real life

Thirty seconds.

Trigger warning: This post deals with issues of attempted suicide and may be triggering to some readers.

Thirty seconds. That’s it.

Thirty seconds earlier and I would’ve walked straight past that window and not seen a thing. Thirty seconds earlier and I would’ve made it to my bedroom, never noticing that my mum was outside, trying to hang herself in the darkness.

But it wasn’t thirty seconds earlier, and as soon as I saw her through that window, dragging a flimsy dining-room chair towards the front yard’s only tree, I knew what she was doing.

And I had so been looking forward to watching Letterman.

Rosie Waterland

I should have known that the evening was going to end in a particularly dramatic suicide attempt. After starting on her first bottle of wine mid-afternoon, by the time she finished her fourth at 7 pm she had already reached what I like to call her ‘Dignified Royal’ stage (a stage which involves far too much faux indignation for someone who only makes it to the toilet half the time).

It usually consists of her sitting in the living room like a freshly crowned beauty queen, head held high and movements so fluid she practically floats off the ground. Her cheap wine might as well be Cristal, her pleather couch a throne.

And there she would sit, taking grand, calculated sips from her mug of booze as she held her cigarette between her fingers like a sexy Disney villain.

Cruella Feature Image
Infamous Disney villain, Cruella Deville. Image via Tumblr.

‘Rosanna,’ she would say, in an accent that fell somewhere between her North Shore childhood and the cockroach-infested Liverpool rental where she currently sat. ‘You, darling, have gained so much weight.’ (No response.)

Or, ‘How did I end up surrounded by so many fucking bogans?’ (No response.)

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Or, ‘Why can’t I fucking just send a fucking text to your fucking sister without the fucking thing being a fucking fuck?’ (Sympathy shrug.)

I tried to keep her company for a while, but after a few hours of being picked apart by someone wearing green eyeliner and no pants, I decided it was probably in my best interest to bail out. I went to my room, turned on the TV and closed the door.

Nothing ever made me feel quite as safe as the sound of my bedroom door closing. TV and bed had been my refuge since childhood. As long as I had a door that closed and a show that made me laugh, I could pretend the mother in the next room was the perfect mix of Carol Brady and Lorelai Gilmore. I would have even settled for Roseanne, to be honest.

I was pretty much just aiming for someone who didn’t drunkenly listen to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ on repeat (usually while snot-crying and eating olives out of a jar).

Lorelai Gilmore, left and Carol Brady, right.

I’d had a TV friend in my room since I was four years old, and it was still keeping me company in my twenties. But on this particular night, just minutes before Letterman was about to start, my body had decided to betray me. I was forced to leave the confines of my free-to-air sanctuary. Basically, I needed to wee.

And it was on my way back to bed, as I walked past the upstairs window, that I spotted her dragging that bloody chair to that bloody tree.

Damn you, bladder.

I know she’s thinking about how fabulously tragic the whole thing will look. She’s wearing a pink satin dressing gown and nothing else – no doubt hoping that it will fall open dramatically as she hangs, displaying the body that always got her through tough times.

The glow of the streetlights reveal that she’s placed her frizzy curls into as elegant an up-do as she could manage, and she’s definitely wearing more jewellery than she had been just hours earlier.

Little girl window
“I know she’s thinking about how fabulously tragic the whole thing will look.” Image via istock.
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I stand silently at the window and watch as she positions the chair under the tree. I’m surprised to see she had the forethought to bring rope, although I have no clue where she got it. I’d like to say she went on a morbid version of one of her shoplifting sprees, but considering the lack of planning that most likely went into this, I’m assuming tonight’s hardware probably came from a store called The Neighbour’s Clothesline.

She hoists her mystery rope over the sturdiest-looking branch the tree has to offer, and carefully climbs up on the chair (as best as a person who’s been drinking for nine hours can). Her dressing gown slips open – perhaps a little too early for her dramatic reveal, but I suppose impromptu performances like this rarely go to plan.

She puts the make-shift noose around her neck. She tightens it.

I know I should be moving by now. But my feet are frozen to the floor, my eyes fixated on her face.

What if I just let it happen this time? What if I pretend it was thirty seconds earlier? What if I had never seen anything through that window, and I was already sitting in bed watching Letterman bounce jokes off Paul Shaffer? Nobody knows I’m standing here. Nobody knows I’m watching. Nobody knows that I left my room to wee. That thirty seconds is my clay to mould.

dark tree
What if I just let it happen? Image via istock.

She’s struggling with the chair now, trying to tip it over. She can’t use her hands, and the rope is too short to re-adjust, so she just ends up rocking her whole body from side to side, trying to build up enough momentum to get the bloody thing to move.

And just as I’m thinking that attempted suicide, along with coughing and vomiting, is probably one of the more unattractive things a person can do while naked, the chair tips over.

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She’s hanging from the tree, gown open, feet shaking. And I don’t move. I just stand there, watching.

I just stand there.

I think back to the time, years ago, I sat with her on the side of the road, desperately trying to think of the right response to, ‘But, Rosie, I just want to die.’

I told her that her daughters needed her. That she needed to see us grow up. I told her I was going to write books and win an Oscar and become a millionaire and buy her a house and then she’d never have to worry about anything again. I told her I would take care of her, but I was only nine, so she needed to wait just a little longer.

I told her that I was cold and wanted to go inside.

rosie-pool
Rosie as a child with her Mum. Image: supplied.

I think back to the time I found her in a random park in the middle of the night, a slit in her left wrist so deep I was actually a little impressed she had managed it with such a flimsy kitchen knife. She sat on the grass quietly, staring blankly ahead as I tried to hold the gash together with a tea towel.

I walked her home and put her to bed, then spent the entire night trying not to fall asleep so the grip I had on her wrist wouldn’t loosen.

‘Move, Rosie. MOVE.’ I silently will my body to leap into action, but it remains frozen in front of the window. It feels heavy. Tired. The glow of the TV is luring me to my room, and the idea of rest seems too good to pass up. Rest for her. Rest for me. Rest, finally, for all of us.

I can pretend I walked past that window thirty seconds earlier. And I can just let it happen.

My mind is grappling with the complexities of a decision I should not be attempting to make while wearing Hello Kitty pyjamas. But before I can make a choice, before I can decide whether I want those thirty seconds to exist or not, it happens.

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The branch breaks. The fucking branch breaks. My mum falls to the ground, gasping for breath and ruining her frizzy up-do.

broken branch
“I spent the night trying not to fall asleep so the grip I had on her wrist wouldn’t loosen.” Image via istock.

The decision has been made for me.

I watch as she slowly rises to her feet and (in what I consider an odd moment to suddenly feel modest) closes her dressing gown. She takes the rope from around her neck and drops it on the grass. Then she just walks back inside.

And that’s it.

I hear the downstairs TV switch on, and the unmistakable clink of a wine bottle hitting a glass. I take one final look at the branch lying on the front lawn, before heading into my room and closing the door.

Thirty seconds earlier and I would have missed the whole thing.

Her feet were only off the ground for a fleeting moment, but that branch breaking meant I never got to make my own decision. Was I just about to move? Was I just about to snap into action? Was I just about to run to her aid, like I had so many times before?

That branch breaking means I’ll never truly know if I would have saved my mother’s life that night.

Thirty seconds earlier, and I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life wondering if I’m the kind of person who would just watch her mother die.

This is an edited extract from Mothers & Others, published by Pan Macmillan, RRP $32.99.

If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114. You can also visit the Lifeline website here and the Beyond Blue website here.

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