Remembering the Storm
And Putting the Box Cutter Down
By Jennifer Angelina Petro
Two years ago today, I stood at the threshold of the doorway to my basement apartment with a box cutter held to my wrist. I paced. I shook. I wept. I was filled with fear. It was cold. A light snow was falling. I felt utterly alone. It was the first fall I wasn’t teaching after twenty years. Other loses as a result of coming out as trans weighed heavily on my chest. The last school year I taught was devastating—aside from the most amazing and accepting students ever. The rest of it was traumatic. Now, I couldn’t find a job, and I missed teaching with all my heart and knew I would likely never teach elementary school again.
I stepped out into the snow. It drifted down gently on my shoulders. I was in my pajamas. No coat. No shoes. My socks were wet. My feet freezing. I pressed the blade against my wrist daring myself to end my life. Visions of collapsing right there in front of my door seeped into my mind—a mind broken—cracked—frantic. I stood there wondering who would find me. I feared for their hearts. I hoped the Divine would have mercy on my soul. Ending my life wasn’t a conscious choice. I was compelled by searing pain, depression, and the terror of a dark, uncertain future.
And then it happened. I closed the blade back into the box cutter. I went in and got my keys. I was drenched with snow, shivering. I put the box cutter down on my unmade bed. I looked around at the piles of dishes in the sink, the clothes strewn upon the floor, the plants unwatered, and, weeping even harder, reaching down for the box cutter again, only to drop it back on the bed. I forced my wet feet into my slippers, and went back outside.
The wind was wishing me onward. The snow slanting at an angle gesturing to my car. And I followed. Angry and frightened, disappointed in myself for ruining my life, for allowing myself to get this sick, wiping the snow from the windshield with my bare hands, unable to see what a courageous step I was taking. Unable to see the unseen forces of strength that were being obeyed by some part of my spirit that wasn’t sick—that deeply wanted to live—caught in a blizzard of mental illness. And I drove myself to the hospital.
When I got there, I gave my keys to a valet parking attendant—they stared at me. I must have looked wild—a scared animal—unshaven, sopping wet, snow-soaked. I walked into the emergency room and up to the counter.
“How can I help you Hun?” the nurse asked.
And I found myself, still weeping, snot falling, saying: “I’m going to kill myself.”
“Step around here,” she said, and they immediately brought me into a private room. Nurses gathered around me. They called a doctor. They gave me a gown and a warm blanket. They stationed someone outside my room to watch over me. The nurses were like angels—quiet, soothing, present, efficient.
I would spend the next ten days in the psych ward, missing Thanksgiving with my family. But I was alive. Somehow, I had survived a wave of mental illness.
The storm wouldn’t end there. I had more hospital stays and worse bouts of suicidality a month after leaving. For that moment though, I was safe from the sickness. I was surrounded by care.
The last thing I remember thinking as they injected tranquilizers into my IV, was: “Help me.”
Today, two years later—much more stable, and yet still struggling daily with passive suicidal thoughts and other forms of mental illness, those memories are falling like the snow, blanketing my heart. I watch the snow covering the trees with meticulous attention. I remember standing out in the snow holding the box cutter. I remember the depth of pain, fear, and depression—the echoing hopelessness. I remember feeling completely alone. I remember turning back, putting the box cutter down, picking up my keys, and walking, unsure, terrified at how sick I had become, out to my car.
All donations from this post go to Trans Lifeline.