Content warning: This articles includes details of suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
In high school, Bella* was my best friend. We would spend our lunch hours stretched out on the netball courts, dreaming of a tan, or sharing a stolen pack of cigarettes behind the car park. We debated the relative merits of Oasis over Red Hot Chili Peppers, painted each other’s nails black, wagged school to go shopping. On the weekends we loitered in the shopping centre, checking out the boys, or shared a messy plate of nachos in the food court. I interpreted friendship like the intense teenager I was: No matter what happened, I had her back, and she had mine. We would have gone to the ends of the Earth for each other.
She’d always been a bit wild, with an impulsive streak which saw us taking off on road trips at a moment’s notice. Still on her L plates, she’d nudge over the speed limit on the notoriously dangerous Midland Highway, terrifying local farmers as we tore past the paddocks.
Bella always had a boyfriend. When she first started seeing someone, she’d say he was her soulmate. She’d never felt this way before: this time it was real love. Then they would start fighting, or he would stop calling, or she would go after his best mate. She had a lot of sex, talked about it endlessly, but never got comfortable. When the relationships ended, the guy would accuse her of acting “crazy”, and she would spiral into depression, often cutting her arms. She would threaten suicide in front of the guys, harass their new girlfriends. “Do you know how this feels?” she asked one guy, holding a razor blade to her wrist, “No one knows how this feels.”
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When we were sixteen, Bella attempted suicide. She called me before the pills took effect; I hung up and called an ambulance. They diagnosed her with an acute case of Stupid Teenage Girl. Attention-seeking: the diagnosis of adolescence. They sent her home with a prescription for antidepressants. And that’s when things got really bad.
Over the next three years, Bella tried to die by suicide nine times. When we left school and started uni, she moved into my share house, throwing parties and drinking herself into oblivion. She couldn’t stick at a job. There was a deep sadness at her centre, like she was always searching for something. She told me once, vodka-soaked, that she didn’t feel like she knew who she was, that she played a different role with everyone.
It’s hard to write this: it’s a cliché. A lot of people have a friend like Bella, who yearns for something they are missing. For many, this is just normal teenage wildness. “She’ll settle down,” the adults in her life would say, when I said how worried I was, “She’ll grow out of it.”