The Bad Project

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Chapter 42. The Narrow Door/Marianne

As she walked over to the Munitz-Bailey Mental Health Center, Marianne thought of suicide as going through the narrow door. Few people met death that way, and throughout history, human evaluation of suicide had varied widely. She remembered that Socrates was praised, but Dante’s Inferno had placed suicides as worse than murderers. Marianne realized that she had learned from Philosophy and the Bad Project that without a religious background, she didn’t have many heartfelt ethical principles. The one she felt to the depths of her being was Crystal’s quote supposedly from the Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm.

Marianne didn’t want to tell Crystal, but she had looked up the oath and that phrase was not in it. But she knew doctors tried to operate on that principle. Her sister certainly did in her medical practice. And she did too. Beyond that, her ethics were moveable and shaky. And her one belief was in conflict with what she had done. Even though Crystal had won the award and she wanted to be happy about that, in most areas, there was a wide trail of harm behind Marianne and that seemed like all she could see.

She arrived, went in, signed in on the reception desk pad, and took off her jacket. She hung it on the hat stand, thinking that Crystal would love the stand’s retro look. The building had been remodeled from an old academic building and had an old-chalk-and-dusty-offices odor. She sat staring into space until the receptionist said, “Wu?” Then she followed her to a tiny room, furnished with a cast off professor’s wooden desk and a kicked and scarred wooden chair. She sat in the chair and looked at nothing.

After a couple of minutes, a crisp, efficient woman came in and as she seated herself she said, “Ms. Wu? I’m Ms. Chitz. I’d like to help you. Dean Shope says you had ties of affection with the professor who died?”

Marianne was stunned. How could they have talked about her like this? She didn’t know what to say. After days of numbness, she felt a lump in her throat again and a tear rolled down her left cheek. She put her hand up to wipe it away, and leaned her head on the hand.

Ms. Chitz said, “It’s alright, you don’t have to tell me anything you’d rather not. Now are you eating? You look very frail and thin. We don’t want anorexia do we?”

Marianne was mildly annoyed, although she felt like she was seeing this woman through grey mist. “I don’t have anorexia. I go to the dining hall and eat,” she said. Admittedly not very much, but she suddenly was glad she didn’t really need help from this efficient person. “I can’t sleep though. I just stare at the ceiling.”

’I know how it is. We can give you something to help you sleep, that’s not a problem.” Being so efficient, she immediately wrote the prescription, but she didn’t tear it off and give it to Marianne. Marianne tried to send a thought beam to make her tear it off, but of course it didn’t work. The psychologist asked a whole lot more questions, and Marianne answered them all with “Yes,” or “No,” or “I don’t know,” to the extent she could. She spoke in a monotone and didn’t have to try to seem listless. Nothing seemed worth much effort.

“Now, I can call your parents if you like so you won’t have to do it,” said Ms. Chitz.

Marianne’s eyes sprang open and shot sparks at the psychologist. “No, no. Don’t do that. I’ll take care of it myself!”

Ms Chitz looked offended, but the time allotted was up, so she began getting her notebook, without any new notes, together so she could leave. Marianne was afraid she might not give her the prescription after all. But as Ms. Chitz stood, she noticed it and tore it off. She handed it to Marianne with copious instructions. “Now take only one of these each night. Only one during each twenty-four hours. And no alcohol within six hours of the pill. And call when you’re ready to talk again.”

Marianne accepted the prescription thankfully, and smiled a sickly smile at the psychologist, hoping she would indeed refrain from calling her parents. “Thank you,” she said faintly, and turned to go.

“And don’t drive or walk a long way alone when you’ve taken one,” Ms. Chitz added as valediction, turning back towards her office.

“I won’t,” Marianne said softly to herself as she left for the village to get the prescription filled. Driving or walking alone was no part of her vision of how she’d use these pills. She knew of a ZinMap Pharmacy down in Burbank where they filled prescriptions while you waited. She walked down the long hill to the pharmacy, not noticing any of the squirrels and woodpeckers hiding nuts or the cars going by.

Crystal planned to go on a field trip with Biology this weekend, the same trip Marianne’s lab section had gone on the week before, to the tide pools. They were supposed to leave on Saturday morning early, visit the tide pools during low tide and a sea museum during high tide, camp out overnight in Newport Beach, go roller skating after dinner, and return on Sunday afternoon. She would be alone in their room for the weekend. Would she do it? She would have the means and the opportunity. Time would tell.

Saturday dawned drizzly, and Crystal asked Marianne if she had a poncho. She got out her red poncho and gave it to her roommate. Crystal finished her preparations and was about to go out when she put down her pack and went over to her roommate. “You’ll pull through. I know, I’ve been in the land of frozen heart and brain myself once and I thought I’d never get back. But it goes away, slowly, and the world melts and you dance in the sunshine. Don’t give up, you and I are gonna have some fun again some day.” She hugged Marianne, who hugged her back hard.

After she left, Marianne thought about what she had said. Crystal’s case was different. Something awful had been done to her, that rape she’s told Marianne about. Also, her mom had died. Neither time had she herself caused the bad thing that had frozen her up. Crystal’s Grandma, Dad, and Jason really loved her, but did Marianne’s family love her? Susie did. Her parents? Well, it was a different kind of love, if it was. She didn’t feel warmth from it. And Susie was married and had her own kids, she didn’t really need Marianne. No one did. She just hurt people who loved her, or they died, or…. She was down deep in the pit again.

She thought she would sit down and write Crystal a note. She didn’t have to use it, but she’d have it ready just in case. It was a lot harder to decide to do this than she had thought. The note read, “Dear Crystal, You’ve been a wonderful roommate, and I hope you’ll have a very rewarding life. You’ve done so much to cheer me up, but nothing really helps. You couldn’t have done anything better, but it’s best if I just end it. Please don’t feel bad for me, I’m done with all the pain and I’m in a better place now. Love, Marianne.”

She looked at the note, especially the last sentence, for a long time. Was death a better place? It couldn’t be worse, but what was it really like? Would she be punished forever for killing herself? Would that feel any worse than how she felt now? If she was gone, wouldn’t the world be a better place for everyone else? Crystal would be relieved of her worries, Liu wouldn’t see her and have regrets, Sharon wouldn’t have to be embarrassed because she had broken up with Liu, Dr. Snow wouldn’t need to give her a bad grade, her tutor would be relieved of a thankless job, she and Jim had finished their work for the semester, Carl would be happy that she couldn’t judge his work any longer, she wouldn’t disappoint her parents with her bad grades. No one would really be harmed by her death.

Marianne sealed the letter into an envelope and addressed it to Crystal. She put it on her roommate’s desk. She got out the plum wine from her bottom drawer and poured herself a full cup. She sipped it, thinking of the fun she had before the Bad Project had come to the sex stage. She remembered how beautiful she had thought the campus was, the golden leaves showering down. Now many of the trees were bare, and looked austere and stern standing around on the grey brown lawns. Her life felt just as blighted. She finished the cup, and poured herself another one.

As she sipped the second cup, she thought about Liu. He had felt a lot of pain in having her reject him. But she couldn’t pretend to love him when she didn’t. He had said he didn’t want to live, but he wasn’t going to kill himself, she was pretty sure. He looked haggard, had dark circles under his eyes, and tried to walk away when he saw her around campus. If Andy had ever rejected her, she would have felt that kind of pain. But she had wanted him not to ruin his life, to stay with his wife and children, to keep his job safe. He had said he wanted to give all of that up for her.

She was so totally unworthy of such a sacrifice, it was almost funny. How could he have felt that way about her? Or did he? Was it a midlife crisis? Would he have gotten over her after a while? Why did he die? Maybe it wasn’t what Marianne had said to him, but the librarian’s threat to tell the world about his behavior that had been the last straw for him. But, either way, he was dead.

She had finished the second cup. Just a trifle remained in the bottle. She carefully screwed the top back on and put it back in the drawer. She washed out the cup and dried it, then put it away too.

It was time. She got out the little bottle of pills. Ms. Chitz had prescribed 24 pills for her, almost a month’s worth. How many should she take? She got out her laptop computer and went online. The library had the Physician’s Desk Reference online, and she read that the effective dose was about 1/10 of the lethal dose for this medicine. That was why you got all the warnings about taking only one a day. So if she took ten, it would kill her. For sure, she thought, since she’d also had alcohol, which was supposed to enhance the effect of smaller doses according to the PDR. The pills were tiny. She thought she could probably swallow five at a time.

Marianne carefully released five pills onto her left hand by tapping the bottle. She put the bottle down, but didn’t cap it. This would make her sleep a long time, but not die. She rehearsed in her mind all the people she was a burden to, her lack of connection to anyone, and put all five into her mouth. She hadn’t poured any water, and had to rush to the sink to get a glass of water to wash them down.

Then, she sat down and poured five more into her hand. They sat there, looking innocuous and tiny. Those five little pills can put an end to my life? It seemed incredible to Marianne. She felt cold, but she still sat and stared at the pills. People she had harmed whirled through her mind. Andy Sandstrom’s face seemed to shine down on her, his blond hair so much like the photo of his children. “They’ll all be much better off when I’m gone,” she thought. Then, she put the pills in her mouth and washed them down with the rest of the water. She took down a fluffy comforter from her closet shelf and lay down on the bed, pulling the comforter up around her face to warm her up. She sang softly to herself, “Lullaby, and goodnight, and with roses….” She was asleep before she finished the line.

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