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She throws off my attempt at a warm embrace, gets up from the bed and goes into my kitchen, where — for perhaps the fifth or sixth time this weekend — she retrieves the sharpest knife.
I’ve seen this before, once, a long time ago. I know that it’s one part plea for attention, one part cry for help, one part attempting to manipulate me, and still one more part the expression of a real desire to die.
Naked, she pulls the knife from the drawer once again. This time, unlike before, she’s closing the drawer, and as she was walking from the bed to the kitchen I could hear her saying, “Mike will survive; Mike will be all right.”
So this go around it’s time to leave the bed. I start getting up and call her name, but she doesn’t respond, closing the drawer. I approach her swiftly, from behind, infer from her posture which hand holds the knife. I wrap my arms around her shoulders and seize the hand with the knife, a bit too slowly, as she brings the other hand up to clasp the blade before I can catch her wrist and hold it.
Now I’m in a rather odd spot. There’s someone suicidal in my kitchen. Not only would I prefer she live, not only do I believe in her and care for her, but I’d also not like to face the calling of the authorities to remove my dead friend’s body. I’d not like to face cleaning up liters of blood. I would not like to see her die. I would not like her to die.
At the same time… what am I doing? She’s a couple inches shorter than me, not an athlete but not out of shape. I probably have more physical strength than she does, but it would take only an instant’s slip, a brief failure of attention or a poor judgment of her intent or capability for this momentary standoff to escalate into something more — a seriously cut hand for her, a high-pressure test of my rusty Boy Scouts of America and American Red Cross first aid knowledge, a massive injury to myself or her, a successful suicide… even my own death at her hand.
She has few choices, and it seems I have fewer. She could surrender, release her grip. But my repeated pleas for her to let go of the knife are met with refusal. She could struggle and try to wrest control from me, but she doesn’t. Perhaps she doesn’t really want to die or cause injury to anyone, perhaps she thinks she can’t win such a contest. She could try to cut herself, as she is already clutching the bare blade of the knife in her left hand, and able to apply force along several different vectors to the goal of self-injury here if she decides to. But she doesn’t do that, either.
Minutes pass. Repeated requests to release the knife, delivered by me in tones ranging from pleading to command to beseechment to threat. Finally, her blank resistance melts a bit, and she asks me, “why?”
“Because it’s mine,” is the only thing I can think of to say.
“No it isn’t,” she retorts, turning her body such that I’m now between her and the counter with the drawer where she got the knife. I follow as gracefully as I can, maintaining my grip on her hand and her wrist as she maintains her grips on the knife’s handle and blade.
“Yes, it is. It’s my knife, and I don’t authorize this,” I tell her.
Now she is pressing backwards into me, her legs bending slightly. I struggle a bit to maintain my balance against the sudden shift and to keep my hold steady. She’s not fighting, though, she’s falling, down to the floor in a sitting position. Her hold on the knife relaxes, she drops her left hand off the blade, and I take it from her.
I gather up the other stabby and pointy things, wrap them all in a towel and stash them in the best place I can think of as she sits naked on the kitchen floor, head in hands, silent. After two hours of intermittent vomiting — and a substantial getting-my-shit-back-together period for me — she sleeps, now, more or less peacefully.
I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep again.