The Suicide of Iara Teegan
by Marc Sorondo
Iara Teegan had always considered herself a poet. A failed one, not having published a thing since the handful of poems submitted to her high school literary magazine, but a poet nonetheless.
When she decided to kill herself, she knew her suicide needed to be poetic. Jumping from a great height or taking enough pills to fall asleep and never wake sounded good but ended with her body cleaned up by people who didn't give a damn about her failures or her aspirations. Those ways left the few people who cared about her with a corpse. Poe's work aside, she found nothing poetic about a dead body. A corpse lacked artistry. A corpse was just an obligation — for a funeral, a proper burial, a bunch of forced tears and stupid anecdotes.
She decided very quickly that her death, if it was to be her ultimate poem in every sense, must leave no body.
Iara had always loved the ocean. Something about the lullaby meter of the tides, something about its great depths and huge expanses caused her to find it the most beautiful aspect of nature.
It didn't take long for her to determine that the ocean would take her body. She'd sneak out onto the beach late at night, strip down, so that only a pile of clothes remained of her, and slip out into the saltwater. She'd pass through the surf and out into the open ocean; she'd swim until her arms were too exhausted to carry her any further. Then she would die.
She began to wonder almost immediately how she would arrange her clothes on the shore. She wondered which would have the most impact: to lay them out or to fold them into a neat little pile or even to leave them crumpled and casually discarded.
It was only after she'd decided that she'd fold her clothing, leaving a crisp pile of it as the only trace of her, that she realized her problem.
She had always been a decent swimmer. She'd spent her whole life along the Jersey shore, every free day in the water if it was warm enough. And yet, she'd never swim out far enough, not in her current state, anyway. She'd never get so far out that she could be sure her body wouldn't wash up, bloated and disgusting on some beach to be ogled by morbid teenagers and eventually dragged away to be identified.
That just wouldn't do. It would completely ruin everything. She would have to train. She would have to be sure that she'd be able to swim so far out that the grip of the tides could never pull her back to land.
Summer was nearly over, and it was certainly a summer way to commit suicide.
It delayed things by quite a bit, but Iara felt she had no choice. She'd train herself until June. Then she'd do it. That gave her nine months to get ready.
• • •
She joined a gym, one with a pool, of course. The regimen that she set for herself was strict and brutal. She would train every day but Sunday, and she'd swim until she was exhausted. Whether it took her five minutes or two hours, she'd swim until her body refused to swim anymore.
She found almost immediately that her training made the days pass faster. While time itself had seemed to slow and stagnate around her the past few years, her new sense of purpose sped things back up. She looked forward to her training sessions and even to the painful ache that followed them.
As the chill of autumn descended into the bitter cold of a sadistic winter, her body slimmed and hardened. She admired herself in the mirror and it strengthened her resolve: she would not chance having her new body wash up after having lost all the qualities that she found so lovely about it.
Shortly after the change to a new year, she started reading her old poems. She read one a night. After reading each one, she took it out to her back porch and burnt it.
Every one of her poems was flawed. They would be found after her death and read, and people who didn't know a thing about poetry would lament her talent. She would much rather let her final piece stand alone, free from the diluting effects of the clichés and silly rhymes of her earlier efforts.
She burnt her last poem in late April. She watched the paper blacken and curl, the fire consuming the words, until, finally, only the unmarked corner held between her fingers remained. She dropped it, the flames moving along the edges as it drifted to the wooden porch. It landed gently and crumbled to black dust. The last bit of flame died, and only a small, black triangle of paper remained.
It felt good to rid herself of all those failures. Only in admitting that she hadn't been much of a poet after all could she hope to really become one.
• • •
By the time May ended and June began, Iara was in the best shape of her life. She could find a rhythm and swim for hours. She often felt tireless, like a machine. She was pleased that she'd stuck to her training. For once, she was going to do something right.
From June first on, she stopped going to the gym, preferring instead to swim in the cold saltwater of the ocean. Every night she ignored signs that prohibited swimming and announced that lifeguards were not yet on duty.
She'd grown used to the chlorinated, temperature-controlled calm of the pool. Now she got used to the cold, and actually found that her body performed a little better when the water temperature was just cold enough to be uncomfortable. She got used to the push and pull of the tide, the sweeping caress of currents.
On the morning of June 22, Iara decided that she would live her last day and then swim away, leaving everything but the ocean behind her.
She called her job to say that she was sick and wouldn't be coming in and spent much of the morning going over her house. She bagged up anything that could be embarrassing or misunderstood once people came to clean up her things. She took this bag to the dump herself and felt oddly pleased to see how fast the shiny black trash bag blended into conformity with all the other bags.
She ate a large bowl of pasta for lunch, knowing that the extra carbohydrates would come in handy later on when she needed energy.
She took a long nap that afternoon, curled up on her couch beneath an old tan quilt.
• • •
It was shortly before 2A.M. on June 23. Iara Teegan stood alone on the dark beach, watching the moon's reflection curve over each lazily rolling wave.
She felt so distant from her own life, as if she'd actually left it behind all those months ago when she'd made up her mind. She'd been drifting farther away from it with every day since. Now, she almost felt as if it was someone else dying.
She was barefoot and wore a light blue dress that fluttered around her knees in the breeze off the water. It was a nice touch, she thought. She'd leave a single article of clothing neatly folded, a square of contrast against the dingy sand. She'd worn no shoes, no underwear. The dress alone would mark her last steps on dry land, like a small, square patch of sky that had fallen to earth.
She slid her shoulders free from the dress and let it slip off her body. She picked it up, folded it carefully, and lay it down far enough from the shoreline that even the highest reaching wave couldn't touch it.
The water felt pleasantly cool as it washed up over her feet. She waded out into it until she was waist deep and then dove into it, letting the water pass over her naked body and through her short brown hair.
She passed through the weak swells of the tide with long, easy strokes, and quickly made it into even calmer waters.
Once past the churning effects of the shoreline, she established her rhythm. The movement of her body was like a ballad, slow yet forceful, powerful though measured.
Iara smiled as she swam away from the quickly diminishing sound of the surf; for all intents and purposes, she was already dead.
• • •
She felt good as she watched the first glimmer of light peak over the curve of the water on the horizon. She felt strong, as if she could swim forever.
She found herself wondering how long a person could keep going. The people at Guinness, she thought, must have documented some record for the most time spent continuously swimming.
Iara decided that her goal was to see the sun makes it way to its zenith. She wanted to die with the warmth of the sun shining down on her. She wanted to see the brilliance of it through the water when she finally surrendered to exhaustion and sank.
For now, though, her muscles felt strong. Her body moved gracefully through the water with ease. She let the rhythm of her strokes lull her into a trance.
• • •
Her body throbbed, moving to the rhythm of her heartbeat. Everything about her was slow and steady. For each moment a beat, a breath, a kick of the legs and a sweep of the arms. It was all timed so well, like a metronome, so that the constant rhythm cleared her mind, left her to focus, zen-like, only on swimming.
Only when the fading light pulled her from the hypnotized state did she realize that she'd surpassed her goal hours earlier.
She rolled onto her back, reaching overhead in a smooth backstroke, and watched the sun as it sank into the horizon beneath her splashing feet. She closed her eyes for a moment and found that she'd grown sleepy. Maybe that was how it should be, she thought. Maybe exhaustion was cliché. To sleep, however, to drift off to sleep out there, with no land in sight, that may be more poetic. Maybe she'd fall asleep and sink peacefully beneath the surface, sleep right through the pain of drowning and the discomfort of the growing pressure.
Yes, she thought, imagining her face placid, her eyes closed and her hair flowing upward as she descended into the abyss, that was the way to go.
She opened her eyes and saw a quarter moon high overhead. She wondered how long she'd kept her eyes closed.
Iara drifted off to sleep.
• • •
The light that greeted her was brighter than she'd expected. Even with her eyes closed, it burned bright red in her vision.
She opened her eyes slightly and squinted up at a yellow sun in the middle of uninterrupted blue sky. Then she felt the motion in her shoulders, in her hips.
She'd slept, but her body had continued to swim, going on as if that motion was as unconscious as breathing.
She rolled over in the water, changing her stroke accordingly.
Iara was confused. She felt rested and relaxed, but she knew that she should have been sore, exhausted, at the very least tired.
There was no way for her to know with any certainty how long she'd been swimming or how far she'd gone. She thought she must have come far enough to ensure that she'd never wash up, and yet, part of her was curious to see how far she could go. She continued to swim.
• • •
Time was a concept that had always made Iara uneasy. In her deepest depression, time slowed nearly to a halt. In the past few months, driven and dedicated, time had sped up. She couldn't trust time; it always seemed against her.
Now, out in the middle of the ocean, she wasn't sure if time existed. If it did, it wasn't in any way that made sense to her.
She was in dreamtime now. Minutes, years, days were all equal. To her mind, she'd swum for years; to her body, it had been mere moments.
She'd stopped counting the rise and fall of the sun and moon, stopped keeping track of how many times she'd drifted off to sleep while her unconscious body swam on. Her every stroke was like the ticking of a clock, one that had no face to tell her anything more than the rhythm of passing time.
She thought about the surface of the water, stretching out in every direction as far as she could see. She thought of the miles of water stacked up beneath her. She thought of the oceans filling one drop at a time and decided that it took less time to cover a world in water than it did to kill yourself.
• • •
Some amount of time later, Iara swam through the dark. Thick clouds overhead blocked the moon and the stars. The air and the sea were one black mass and she swam through it blind.
She'd started to think of poems, keeping track of the now nonexistent time in increments of completed works.
She had just committed her seventy-fourth poem to memory when the point of light became visible. Though the complete blackness of her surroundings was disorienting, she was certain that the light was beneath her. She couldn't be sure, however, if it was a small light near the surface or something huge in the depths.
She swam on as the light grew, a colorless brilliance that rushed up towards her. She was curious but unafraid. She wasn't sure that she wasn't already dead, this being some watery limbo where she'd work off her sins one stroke at a time.
The light hit the surface, and she was surrounded by luminescence. The entire ocean glowed. The light shone up from the water, illuminating the underside of the clouds.
Her world had been inverted. It was day, but the sun was shining in the depths and the sky was as dark as the abyss. It was beautiful.
She smiled, knowing that if she'd seen limbo, this surely meant that she'd swum her way into Heaven. She rolled onto her back and closed her eyes. She drifted off to sleep, enveloped in the ocean's glow.
• • •
It was some time later, days perhaps or years for all that she knew, that she saw the dark band along the edge of the horizon and realized that it could only be land. She was surprised by the burst of hope and elation that caused her to cry out when she realized, in spite of its unlikelihood, that she'd made it to land.
Then her body revolted, became exhausted. Iara laughed at what she considered a cruel joke on the part of her body. It had swam on without her consent when she wanted to die, but, now that the sight of distant land had renewed her will to live, her body's impossible efficiency had failed.
Now her arms felt so heavy that she grunted with each stroke, dragging her body through the water as her legs kicked feebly.
So be it, she thought to herself. She didn't want to die anymore. If she had to fight, to struggle through the last leg of her journey to stay alive, then she would.
One painful stroke at a time, she forced her heavy arms through the water, pushed her stiff shoulders into motion.
And, of course, time cleared again and slowed. She spent lifetimes advancing a few feet, but she went on.
• • •
Iara thought it fitting to start over that way: wet and naked and crying, alone in a strange place.
There was a coastal city behind her, and a single flag was visible up the beach. In the light of the moon she could make out the field of green to the left of the flag and the larger field of red to the right, the coat of arms slightly off-center.
She laughed and lay back onto European sand. It wasn't possible, she knew, and yet there she was.
She felt pleasantly overwhelmed by the opportunity to begin again completely fresh. She'd left all the pains and failures of her past life out in the ocean where they couldn't hurt her anymore.
This time, she decided, she would live the life she wanted. She would write about the sea and light. She would write about pain and dying and being reborn.
In this life, she would be a poet.
Copyright © 2013 by Marc Sorondo