Mandy died ten years ago today. Mandy was 19 years old, a UCLA sophomore, and one of my favorite students. Mandy suffered from bipolar disorder. When she cycled down, she was depressed, sad, frightened. Her lips would turn white and her hands would tremble. She needed quiet places because sounds were sensory overload for her. During those times, Mandy would sit in my office and prepare for her next class, or she would study in my second-floor faculty apartment in Dykstra Hall because there were no visual or audible interruptions. When Mandy cycled up into a manic phase, I didn’t see her. She kept away from me. She became everyone’s favorite party girl, cutting up in the hallways of the third floor in Dykstra where she lived, drinking heavily in her room. Most of the time, though, when Mandy was on an even keel, she was deeply involved as an athlete on the UCLA Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. Chip was her jock name. I know that because I was given her Frisbee by her aunt who gathered Mandy’s belongings after she died. Her name is on the back of it.
The Sunday before THAT day, Mandy volunteered to staff a water table for the AIDS marathon in which I was running. She told everyone how wonderful it felt for her to be doing something that helped people with AIDS.
I remember THAT day – and the next – so clearly. Mandy met me after dinner at one of the campus theaters. I had tickets to a film where the director and actors would be present on a panel. Mandy loved the film and asked many questions of the director. She clearly was having a great time. We walked back to Dykstra Hall where we both lived, Mandy chatting the entire time about how excited she was to be going home soon. It was the Thursday before the week of Thanksgiving. Mandy’s father’s birthday would be in a few days followed by the Thanksgiving holiday which she loved. Mandy said she was looking forward to seeing her new girlfriend during the winter break, that she couldn’t wait to start her LGBT Studies courses in January, and was planning on doing a study-abroad the following year. When we got back to Dykstra Hall, I asked what she was going to do. She said she had an outline due in a class in the morning so she was going to work on that. We hugged good night and went to our different floors.
I sat at my desk working on an article. About an hour passed when I saw the rotating red lights of the emergency vehicles as they pulled up to the hall door. I stepped out onto my floor to see what might be happening. Nothing. I went up one flight to the third floor. Craig, the RA and another dear student of mine, came running down the hall and fell into my arms. “Dr. Ronni….it’s Mandy!” Craig collapsed into me and we both fell on the floor, engulfed in the terror and the sadness.
Mandy…damn it! What happened??? An hour ago you were chatting about and planning your future. An hour later you’re dead? Why???
Mandy chose to hang herself in her room. Her roommate returned and found her. She screamed. Fifty students on the floor came running into the room and saw Mandy hanging there. The rest of the night was spent holding these frightened young people, talking with them, crying with them, as the EMTs took Mandy’s body, as the police scoured her room and took her computer and her jugs of alcohol. Her roommate was a wreck.
The next morning the police told me that there were four recent websites on Mandy’s computer, placed there the morning before: one suicide prevention site and three sites on how to hang yourself. Mandy knew she was going to do it that night. She was so secure in her decision that she was nearly excited. Mandy made a choice. The students, Mandy’s family (she was an only child), and I had to live with that choice.
That period of time was the worst of my professional career. Sure, there had been other awful moments, but this somehow felt more intense to me. I was deeply affected by Mandy’s death. I put myself in therapy to learn to properly grieve, not just for Mandy but for all the losses I’d had over the decades: my grandmother’s death, the loss of custody of my children, the many friends I lost to HIV/AIDS, the loss of many relationships, and the loss of Mandy.
Mandy was the catalyst that sent me for help. I will forever be grateful to her for that. She provided that which forced me to get help. It’s been ten years. I remember Mandy, especially on the Thursday before Thanksgiving.
My meditation today from Just for Today: There is much to be grateful for in my life. I cherish the spiritual fulfillment I have found in recovery.
On this day in LGBT history (from QUIST and/or Lavender Effect: 1934 – Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour opens on Broadway to rave reviews and sellout audiences. An account of two schoolteachers accused of lesbianism by one of their students, the play is loosely based on an actual case in 19th-century Scotland; 1998 – In Texas, John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner are fined $125 each after being arrested for having sex in their home. They refuse to pay the fine, resulting in a challenge of the Texas sodomy law which would eventually lead to the 2003 nationwide repeal of sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas; 2003: The United States Congress passes a resolution condemning all violations of internationally recognized human rights norms based on the real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of an individual; 2008 – The Supreme Court of California agrees to hear arguments for a possible overturn of Proposition 8.
It’s good to be 67!
What happened with you today?
Is it time to write your story? Writing seminars for LGBT people.