I Saw A Glimpse Of Life After Death — And It Looks More Like Hell Than Heaven

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide, mentions of cutting, mentions of death.
Hell
Instagram / Alex Stoddard

He sat arm against arm with me in class, his I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-physics slouch veering him into my personal space. The sexual tension radiated off him, burning the skin on my cheeks to a pale pink I shielded with my palm. Make a move. Ask me out. At least shatter the silence and talk to me. Say something. Say anything.

Why wouldn’t he say anything?

The pessimist trapped inside me, kicking at my heart like a heavy bag, knew the truth. He had touched me by mistake, a mistake so small he didn’t bother to correct it. He treated me like something nonexistent, like he was leaning against air, all the while staring at Elissa. The brunette with tan abs hidden beneath her basketball jersey. The all-star sophomore with buckteeth that somehow made her more adorable, more approachable, more imperfectly perfect.

Even when my body shifted, he failed to glance over or reposition, never noticing the ring I twisted past my knuckle. Never catching a glint of the pointed edge of silver that I dug deep into my wrist, scraping against three aqua veins. It left a harmless mark, a light scratch, a white line across the center of my wrist.

The line I would later use as a map. As a dotted line for my razor to slip against in the tub.


When my blood swirled through the water, turning it the same pink as my cheeks, I never heard my mother rap on the door, rattle the doorknob, repeat my name. I never heard my father burst through the door by creating a hole with his fist and smudging his own blood across the wood in the process. I never felt the paramedics heave me up, just to rest me inside a black body bag. I never heard the words of friends at the funeral or the cries of my cousins.

Instead, I saw my new reflection. A brunette with bucked teeth and basketball trophies lining the shelves.

I dated the most popular boy two grades above me and lost my virginity to him on our swing set outside, but instead of getting condom lectures from my parents, they spent their time concerned with whether my brother would come home that night.

When my classmates voted me homecoming queen, adorning me with a Barbie pink sash and crown, my parents skipped the ceremony to bail my brother out from jail. I graduated from high school with honors, got into my first choice university, and made it onto the most prestigious basketball team in the east, but news of my brother beating his addiction hogged the spotlight.

His journey to recovery made the family prouder than a wall filled with trophies. One red chip on his keychain made them squeal louder than a lifetime of watching me check every item off the list on my rom-com life.

When the email pinged out across campus – sent to every student and professor with an .edu address, warning them to stay away from Central Campus, alerting them about an unnamed body, about a poor soul who jumped from the fifth floor, may God rest her soul – no one would have guessed it was me.


Another change. Now, the mirror showed me puffy red eyes and arms still dotted with needle marks. A blue chip swayed from the keys attached to my jeans, clanking against my thigh as I walked.

My parents liked to see it. Proof of my sobriety. A reminder that their son made it through the dark days and slipped back into the rhythm of human life. To them, the chip meant six months of success. But to me, it meant only six months of not being a drain on society, of not making my mom cry herself to sleep and hearing my dad curse me beneath his breath. It meant only six months of being a decent fucking person for the first time since I picked up a bong as a preteen.

Aunts, uncles, neighbors, old friends, the damn mailman – they all praised me for my strength. They told me how proud they were of my persistence, my will power. But I knew what they meant. They meant I never expected you to actually get your act together. I really thought you were going to die with vomit stuck to your lips after years of stealing from your mother’s jewelry box, getting into screaming matches with your father, and disappointing everyone around you. 

But even after ditching my old crowd and shaving my beard and attending three meetings per week, I still felt like a disappointment. I tried to get a better job than heaving boxes into moving vans, but my record kept on-the-books employers away. I tried to enroll in night classes to earn a degree, but fell behind in every course. I tried to make a new life for myself, but I kept hitting dead ends that made me itch more and more for a needle.

I knew my parents already considered me a success, just for coming clean. But I longed for real success. A rock star life. The life where crowds chanted my name. Where every girl wanted me. Where every radio station broadcasted me. I wanted to create the kind of music I listened to whenever I felt down as a little kid, back before I turned to drugs. The kind of music that could save a life.

Just not mine.

After my sister jumped to her death, after I watched my parents divorce from the fresh pain she brought them, I stopped feeling so pissed at her and realized she had the right idea. I still had my headphones in, blasting rock through the tiny speakers, when I stuck a revolver in my mouth and pulled the trigger.


I never heard my parents sobbing into each other’s arms as they watched my body get lowered beneath the grass, beside my sister. I never heard them say what a shame it was — how I beat my addiction, only to take another way out. I never heard them cry my name or curse at God.

Instead, I heard a crowd chanting my name. Hot guys and even hotter girls held posters with my face plastered to them. I could fuck any of them. I could fuck all of them. I could watch while they fucked each other.

For a while, that was exactly what I did. I slept around, jumping from person to person, tasting everything my tongue could reach. But after months, years, decades, I found a reason to settle down. A pretty woman with a pretty mind to match. I loved her so much I stayed faithful all the way until the divorce.

I had children of my own, some from the marriage and some accidents from before, but struggled to relate to them after missing out on my own childhood. I discovered fame and fortune from a young age, missing high school milestones. Prom. Homecoming. Unrequited crushes.

Sometimes, I wished I could rewind time to see what it felt like to be a kid in a classroom. Normal. Unnoticed. I wished for the simplicity of teenage gossip and laugh-track TV shows. I wished I spent at least a little time as a kid before jumping straight into adulthood.

So on my 62nd birthday, I made the decision I had spent years paying therapists to talk me out of. I scribbled a note I knew TMZ would plaster across their website the next day, slipped a loop around my neck, and stepped off my living room chair.


Instead of seeing the scroll of #RIP messages on my fans’ social media, I checked my reflection with the front camera of my phone, seeing pimpled skin and pale eyes and smudged lipstick that I hoped the boy beside me hadn’t noticed.

He sat arm against arm with me in class, his I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-physics slouch veering him into my personal space. The sexual tension radiated off him, burning the skin on my cheeks to a pale pink I shielded with my palm. Make a move. Ask me out. At least shatter the silence and talk to me. Say something. Say anything. 

Why wouldn’t he say anything? TC mark

Holly Riordan is the author of Lifeless Souls, available here.

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