For Those Who Are Suicidal, Despair Will End

I wish I could have told that to Ronald Waggenhoffer.

I am in Rehoboth in a cheap motel room, a nubby yellow bedspread rough beneath my fingers, a loose, faux-wood headboard hard against my back. The window is open and I can hear the ocean whoosh in and out on the beach. I look at my reflection in the gray-black mirror of the TV screen across from me. Still. I am utterly still.

The only thing I can think is: “I want to die.” There’s no cognitive process that goes along with the words, no thoughts about hopelessness or a failed life trajectory. Just the words themselves along with a searing physical pain that seems to come from the bottom of my pelvis and travel upward, around my rib cage, against my sternum, into my throat, along the ridges of my teeth, spilling out of my mouth like liquid, and I say it aloud: “I want to die. I want to die.”

But I am alone in a motel room with nothing to do the job — no pills, no knives, no gun. After what seems like hours of listening to the ocean and matching my words to its cadence, I go walk to the edge of the ocean. I think about Virginia Woolf. How had she done it? She was an extraordinary person. I am not. I lack her courage. I go back to the room and go to sleep. A poor substitute for death, but all I can think of.

Now, years later, I remember times like that day in Rehoboth — there were so many days before and after that looked the same — and I am grateful I lacked the courage, if that’s even the right word, to complete the task. Of course, if I’d had a gun in my hand at Rehoboth, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be writing this today. I would have chased the pain back down my throat and past my sternum and into the depths of my body; I would have done that with the gun. In fact, I’ve been lucky: My most serious suicide attempt was botched because the tools were inadequate. Guns get the job done. The majority of those who attempt suicide are women. The majority of those who commit suicide are men. The difference? Women own fewer firearms, and rarely use them in a suicide attempt. Men often do — men like Ronald Wagenhoffer.

The L&I inspector, who had been the last official to view the ongoing demolition work at 22nd and Market before the building collapse on June 5th, shot himself in the chest last week in his car in Roxborough. He hadn’t been sleeping. He felt some degree of culpability. He felt the way so many of us do when we’re in despair: The agony is too great; I can’t bear it. The pain is not familiar or endurable. It seems certain it will never end. But it does. That’s the sad part. Wagenhoffer never got to find that out.

Of course, I did not know Waggenhoffer. I can’t claim any insight into his particular despair. I do believe, though, that had he not succeeded in killing himself, he would have been glad to be here, as I am, later on. It might have taken weeks, months, or years for him to reach that point; I’m ashamed to say how long it took for me. But the despair does end. It always ends. I wish I could have told him that.

Since I couldn’t, I’ll do this: I’ll tell whoever is reading now who needs to hear it. The pain ends. The desire to die disappears. It is best not to keep a gun in the house.

For those who need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For veterans, press 1. Or to find support groups or IM with a counselor, go here.