Thursday, June 23, 2005

What A Week

I have been pretty depressed this week. There have been so many tales of tragedy out there in the blogging world lately. I can't say enough how bad I feel for everyone and and their respective losses. Unfortunately, I can relate all too well. I have become a master at blocking this kind of misery from my thoughts for about 358 days of the year, but every so often it comes to the forefront of my mind and I have to confront it once again.

I will state a warning - the following does contain some pretty terrible, graphic imagery. You may not want to keep reading. I need to vent this for myself, but it is not my intention to bring anyone else down.

The day I turned 20, I began working in a hotel as a waitress in the coffee shop. I had been living in a different province for the two years prior and just moved back home. I was also one month pregnant. Needless to say, I was scared and I was alone, with the exception of my immediate family. All the friends that I grew up with had gone their seperate ways, and for the first time in my life I found myself without a large network of friends that I could lean on for support. That feeling lasted less than a month.

Immediately my co-workers from all areas of the hotel befriended me. I went for coffee with the day bartender, the girls from the front desk took me to lunch. When a group of eleven staff members went for dinner, I was invited. The hostess from the coffee shop went to Lamaze class with me and was in the delivery room for the entire 36 1/2 hours while my daughter decided to procrastinate her entry into this world.

Two years and four job promotions later, I was in a great place. I was working in a junior management position as a Catering Coordinator, working weekends in the night club (which was also in the hotel), and I had a huge group of friends. We spent every moment together - at work, socially, we even started a softball team. Every Sunday we would play a double-header, then go to someone's house and play cards. I loved every minute of it. Overnight though, things changed.

I went to work in the bar one Saturday evening, only to find several of my co-workers crying inconsolably. Apparently the night before, after our shift at the bar, one of our bartenders went home and hung himself. No one knew why, no one saw it coming. This was probably the most popular guy in the group. He was tremendously outgoing and friendly to everyone. He was the guy that all the girls wanted to date and all the guys wanted as their best friend. Through weeks of talking to and crying with each other, and many, MANY, bottles of alcohol later, we all emerged from the experience dumbfounded but ok. We all still had each other and it was time to move on with our lives.

Within three months, there was another. This time it was a member of the management team. He traveled up north of our city to go on a sales call and never showed up. He was found a week later, had also hung himself in a remote area of Northen Alberta. Six months after that, one of our bellman died of aids and another 6 months passed only to find one of our bouncers had died in a car crash. Having seen too much untimely death took its toll on everyone. We were literally looking around wondering who would be next.

One day I was at work and received a call from our head of security. Her name was Janet, and we had only met in passing a few times since she was relatively new to the hotel and only worked evenings. She had stopped in the bar a few times on her rounds, but otherwise she was pretty unknown to everyone. She apologized for bothering me at work, but asked if it was possible for me to come by her house that night. She needed someone to talk to and for some unknown reason chose me.

When I showed up, coffee in hand, she told me something that to this day still sends shivers down my spine. She had tried to commit suicide twice. The first time was a year prior, when she used her diabetic needles to attempt injecting oxygen into her blood stream. Obviously, she failed. The second time she slashed her wrists. She came very close to not making it, but managed to call 911 in time for them to help her. This was just two weeks prior to me showing up on her doorstep. I was in total, complete shock. We talked for hours, and she said that she was getting counseling, and they recommended that she talk to some of her peers about it as she didn't know many people in the city. Again, why she chose me was a mystery, but we became fast friends.

For the next two years, we had a blast. When I wasn't working in the bar, her and I would tear up the town on the weekends and hang out for coffee during the week. She joined our softball team and was completely accepted into our group, or more accurately, our family. With the exception of my one lifelong friend who lived out of province at the time, she became my closest friend.

Then one morning, I got the call.

She broke tradition and left a suicide note. The words haunt me to this day. "I just can't stand the pain of living" was her only explanation. I still run that phrase over and over in my mind, trying to understand it. For two years we lived virtually the same life. We hung out with the same people, we went and did the same extraordinarily fun things, but the entire time she was absolutely miserable. I couldn't, didn't, and still don't understand it, but she was upset enough to premeditate her own death.

I saw the hole that was drilled into her car door two weeks prior. It was easy to accept her explanation that someone must have been trying to break in, though it never really rang true. When they told me she died in a garage, no one had to explain to me how she attached a hose to her exhaust system, ran it through the hole, and asphyxiated herself while in her car, I could already visualize it. I knew the exact moment of her death actually. I was calling her house frantically the night before and wasn't surprised that she didn't answer. I called her work, and they confirmed that she had called in sick. A few of us even went to her house, but she wasn't there. She was unreachable - no one knew where she was, but I was certain as to what she was doing. I dialed her number one last time, but hung up, knowing that there was no point - she had already done it. I hardly slept that night, just sat waiting for the call that would confirm what I had feared the entire time we were friends. When the phone rang at 6am the next day I knew who would be on the other line.

I was messed up for a long time. Truth be told, I still am, even years and years later. The next five years brought five more deaths to the hotel. Ten total, in as many years. Some were suicide, some were disease, all were untimely. Add to this count my grandparents who all died before I was 12 and several family members that have died of natural causes within the past few years, and it can be said that I have been to more than my share of funerals.

I quit working at the hotel/bar the day I turned thirty. Ten long years. I haven't been back since, either. There is still a group of fifteen or twenty of us that get together a few times a year, but underneath the celebration there will always remain a layer of sadness. We carry a lot of ghosts around with us.

When I read about other people's tragedy, I really can relate. Even though I know better, I wish there was something I could do to make it easier on those suffering from a loss.

A friend asked me once, knowing what I know now, if I would do those ten years differently. My answer is no. Even though too many of those relationships ended tragically, I am still grateful that I got to spend the time with them that I did. I have accepted that I was unable to change any of the outcomes, and I know that I am a better person because they were in my life.

It just wasn't for long enough.