by Cody Van Houten
Long, honey blonde hair, almond shaped green eyes and the loudest voice I’ve ever heard. Her name was Amanda. My father married her when I was fourteen. She stood tall, confident, and unwavering. A city police officer, she appeared to be the strongest woman alive. She made fun of everyone, but in a way that never hurt anyone’s feelings. She had three sons, and never turned down a wrestling match with any of them. She could spit out comebacks faster than anyone I’ve ever met. She was charismatic and easy to talk to. I became closer to her than I have ever been with my own mother, with whom my relationship was broken long ago. She was there for my first love and my first heartbreak. She held me up and convinced me that life was worth living at my lowest point. She overcame so much in her lifetime. She grew up with an unhealthy relationship with her parents, won the battle with cancer twice, while raising three sons and handling two broken marriages before my father. She knew how to speak so people would listen to her. At first glance, she appeared to be in total control of her life.
Looking at the surface, it was impossible to see the monsters inside her.
About six months into the marriage, Amanda’s emotional issues began to surface. The first time these issues became visible to me is a moment I will replay in my head until the day I die.
I came home from school one afternoon and heard sobbing coming from Amanda’s bedroom. She had spent the afternoon at the country club with her best friend, and it was clear that they had a few drinks before Amanda came home. I went in and tried to comfort her, as she drunkenly wailed about missing her two older sons who were staying at their father’s house for a week. As I hugged her tighter, I saw a razor blade on the bed next to her. It took me a few seconds to make the connection and look to see small cuts on her arms. All I remember is feeling as though it was my body that was drained of the blood, and my father coming home from work moments after I saw what she had done.
Fortunately, this was an isolated incident. However, her mental health issues shined through in other ways. She constantly felt ill, likely due to the side effects of her slew of anti-depression and anxiety medications. She frequented the emergency room several times a week seeking relief for migraines. She became mean, and, for reasons unknown, most of her bitterness was targeted towards me. The household became hostile for everyone. At the time, it felt like she was desperate for attention and pity.
The series of events that led up to the divorce were especially hard on me, a fifteen year old girl with typical high school problems of my own. I made it clear to my father how unhappy I was. However, he made sure that the divorce was what he wanted before he moved forward with it.
It was a snowy, winter night when my father asked her for a divorce. The next day was a snow day and school was cancelled, so I stayed home along with Amanda and her six year old son, while my father went to work. I feared what Amanda would say to me, so I stayed in my bedroom all day.
My fear proved rational when she knocked on my door that afternoon. She came in and bitter words spewed from her mouth, but her calmness was what truly terrified me. I tried to block out what she said but I couldn’t help but hear her tell me that I had ruined her life along with her three sons’ lives, and how she hoped I was happy.
That was the last time I ever saw Amanda.
Fast forward three years, and I am a sophomore in college. I chose a school on the other side of the country and left my past behind, to the best of my ability. It’s a chilly fall morning and I am unsuspecting of how my life is about to change.
An old friend from high school calls me, and I answer, confused as to why someone I hadn’t talked to in two years is calling me at eight in the morning. She tells me she’s so sorry. I ask her what for, and she tells me she doesn’t know what happened, but Amanda is dead.
I hadn’t thought about Amanda much at all after the divorce. Her death caught me so off guard that I felt almost nothing for the first few hours. Three hours after finding out she died, I found out the cause of death.
“She killed herself.”
I can’t breathe. I can’t speak. I can’t even think. Those words slice into me like a knife. The hysterical crying begins.
It is now eight months after I found out about Amanda’s suicide. I have had plenty of time to think about everything that happened. I still constantly have conflicting feelings about it. She was the closest thing I have ever known to a true mother, but the end of that situation complicates everything. Often, I feel as if we betrayed her and left her when she needed us most. But I have learned a lot while reflecting on her life and her death, and I know this isn’t true.
Amanda had a lot of problems, the most glaring being that she was constantly waiting for someone to save her. She was expecting someone to sweep her off her feet and fix all of her problems. This expectation is what killed her, in my opinion. Amanda never learned that she was the only one who could save herself. She never understood that she was the subject of her own life. She never had the moment where it dawned on her who she was in the world.
This was my defining moment–the moment that it truly hit me that this is my life, and I am in complete control of it. Waiting for someone else to fight my battles for me would kill me, like it killed Amanda.