At about 8:30 p.m. on February 2, 2009, I made the decision to die.

I was recovering from back surgery that December when I tore my right glute. So began a steady diet of Fentanyl patches, hydrocodone, cop shows, and, still, much pain. And if that weren’t enough to push me into the garage—because that’s how I’d do it: in the garage, with the car and motorcycle on, listening to Mazzy Star, sucking carbon monoxide as my last breaths—this night found me planning, down to date and time.

I hadn’t been eating much; depression from a year of debilitating pain and pain pills will do that. So I was parked in my electric recliner in front of the TV in the living room, trying to eat a handful of dry cereal to quell the gnawing in my stomach, when I broke my tooth.

I cried and cussed and scared my dogs with my madness. It was about 8:30 p.m., and no one was home. My husband and daughter were at her guitar lesson, so I was helpless. I raised my medical recliner to the standing position, cussing more. I stopped momentarily to call my sister, who, as luck would have it, is a dental hygienist; her best friend, my dentist. While they put on their capes to come rescue me, I put on my coat and resumed the cussing and fist shaking from a seat at the kitchen table.

I planned to off myself on the Monday morning after Valentine’s Day weekend, when my ten-year-old daughter would play guitar in her first School of Rock concert. I couldn’t miss that. The medical community would say that my “suicidal ideation” had reached the “detailed planning” stage.

While I waited, I wailed, literally howling like a wounded animal. “Why me?” I demanded of the ceiling fan. Why had I been punished with pain and disability and hell and, now, a broken tooth? I ranted for twenty-five minutes while my dogs cowered in the doorway until my sister arrived to save us all.

In a moment of clarity the next morning, my tooth fixed, my pain dulled from a long sleep, I told a friend of my brief brush-with-death thoughts. The friend made me promise to call my retired therapist, who was vacationing in Spain. The therapist insisted on a Skype call with my husband, to be sure he was aware of my urgent need for mood recovery. And we made an appointment with a doctor, who prescribed pills that would have a more immediate effect than most SSRIs.

But it wasn’t those happy pills, which I took for just a few days, that thwarted my plan. It was the reminder that I was the mother of a ten-year-old girl.

And if the little girl in the headband and fringe vest hadn’t somehow been enough, there were these nine powerful notes. My girl Serena, performing in the School of Rock’s British Invasion tribute, played, solo, the first notes of the entire night: the opening guitar riff on The Stones’ “Satisfaction.”

Those notes are my mantra. They bring me light whenever the world seems too heavy—when I’m driving in my car, when I’m watching my TV, when I’m riding around the world.


LESLIE F. MILLER likes to break things and put them back together in a random, yet tasteful, order. She is the author of the nonfiction book Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt (Simon & Schuster, 2009) and the poetry collection BOYGIRLBOYGIRL (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Though her poetry, essays, and stories have appeared everywhere, she is still satisfaction-less in Baltimore.

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