The After

Graphic Olivia Shan

Content warning: This article contains themes of suicide. 
September 20, 2023

How do you celebrate a fucked-up anniversary?

The pit is sweaty and loud and I would not want to be anywhere else. Up on stage, Hozier sings “if someone asked me at the end…” Through the sea of people, my friend finds my hand and squeezes it.


September 20, 2017

The worst part of it is the aftermath.

When I was 16, I decided that was the last age I would ever be. None of it is very original. The existential angst of an artsy teenager. A first heartbreak. A self-hatred I didn’t even know was there. All I’d known was high school and I figured life would not get much broader than that. It felt very poignant. I figured I’d have one last shower and call it a life.

Of the night itself, I do not remember much. A fleeting peace as I made a decision. My mom, who probably should not have been driving. The nurse asking awfully personal questions with a blank stare. My overwhelm so great it felt like physical pain on my skin.

The worst was the week after. That week, I will keep with me forever.

The thing about failing at killing yourself, is that you quickly realize how messy real life is. How even the grandest of gestures is not that fucking grand. In me was still that great emptiness. I did not wake up relieved to be alive. I woke up pissed and desperate to try again, and to succeed this time. But I also woke up to my parents angry, my teachers worried. To shame, and my life thrown upside down. For a while, it all got so much worse.

Feeling better snuck up on me. That first weekend, my dad drove me up to our cottage in the Laurentians and taught me how to axe down logs of wood to get ready for winter. At school, I wore long sleeves through the warm beginning of October. I did not find the words to tell my friends what happened, but they brought me chocolate all the same. Breakfast became my favorite meal of the day.

For months, everything felt unsteady. I wished so badly I could reverse time and get my old life back, before I called attention to myself. At the same time, I wished terribly I could go back and get it right, this time. Concerned, the girl who’d broken my heart reached out and said “there’s no hurt in waiting it out five minutes at a time.” And so I did. And so, five minutes by five minutes, feeling better snuck up on me.


September 20, 2023

I’ve listened to Hozier since before I was sixteen – before the proverbial fall. In the pit it is warm, almost suffocating, and when the guitar trails off I can hear the whole crowd singing.

…I’d tell them put me back in it/Darling I would do it again

And the drums rage on and I am crying and my friend sees me and smiles, their cheeks stained too. The hurt is still there. Listening to those songs I’ve known forever, I remember too well how it used to feel. But right next to it now, there is also a crushing happiness. A terrible joy in being alive. When I think about dying now, it is hoping that my five minutes do not run out too soon.

So how do you celebrate a fucked-up anniversary? Every September, I feel the ghost of that awful aftermath looming as the date gets closer. As if my body remembered.

On stage, Hozier sings about rising from the grave and coming full circle. I stand exhausted, yelling amen with a whole crowd of friends. Celebrating. For one song – five minutes – feeling so alive.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 5, published October 31, 2023.