The blood was like Jell-O. That is what blood gets like, after you die, before they tidy up.
Somehow, I had expected it would be gone. The police and coroner spent more than an hour behind the closed door; surely it was someone's job to clean it up. But when they left, it still covered the kitchen floor like the glazing on a candy apple.
You couldn't mop it. You needed a dustpan and a bucket.
I got on my knees, slid the pan against the linoleum and lifted chunks to the bucket. It took hours to clean it all up.
It wasn't until I finally stood up that I noticed the pictures from his wallet. The wooden breadboard had been pulled out slightly, and four photographs were spilled across it. "Now what?" I thought with annoyance. "What were the police looking for?"
But then it hit me. The police hadn't done it. These snapshots--one of my mother, one of our dog and two of my brother and me--had been carefully set out in a row by my father.
It was his penultimate act, just before he knelt on the floor, put the barrel of a .22 rifle in his mouth, and squeezed the trigger.
He was 46 years old. I was 21. It has been 20 years since his death and I am still cleaning up.
By the time you finish this article, another person in the United States will have killed himself. More than 30,000 people do it every year, one every 15 minutes. My father's was a textbook case: Depressed white male with gun offs himself in May. December may be the loneliest month, April the cruelest, but May is the peak time for suicide. No one knows why, but I can guess: You've made it through another winter, but your world is no warmer.
This year, thousands of families will begin the process that ours began that night 20 years ago. Studies show that their grief will be more complicated, more intense and longer lasting than for any other form of death in the family. They will receive less support and more blame from others. Some will never really get over it: Children of suicides become a higher risk for suicide themselves.
These are the legacies of suicide: guilt, anger, doubt, blame, fear, rejection, abandonment and profound grieving.
Shortly after he died, I remember thinking, "I wonder how I'll feel about this in 20 years?"
Twenty years later, my father's suicide is, simply, a part of me. Think of your life as a can of white paint. Each significant experience adds a tiny drop of color: pink for a birthday, yellow for a good report card. Worries are brown; setbacks, gray. Lavender--my favorite color when I was a little girl--is for a pretty new dress. Over time, a color begins to emerge. Your personality.
When a suicide happens, someone hurls in a huge glob of red. You can't get it out. You can't start over. The red will always be there, no matter how many drops of yellow you add.
The call came about 9 p.m. It was a Friday night in suburban Minneapolis; the restaurant was packed. I was racing from the bar with a tray of drinks for my customers when the manager gestured me to the phone. It's your mother, she said.
"Roxanne, he's got a gun. He's in the garage with a gun. You have to come."
There had been many, many threats. This was different. There had never been a weapon before.
I made many choices that night; some were smart, some stupid, some crazy. I believed my father would indeed kill himself, sooner or later. Looking back, I feel lucky to have survived the night.
I drove past the house. He was standing in the shadows of the frontyard; I couldn't see if he had the gun. I sped to a phone booth two blocks away and dialed.
She answered. "He's in the front yard," I said. "Can you get out?"
Five minutes later, she walked up to the car. He was quiet now, she said. She told him she was going to talk to me but would be back. Then she dropped the bombshell: He had held her at gunpoint for two hours before she called me.
We attempted rational conversation. We came to what seemed, at the time, a rational decision. We pulled up to the house, and my father came out the front door without the gun. He wanted to talk.
Give me the gun, I said. He refused. We can't talk until the gun is gone, we said. He shook his head. Come inside, he asked my mother. She shook her head.
He went back in, we drove to a coffee shop nearby. Frantic, we debated what to do next. To this day, I am still astonished that it never occurred to us to get help.
It was almost midnight; exhausted, my mother wanted to go home. She would stay the night if he let me take the gun away.
The house was silent; the door to the kitchen was shut. Ominous. My mother reached it first. Opened it.
"He did it," she whispered and slumped against the wall.
There was a time when suicide was considered a noble act of noble men. There was a time when corpses of suicides were dragged through the streets, refused Christian burial, and all the family's worldly goods were seized by the state. There was a time when romantics embraced suicide as a sign of their sensitivity.