Another Casualty Of This Goddamned Recession
Credit: Flickr
January 21, 2014

My dear friend killed herself Saturday, an hour or two after she left my house.

We were friends since high school, and I was working on a budget for her. Like many of us, her income was decimated by the recession; she went from making $68K a year to $25K. It wasn't enough. (I know, I have the numbers.)

I told her she needed to look at them, that it would help her make choices. It didn't; I think it was all too much for her, that the weight of it overwhelmed her. She was $500 in the hole every month. No wonder she was living off her credit cards. No wonder she chain-smoked, despite the emphysema.

She never recovered from the layoff. She hadn't been out of work since she was 17. It wasn't just the money, it was having a place to go every day, someplace where she felt competent, useful. She was a paralegal who ran a busy litigation practice in the county seat. Now she was drinking herself to sleep every night, buying illicit Valium from a neighbor. "I can't sleep," she kept complaining.

When the unemployment ran out, she was living off her 401K, which depressed her deeply. The job she finally found a year or so later was working for an elected official's local office. She answered the phone, she occasionally got to help people. But mostly, she hated it. She didn't feel useful and she spent most of the day on Facebook.

She was afraid to look for another job. "I'm 60 years old, I haven't done this work in five years," she said. "I don't think I can do it. If I got laid off again, I think it would kill me. At least with this job, I don't have to worry about losing it."

Then her old boss died of melanoma, and that sent her deeper down the hole.

Back in June, she called me one night and told me she realized she had a serious drinking problem and needed to stop. We talked about AA. I encouraged her to reach out to people. I talked about all the nights she'd called me, blind drunk and mumbling nonsense. She was embarrassed. Don't be, I said. You'll get past this.

But she was so embarrassed by the conversation, she told me she didn't want to talk to me for a while.

So we didn't really talk for several months. I would get cryptic, drunken texts: "I'm sorry I ruined our friendship. I'm sorry I don't have you in my life anymore."

"What are you talking about? You can see me anytime you want."

But those weren't the scary ones. Those were the ones where she asked me if I wanted her house.

Last month, she signed herself into a facility for suicidal thoughts. She lasted a week, then signed herself out again.

She kept making plans to see me, then avoiding them. Finally, last week, we had dinner. She looked awful; gray skin, drawn. No light left in her. We talked for a couple of hours: About depression, self-loathing, money worries. I told her I would do anything I could to help.

She told me her live-in wingnut boyfriend was part of the problem, she wanted him gone. He was supposed to leave this Saturday. "I'm so sick of him and his Fox News," she said. "I can't wait." (In the next breath, she told me she'd gotten drunk and begged him to marry her. "Did you mean it?" I asked. "No, no," she said.)

She was conflict-avoidant, and he was mean and judgmental. But, as she said bluntly, she needed him to pay the bills. Finally, she'd decided that even with that, the price was too high. She started looking for a roommate.

She went to AA; I think she went almost every night. It didn't seem to help, she said. The people were very nice, but she had no higher power, it was hard to believe. "So don't think of it as God. Think of it as your grandmother." She laughed. She really loved and missed her grandmother. I hope she's with her now.

After we did her budget, we went to Home Depot and the dollar store. She'd made arrangements to have her house cleaned but didn't have any supplies, so we loaded up. I asked if she wanted to stay but she said no, she was tired and wanted to get home and attack the huge pile of laundry she'd been avoiding for weeks. She hugged me extra hard when she left; I thought it was because she was grateful.

Maybe she was. But that wasn't enough.

I found out she was dead when I called her cell phone and her sister-in-law answered. She's taken a handful of pills and climbed into the bath.

I know she had severe problems. I know she was fragile. But when she had a real job, and a real paycheck, she was functional, damn it. And I can't help but see her as yet another victim of this goddamned recession.


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