Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Princess, a Villain, and the Story a Suicide Stopped Too Soon

by Beth Saadati

“Every story has a villain because yours does. You were born into a world at war.”
–John Eldredge, Waking the Dead

Once again I googled Jenna’s name.

Stop torturing yourself, I thought. She’s been gone for a few years. You’ll never find anything new.

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

In wonder I stared at the screen then clicked on the link.

There it was. Brightshadow. An early forty-page version of Jenna’s book I hadn’t realized she’d published online. The precursor to the unfinished 58,000-word sci-fi/fantasy tale my fourteen-year-old girl would download from her laptop to mine the day before she died


Without hesitation or concern about cost, I grabbed my credit card and ordered printed copies my remaining family could keep. Then, sight fixed on the manuscript before my eyes, I skimmed pages to read the words Jenna had written in my real-life once upon a time.

                On any other day, Morgan would have fought back for all she was worth—but on this day she didn’t have any weapons besides her fists, and she wasn’t stupid enough to think she could overpower Keathan by sheer strength. Screaming for help was definitely an option, but something kept her silent. Unlike some people’s perception, Morgan wasn’t all sharp corners and harsh justice.
            “Go ahead,” she replied, her now-gentle eyes piercing through every layer of Keathan’s heart. “But if you really want to find true courage—and I believe you do—then I can swear to you on my life that hitting me until I’m half-dead isn’t it.” As she pulled herself to her feet, the last rays of sunlight glinted off her hair and face. Standing in front of her, Keathan halted his fist in midair. Light flickered over her slender form, and he wondered why he hadn’t seen just how beautiful she was before.

More than 2,000 viewers had met Keathan, Jenna's composite character of the boys who’d bullied at school. And the protagonist, Morgan, who was . . . her.

                “I bet you know how it feels when you want to cry yourself to sleep but you don’t because you think you have to be strong,” she replied. Keathan turned towards Morgan. “I’ll bet you know how it feels when you have so much pain that it settles down into a knot in the bottom of your gut and stays there for weeks at a time. I bet you know what it’s like when everything hurts so bad that you try to cry but you can’t.
            You know. The heart knows its own sorrow. And I’m sorry for calling you a coward that one time. You do have courage and you do have honor, but you don’t let anyone see it. It’s like you have a wall around your heart.”
            Morgan spoke quickly, for she feared her time to talk was short. “Something happened that hurt you, so you built a force-field around yourself so nothing could touch you anymore. But that’s not going to help in the long run. Because if you don’t take the risk of letting things hurt you, you’ll never be able to let anyone in to help.”

Thursday, June 2, 2016

It Shouldn't Have Ended This Way: The Epilogue to My Daughter's Suicide Note

by Beth Saadati
Told through Jenna’s eyes. Literary license was taken with the point of view.
The details about her graduation day, however, are all true.

I peek through heaven’s portal. Though a lifetime separates me from family and friends, the veil between heaven and earth is thinner than I’d thought.

Classmates and their families enter the arena downtown. It’s where, in kindergarten, I sat in the upper deck beside Mom and laughed, amazed, as we watched the circus perform. 
This morning that same arena hosts a ceremony I should be at.

Today I graduate from high school—three and a half years after I took my last breath.

The band I was once part of plays “Don’t Stop Believin’,” while Southside High’s principal leads my grandpa, parents, sister and brother to front-row seats. A moment later Mr. Brooks introduces Mom and Dad to their ROTC escort—an ESCORT—named Brandon. I’ll bet they hadn't expected that.

I love seeing them shown honor. The reason for it is what I hate.

Mom fixes her sight on my empty chair marked by a white bow and the cap and gown I’ll never wear. Then “Pomp and Circumstance” commences, and my classmates file by. I look twice. They’ve changed from 14-year-old teens into young women and men.

As Delia, one of my favorite school friends, walks past, she notices Mom, smiles big, and waves. Thankful, I want to hug her for doing what I no longer can.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Suicide's 7 Lies: The Letter My Daughter Left Behind

by Beth Saadati
“Given the opportunity, Jenna wouldn’t make the same choice again. But she also wouldn’t want her death to be in vain. She would want us to learn from it so we can live as overcomers. As victors. Her letter and writings are a rare gift.” -Dr. David Cox, counselor

A 14-year-old daughter’s suicide note? A gift? My thoughts reeled the day after Jenna’s death as a few close friends, my husband, and I braced ourselves for the reading of the three-page letter police had discovered on her thumb drive.

In shock, I heard the false accusations that had snaked their way into Jenna’s mind. Since then, I’ve reread the letter a hundred times and silently answered seven of its lies.

Dear Family and Extended Family,

I’m really sorry for leaving you like this. Honestly I am. During the last few months of my life I was incredibly depressed. You just didn’t notice since I put up a good front most of the time.

You probably want to know why on earth I decided to do this. Well, for some reason, ever since I turned twelve I’ve realized something—I was always a loser. Sure, I had a few friends, but overall everyone either ignored me, thought I was stupid, or outright hated me.

Lie #1: I’m a loser.
You weren’t, Jenna. You were spectacular, as your science teacher said. Lots of people liked you. Many of them really liked you. It’s just that, when depression settled in, it blinded you from seeing who you truly were, tainted your perception of the way you thought your peers viewed you, and deceived you into thinking others didn’t care.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me to make me so unpopular. Yeah, I’m not pretty, but look at Eleanor Roosevelt, Dolly Madison, and some other girls I know. Nothing stops them from having happy lives.

Lie #2: I’m too unattractive or unpopular to be loved.
What teenage girl—or woman of any age—doesn’t struggle to feel like she measures up to the images that surround her? The truth is you were beautiful, even during those awkward early teen years. But even if you hadn’t been, your immeasurable worth has nothing to do with external beauty or any social-ladder rung.     

Towards the end, I began to think that maybe I suffered from clinical depression. Well, maybe. So what could I do about it? Stay on Prozac all my life? Like that would work.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

You Can't Pack a Life in a Trunk

by Beth Saadati

It took nearly three years and one month. Or, to be precise, 1111 days.

It took seeing the cruel swirl of ambulance lights, attending another funeral, grieving the beautiful life of a young man gone too soon.

It took reliving the nightmare of the evening I was delivered the devastating news about my daughter before I could face what I hadn’t yet been able to do.

Once upon a time I’d taken pride in meticulous organization and the gleaning of anything unused. Not anymore. I could no longer step into my side of the small walk-in wardrobe. Overflowing with baskets, bags, and boxes, my bedroom closet heaved and swelled like a dam about to burst.

The tangible memories of what once was engulfed me. Jenna’s trophies, plaques, awards. Special logo tee-shirts. Her marching band hat. The white blouse she wore to play Juliet in an eighth-grade skit. A ballet dress she’d twirled in, a pearl bracelet presented to her on the evening of her only formal dance. School papers. Funeral cards. Notes.

And so much more—all of it screaming Jenna was here.  

Now it begged for closure, except closure is for bank accounts. It was never meant for love.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Why Stay When the Fairy-Tale Ending No Longer Exists?

by Beth Saadati

It was a gathering I’d neither expected—nor wanted—to host.

From 5-9 p.m. the Mackey Mortuary visitation line refused to end. Truth be told, I didn’t want it to. In order to stand, I needed the comforting presence of family and friends.

One after another they paused then passed by. From Miracle Hill Ministries, where my husband worked. The places where I taught. City Church. My daughter’s schools. Jenna’s extra-curricular activities—orchestra, Awana, homeschool co-op, Upward and rec-league sports. And, at the end, the entire Southside High School marching band.

Beautiful faces met my gaze with unspoken questions and tears. With tenderness, “I’m sorry” was said again and again. A scent-blend of perfume and cologne lingered on my clothes as I cherished the warmth of held hands and hugs.

And I cried when a friend whispered the words I’d begun to doubt: “You were a good mom.”

But the unexpected occurred when John Burdick—Sterling School’s science teacher everyone loved, whom Jenna had confided in and considered a friend—and his wife, Kathy, stood there.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

If Only My Daughter Had Known

by Beth Saadati

At 10 p.m. my husband, Komron, said goodnight to our birthday boy.
Then it was my turn to finish Josh’s preferred routine. “It’s because he likes to save the best for last,” I said with false conceit.

I stepped onto a stool to reach his top bunk. After a day of no school, extra screen time, nerf wars with friends, Chicago-style pizza, Cook-Out shakes and a Minion-decorated cake, I expected to see a smile as big as the moon. Instead, he was snarling, growling, about to transform into the Hulk.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Josh climbed down the ladder. A second after I sat on the floor, seventy pounds plopped onto my lap. A couple of minutes passed. With arms crossed and brow knotted, Josh said nothing. Then he yelled. “Why do I have to be so greedy inside?”

Confused, I held my tongue.

“You’re not greedy,” I finally said. “Usually you’re quite content.” The scowl lining his face showed me he wasn’t convinced. “Is it because you had a great day, but you’re not completely happy with it?”

Under his breath he muttered. “Yeah.”

“There’s a greedy part in all of us,” I said. “Here’s what helps me. I try to remember things I’m thankful for rather than focusing on what I may not have. Does that help?”

“Not really.” For a moment his gaze met mine. “There’s a big, empty place inside me. Like something isn’t right.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hope Awakens: A Lesson from Star Wars

by Beth Saadati

I thought it would never come.

Anticipation knots my stomach as I lean back in the movie seat while too many previews play. Then, finally, it’s there. The new VII. 

Just like before, it begins with the familiar orchestrated theme song. The “A long time ago” text. The Star Wars logo over a black field of stars. The yellow slanted words—the opening crawl—summarizing events that transpired since the last film one generation past.

Suddenly I’m that 9-, 11-, and 14-year-old girl who sat in the theater mesmerized by the original release of IV, V, and VI. Who listened to the screenplay and soundtrack records—my treasured Christmas gifts—again and again. Who pounded out John Williams’ score on the piano, the way my son does now, and read through the Scholastic-ordered book trilogy until the pages were worn. Who talked all-things Star Wars and quoted movie lines during a fourth-grade sleepover with a favorite friend until his digital R2-D2 watch blinked 5 a.m.

On the screen before me, the tale unfolds. Awed by the seamless merging of new and old, I connect with characters from the movies I loved. Themes resonate with me—of remaining faithful to friends, of choosing to fight, of clinging to hope while resolving to wait. The clock creeps toward midnight but, immersed in story, I stay wide awake.