IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Survived Witnessing My Partner’s Suicide
Julian told me from the get-go that he was a mess. But he sure seemed like a lovable one.
Androgynously handsome, smart, committed to animal rights, and as interested in goth music and culture as I was at the time, Julian was intriguing and utterly crush-worthy. I threw myself headfirst into a relationship with him.
He had a history of dramatic entanglements with women who treated him poorly, and he told me that in me, he had finally found a mermaid among all the boots he’d kept catching. We both loved the metaphor, and celebrated Halloween together that first year in a couples costume -- mermaid and fisherman.
But things went downhill rapidly. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a couple of years prior, Julian had to start collecting permanent disability payments. Because his disease was degenerative and the symptoms were already beginning to impact his mobility, he would never be able to work again. He was also facing eviction because his fixed income made his high rent unfeasible.
Soon he told me that he would have to declare bankruptcy; he had maxed out his credit cards to make ends meet, and had no way to pay them off. And he was drinking every single day. When I expressed concern, he denied his alcoholism. He refused help -- no meetings, no therapy, no support groups for any of the issues he was facing. I reached out to his few friends, but he was not receptive to their suggestions or interventions either.
I began to worry. In the first month of our dating situation, Julian mentioned experiencing suicidal ideation in previous years, but had assured me that this was a thing of the past. Now that he could not stay in his home, he began to feel more and more hopeless, and one night he told me, stone-faced, that he thought he was going to kill himself. I cried with him and begged him not to. I told him we would figure something out.
And so, with few other housing options, Julian came to stay with me in my small apartment with the understanding that it was a temporary arrangement. But things continued to sour.
He expressed resentment of my good health, my having acquired an affordable housing unit in increasingly expensive Brooklyn, my prospects for a career. He applied for housing in the same building in which I lived, but was denied, and his resentment grew even further.
At times he refused to leave the couch or to speak to me. As a social worker in NYC, I was aware of some resources available to Julian, but he would not take advantage of any referrals or services. His family lived on the West Coast and, due in part to agonizing over disclosing his transgender identity to them, Julian rebuffed their attempts to visit, keeping correspondence with them to a minimum.
I was nearing desperation -- and rightly so.
In October 2010, just a couple days after we had celebrated my 35th birthday, I was awakened late one night by hearing Julian call my name from the fire escape outside of my living room window. He stood near the rail and asked, “Would you hate me if I jumped?”
I tried to talk him down, but it didn't work -- he scurried up another flight of steps. My heart pounding and voice shaking, I begged him to come down and told him I loved him.
He looked at me with tears in his eyes and whispered, “You don’t understand. I have nothing.”
And he jumped. I saw him fall onto the pavement in my courtyard; there was nothing I could do to catch him. The rest was a blur -- the arrival of a shrieking ambulance after a neighbor called 911 upon hearing my screams; my being led, shaking and shivering, away from Julian’s body after I had kissed his lips one last time; the NYPD taking their report; my begging to be told whether he would survive.
I knew, even before the detective told me in my own kitchen, that he would not. He was declared DOA at the nearest hospital.
Friends came to my rescue. They went to the coroner’s office to identify Julian’s body, fighting tooth and nail to make sure that his gender was listed as male on his death certificate. They let me stay with them for days on end, or came to sleep in my apartment with me until I could bear to be in my bed alone once again.
They brought casseroles, offered cat-sitting so I could flee the city for a while to stay with my family, took me out, let me cry. Dozens of them showed up on the chilly pier at Coney Island weeks later. They joined Julian’s mother, sister, and aunt, who had flown in from California, to say their final goodbyes before we scattered Julian’s ashes into the ocean.
Over the next few years, I struggled with alternating waves of grief, shock, anger, and sadness. The unthinkable had happened, and I knew that moving forward, life would be forever divided into Before and After. Julian’s death, the manner in which it took place, the fact that I witnessed it -- all of these combined to crack my world wide open. I had to go on short-term disability for symptoms of acute trauma, and then ended up leaving my high-stress job altogether.
I felt tremendously sad for Julian -- and, truth be told, for myself. I still do. But I knew I had done the best I could for him, and I take solace in remembering that the last words he heard came from me; they were “I love you.”
I worked through the guilt of this having happened on my watch. With time and extensive support from my wonderful family, my tight-knit queer community in Brooklyn, my therapist, and organizations like the Samaritans that serve survivors of loved ones' suicides, I slowly rebuilt my life.
I went on to begin doing outreach to other survivors in the LGBT community (trans folks in particular are at a ridiculously high risk for suicide, as evidenced by this recent report). I took the best and most rewarding job of my life so far as a social worker with older LGBT adults. I formed a happy, healthy relationship with an amazing person who loves all of me, even the hurt parts.
I try to let members of my community who are in a place of struggle know that they are not alone. I honor Julian's memory, I provide a loving home to and dote upon the disabled cat he left behind, I nurture an ongoing friendship with his sister and visit the nieces he never met. Every anniversary of the loss is difficult, but I am not stuck in the past. I keep on healing.
Please reach out to either of these 24/7 crisis hotlines if you feel that you want to end your life:
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Samaritans hotline (for anyone who is suicidal and/or a survivor of a loved one’s suicide): (212) 673-3000
If you are a survivor of a loved one’s suicide, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website is a wonderful place to begin finding support and resources.