It was a cool fall evening. The air was fresh, and I enjoyed how it felt on my face. The sun was setting as I walked up the hill. I could see wisps of wood smoke drifting from chimneys. After living here for years, I loved the sleepy village. With only a few hundred residents, it was a cozy little place with just a dozen dirt roads and trails. I cut through one of the trails to reach my destination. Through the side window I could see Violet at the kitchen table, shuffling cards.
Violet was the first person to introduce herself when I was a friendless newcomer. Her frequent visits brought us close and our exchange of intimate secrets resulted in a deep connection. Sometimes I worried about her. Young as she was, she had been through a lot and like many who live in dark, isolated places, she suffered from depression. There were times she’d be in a mood and would talk about suicide, then immediately perform an about-face and say she was just kidding. After the first fifty times, I stopped taking her seriously because I knew she’d make her way back up. Depression was a grinding wheel, going around and around, up and down.
That night Violet was babysitting at her uncle’s house. I walked around to the front door, knocked, and walked in. She saw my happiness, and it brought a smile to her face. We sat at the table and played cards while her little cousin watched cartoons in the living room. We made small talk, teasing about crushes and gossiping about other young girls.
Later, after her cousin fell asleep, we snuck outside to smoke pot. Violet crushed a soda can into a makeshift pipe, one side shaped into a bowl. The marijuana ball rolled all over, but soon it burned to ash and everything became hilarious. We went back inside where she produced a bottle of whiskey and suggested we drink. My mouth was dry, so I said yes. I took a sip, but I didn’t like how it burned my throat. I switched to water. Overwhelmed by the weed, I couldn’t play cards anymore. We ended up watching a movie. It was a pleasant evening, filled with laughter, but the weed made me sleepy and I drifted off.
Violet’s uncle woke me an hour later when he came stumbling in. He asked about his girl and when he knew she was okay he went to his room. Violet and I looked at one another and burst out in quiet giggles, glad he was too drunk to notice our eyes. Violet was getting intoxicated, but after sleeping, I was sober. Too burned out to stay awake, I fell back asleep.
Violet woke me a couple more times during the night, becoming progressively drunker. The first time, she was dancing around with a broom. I noticed she’d covered me with a blanket and had switched from movies to music. “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles was blaring from the tape player. She was talking about suicide again, but she talked about suicide almost every time she drank. I told her to hush while my eyes slipped shut.
The second time she woke me, “Walk Like an Egyptian” was still playing. This time she had traded the broom for a shotgun. I lifted my head in alarm. I told her to stop being stupid and put it away before someone got hurt. She laughed and kept dancing. Exhausted from the weed and from being woken repeatedly, my eyes were dry and heavy, I couldn’t keep them open. She was going on and on about how she was gonna do it. Aggravated by her nonsense, and knowing she would never do it, I muttered, “Whatever, do it then.”
There was a boom, and my eyes flew open. I could see smoke and the acrid smell hit my nose. Violet was splayed on the recliner next to me. Her body was shaking, and I saw blood pouring from her chest. I threw the blanket off and stood up, screaming her name. The blood was getting everywhere. I ran into her uncle’s room screaming his name, but he wouldn’t wake. I slapped him—nothing. I ran outside into the pitch black.
I started toward the closest house. My legs moved as if through syrup, I couldn’t run fast enough. It had to be a nightmare, but the bloody hole in her chest kept coming into my mind. It was real. I finally reached the house and pounded on the door, screaming for help. I could hear people murmuring. Why won’t they open the door? Frightened, I gave up and ran to the next house. It was Violet’s house and I didn’t want to go in, but I had no choice. I ran up the stairs, the pounding of my feet echoing underneath their porch. I tried not to yell but couldn’t control the panic in my voice. Violet’s parents thundered past me and ran down and out.
I didn’t know what to do, I walked down the road crying. “Do it then…Do it then…” the words, a broken record in my mind. Did I really tell my best friend to kill herself? I grabbed my head. How could I be so ugly? I slapped myself. How could I be such a stupid little bitch? I screamed.
As it turned out, Violet missed an artery by a millimeter and she lost half a lung, but she survived the attempt. Her mother never forgave me for telling her to do it. I never forgave myself. Will I survive the guilt I feel for so thoughtlessly telling her to do it? Is it possible to ever love myself again? Life’s greatest lessons come from the worst mistakes, but still, will this consume me? Depression is a grinding wheel.
Jacynthia Oprenov is a student at Ilisagvik College where she was named student-of-the-year in 2018-2019.