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The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order

The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order Cover





act of

attempt to imagine

in the airport, coming home from vacation, he stops at a kiosk and buys grapefruits, which he arranges to have sent to his daughters. They will stumble over the crates waiting on their porches, when they get home from his funeral.

Its the last week of his life. Does he know that? At some point, yes. At the moment when his index finger closes on the trigger of the gun, he knows it with certainty. But before that? Even a moment before, when he sat down in the chair holding the gun—was he sure? Perhaps hes done this much before, once or many times: held the gun, loaded the gun. But then stopped himself: no. When does he know that this time he will not stop?

What about the gun?

Has it been an itch, a temptation, the hidden chocolates in the bureau drawer? Did he think about it daily, did it draw him, did he have to resist it?

Perhaps the thought of it has been comforting: Well, remember, I can always do that.

Or maybe he didnt think about the gun and how it might be used. There was just that long deep misery. An occasional flicker (I want to stop everything), always instantly snuffed out (Too difficult, how would I do it, even the question exhausts me). And then one day the flicker caught fire, burned brightly for a moment, just long enough to see by (Oh, yes, the gun. The old gun on the closet shelf with the sweaters). He didnt do it that day. He put away the thought. He didnt even take the gun down, look at it, hold it in his hands. That would imply he was thinking of actually doing it, and he would never actually do such a thing.

Some days the gun sings to him. Other days, more often, he doesnt hear it. Maybe, on those stronger days, he has considered getting rid of it. Take it to a gun shop, turn it in to the police. But then someone else would know he has a gun, and its no one elses business. He hasnt wanted to deal with their questions: Where did you get it? How long have you had it? Besides, how long has he had it? Twenty years? Twenty-five? And never fired it in all that time? So wheres the danger? Whats the harm in keeping it around, letting it sleep there among the sweaters? He doesnt even know where the bullets are, for Gods sake. (But immediately, involuntarily, he does know: he knows exactly which corner of which drawer.)

We have to watch him from the outside. He leaves no clues, his whole life is a clue. What is he thinking when he gets up that last morning, showers, and dresses for work? He puts on a blue-and-white striped cotton shirt, a pair of brown corduroys, heavy brown shoes. A tan cashmere sweater. He has joked to his older daughter that all the clothes he buys these days are the color of sawdust. Might as well be, he said, they end up covered in the stuff anyhow, in the machinery business. So he has shaved, patted on aftershave, and climbed into his dun-colored clothes. Hes gone to his dresser and loaded his pockets: change, wallet, keys, handkerchief. Maybe he thinks hes going to work. Or maybe he knows, hopes, that in forty-five minutes hell be dead. Its Friday morning. Hes just doing what he does every morning, getting ready.

He may be thinking about it on the walk down the long driveway to get the newspaper. The cold dry air gripping the sides of his head, the ice cracking under his feet as he tramps along this driveway he can no longer quite afford. It is a dirt road, unpaved; in this town, as his wife is always pointing out, dirt roads have more cachet than fancy landscaped driveways. A dirt road means you are private and acting to protect your privacy. Your house cannot be seen from the road. Your real friends, that delightful, sparkling, select bunch, will know youre in there, hidden in the woods, and they will know your dirt roads ruts and bumps by heart.

Is there something in the newspaper? The front page is the only one in question, since he leaves the paper on the kitchen table folded and unread. More bombings. All this week hes been sitting in front of the television in the evenings, staring at the news. Silent films of Baghdad buildings, fine white-lined crosses zigzagging dizzily over their facades, zooming in and centering. Then a long moment, just that white cross holding steady; and then the building falls down, no sound, no smoke or flash of light, just caves in. And thats it. The screen goes blank; the camera doesnt wait around to gloat. Then another building, another filmed implosion: were getting all these places, relentlessly. Were hunting them down and getting them.

What has he been thinking about this week, watching these films over and over? The silent buildings that simply implode.

The front page of the paper is full of the war. But nothing else thats major. No market crash. Nothing that would lead, directly or indirectly, to his losing more than he has already lost, which is virtually everything.

Maybe thats it, maybe thats what he is thinking, not just on this last morning but all the time: youve lost everything, not at a single blow but gradually, over years, a small hole in a sandbag. You see the hole clearly but you have no way to fix it. No one but you has been aware of that thin, sawdust-colored stream of sand escaping, but now enough sand has leaked that the shape of the bag is changing, its collapsing. It will be noticed. You will be caught. And then, and then—you dont know what. You want not to be here when that happens.

He makes the pot of regular coffee for his wife, fills a cup, carries it upstairs to her bedside table. The fact that he doesnt make his own usual pot of decaf might mean that hes already decided—or it might mean that he generally makes that second pot when he comes downstairs again. And this morning, he doesnt go downstairs again. He stands at his wifes side of the bed and looks at her, sleeping. He looks at her for a long time.

Or maybe he doesnt look. Maybe he puts down the saucer and goes for the gun and is out of the room before the coffee stops quivering in the cup.

Copyright © 2008 by Joan Wickersham

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Product Details

Putting My Father's Death in Order
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Wickersham, Joan
Death, Grief, Bereavement
Parenting - Parent & Adult Child
Parent & Adult Child
Personal Memoirs
Adult children -- Psychology.
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.25 x 5.50 in

Related Subjects

» Biography » General
» Health and Self-Help » Recovery and Addiction » General
» Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Family Issues
» Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Grief
» Health and Self-Help » Self-Help » Memoirs

The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 336 pages Harcourt - English 9780151014903 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[G]ems of true insight and lovely prose....[B]eautifully written and haunts the reader long after it's closed. Recommended."
"Review" by , "In this harrowing, beautifully written memoir, Joan Wickersham tries to understand the forces that drove her father to take his own life. Part detective story, part anguished examination of a family, she traces the myriad repercussions suicide has not only on the future but also on the past. And she has created the perfect form in which to stage her inquiry. A powerful, important book."
"Synopsis" by , Sixteen years ago, Wickersham's father's suicide made a mystery of his entire life. Using an index — that most formal and orderly of structures — the author explores this chaotic and incomprehensible reality.
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