Stacy Barlow is a college student. She was 46 years old when I interviewed her in Eugene, OR, on July 30, 2014.
CONTENT WARNING: If you're uncomfortable with themes of rape, childhood sexual abuse, or discussion of specific suicide methods, please read with care.
I had three attempts, but there was only one that was really serious. I meant the other two, but the one where I shot myself was the more serious one. I was drunk, of course. I knew my landlord had a gun, so I broke into his place and got his gun. I put it out in front of me. I didn't want to see it comin', so I turned my head. When I pulled the trigger, the gun went sideways. It shot me in the shoulder; I still got the bullet in there.
I passed out. The landlord woke up and got my roommates to come get me. They took me to the hospital—just dropped me off and left. Seriously, dropped me off at the front door and left. Almost pushed me out of the truck.
When I woke up, there was a nun leaning over me. I asked, "Am I in heaven?" Those were actually the words that came out of my mouth. I wasn't. I was in hell, per se.
I had a rough childhood, but it shouldn't have been, to anybody looking in. My mom married the propane guy of the town. He was rich, so we ended up being rich. He drove the church bus and was my softball coach.
Behind closed doors, I was being molested. Rape is such a hard word; a harsh word. But when I think about it, I literally was [raped], because I wasn't old enough to say, "I do consent." It started when I was nine, so even to say no, I wouldn't know how. He would tell me things like, when he was feeling bad, [I] would make him feel better.
This is how mind-fucked I was: my grandfather, who I loved with all my heart, got really sick and was on his death bed. I crawled into bed with him and started messin' with him, because I wanted to make him feel better. I didn't want him to pass away. Sometimes I can talk about that and it doesn't get to me. Sometimes it does, because I was a kid and I got brain-washed to the point where I thought that would help my grandfather. My hero, you know?
Nobody knew about it. This guy, like I said, was the church deacon and the church bus driver. [I threatened him to an inch of his life if he ever touched my siblings, but didn’t find out until 18 or 19 years later that he had.] That's kind of how I grew up. Whatever drug there was to try, I would. I would try to escape. I was a cutter.
My first suicide attempt was with pills. I heard that if you take a whole bunch, you would go to sleep, and then that's all there was. So, I did. And no, it doesn't kill you. I got my stomach pumped. The next day, my mom decided [the family should] go to our cabin at the lake to get me away from everything. My mom made me ride with my stepdad and I was sick the whole way. It wasn't any better to have me ride with him. Que sera, sera…
My life got more difficult. I used to think that I wore a sign around my neck that said, "Please molest me." I would just go to the store, some old man would pick me up, and we'd end up down some dirt road. I was like, “If I didn't know any better by now...”
I was with boys, and that wasn't me. I had the same boyfriend from junior high all the way through high school. Me and this boy, we were Southern Baptist. We fooled around. We never had sex, but we fooled around. Everybody knew we were going to get married. He sang in the choir, participated in Royal Ambassadors, Girls in Action—the whole church thing. He could spend the night at the house. They knew we weren't going to do anything because that wasn't the way we were raised. Needless to say, what my stepfather was doin'…
Coming from a small town, I always said, "I'd rather spit on a faggot than look at one." I wasn't gay, but then I was having dreams about my neighbor. When my best friend would spend the night, she'd play footsie in her sleep and [a rush would] go all over me, but I couldn't tell nobody that. No way. …It was in 11th grade that I met a girl who was gay. I was like, "Wow, I kinda like this.”
[I went to a lot of foster homes because I was a habitual runaway]. When I got back from one of my foster homes, I had to tell him I'm gay. We went out to dinner and I was like, "Listen, we need to talk."
He's like, "Yeah, I think we do.”
I was like, “Oh, he's found somebody else, that's great.”
I said, "Listen, baby. I'm a lesbian.”
He goes, "Oh, thank God!"
He was gay, too. How cool is that? Neither one of us knew, but we kept each other safe [through school]. Now he's married to a man and they adopted two kids. He'll forever be the only man I'll ever love.
From there—the whole lesbian experience, that was me! I found my place, and I fell in love with a girl. Man, it was a love unlike anything I've ever experienced. It was real love. We were about each other. We could finish each other’s sentences. The sex was great; it was meaningful sex. My whole world was her. Not thinking that the cloud could fall or whatever.
When it did, I just couldn't handle it. From everything that I've gone through, to finally something going right in my life, and then to have it taken away? Fuck life, man. I was done. Life had fucked with me all the way to that point. I finally found something good and you're going to take that away, too? Fuck you, life. I contemplated and contemplated.
I'm like, “You know what? [What I’ve already done], that shit ain’t gonna work.” It hadn't worked. I thought, “I'll take care of it this time.” That's when I got the gun and did that.
When I woke up in the hospital, my girlfriend that had broken up with me came and… we talked things out. My dad and my mom put me in treatment. I did a little over thirty days in treatment, which was really, really good.
I said at that point, “I gotta get it all out. It's festering inside me, and if I do it again, there won't be another miss.” So, I let it all out about my stepfather, about how things were goin', and it was like, "Oh my God, the world is lifted off my shoulders." I had a second chance at life, finally! Thank you, life.
Des: What kind of treatment?
Stacy: It was drug and alcohol treatment.
Des: Did they address the suicide attempt at all?
Stacy: I don't really think so. What I'm remembering is… I told them about my stepfather and it just so happened that my boyfriend's dad was in the same treatment center at the same time. He's from our small town and the treatment center was out of town. He knew the man, but he had no idea the way the man was. For me to talk about it in group and stuff made it valid. He believed me... He said he had no idea and if he knew that he would've done somethin'. That made me feel good, too. Then I had to tell my mom and my dad, and they had been separated since I was a kid. My mom didn't believe me at first. [That treatment was really about] addressing what happened to me as a kid. I don't remember them really ever talking to me about shooting myself, or how I came about it. It was more about that and going to meetings and AA and shit like that.
Des: Is it better or worse that they didn't? Did it affect you at all?
Stacy: I don't think so. The center helped a lot because they did a lot of trusting things where you had these groups of strangers and they have to stand there and you fall back and they catch you. That kind of trusting stuff. They did a lot of those kinds of things, which was good. But I think not addressing it… I don't know. I quit cutting myself for a while after that because I felt good. I got all that shit out. It wasn't festering, it wasn't deep and black. When I got out, I didn't allow that kind of shit to happen anymore. I didn't have to because it was out now. So if I was walkin' to the store or… I met a guy or whatever, it wouldn't happen because I wouldn't allow it. I got that out. After that, probably the drugs and alcohol caused me to start cutting again, and tryin' to deal with life again… because I'm pretty sure, with drugs and alcohol, our life gets shitty. It gets real shitty. Find yourself doin' things you never thought you would.
Stacy: I still cut after that. That's the only way I knew to do when I was hurting. Sometimes it was to let out the pain. Sometimes just to feel it. The inside would hurt too much for the inside, but physically feeling it released it. I still cut for—shit, up to [nine] years ago. So, for a long time. But not near as deep. I would just scratch a little bit.
Des: How old were you when all these things happened?
Stacy: My first [suicide attempt] was probably around twelve, thirteen. Then somewhere between eighteen and twenty-one. Then around twenty-one to twenty-three is when I shot myself.
Des: So, you started cutting when you were growing up still.
Stacy: Oh gosh, yeah. When I was around 10 or 11. I would play my music really, really loud, but I'd put the speakers in the corner or in my closet. I'd put my mattress up against the wall in the corner. It would hide me in there. I started out just poking myself with a pen and that wasn't doing it. I always had to have loud music just thumpin' in my ears when I cut. Then it got to where I would just hide in a tree and do it. It escalated though. Quick.
Des: Do you remember what compelled you to cut for the first time?
Stacy: Wow. I don't.
Des: I don't either. It's something I have to ask people. I'm like, "Do you [remember]?"
Stacy: I've never even thought about it. I couldn't tell you when my very first time was.
Des: What made you decide to stop?
Stacy: I went to prison... It saved my life.
Des: Talk about that.
Stacy: I used to own my own business in Portland and I got caught up in stupid stuff. My friends used to be cops, bar owners, lawyers—I used to hang with the highs.
We used to have this… big ol' lesbian campout at this park. We'd have kegs and stuff like that. This one chick was a police officer. I'd never met her before, but we passed out fliers and she came. We ended up being really good friends.
She would go to the bar in downtown Portland, the Egyptian Club, and she would get drunk. She would throw her badge in the parking lot and go, "I'm tired of this." I ended up taking her home, sleeping on her couch and stuff.
I started getting into drugs really heavy. Of course, I hid from everybody and isolated. I didn't want anyone to see me like that.
When I went to prison, she ended up being one of the people that's right under the warden. She had a long conversation with me… and got me sent to boot camp, which cut my time by sixteen months. At boot camp, they make you do a lot of stuff. They make you go deep inside; they make you tell your story. You can't leave anything out because they know. If you leave anything out, you're in trouble. If you don't do like they say, you go back to prison and you do your time, day for day. So you're on your P's and Q's.
I mean, this is boot camp. Push-ups are, “1-2-3—one! 1-2-3,” with the officer's foot on your back. If there's a puddle on the ground, you're blowing bubbles. When you stopped, then they let their foot up. It was hardcore, but it was good because it had me going to my core.
There was this one officer I remember. She wasn't anything special. She didn't conversate with people. She was just always smiling and always in a good mood. I remember one day waking up—we had to get up really, really early—we were going to chow, the sun was shining, her smiling face was there, and it just felt good to be alive.
I was like, "Whoa! I don't think I've ever said that in my life."
So, I said, "Officer so-and-so, inmate Barlow requests to speak."
She goes, "Speak, Barlow."
I said, "Ma'am, it's a great day to be alive."
From that point on, I didn't feel like I had to cut anymore. It was amazing and crazy—just a sunshiny day and the officer's smile. But that combination and being there, I guess, brought it about. That’s when I quit.
Des: You still think about suicide sometimes?
Stacy: Yeah. I can elaborate on that. I won't do it.
My daddy passed in 2008. He's my hero. This place could be filled with people and he could just fly in from Texas, walk in here, and the whole room would light up. People would want to meet this guy. He was all about love. He read about every religion so he could have a conversation with anybody and everybody, if religion came up. Me and my sister, we've never been really close, but when my daddy passed, she lost it a little bit and we got really, really close. I lost it too, but I couldn't lose it back home.
When I got back home, I couldn't cry. I had to be strong. I had to take care of dad's stuff because I've always been the black sheep of the family, you know, gettin' in trouble and stuff. My dad's always been there for me. This is the one time I could be there for my dad. I took control. A lot of the family didn't like it, but I didn't care. I closed all of dad's credit card accounts and gave away stuff of his to certain people I knew he'd want it to go to. I got his Harley, a 1340 Evolution '92 Softail. Sittin' in the parking lot over there at the apartments. Ever since his passing, I go back every summer. We do a celebration of life, and I make sure my brothers and sister are okay. I bring the love back in; I fish and drink beer all summer.
My sister couldn't handle it if I was to kill myself. She couldn't. I would not put my sister though that. If my sister passes away before me, I don't know that I would be here anymore. I say that, and then I don't know if I mean it. Like my sister said, there's a lot of people out there that need me. I'm going to affect their lives, especially in the work that I want to do, and I need to think about them, too. It's crazy. She's logical, sometimes. She's a beautiful soul. Anyway, I'm safe as long as she's alive because I couldn't put her through that.
But there's times, man, when it gets really, really hard. I think about taking my vehicle and just running it flat into a tree or a telephone pole. Because sometimes I just get done, you know? [Because I've done it before], I don't know if it's easier to think about the next time or even do it the next time—I haven't done it, obviously. I don't want to think it's easier. But, man, sometimes it takes all I have not to.
Humanity, people, sometimes I don't understand them. I don't understand how they treat each other, be underhanded and manipulative, and be fake. I mean, my best friend of twelve years ended up being somebody that I didn't even know. It ended up causing me to be homeless and losing video tapes. We had it in common, her dad passed away the same year that mine did. We had this thing about our dads. We'd give each other things that had to do with our dads. She caused me to lose all my tapes of my dad so her girlfriend could move into her house. That's the one time I didn't think about suicide, I thought about murder.
That comes and goes. Like I said, I don't know that I would do it. It would take my sister not being around to get me anywhere close to it, but the feelings are there. I mean, the feelings are sometimes really strong. I've even gotten on the phone and called a stranger.
I said, "Hey, listen I need to talk because I'm thinking of suicide."
Des: How did that go?
Stacy: It went good! This person sat there and talked to me for a long time. Didn't know me from Adam. Asked me questions, all the right questions. It was great! I know that's my Goddess and that's the universe working in my favor, because I needed that.
Had I called somebody and they said, "Go kill yourself, you fucker," and hung up on me, who knows which way I would have went. But this person, their voice was even mellow. That's the thing I remember the most. Their voice was mellow and calm and… I needed that person and they were there.
Des: How did you find their number?
Stacy: Phone book.
Des: Just random?
Stacy: Yeah. What I did is, I picked three different numbers. I did the 541 area code, and then I did like, what the first one was of this one, turned it, and flipped the four of another one.
Des: So, you don't even know who you called.
Stacy: No. Don't have a clue. Wouldn't that be somethin' if I could find that person and say thank you? They probably saved my life. I know they got me out of a really dark time. The only alternative other than suicide is drugs, and I'm done with that scene. That's just a one-way trip to nothingness.
And, today? Shit, I'm cute, you know? I've got the baby blue eyes. I got the Harley. Even though I've been single since me and my ex-wife broke up in 2008.
Des: What are you studying?
Des: What's your plan?
Stacy: It started out that I wanted to get any kind of degree I needed to help the homeless kids here. I've always had this thing with kids… they flock to me. They open up and just tell their stories. I don't even have to lead 'em or anything like that. Me and my friends used to come downtown and go dancing and stuff. They'd be in there dancing, and I'd be out there talkin' to the kids. We'd all be sitting in a circle and they're telling me their stories. It's just the neatest thing.
I can't have kids. I had cancer at a young age; it took everything. It used to bug me, but I realized that the Goddess and the universe took my ability away to have kids. Had I had my own, I would focus on mine, but since I can't have my own, they're all my kids. The universe has shown me that's the way it's supposed to be, by bringing these kids to me, havin' them come to me, talk to me, and open up. So, I thought that was what I was supposed to do.
However, in my hometown, my generation is coming up in a small town. We're county clerks and police, we're in government positions. A friend of mine is in a higher position of government and told me if I get my record expunged, she wants me to come down there and be a juvenile probation officer. When I was getting in trouble all the time, the juvenile probation officer was an asshole. What bugged me the most when I was growing up was that nobody took the time to say, "Hey, why is she running away all the time? How come, when it's time for her to come home, she runs away from the foster home so she doesn't have to come home? Why does she do good and then leave before she has to come home?" Nobody asked any of that. I was just a “bad seed.” Why didn't somebody go any further with that? I'm going to be that person. Not only with the books, or things like that, but I've walked the walk. I know the signs and kids talk to me.
So, I'm thinking that might be what I'm going to do. I have to start workin' on my master’s to do that, but I'm thinkin' that's the route I'm going to be takin'. When I graduate, I'm goin' home. I'm going to be moving out to my grandparents’ house; they're no longer here. It's on sixty acres of land with a pond. Three bedroom brick house. We have horses and four wheelers. I'm thinkin' there might be something I can do there with the kids, like with the horses. I might be able to get a grant to make that into some kind of thing to help out kids. That's kinda sorta where I'm leadin' now. Whatever it is, it's going to be with kids.
Des: If you were talking to somebody who was reading your story on the website, what would you want to say to them?
Stacy: …I almost did suicide. It's the end all. There's nothin' after that. Like my sister said, there's too many people out there that I'm gonna affect, that you're gonna affect, the next person's gonna affect, that's gonna need you around to affect their lives, you know? Like I said, for me the struggle is there. Not all the time, but there is times, man.
I think about my sister and her havin' to try to deal with life without me in it. I can't put her through that. I love her too much! Ah, gosh, someday I'm gonna love me too much. But for now, I love her too much to put her through that.
If you're hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can't feel it—and you are worth your life.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you don't like talking on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or check out Lifeline Crisis Chat. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
Stacy's story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks also to Matt Parr for providing the transcription to Stacy's interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.
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