I took the second draft of my suicide note to our university’s 24-hour writing laboratory, for revisions. Dr. Sprell, the only usage authority on call from 2 AM to 5, told me the note needed serious work. We sat next to each other in one of the study cubicles, and with a red fountain pen, she went through my ten-page handwritten note, sentence by sentence, underlining and crossing out and scribbling sad faces in the margins. A few times she winced and shrieked as if someone were sticking her ribs with sewing needles. When she was finished, she asked if I was the first person in my family to go to college. I told her both of my parents were doctors.
On her Dry Erase tablet, she drew a pronoun chart that looked like a pentagram. She said, “Adverbs are like kisses. Used sparingly they can jump-start your prose, maybe add some pizzazz. But when you rely too much on them, like kisses, they become a bad habit, marks of deficiency.”
Dr. Sprell then asked me to read one of the sentences she’d underlined. It was at the bottom of page four, in the paragraph in which I blamed my family for some of the issues I’d been having. After I read the sentence, Dr. Sprell said, “Now, remember what I told you about auxiliary verbs. Wouldn’t this sentence be much crisper if we said, ‘My world has so completely unraveled’?” She had a point.
After our session, I took the note back to my freshman suite, and I locked myself in a bathroom stall with a fresh legal pad. I made all the necessary revisions.
The morning I planned to hang myself, I went to the writing laboratory with the final draft of my note. It was now twenty-five handwritten pages. Dr. Sprell read it. She was impressed, as were my composition and philosophy professors. I was pleased. There in the study cubicle, Dr. Sprell said, “I really want to publish this.”
She showed the note to the laboratory’s hyphen expert, who was on call from 3 AM to 7, and he said, “I know a guy at The New Yorker.”
This time, with her fountain pen, Dr. Sprell underlined only one sentence, the very last one. I knew she would. In my suite, I’d struggled with it for hours. “It’s really a matter of style,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s up to you. You’re the author.”
I went back to my suite, with the note. I couldn’t decide how to end it. On my computer, alone, I typed the twenty-five handwritten pages. They were only eight in my word processor. I printed them.
I had thirteen different endings for the note, and because I couldn’t decide which to use, I printed all of them. I attached to the note, with a paperclip, the thirteen different endings in the order in which I hoped they’d be read. I saved my favorite for last.
Previously published in Cardinal Sins 35.1