I wish I could've returned the favor.
I never met Anastacia Campbell. She lived in Michigan and I live in Pennsylvania, and distances like that tend to throw a monkey wrench into stuff. Truth is, I only ever really had one or two days out of all our days on Earth with any kind of connection to her.
It made a profound difference in my life.
Anastacia — Stacy — had read something I'd written online about my recent separation from my wife. Like a lot of people going through a breakup, I was in a bad place at the time. I was like this sad emotional potato sack, trying to own my end of the collapse of so many dreams.
Her first message popped into my Facebook inbox one afternoon last summer. She made some small talk, introduced herself, and I could tell right away that she was sharper than hell, you know?
Sharp people — brilliant people — they just can't hide their minds. She was funny and she cursed, and so I was intrigued. Then, as we all tend to do, I had an immediate look at her profile picture.
Jesus. I almost threw up from my beating heart. She was so wildly beautiful. WTF, I thought. What's happening here?
A message or two later is when I understood. She wrote me this:
"fwiw, know that you will find someone (if you want) who accepts you for everything you are, quirks and all, and who will convince you that life post the love of your life is not just possible, but yours for the taking. And not as a replacement because there's no such thing. Just new. And good. Better than you think it would be."
No one had bothered to say anything like that to me yet. I sat at my kitchen island and wondered about this stranger who would take the time to bother. I couldn't come up with a reason. Maybe she thinks I'm cute, I told myself. DUDE. Maybe she thinks you're cute!
But then I read this:
"Just an FYI from a single chick who is not desperate (and not hitting on you, despite it seeming like a blatant attempt to do just that), you have nothing to fear."
And it's weird, but I felt this overwhelming sense of relief in that moment. The pressure was off. This woman was way out of my league. And I'm a hot mess of a man anyway. She's so not into me.
It was a nice moment in my life. That's the only way I can describe it. Realizing that someone like her, someone I'd just met online for God's sake, was reaching out to me from a very real and concerned place. I don't know, it f*cking floored me.
Her words were so kind, so generous. And she asked for nothing in return. How often does that happen in life?
And in the wake of knowing that she's gone now ... suicide ... I'm somehow left feeling stunned. Lost. Could I have done something equally impactful in return? Should I have?
Hell, I would've rode my bike to Detroit in the pouring rain this week. I would've climbed up on her fire escape and begged her to be my real life friend, to go out for some beers with me if I'd only known, if I'd just had a little warning or seen the signs or whatever.
And I'd never even met her. That says a lot about how much we lose when lose someone to suicide. There are no answers; there never will be. It is what it is.
She had so many friends and people who loved her, and they would've all been out there on her fire escape.
That thing would've buckled hard under the weight of a million people wanting to take her out for pizza and drinks.
Jeez, that would've been a tragedy, but probably an easier one to swallow.
We only messaged for two days. Her last message to me stuck with me all this time. Now it means more than ever.
"I have no idea why I'm telling you this except that I read the hurt in your words and the self-deprecation and I feel like I know that kind of self-dep. Your fears aren't real. Your hurt is, yes. Very much. Your fears, though? Totally false."
Then me being me, I f*cked up. Or maybe I didn't, I don't know. I signed my last message, "love, serge." I was feeling really rubbery, really grateful and touched. And haha! I never heard from her directly again.
I'm such an idiot, but I'm the lovable kind. I know I am. Anyway, that was cool; we'd like a photo or a post here and there.
Look, she'd already given me so much more than I was ever going to be able to give her. She walked in the room and hit me upside the face with the kindness stick. No one does that anymore.
I've been having another rough patch lately. I know, I know, who isn't? But I've been so scared about money and love and the future and being a righteous person/dad/friend/possible boyfriend, and losing people from my life because life is wicked and things change so fast.
Just this morning, when my kindergartner Violet got on the bus, turned and blew me a kiss, I turned to other parents standing by and said "I'm never gonna get used to watching her ride away from me. It just seems too damn soon, right?" They looked at me blankly. I felt I might cry like a baby. I know this isn't a sign of being in a good place.
I lie in bed at night a lot these days with real pain ripping across my chest. When my kids are with me and they're sleeping there beside me, I reach out through certain heartburn (or whatever the hell it is) and I touch their faces in the middle of the night.
Life is a sh*t storm; that peace we all crave, it comes in drips and drabs, and even those dry up quick.
More than once, I've gone to the strange place, to the dark place. More than 10 times I've lay there in the dark and just flirted with the idea of what it would be like to remove myself from the convoluted equation of living.
I don't think it's that unusual to think thoughts like that sometimes. I mean, I'm happy for you if you never do, but I suspect that certain kinds of people like me, they dabble in the remote imagery of it all.
What would happen if I wasn't here anymore?
Would I be OK?
Would everyone else be OK?
I never get much past that. I can't cross any other bridges on that road. It just isn't me, I guess. I don't have the balls it takes. I need to hit the bus stop in the morning. I need to be around.
But because of that, I understand that I can never understand. It's all so sad. I wish so many things.
But you know, Stacy, mostly I wish I could meet you finally. I wish I could be one of the ones watching you walking over towards your window, to your fire escape beyond the glass, those hypnotic blue eyes beaming out at the crush of the crowd.
Look at that, will ya? Take that in, lady. Everyone you somehow touched packed in like sardines. Just all of us slammed together to thank you. To thank you for being a pretty epic life force for just as long as you possibly could.
Visit this webpage to donate to The Stacy Campbell Memorial Fund. If you or someone you know is in crisis, there are places to turn. Don't wait. US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, International Association for Suicide Prevention, for the hearing impaired: Crisis Text Line, for LGBTQ: The Trevor Project, and the Trans Lifeline.