content warning: suicide attempt, in detail.

In my head is a mess of distorted, pulp-like matter, made up of clouded stuff. There are no lead-ups or warning signs. Maybe being in the center of this whirlpool meant I couldn’t see eddies, nor feel how my mind went eschew. Wasn’t aware of vultures sweeping overhead, ready to pounce. Perhaps I simply couldn’t keep up with a formed body and head not of this stratosphere.

Did I fear abandonment?

Who can really analyze human behavior? Don’t know why, only know I did this.

Never done anything so dramatic before. Did Michael know this coming? From his perspective he struggled as a helpless victim, unable to control or anticipate my whims. Must have been like living with approaching storm fronts. So many times, I proved myself stubborn, wilful, and useless. No wonder my father lashed out so often when I was little. A looming presence so angry at his wife and us kids all the time. Living with his fury must have left marks. No wonder my head looked like stratus clouds.

I doubt my actions were prompted by previous traumas. But who knows, you cannot see previous suffering in my arms and legs. But my head, that’s a different story. Everything gets mashed together as if a weather event is on the way.

Instead of opening up, letting others see my darkness, even telling my boyfriend about things brewing inside my head, I applied a well-established strategy: ignore everything above the shoulders. Looking back, my actions made things hard for everyone.

But in my head I dreamt again. A haunting image, an empty letterbox. No one sent me postcards, letters, or gifts. Nothing came to lighten my mood. To counter these sensations of isolation, I carried out long conversations with random lovers, whispered myself to sleep even while Michael lay next to me. Sometimes I wonder what he might think if he was able to listen? Are such imaginings confessions to empty desires to have an affair?

Before midnight I unknot damp sheets. Can’t sleep, but don’t want my being unsettled to wake Michael. So, I go to the bathroom. Secure myself behind a closed door to cry. Unsure of why. Tears stream down my cheeks, snot drips from my nose. Quietly blubbering, I looked around at this tiny room. A block of soap still with a crust of lather. Noticed a smell, sweaty body odour, strains of mould in a dirty shower recess. Lingering masculine deodorant or aftershave. Then I catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror. Mouth pulled down in a frown. Depressions for eyes. An image slightly blurred, disjoined by streaks and fingerprints. How come the mirror is so dirty? My brain blows into a range of distorted unmolded jellies. I reach out a finger to touch my reflection, sense only a cold reflective surface.

I don’t need to use the toilet, but look at the slight bowl stains. Chastise myself for a lack of home-keeping skills. Along with everything else I seem to do wrong lately.

I open the mirrored cupboard and see a cylinder-shaped container of painkillers. Veganin, white and grey, branded in red, a warning of toxic substances. In my hand is a container of hundred. Suddenly an answer. Without processing my actions, I shoved handfuls down my throat. Bound to settle fluid shapes lingering inside my head.

Why? Was this a depressive episode? No one answered these questions. Somewhere in my brain was a highlighted idea - if headache pills were capable of culling pains in everyday life, wouldn’t they make head mist and memories only partially congealed, breaking into particles of air, go away? Nope, nightmares were still there, in fact, they now gripped my wakefulness.

Coughing started straight away. I convulsed into semi-regurgitating. Swallowed this back, evoking a strategy of preventing vomiting. Yet I was in the bathroom; a place such actions should happen. Did I want to hurt myself by taking too many painkillers? I didn’t know; everything inside my head felt mushy. Some tablets come out, semi-dissolved. Mouth tastes of burnt toffee. I gulped tap water in an attempt to wash away this caustic taste, only further distorting my head.

I stumble backward. Almost tumbling out of the bathroom. Squatted beside the bed. Listening to his light rattling snore.

A desire to be embraced overwhelmed. Realize I don’t know how to express such a desire. I stifle dry retching. Don’t want to wake him.

Would he, could he, have done anything to prevent this? Stopped me from hurting myself?

Finally, I woke him by saying, ‘I’ve taken your painkillers.’

I expected him to say, don’t be ridiculous.

‘How many!?’

‘Don’t know, lots.’


‘Don’t know.’

I wanted you to care for me, love me, and notice I am here! Help me. Clean the bathroom.

We stumble downstairs, he shoves me into the car. My legs and limbs don’t want to cooperate.

Looking back, I encountered limited recall of this flight. Imagine this is what happens to car accident cases or those suffering from physical trauma. Perhaps I drift in and out. Or simply don’t remember. I can see my legs and arms; trembling out of my control. The rest: walls, steps, car doors, are mush.

Michael targets entrances lit by red Emergency signs. Hospitals remind me of airports, shiny places with fluorescent lighting filled with people waiting. I stumble, half carried through automatic doors. Like a passenger struggling with too large luggage, late for an important flight. Uniformed staff behind desks say they’re doing what can be done. Same as might happen at an airport. Another flash of brain lightning Perhaps I could have caught a flight out of this place?

Once through triage, professionals request information about: how many tablets, what type, how long ago…These uniformed creatures switched off. Responses of hospital staff became abrupt, almost dismissive. Granting little time to a patient guilty of self-inflicted wounds.

I am shaking. As if my head doesn’t belong to the rest of my body.

‘Did you want to kill yourself?’ One nurse asks, while another explains a tube will be pushed down my throat.

I am vomiting black charcoal. Is there another colour? Rear of a hospital gown gapes, I tried to tuck edges closer together. Ever fearful someone will gaze at my exposed bottom.

‘Why did you do this?’

Staff are angry, I am taking up valuable time and bed space. Conclusive proof of my stupidity, uselessness. They throw me a series of leaflets, there is no follow-up, no aftercare. I am being sent home to a sleep-in Sunday sunrise, with no support or recommendations. Did I think nurses, hospital staff, would offer up a miracle cure?

Still, I can’t help thinking no magic happened here. By being sent away, I escaped clutches of hospital henchmen who set themselves up in judgment of my actions. The same way I am regarded by my rescuing bed partner and, of course, my father.

We don’t talk about my breakdown, we tell no one. Last thing I want is evidence of instability on my health record. This self-harm happened outside my still plastic brain, was never properly dealt with. Therefore, no hints, no revelations cross over – unless I go and talk to someone, but who? No one knows, no one cares. There is a long-standing joke, when things get tough, when you can’t cope, I’ll give you 20 cents to ring someone who cares. Actually, vans driving out there with a logo – People Who Care. Fucked if I know what they do. I avoided blubbering to men of the cloth, as a kid, still have an aversion to do-gooders. Never much helped, as a teenager, or younger. Just who is out there as an empathic ear? Better to fix yourself.

Hospital staff, embodiment of magicians, saved another life, made sure I didn’t die but didn’t really prevent the same things from happening again. Did not even begin to help. My head, if I can bear to look, remains unformed.

About the Author

Karen Lethlean is trying to be a retired English teacher at a Senior College. Ever Present Predator is being published by Pareidolia Volume 2. San Antonio Review published In Isolation. She is writing of military services 1972-76, titled Army Girl. In another life, she is a triathlete and has competed at the Hawaii Ironman world championships twice. Several triathlon pieces are published, including Different Humanity, by The Creatives Journal.