiosity, only to be sure my memory has not blurred or even switched things around, I confirm the details with my cousin, Lewis Vaughan Mills. He assures me that I have it right. He says that he has not thought about Ray in years.
At the end of my post about Ray, I add the usual eternal hope of us all, that if this helps one person, Ray’s death will have served a purpose. Perhaps it did. I offer you another personal experience with suicide.
This time I’m in college. In Richmond, Virginia. My dorm is a beautiful White House inspired piece of architecture. It is Mrs Bocock’s house on West Franklin Street, 909 to be exact. Today it is part of the VCU campus offices but in my time it is Mrs. Bocock’s private residence. Always short on dorm space, the college quickly accepts her offer of the front rooms in this magnificent house for housing.
I am one of the lucky few girls who get to live in this amazing palace. The first year it is home to us, only the front of the second floor is ours. Mrs. Bocock lives in the back of the house, upstairs and down. The first floor is for the daily activities of a senior citizens group. We are allowed to use it after they leave and before curfew. The second year more rooms are opened up, on the third floor which used to be a ballroom and servants rooms complete with a full kitchen.
It’s the mid-sixties, I am dorm president. One night late I am awakened by several girls from the room above ours. Theirs is the biggest room having been the ballroom. Fours girls are assigned to this room. It could have held more.
“Jett, Bobbie has locked herself in the bathroom and is threatening to slit her wrists.” I leap out of bed. Not on my watch. I dash up the circular metal stair case installed for a second access to the third floor in addition to the huge wooden stair case in the back of the house and into their room. A cluster of girls is gathered around the bathroom (each room had its own private bathroom) door yelling at Bobbie to open the door.
I move them out of the way and tell them to be quiet. I give them the sharpest evil eye I can muster. It shuts them down immediately.
“Bobbie,” I call through the door easing down onto the floor so I can talk in a soft voice to her. I hear muffled crying. We begin an exchange. We are friends. We have a history. We’re beer buddies. Neither of us is one to deny a pitcher of beer at Andy’s to share around. I’m used to calling her by her last name, Carlyle. Probably because Nash and I go by our last names. We tag favored girls in the dorm by their last name. They are our posse. But Carlyle is for lighter times, it doesn’t seem to fit here, so I use Bobbie. I beg her to come out. But I do not push. I let her pace her thoughts.
At some point one of the girls says that she is going to get Mrs. Carter, our very southern, straight as an arrow, prim and proper dorm mother. “No!” I hiss. “Do. Not. Get. Carter.” I know without a doubt that Mrs Carter will exacerbate the situation and only further agitate Bobbie, who does not cut Mrs Carter any slack.
Bobbie and I continue to dialogue. We are making progress. The crying has stopped. I hear the lock click and the door inches open. I get on my knees and begin to rise. Bobbie is standing there at the sink, apparatus at hand. She slowly turns to me. I am standing now, but I do not move toward her.
I do not speak. Now is not the time. I so want to, I am desperate to really talk to her. I have no clue what precipitated her decision to end her life. I need to understand. I reach out my hand to her. We will talk this out and make a plan. We’ve got this.
But someone has alerted Mrs Carter and she in turn has called EMS. They burst into the room just as Bobbie and I are connecting. They hustle me out of the way and grab Bobbie. They strap her down on a gurney to wheel her away. We tearfully look at each other. So many said words. So many more unsaid.
We learn that Bobbie is taken to a close by psychiatric hospital on Grace Street. It is small with a wrought iron fence and pretty shrubs. It doesn’t look like a hospital. It could be mistaken for a home. I purposefully walk by it. I want to visit. But I don’t know if Bobbie is ready for me. I think that she might feel like I tricked her into leaving the bathroom thinking that I knew all along medical intervention was coming.
Bobbie doesn’t comes back to school. I never give up hope that she starts over somewhere fresh. It will always be unknown how serious she was about ending her life; she did tell her roommates what she planned, a certain cry for help. Bobbie is a lesbian in that raw time of misunderstanding. Truth be told she’s probably more a trans, she doesn’t like anything about being female; but, that birthright is not part of sixties vernacular. Bobbie simply reaches a brink that she can not navigate beyond. I like to think that my cousin Ray helps me know how to guide her back from the edge.