I worked at a Los Angeles publishing house back in the '90s and we were all pretty much stuffed in a huge room of cubicles. People came and went and everyone seemed fairly interchangeable. But when Melanie walked in on her first day, she stood out right away.
She was beautiful in that way California girls were supposed to be beautiful: blond, thin, huge blue eyes, perfect features. And because she worked in publishing, she had the requisite sexy-librarian horn-rimmed glasses. But it wasn't just her beauty that drew me to her that first day.
There was a lightness about her—a girly, pink, sparkly lightness. She'd wear glittery pom-pom ponytail holders even though she was pushing 30. She loved Hello Kitty. She'd burst into song in the middle of the workday. She wasn't for everyone, but I adored her. I wanted to be just like her.
On the outside, there wasn't a lot in common. Oh, sure, I was blond like her and pink and almost as sparkly. And we'd both wear a tiara all day at work, if someone gave us one. But she'd grown up privileged and I'd grown up poor. She spent her formative years being bicoastal, while I spent my entire childhood in a factory town in Michigan. I went to a state school; she went to an art school.
But our brand of crazy was exactly the same. We were both hypochondriacs and loved to exchange who's-wackier stories. She carried this fancy leather pouch that had belonged to her famous dad and it was filled with herbs and vitamins to ward off her disease du jour. We were also both regulars at our doctor's offices. I remember her telling me how she'd go in with a rash or Ebola, and the doctor would just sit down and say, "What's going on in your life, Melanie?"
We also shared a terrific fear of being abandoned. We felt alone in this way that seemed impenetrable. You know that famous Van Gogh painting of all the purple irises where there's just one white iris? That was us.
That's what was so cool about our friendship: I'd identify with some woman in a painting and I'd find out she always had, too. I don't know how many people feel alone the way we did, but we both saw that gaping maw of emptiness in each other.
The last time I saw Melanie was at her wedding—right before I moved out of L.A. She'd finally met someone who'd love her and take care of her forever. She was a beautiful woman any day of the week, but on her wedding day, she was breathtaking. She got married at the beach, on a carousel. It was perfect for her. She was so childlike in so many ways.
A few years later, I noted the absence of the husband in her Facebook photos. I sent her a message, and she told me he had cheated and that they were getting a divorce. I was devastated for her because I knew for someone who fears abandonment, this was as bad as it gets.
About a year ago, she messaged me on Facebook. "Is our old publishing company still in business?" she wrote. "I need a job."
I was at work and distracted, and even a little annoyed. That place had closed more than a decade ago. It was common knowledge. Why was she asking me this weird question?
"That place has been gone forever," I wrote. "Move here! It's affordable."
She never wrote back.
I had no idea that would be our last conversation.
A few months later, I had a funny feeling about her. I went on Facebook and saw her memorial page. Melanie had killed herself. I don't know exactly why, except I do know exactly why. She couldn't feel loved. She couldn't feel safe. She couldn't fight that gaping black emptiness that creeps up and envelops you.
People say suicide is a selfish gesture, but I say saying that suicide is selfish is a selfish thing to say. It means you're only looking at life from your perspective. You have no idea of how incredibly painful it is for some people to just wake up every morning and slog through another day. Some people just can't get up anymore.
I guess I always felt like if Melanie and I had each other to talk to, we knew there was one person who wouldn't abandon us. One person who understood. I wish I hadn't been short with her the last time we spoke. I wish I'd stopped whatever I was doing and really talked to her that day.
The fact that she really killed herself scares me to death. I didn't think it was really an option for us. For her, it was.
Since I found out, I visit her memorial page often. Her friends post photos of her or pictures of get-togethers they have in her honor. She was loved by so many. I kind of wish she really knew that while she was here.
I kind of wish I knew how many people really love me. I kind of wish she hadn't done what she did. I kind of wish she knew how much I think about her every day. How much she meant to me. I don't think she ever did.
So if you know someone who's a white iris in the middle of all the purple ones, show them a little extra love today. I have no idea if it'll help, but it can't hurt. Go buy them a tiara to wear. Let them sparkle. Let them sparkle for just one more day. So maybe they can make it to the next one.