Almost six years ago, I witnessed the suicide of my ex-husband, Charles. He stood in front of me with a gun, and he said, “You don’t know how bad this hurts.” Since then, I think I have known, even when I didn’t want to.
The same year that I watched my ex-husband die, 36,909 suicides were reported in the United States. Since 2009, that number has increased. In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 41,149 suicides reported in the U.S. Around the world, more than 800,000 people will die by suicide this year.
It is said that each suicide intimately affects six friends and family members. A suicide every 14.2 minutes in the U.S. is tragically multiplied by six: six people who are called “survivors”; six people who might wander through the stacks of a library or among the racks of a bookstore, searching fruitlessly for the words that help describe what they are going through.
After August 3, 2009, I wandered through libraries. I visited the self-help section of the bookstore. I accepted with thanks the books that friends pressed into my hands. I remained lost.
Multiple authors have been credited with saying some version of "Write the book you want to read." In my case, I wrote the book I needed to read. I wrote it to show myself that it's possible to work through the grief and guilt after the suicide of a loved one. I want to share this story to show others.
Every year, millions of us are faced with the complexities of grief and guilt in the wake of unexpected violence and death. This book is for everyone whose reality in the wake of tragedy has not matched up with the books, movies and television shows that tell us how we’re supposed to feel and behave. This book is for anyone who is thrust into a world they no longer recognize.
There is a constellation I used to look at when I needed reminding that what happened on earth was real, and that there were reasons for whatever I was feeling that day. Grief or confusion or loss or anxiety. I suppose I saw the constellation as evidence that I was entitled to my feelings. I suppose I also looked at it in disbelief.
I started writing in my journal. I cried when no one was watching. I stared into space while I sat at my desk and pretended to work. I stayed up all night with the lamp on because I was afraid of the thing in the corner lying in wait.
Eventually I wrote in the daylight. I sat on the sofa with the cat and wrote. I sat at the nearby coffee shop, and listened to people around me talk about Alabama football games and Jesus and multi-level marketing schemes, and I wrote.
The Geography of You and Me takes place during the 18 months after Charles’s suicide. The book explores what led us to that moment in my garage: Charles’s addiction to prescription pills, our conflict-filled marriage, and love that became obsession.
It also explores the complex grieving process after a suicide, a suicide brought about by addiction. Abuse of prescription anti-anxiety medication is a growing problem in the United States with no end in sight. Klonopin, the drug Charles was abusing in the year before his death, has been called “America’s Most Dangerous Pill.” Use of Klonopin has been shown to increase the risk of suicidal thoughts. It is the second most abused benzodiazepine, and the reason behind more emergency room admissions for drug abuse than for cocaine or heroin.
The rate of suicide in the United States has been increasing since 2000. In 2013, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for Americans. Every single day, more people are left behind to ask why, to struggle with anger, and to explain the unthinkable to their children. To my own son and daughter, I said, "Daddy was not in his right mind." As often as possible, I said, "Remember how Dad made us laugh when he sang that silly wake-up song? Remember how Dad always fell asleep in movies? You have his nose. You have his eyes. You have his heart."
The Geography of You and Me is a deeply personal and honest journey through grief, post-traumatic stress, and healing, filled with dark humor, rap songs by Ludacris, too much cursing, and a perfectly healthy fixation on George Clooney.
The Geography of You and Me is ultimately a story of forgiveness. I forgave Charles almost immediately. The struggle after his death was to forgive myself: for not being able to save him, for loving him too much or not loving him enough, and for my words to him before he said, “You can remember that’s the last thing you said to me before I did it.”
And, of course, I remembered. I remembered at night when I couldn't sleep, when I left the lamp on, and listened to the "Sorry for Myself" playlist on my iPod.
In the news, too tragically often, there is news of suicide. There is news of those who witness sudden, violent deaths. But there is never news of what happens after that, about how the lives of those who are called “survivors” are twisted into something so different than what they were before.
As I started writing the book and pitching it to literary agents, I heard from many of them who said lovely, complimentary things about the writing, and then said that suicide is still a taboo subject. That no one wants to read about it. That no one will buy it. That the reason I couldn't find the book I was looking for when I needed it was because that book won't sell.
But I am not asking you to read a book about suicide. I am asking you to read a book about love. I am asking you to read a book about seeking light when all around you is darkness. I am asking you to read a book about how you are not alone when you feel angry or hopeless or paralyzed by guilt. I am asking you to read a book about how the lyrics of Ludacris might be just what you need when your own words won’t come to you.
I hardly ever look at the constellation anymore. It is still there, a discolored cluster of abrasions on the ceiling of the garage, evidence of what once happened here scraped away. I no longer lie in bed at night with the light on. I no longer stare into space searching for the reason.
I am asking you to read a book about hope.
Praise for The Geography of You and Me
(From literary agents who rejected it)
“You have taken an incredibly difficult subject and handled it with a deft touch that demonstrates great reserves of talent throughout. In the end, though, I think it would just be too tough to find an editor who thought they could take a book about a suicide and find an audience for it.” - B.L. at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency
“I was incredibly moved by the subject matter you’ve taken on here—addiction, suicide, the many depths of grief, the possibility for forgiveness. The attention you’ve paid to a number of small details… made for an emotionally resonating read. However, in spite of the story’s strengths and profound impact, I did have some immediate concerns, particularly with identifying a broad audience for the book as well as the potential marketability to publishers of a story grounded in such a devastating, traumatic event as suicide.” - A.H. at David Black Agency
“The quality of writing is far superior to most of the material that crosses my desk. You make for a highly sympathetic protagonist and the memoir is at times heartbreaking and inspiring. It’s with real regret, then, that I must admit that I’ve got reservations about my ability to place the project.” - A.S. at Harvey Klinger, Inc.
So, shall we just do this thing ourselves? Yes, I think we shall. Goonies never say die.
"Because it's their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it's our time. It's our time down here. That's all over the second we ride up Troy's bucket."
How You Can Help
Choose a reward to the right and back this project! My fundraising goal is $5,500. This will cover the cost of printing both paperback and limited edition, hardcover versions of the book, as well as materials for packing and shipping.
This also will provide funding:
- To hire a copy editor for proofreading. The book has already been through the copyediting process. This final step will help ensure a clean, error-free version of the manuscript so that you can read it without declaring aloud to your empty bedroom or to a full coffee shop or to everyone on the plane, “Amy does not know where to put a comma!”
- To finance cover art and design work, and to have quality prints made of "Morning Mist" by Birmingham artist Christopher Davis. Be sure to choose a reward level that includes one of these lovely prints!
- To purchase ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) for the paperback and hardcover versions of The Geography of You and Me to allow for retail distribution.
- To purchase ISBNs, print, package, and ship Mr. Clooney Takes a Wife, a carefully curated collection of essays from my blog Vodka Cranberry Clooney, in both paperback and hardcover versions, a reward for high-level supporters.
- For needlepoint materials for VCC VIP reward packages.
Remember, on Kickstarter, it's all or nothing. The pledge goal of the project has to be reached before the project gets funded. We can exceed the goal, and that would be fantastic! More money means higher-quality in the printed product, funding for publicity efforts, and more. But if we don't reach the goal by the deadline, you won't be charged for your pledge. So you've got nothing to lose.
More Ways to Help
Tell your friends and family about this project and Vodka Cranberry Clooney, where you can check out samples of my writing.
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Thank you so much for your amazing support of this project. I look forward to updating you on its progress.
Risks and challenges
The memoir is already written and ready for the final push to publishing. Barring any unanticipated proofreading, printing or shipping issues along the way, the book and art prints should be in your hands by September 2015. Barring any unforeseen needle and thread injuries, needlepoint projects for the VCC VIP Pack should be complete and delivered by October.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)