The blue glow of my laptop was the only light in my dorm room. I stared at the screen, my eyes glued to a table ranking twenty-eight methods of suicide based on lethality, time required, and agony. A shotgun to the head would be lethal and almost painless, but there would be a lot of splatter. Jumping would require a building at least 150 feet tall, and there were plenty of those around, but it would also be messy. I could slit my wrists in the shower, which would wash away the mess, but cutting is pretty painful and is often not lethal.

I slammed my laptop closed. Why was it so hard to properly commit suicide? I wrapped myself in my comforter, closed my eyes, and told myself there would still be tomorrow. My depression would still be telling me I was worthless. I’d still believe I not only deserved to die but that death was the only option left. I slept, knowing my plans could wait another day.

A year and a half later, I’m home for the summer, waiting for my internship to begin. I am surprised to feel the hollowing sadness I thought I healed from. I think back to that time, my first year of college. I see myself in the adult psychiatric ward, forcing food down my throat, swallowing pills I don’t remember agreeing to take, discussing what led me here. I see myself in weekly therapy sessions that turned into twice-monthly sessions that turned into monthly sessions. I see myself telling my therapist I didn’t need to come back. I was fine. I convinced myself, and I somehow convinced her, too.

I attempt to distract myself from the emotions— dancing at a concert with my sister, playing vocabulary games with my brother, reading as many books as I can.

I find a novel in my town’s small library about a man called Ove, who struggles with grief and depression. Hopeless, Ove attempts to kill himself, not once, not twice, but five times. As the plot unfolds and Ove’s numerous suicide attempts fail, he begrudgingly helps his neighbors with their problems. Slowly, Ove finds love again. He experiences joy again. He realizes the world still needs his contributions. When I flip the last page and close the novel, I feel light but with a small weight settled in my stomach, like a helium balloon tethered to a paperweight. I think of a quote I found on Twitter: “You don’t have to feel hopeful about the future, it’s enough to just be curious about what is coming.” I’d like to think Ove experienced curiosity first, and as he leaned into curiosity, it blossomed into hope.

“What do you plan to do after graduation?” My aunt looks at me from across her dining table, a cup of wine in hand.

An innocuous question, but the words produce sweat on my palms and a tap-tap-tapping in my feet. Multiple futures pop into my head:

I graduate. My parents still aren’t in the picture, so no emotional or financial support from them. I have no money saved. No safety net in sight. I crash and burn. A Duke degree wasted on me.

I graduate, earn my spot in a prestigious graduate program in sociology. I work my ass off for years, sometimes poorer than I’ve ever been. But I graduate. I become a professor, teaching and producing research. I am happy.

I graduate, earn my teaching degree, and teach high-school English. In my down time, I work on my memoir. Maybe it’s about battling depression and anxiety. Maybe it’s about growing up in an abusive household. Maybe it’s about something I haven’t even thought of yet. Eventually, I get published. I receive a letter from a teenager. She says: “Thank you, I didn’t know I needed to read this until I did. You gave me hope.” I am happy.

Normally, I’d tell my aunt what she wants to hear: I’ll go to graduate school, I’ll make plenty of money. It’s easier that way. But I make eye contact with her, and I tell her: “I’m not sure what I’ll do yet. But I have some time. And this I do know—I am hopeful for and curious about what my future holds.”

Catrett is a rising junior studying sociology, education, and creative writing. She is spending her summer interning with the Partnership for Appalachian Girls Education in Madison County, North Carolina.

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