Ballad of Suicide

Cheryl A. Bates

I saved a self-destructive friend, escaped from a predatory friend and regretfully,

had to leave a truly kindred “friend” behind.

Bruised, battered, and in need of repair, I escaped from the burdens my kindred friend continuously bared.

Selfishly, I isolate my wounds from those I think don’t care.

While she gives her spirit so generous and loving; masking a secret so deep with despair.

With nothing left for anyone or myself, somehow she always showed me she cared.

I promised her I would return. Just hang on my dear, that day draws near.

She taught me to love and laugh at the simple treasures we shared.

A memory, an escapade, a trip to into the lake.

Dripping and squishing we’d dance on the bank.

A loud crack of the ice, a wide eyed stare, she’d giggle at my inexperienced scare.

Grab the net, a fish to snare; rip goes my pants, she’d fall into fits of hysteria.

Her laughter and care taught me to not take myself so serious.

Polar Bear Plunge, Oshkosh, WI 2012

(Photo credit: Author/ Polar Bear Plunge, Oshkosh, WI 2011)

My car, packed and ready for the trip, slightly earlier than our long ago plan.

One last phone call, I finished grading early, we can share more time and make more fond memories.

She hesitated and said “No, I have it all arranged, you should come as we’d planned.”

So, I agreed, and waited.

 The day before I was to leave,

a ring of a telephone shattered my heart and buckled my knees.

“She gone” I remember the speaker said to me, “She’s really gone.”

The words were like a foggy dream, never did I realize, she’d hidden from me,

a plan of her own.

My heart bleeding; my mind searching for meaning, I drove two days without seeing.

Country western played on the radio, a moment of clarity, that’s one of her favorites.

A moment of relief quickly replaced with disbelief, she’s gone, she’s really gone?

Relief didn’t come until I saw her, body cold and lifeless,

yet, so peaceful.

Gone to what is beyond; her love, her laughter, her mischief, her joyous heart.

Seven-eleven, death is freedom, obtained with one sure fired bullet.

Her despair ended, her spirit freed

to know what peace there can be for a tortured soul.

Horse Creek, Cherokee National Forest, TN

(Photo Credit: Author/ Horse Creek, Cherokee National Forest)

Though I am still broken and my heart still aches,

the darkness around me, slowly lifts toward the dawn.

When I am unsure, her gentle nudges remind me of my strength.

Her presence is around me, whispering to me through the wind in the trees.

I hear her laughter in the bubbling creek, and  I feel happy.

I feel her smiles, imagine her deep blue eyes – I don’t feel so alone.

She knows now what we all seek to know, that which is eternal and free.

So, just hang on, my dear,

I promise I will join you again someday.

Copyright Notice: © Cheryl A. Bates and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cheryl A. Bates and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

No Toys Under the Couch

No Toys Under the Couch

By Cheryl A. Bates

I sat on the floor for a moment to scratch behind the dog’s ear

and happened to notice there were no toys under the couch anymore.

No singing coming from the bathtub after dinner or

water on the floor to soak my socks.

No lingering smells of baby lotion and bubble bath

no more stories about dinosaurs, ballerinas, or

living room camp outs before bedtime.

No hair clips and tiny toys left forgotten on the floor

to pierce the arches of my feet at midnight after work

when headed across the room to bed, in the dark.

I lay on the floor now but something is wrong,

no sudden full body attacks from a two and a half foot munchkin.

No giggles of delight from when I toss her into the air

No more, do it again Mommie. Do it again!

Gone are the dainty ribbons and bows for her hair

and the sophisticated nail polish of grape purple and cherry red.

Blue jeans with holes in the knees – “no mommie, I want leotards, please.”

“I am a girl,” she proclaims emphatically, all the while gently stroking her newly found backyard toad.

No more crickets in the jar – where she added a little grass and oh, better yet some dirt.

Her eyes twinkle with an idea – she disappears momentarily to return proud,

having added some water.

“But where’s the cricket,” I say. She points to him caringly.

“There he is mommie!” Poor little cricket covered with mud, I’ll let you go after bedtime.

“Here mommie,” she’d say, “hold this while I go play.”

Off she goes to discover more treasures for the day.

I lay on my floor now – I glance over and see

no complacent toads in a cup, no bewildered crickets in a jar, and

no toys under my couch anymore.

How empty life can be.

Copyright Notice: © Cheryl A. Bates and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cheryl A. Bates and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Remberance of a Dear Friend


Photo Credit: Clip Art

Cheryl A. Bates

The beauty of your spirit will always be in my heart.

Like the joy a rose brings to a sullen mind,

your love and friendship brought out the joy in mine.

No longer are you bound by earthly toils.

Thus, I pray you soar now upon lofty wings

resolving your quest towards the freedom you so desired.

Sing to me of your happiness through the cardinal’s song

and I will sing you mine as you left me behind.

Although I know nothing about writing poetry, I wrote this poem about a dear friend I lost to suicide.

A few years ago I was very excited to accept my first social work faculty appointment at a mid-west university where they claimed to embrace and welcome diversity. It didn’t take long for me to realize that what the university and department said about diversity and how they behaved were two very different things. Although the university had just opened up an LGBT resource center and had active faculty and student support groups, the sexual minority community on campus suffered from competing loyalties, conflicts, and cliquishness, which I did not find particularly welcoming or supportive. My department, like the university and community still held strong anti-gay prejudices. Although I was assured during the interview that my openness about being gay was an important contribution to the diversity of the department, my colleagues were not particularly welcoming and remained distant.

They never reached out to include me in events, never stopped by to visit me in my office, and were always too busy to talk when I asked for assistance. Some were rather blatant. One Saturday I dropped by my office to do some tasks and ran into another colleague who had her daughter there with her. It was apparent that the child was familiar with the office setting and curiously said, “Who is the new professor?” This prompted me to introduce myself and engage in age-appropriate conversation with the child. However, when my colleague discovered who her child was talking to she immediately cut off the interaction and gently but forcefully moved the child towards the door and out of the office despite the child’s reluctance to abruptly end her conversation.

Unable to connect within the university setting, I looked to the local community for support and socialization. Through word of mouth, I found a “gay-friendly” bar where I could meet and socialize with other gay people. It wasn’t a particularly friendly place but I thought as time went on I might connect and begin to build a social life.

It was there that I met my friend. When she walked through the door and saw a new face, she came over and sat down, introduced herself, and began to share stories about herself, her husband, her family, growing up in the area, hunting, fishing, and on and on. Over the next four years, she shared her world with me in such a generous, genuine, and loving way.

As I endured increasingly isolating and hostile conditions at my job, my friend and her family provided a sanctuary for me. They made me feel welcomed and through their kindness and acceptance I experienced the best of the mid-west and learned how to have fun even during the long cold winters. Together we generated a lifetime of joyful memories — from funny camping escapades, fishing, four-wheeling, and even a polar bear plunge!

For her, I was a non-judgmental and supportive friend. Often she would drop in for coffee and seek refuge from the ever increasing challenges of attending to the demands of her family, a drinking husband, and delinquent son. She had been laid off from work she loved due to the company downsizing during a failing economy. Instead of doing a job she performed with pride and a sense of accomplishment, her days were now filled with countless errands, providing transportation for someone, providing care for someone, and always finishing up with dinner on the table.

She was unique in that she pushed against the boundaries of gender and sexuality. She was close to her father and learned to love the outdoors and hunting from him. For her, a visit from a cardinal was her father checking on her and sending his love. She played softball and was in three different leagues at the same time for most of her adult life. She struggled for both personal and public acceptance of her sexual identity. After a deeply romantic relationship with a woman she desperately longed for a connection within the gay community but was shunned because financially she was unable to break free from an unfulfilled, abusive marriage.

She loved country music and the words from a Rascall Flatts song expresses her situation more clearly: “I’ve lived in this place and I know all the faces. Each one is different but they’re always the same. They mean me no harm but it’s time that I face it, they’ll never allow me to change.”

Although I continually process my grief over her untimely death, I find consolation knowing that she has finally found freedom and escaped the bonds of her psychic pain. I grieve that the world lost someone who was truly giving to others even though she didn’t have much herself.  And although she only had a high school education and perhaps some learning challenges, she was gifted with people. She understood people and knew how to engage them with kindness, courtesy, and respect. She was creative with the words known to her and would often speak at funerals for friends when their voices were silenced by grief. Her pain was so deep and yet she was viewed by others in the community as refreshing, funny, and engaging. No one was a stranger to her.

I would like to think that in that last moment when she walked from the garage to the basement where she ended her life, that she was making a conscious decision. That thought fills me with pain and anger only because it is a selfish thought centered how the emotions I feel over her death cause me deep hurt and sadness. But when I think about it from her point of view, I am exhilarated knowing that she no longer suffers as she did for such a very long time. She ended her life in the best way she knew how at that moment in time.

Who’s to say that someone who takes his/her own life is a coward, weak, or selfish? I have heard it said that suicide is a selfish act and in some ignorant way I bought into this way of thinking until my friend’s suicide. This July will be the second anniversary of her death and although I still struggle daily with the loss, I am a better person because of having known her.


Just When I Thought I Was Finally Safe…

Note: In consultation with the author, we unanimously decided not to publish her name in order to protect her safety and identity.


This morning, I made my usual trek up to the mailbox and noticed a hand-addressed envelope. I was curious to see who had written to me, so I quickly opened the small envelope. Inside were two pamphlets, one titled “The Real Story of Christmas” and the other, “Sin City.” The first pamphlet quoted scripture and invited the reader to use a simple prayer if they were ready to receive “the Christ of Christmas as your Saviour.” The second pamphlet had a more sinister message depicted in comic-book fashion. “Christians are being overrun and targeted by homosexuals for hate crimes. They are perverting the word of god and are ruining the lives of many young people by enticing them into the gay lifestyle.” On the back of this pamphlet the sender wrote,

GHG image

This message was wake-up call that my relatively new home in the Appalachian Mountains might be even more dangerous than my last in the Midwest.
Although I find the word distasteful, I am lesbian and have been careful not to disclose my sexual orientation in my new community. They do not know me or how I lived in denial of my own homosexual orientation for many years. I tried in earnest to not be gay, only to live feeling deeply repressed and knowing that I suppressed a most joyous part of myself. Coming out for me was the most transformative experience of my life, an experience of liberation that I would not deny anyone, gay or straight.

Although I accept who I am and have no personal reservations about disclosing my sexual orientation, I learned in the last community where I lived in that it would place me at risk. As university faculty, I felt it was important to be a role model for students who are gay by openly sharing my background. I quickly discovered that most faculty in the social work department, all of whom were heterosexual, avoided any interactions with me during the three years I taught there. During my last year, several vocal students interpreted everything I said through a homophobic lens and spread ugly, untrue rumors about me. Only one colleague was supportive. I learned that although I am comfortable with who I am, others might not be.

In my new community, I have kept to myself. Only my colleagues at my new university know my sexual orientation because it is the focus of my research and writing. I rented a little log cabin nestled against a forest some distance from campus. It is a beautiful and serene little place where I enjoy being out in the woods, meditating and gardening. My dog and cat enjoy the freedom of living away from the confines of city life and provide me with many hours of love and entertainment.

My first two winters here were financially challenging. I couldn’t afford to run up high energy bills, so I had to rely on a wood stove for heat. Getting enough firewood those first years was a challenge, but my landlord connected me with a resource, the local wood ministry. I would go on a Saturday and work all day splitting wood with other members of the community, as well as young men out on work duty from the local jail. Although distant (which seems to be a normal reaction to outsiders or folks not from the south), everyone treated me respectfully. And after a day of hard work, they would bring out a load of cut firewood for me to use to heat my cabin.

Last year the wood ministry provided such a needed service to people in the community that they ran short of wood. Consequently, I asked my landlord if it would be all right for the ministry to come and use wood from the property that had been cut down by the power company, clearing a path under the power lines. This year, the week before Christmas, I was surprised by my neighbor, who stopped in to tell me that the wood ministry had sent him out to begin cutting and splitting up the huge pile of logs. The next day, more men from the ministry showed up and deftly cut up the logs, hauling them off to benefit the community.

Although I do not know for sure the originator of my hateful mail, I cannot help but wonder if it has come from the few people I have interacted with most recently, perhaps a neighbor or someone involved with the wood ministry. During the 2-1/2 years I have been living in my little cabin, I have been minding my own business, keeping mostly to myself, and conscientiously supporting local business. I felt that I was at last starting to meet my neighbors, only to then receive such a hurtful message in the mail.

On another level, I am disturbed that my own personal space can be penetrated so easily by a hand-addressed letter. Although I am careful about my personal information, I am not a hermit, nor do I harbor paranoid inclinations that everyone is out to get me. But I am careful and understand that not everyone needs or wants to know I am gay, or that it even matters.

It is distressing to think that because I am a self-sufficient and independent female living alone that a stranger would make the assumption that I am, or choose to be, lesbian—or, to them, a deviant, perverted homosexual. And I wonder why anyone would feel inclined to send a so-called religious message steeped in intolerance and bigotry.

My first inclination was to throw the letter away and not give it anymore of my time or energy. And yet, I do not want to feel alone in this. I want others to know that this is happening. And so I choose to speak out.

Bigotry and intolerance need to end. They thrive under a cloak of secrecy and darkness. I am sharing my story to let others know how important it is to look beyond the superficial differences that separate us.



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