The Suicide Pact is a confessional journal of a young girl in a boarding school in South India and her ultimately abortive attempts to commit suicide. The book tackles serious issues like self-harm, teen suicide and bullying. It feels like an Indian adaptation of ’13 Reasons Why’ meets ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. It also comes close to the book (and later movie adaptation) ‘Moxie’.
TW: Self harm, suicide, bullying.
THINGS TO DO BEFORE I DIE
- Pay back Mr Eric?
Work in a standstill. Busting the jerk is my dearest wish. Given a chance, I would set an elephant in musth on that paedophile. I wish I had a plan. Something foolproof, something that would ruin his life beyond repair. But elephants in musth are not easy to find and assign tasks to. Hmph! If only I had had the courage to begin with.
- Carve my name on a tree?
Check. It was not easy with the pocket knife cramping my hand. Indifferent to my creative accomplishment and cramped hand, Anu had blamed me for damaging the delicate balance of nature with my environmental graffiti, tree hugger that she is. So, I switched to school furniture. Carving on your desk during class has the additional advantage of reducing stress from studies, you know. Hopefully, this very thoughtful move on my part has earned me enough points to secure a nice designer suite in heaven with the best view of the lake from a balcony, and a walk-in cupboard that stocks all the trendy custom-made XXL clothes, latest accessories, and gadgets. Oh, and a free afterlife membership to the heaven-spa.
Too ambitious. I’m probably in for that rat-infested corner in hell.
- Lose my virginity?
Uncheck. Most certainly not happening, considering I don’t even have an imaginary boyfriend – unless the spare pillow counts. This one will find a place somewhere on the top of my list of last-gasp regrets. In a world that is crazy about spindly, noodle-like legs and skeletal torsos, I stand no chance. I feel like the sad, lonely, oddly-coloured sock with no partner, fading away inside a dusty, old trunk that nobody bothers to check.
- Fall in love?
Uncheck. The same reason as above. Last week, I received a Blossoming Heart on Facebook from one of my neighbours. I was thrilled, till I figured he had mass-sent the Heart before he got eliminated from a reality show he was part of. Someone must’ve told him handing out hearts would fetch him votes. Well, that’s the closest I’ve ever come to being a boy-magnet.
- Look normal?
Uncheck. My breasts can be used to prop up a plate and eat in a jam-packed restaurant when no tables are available. The pair came with a potential choking hazard; they can smother me in my sleep if I don’t choose safe sleeping positions. I’ve tried wearing a bra to bed just to keep them in place but gave up on that almost instantly. The size of well-fed piglets, Lisa has helpfully christened them calf one and calf two. One baby whale is always bigger than the other, and they are forever outgrowing the bra. I’ve even skipped dinner a whole week, hoping for some change but all it did was make my face look like a mango seed yet my bra size remained the same. Looking normal is not on the cards for me.
- Send a message in a bottle?
Che-Unche-che… I don’t know… Okay, uncheck. The nearest beach, the Marina, is one of my favourite places, but it’s precariously close to my aunt’s house. It wouldn’t be fun getting caught with a meet-me-at-the-other-end-of-the-world note in a bottle. I guess I will have to make do with the suicide note.
- Watch the sun rise?
Uncheck. Do you know what’s worse than having to get up early? Having to get up earlier than early! Insomniacs with nightmares scheduled for daily viewing tend to be nocturnal. I’m a night owl.
- Summon a spirit?
Work in progress. I’ll have to find a willing collaborator, to use the Ouija board with. Lisa won’t even let me tell scary stories at night. She hates the dark and anything associated with it. Pink is her favourite colour, and black is mine. I hate pink. It makes me sick.
CHAPTER – 1
THE SUICIDE NOTE
(T- God Knows How Many Days To Go)
I was days away from committing suicide, and from the mental stocktaking I did, my prospects didn’t look too bad. Aside from summoning my dead great-grandfather and paying back my foes in full, I had mentally checked off over half the things on my bucket list. My assignments never made it to the teacher’s desk on time, but even I realised there was no point keeping my last to-do list for the afterlife.
However, I was still trying to figure out how to pay back Mr Eric. Mr Eric was the nickname we gave our Social Studies teacher Ericsson Fernandes long back when we first figured out that the man regularly had erections in class, so ‘Eric’ from ‘erection’. While the whole school adopted this name as if it was a short nickname, only we girls knew what it stood for.
I died for the first time that day, five summers back, after that unfortunate incident involving my Social Studies teacher’s wildly explorative hand and my thigh, concluding in my first epileptic episode and gradual loss of self-worth. I would’ve coped, put it behind me, and moved on if only mom had believed me.
A part of me died bit by bit after that life-altering incident– in corridors, in the classroom, in the Principal’s office… The only difference was, what killed me first wasn’t what normally came with school life. Bullies, rude boys, and evil Principals are expected but how was a thigh-addict to be dealt with? And to think that he was my dad’s age, that pervert!
I hoped mom would acknowledge my situation even if it meant I had to take the blame for what had happened. But mom’s outright denial of my plight had only made things worse.
All of it had left me insensate and feeling guilty. In the subsequent days, I rigorously scrubbed my Eric-handled thigh with a soapy loofah until my skin was sore and red. Still, no matter how hard I scrubbed, or how much soap I used, my leg never felt clean.
I became so madly insecure of my Dirty Thigh that I began imagining my classmates were about to make fun of my unfortunate thigh every time one of them opened their mouths to speak. So I walled off everyone and built a fortress around myself.
But it didn’t end there. I developed all kinds of fears that I had never experienced before. Would my classmates treat me differently if I told them? Would they stop talking to me?
Fear became my middle name. If Pennywise from It came to me, I’d see him in the form of Mr Eric. Worm-like thin moustache, oily hair in sickening curls, tight trousers.
My near-perfect boarding school life took a monstrous turn and I curled up in bed during the evenings after class, mulling over how to undo the damage I had suffered. I could no longer concentrate on studies. Soon, I began feeling totally worthless. I wished life was like a choose-your-own-adventure book in which, even after you’ve made a bad choice and got hounded and sliced by zombies or ended up with a spear through your brain, you could still go back to the beginning and make a different choice, hopefully getting a better outcome. You might end up in a cave full of vampire bats, but you always had the choice of going back and changing your destiny. Sadly, real-life doesn’t come with a handy ‘delete’ button.
To make matters worse, I had no support system. My roommate Lisa happened to be a princess stuck in her own fabulous world and there was no room for Dirty Thigh discussions in LisaLand. Lisa would rattle on about marks or boys or looks – she might as well have been reading out a dictionary in a foreign language. But, as I said, at least it meant I didn’t have to talk about myself – and it seemed to keep her happy.
I had considered opening up to the school counselor, but every time I walked up to her office, my toes curled in anxiety and I ran back to my dorm breathless. It killed me to watch Eric walk around as if nothing had happened.
Sometimes I wished he would recognise me from the crowd and try to have another go at me. I had created elaborate plans on how to assault him, but I just couldn’t muster the guts to gouge out his eyeballs without provocation. It got so unbearable that I lost my appetite and weight in no time. My modified diet included copious amounts of self-hatred and shame. The black half-moons under my eyes only grew darker with days of insomnia and I went bonkers, planning revenge and knowing I was powerless to execute it.
I went into a tailspin and when you plunge into a dark place unexpectedly like that, you feel a big void. A nothing-bag within a world of nothingness. I didn’t recall when the numbness began. It came silently, crawling haphazardly along with my calves, settling on my knees to look around, then up to my thighs. It came to my heart, stopped to take a breath, curled up comfortably, and went to sleep. This sort of numbness couldn’t be woken up from. When it settles down it settles down for good.
I did not wail. I was a piano pushed over the staircase that landed upside down with the keys all scattered and then replaced in the wrong spaces. White in place of black and black in place of white. I felt if I expressed myself, the words left from my lips wouldn’t sound right.
I wondered if any other girls had similar dirty-thigh experiences, but I was too scared and shy to ask around. Maybe everybody knew but never told others, like in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. Everyone saw what they saw, but didn’t want others to know they couldn’t see the clothes. I wanted to be the one to point out the emperor’s nakedness, but I was just too scared.
I counted my banes. One: an abusive teacher who successfully ignored me after his first assault, which made me think I’d just fallen into an alternate universe and it had never happened or maybe I was, in fact, completely mad; so I kept waiting for a chance to manhandle him, a chance that never came. Two: my mother, who thought her only daughter was making up nasty stories to drop out of school. Three: the counselor’s office at the end of the corridor past the library – a mysterious place I was utterly scared to go to by myself, let alone confide in the freak that lurked within.
I found that the only right thing to do was to condemn my thighs for being big and squeeze-friendly. After all, that was what Eric had said when he pressed them. So, I decided to punish my problematic thigh.
The soaps weren’t working. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I still felt filthy.
Then came along the razor blade that helped me make it through the battle, one scar at a time. I decided to scrape my thigh with Lisa’s razor blade. Since Lisa’s local guardian wouldn’t buy her hot wax in Class 5, she had stolen a pack of razor blades from home.
That first time, as I placed the metal edge on my thigh and watched the thin trickle of blood make its way down my leg and drip on the toilet floor, I wished mom would see me do this to myself so she would believe me. I even tried justifying her actions, but the more I thought about it, the more I resented her. The razor did it for me. It hushed the demonic shrieks inside my head, numbing me.
My thigh was brand new, burning with pain, and thankfully no longer dirty. I would have to wear a long skirt the next day. With assistance from the razor blade, I had perfected selective-forgetfulness to something of fine art and that was how I dealt with my dirty-thigh-days.
The feeling-dirty stage passed, but it was only the beginning of cuts and scars I would make in the years to come – some to fill my emptiness with pain, others for a high when we ran out of beer and cigarettes; a few for when I went bananas with boredom and needed to see something red and dripping to know I was still alive.
Watching the dripping red blood whetted my appetite and raised my threshold for pain considerably. From then on the slits and their scars swapped places with tears. On average, I must’ve made 2.5 cuts a month, if my Math is good enough, or 3, to round off the decimal. I was careful to never let the blade cross my knee, beyond the length of my outfits.
Not even Lisa knew what anxiety disorder, depression and boredom were doing to my upper legs. When she never questioned my silence, it went well with my walled-up life of remorse and shame, alternating with pain that soon followed.
My secret ritual remained a guilty secret. My frumpy, body-concealing clothes suited my cutting rituals just fine. Slowly, red became my signature colour, and I quit studying Social Studies for good.
And, eventually, studies.
I wasn’t the brightest student, but I was probably the first to learn the meaning of ‘paedophile’ – firsthand.
Three years after the incident, when Eric left our school, I thought I would finally find some peace but the numbness remained. I had been constantly looking over my shoulder, suffocating in silence for far too long to know how to go back to my old cheerful self. I was left with a huge bag of unresolved issues and desperately needed closure. I didn’t know how to get it, so I buried the can of worms within myself where they squirmed, wiggled and ate me from within.
The last straw hit me when my parents announced a few days ago over the phone that I would have to continue my studies staying with them, rather than in the boarding school.
Most certainly, some very nasty stories of my insubordination had travelled from my school authorities to my parents. They thought I was a magnet for trouble.
But this time I was in big trouble and it must’ve been the Rome thing. It wasn’t anything serious, our computer teacher demanded to know why my assignment wasn’t complete when everyone else was, and I just said, ‘Sir, Rome was not built in a day, no?’
All I had done was repeat a proverb and suddenly I was in big trouble!
He didn’t have to make such a big deal out of it, but he informed the Principal who promptly called up my parents and demanded to know who had been teaching me rude proverbs. She also supposedly told them to enroll me in a school where I could take up Sarcasm as my main subject because she thought I had an “inborn talent” for it. I was glad she didn’t ask them to enroll me in some table-scrubbing-food-serving course to help me with my likely career as a waitress in the near future. As for my parents who are bent on making a computer whiz out of me, this must have been devastating news. I didn’t understand this – shouldn’t they be glad I had an inborn talent for something?
The grilling session at the Principal’s office was a godsend; it helped me miss chemistry practical class that day. But that wasn’t all that was coming my way. I had assumed I would be in for another telephonic therapy session with mom, but this time they decided I needed this cultural-ethical retraining instead, and that could happen only under their noses.
It wasn’t like I was so fond of my boarding school that I would end my life if I had to leave the place. It’s just that my parents happen to be insensitive bigots, and if I lived with them they would spill right into my life. With everything going on, living under their noses, pretending to be a regular high-school girl with regular problems was simply too much. It would’ve been different if mom acknowledged my situation and helped me when I needed her the most. I guess it was too much for her to handle, so she shoved it under the carpet, expecting the problem to go away. As if I was lying about the whole Eric thing, as if a fifth-grader could possibly come up with something so terrible, even with the wildest imagination.
Living at home was like living under a microscope. When my parents ran out of things to argue about, I would become the topic. My poor marks are not being newsworthy anymore, they would turn their attention to my behavioural issues. My raising, my attitude, my manners, all added intangible yet powerful depth to my low grades, according to whoever was passing the buck. We were the definition of an ideal dysfunctional family.
No doubt, my parents also had certain good qualities. If there was anything I knew about my parents, it was that they had the doggedness to finish their work projects on time, no matter what. The bad thing was they also had the doggedness to extend a spat just to have the last word and that’s how I became a background entity in their lives.
Why else am I living away from my parents? According to them, it’s because they wanted to send me to the finest school in Chennai. More like the fanciest. There are only two reasons you get packed off to a boarding school: one, your parents are filthy rich and want to blow their own trumpet about how many lakhs they spend on their kids’ schooling each year; two, they want to have nothing to do with the kids – end of the story. I think I fall in the second category, although mom’s never been far behind in showing off.
Even with its share of pain and pressure – academic and otherwise – the dorm has been my sanctuary since I was young. I could at least stare at the glow-in-the-dark stickers I had stuck a long while back, under the upper portion of the bunker where Lisa slept, and dream blissfully under the illusion of a starry night sky. A peaceful starry night sky, no less. Although our dorms were like honeycomb cells, the school building was airier and boasted of a huge courtyard which was later converted into a garden with a lovely purple lotus pond in the middle. A group of buildings, all painted bright yellow and orange, surrounded by lawn and lush trees with concrete pathways, made up the walled campus. Located at Mylapore, the cultural hub of South Chennai, it was tucked conveniently away from Mahabalipuram where my parents lived.
Would I trade my cramped, hole-in-the-wall bunker for a room in our ECR home from where the glorious beach was within walking distance? Not in a million years. If I did, I was pretty sure my parents would happily encode my life into another one of those boring programs that they coded into stupid computers day after day at their workplaces as software engineers! And then, all I would have to do was sit and watch my own life pass me by. No, I was not letting that happen. Naturally, it didn’t take me much time to prepare myself to commit suicide.
If you think that’s still not a good enough reason to go meet your maker, then you are welcome to take my place, and I’ll gladly take yours – even if you tell me that your sister who shares your room has head lice. I’m serious, try me.
I put back my old journal inside the table drawer and tried to shake off the remnants of the Class 5 episode from my head.
Double-checking that Lisa was still busy combing her hair as they did in shampoo commercials in front of the mirror, I unearthed my big brown doodle book hidden under the spread of a yellowing newspaper sheet carrying outdated news in the drawer. I had to be extremely secretive about my plan. If I let Lisa in on it, I might as well announce it over the school intercom. She was the rumour virus of the school, the last person on earth you could trust with highly sensitive information. We’ve been bunkmates since she joined Victory Residential School in Class 5, mopey and homesick but we became BFFs after her quick reflexes once saved me from a disgraceful death from drowning in the school swimming pool with water barely up to my knees, total klutz that I was. I took her under my wing and she went on to become the busybody of our class in no time.
I pushed the drawer back in and sighed. I had it all planned. The doodle book would very soon find its place on top of the table for the police to find.
Carefully, I opened the book and thumbed through its pages. Somewhere roughly in the middle, pushed far towards the spine of the book, was a piece of paper folded twice. Lying on my back, holding the paper to face the window behind my bunk bed, I reread my suicide letter for the millionth time:
To my dear parents, To my parents,
To whomsoever it may concern,
I’m not sniffing or blowing my nose as I write this, so I expect people who come across this suicide note to unders^tand that I didn’t end my life because I was too wimpy to face it. And don’t you dare call me a loser, because if you do, I’ll haunt you for the rest of your earthly life. However, you may call me an escapist with^mypermission.
When this note is ready to reach another hand, I would have escaped from my horrible predicament. Honestly, mom and dad, what else did you think I would do? Live in that hell with you both never acknowledging my problems? Do you even know the person that is your daughter? You chose to disbelieve me when I told you I was molested in class 5. You thought I was “making up stories”. Stories! Which fifth-grader has the kind of morbid imagination to make up something like that? Did you even consider the possibility that I was maybe telling the truth and needed help? Of course, you didn’t.
Now, look at what you’ve made out of your daughter. I’m a cutter because of you. I am an empty shell of a girl because of you. My insides have been rotting from years of suppressed anxiety and self-loathing and you want me to pretend to go about my life like a regular girl? I am done pretending. I don’t have it in me to carry the baggage I have and smile at the same time.
There are a few things I would like you to do after I’m gone: give away all my clothes to the maid’s daughter (I remember how longingly she used to look at my laundry), my stuffed toys to Puku, and my college fund to some orphanage.
Nikki, tell Subha aunty that I will miss eating her rasgullas. Mom and dad, thanks for making my life miserable when you had the power to turn things around. Thanks for never trusting me and not being there for me when I needed someone the most. Thanks for that bit. No, that was a Megabit, so, MegaThanks! As a token of gratitude, I leave you the legacy of my phone’s Virtual Diary (the password is ‘bloody’). The heartbreaks, the outbursts, the bloody ritual accounts – take them all.
I stopped reading at this point. A sudden well of tears blocked my vision. The letter, though small, had been written in parts at various times, and each person I mentioned in it brought back a flood of memories. I always carried a ‘rebel-without-a-cause’ tag that I found easier to maintain than the mopey, depressed girl I sometimes became. Since the details were hideous, I wisely chose not to provide a reason for my rebelliousness.
You wouldn’t tell if you came from a dysfunctional family, would you? Quickly wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, I read the rest:
Lisa, you’ll always be my BFF. Remember how you saved me from drowning during the swimming lessons? Sorry that this is all I could make out of your act of heroism. I’ve tried but this is how far I can go. Thanks, though. I hope you hook some Liam Payne look alike. Good luck, girl ☺
Rhea darling, if there’s someone I truly admire, it’s you. Don’t ever change, sweetie. I wish we could’ve spent some more time together, but I guess this is all there is. Will miss you and your practical jokes tons, darling. Thaenmozhi-amma, if I ever get another chance, I’ll see if I can manage to be reincarnated as your daughter.
And, all those who have wronged me, go rot in hell!
I heaved a deep breath.
‘Sounds pretty much okay,’ I told the glowing sticker of a shooting star stuck above my head under Lisa’s bunker. It appeared translucent like an onion peel, pale and lackluster in the sunlight, not unlike my anomalous life. ‘Hope I didn’t forget anyone.’
You can buy a copy of The Suicide Pact here.
Mydhili R Verma
Mydhili has co-written anthologies titled Urban Shots: Bright Lights, Fox Hollow Stories, Otherwise Engaged Journal (Vol 5), Word Doodle Lit Mag, Flora Fiction, The Elixir Magazine and Disquiet Arts. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted in the Stubborn Writers contest. She won the Ceiling 200 Flash Fiction Contest by Coastal Shelf magazine. She was one of the 50 finalists in the International Short Tales Contest organised by César Egido Serrano Foundation in Spain. She is currently working on her children’s novel. The Suicide Pact is her first novel.