Excerpt 4 Beyond the Tears

Copyright material by Lynn C. Tolson, from Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor's Story

Chapter 1: Pills and Prayer

That night, December 20, 1978, the radio reported the most rain in Phoenix in one hundred years. Broadcasters called it the flood of the century. While I was driving, I listened to reports of accumulated rainfall and road closures. “Stay off the streets,” the announcer warned. The wet pavement reflected the colored holiday lights that adorned cactus. Seasonal garlands, heavy with the weight of rainwater, drooped to the gutters. Carols interrupted newscasts, followed by the countdown: “Only four shopping days left until Christmas.” I felt a pressure as intense as the rain that pounded on the windshield.
I sipped from the Michelob that rested between my legs, and then lit a cigarette. The cough of a nasty cold rattled my chest. As I passed by gas stations and convenience stores, I could not decide whether or not to fill the empty gas tank. It was too dark to stop, too cold to get out, too wet to pump. My T-shirt and bra were soaked through to my skin, and the denim jacket and jeans provided no warmth. The heater vents blew warm currents of air, but I still shivered.
In a trance, I drove until the high beams of my Chevy formed a solitary tunnel of light. The roads were as dark as the thoughts driving me to an undetermined destination. The vehicle transporting me through the desolate desert was as isolated as the body that entrapped me on earth. I longed to be on the other side, in another realm.
After courting a death wish for over a decade, I thought I heard a voice that urged me to die. Die! Die! I imagined giving in to impulse and stabbing myself with scissors straight through the heart. Die! Die! Because I could no longer live with myself, self-annihilation seemed to be the only answer.
My hand shook as I reached for the glove compartment. My fingers trembled as much from fear as from the cold. The glove compartment contained vials of pain medication that my doctor had prescribed for the headaches that never ceased. I’d carefully counted and hoarded the pills: ninety Darvon Compound for mild pain, thirty Tylenol with Codeine for moderate pain, fifty Percodan for severe pain, one hundred Serax to relax me, Dalmane to sedate me, and Compazine for nausea. I planned on using this multicolored mix of tablets and capsules to put me out of my misery.
I had scripted suicide scenes for months, wondering how each setting would play out. If I killed myself in a muddy field, a cotton farmer would find a skeleton in the spring. If I committed suicide in the car along a county road, passersby would think the car had been abandoned in the mud. If the sheriff discovered my body locked inside the car, I would be considered a criminal because suicide was against the law. If I nicked a vein with a razor from my overnight bag, I would surely cringe at the first sight of blood. However, would I, could I feel any pain? Perhaps an oncoming cattle truck would veer across the yellow line, causing a head-on collision. If I spotted the bright, raised lights of a semi coming towards me, perhaps I could ever so slightly steer to the opposite lane. What if the truck driver had a family awaiting his Christmas homecoming? It would be best to stick to my original plan to take pills, leaving others out of it.
Close to midnight, I turned back toward town and pulled up to a Holiday Inn I had passed earlier. I parked in the far corner of the lot. After turning off the engine, I sat behind the wheel to think. Drops of rain were pelting the roof like pebbles: ping, ping, ping. I was trying to collect my thoughts.
I packed the collection of pills into my purse and grabbed the grocery bag of beer. As I stepped out of the car, cold currents of water washed over my leather clogs. The rustling leaves of the oleander hedge spooked me. I ran to the office. I must have looked like a breathless bag lady with wet brown hair, a soggy brown sack, and an overnight bag. As I checked in with cash, the desk clerk politely handed over a black key tag numbered 206.
In the motel room, I tugged the orange-and-green checked spread and the pillows from one bed and crawled into the other bed, fully clothed. This was the final suicide scene: checking out at the inn. Who would discover the body in the morning? Maybe the maid would think this guest was just asleep and forgot to put out the light and the do-not-disturb sign. I was still shivering, even after I’d wrapped myself in several blankets.
Sitting on the bed with legs crossed under me, I rocked back and forth. Every night I would rock away the day, rehashing the scenes that were safe to repeat and repressing the acts too intolerable to talk about. The rhythm of rocking silenced the cacophony of random thoughts. My life had been quite a dramatic production, and the curtain was finally closing.
I placed the prescription bottles around me in a semi-circle. They rattled like baby toys. I opened another beer and swallowed the Compazine first, so as not to vomit. Then, dumping the pills by handfuls into my mouth, I found they went down with an easy gulp. Soon my vision blurred and the patterns on the beds, the drapes, and the carpet floated around in geometric shapes of garish orange and green.
As I succumbed to drowsiness, I waited for death. I realized I was always waiting for some catastrophe to befall me. Why not get it over with? I gulped more pills and lay down, curled up.
I worried about the fate of my soul, if indeed I had a soul. Parochial school taught me that it was a sin to commit suicide, so I would burn in hell. Surely, my soul was unworthy of any place other than hellfire and damnation. At twenty-four years old, I deserved to die.
I sensed the presence of my deceased father. I was definitely my father’s daughter, killing myself as he had killed himself. His surreal presence was neither benign nor violent, but finally, he was there for me. Was that my father whispering? “No, Lynn, not this way.” God, please don’t let my father haunt me in hell!
In case God could hear, I began to recite the Lord’s Prayer: “Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” I lost track of my place in the prayer and started over: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come.” I forgot the rest and started again: “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” How could I forget the prayer that was repeated a thousand times at Mass, in confession, during Lent and on Easter?

Lynn C. Tolson, 3 weeks before suicide attempt

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