Trigger Warning: Suicide
I found out through a mutual friend, that Albina had jumped from her balcony. Her parents didn’t acknowledge her death. They didn’t want to be associated with that, which was why the pile of her belongings, strewn like refuse along the sidewalk that day, looked so much like unwanted junk and not at all like her collection of beloved objects.
That November, in the deepening gloom of late afternoon, I walked by Albina’s building by chance. Emily was in her stroller and we were taking a shortcut home from the bank. Piled on the curb was a sodden pile of furniture, some chintz pillows, a wicker chair, small tables and other detritus dumped along the sidewalk, a whole apartment’s worth. It seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place why. I slowed, but continued walking by.
Albina wasn’t really my friend. Even as I write that, it feels like a betrayal. Maybe she was a friend, but not one I knew well, not someone who touched my heart and opened her own. She was always far away, even when we talked at length in the café down the street from both of our tiny apartments. That’s where we met. That’s where we saw each other almost every day, for a time.
I’d usually see her idling over coffee, draped over the paper, or engaged in an animated conversation with a new acquaintance. She was striking, with long auburn curls, a thin angular face, sharp amber eyes, and elegant hands. When we would talk, I was never sure what to expect, a hasty political analysis, or a painfully elaborated confidence. Sometimes, often, she felt either too light or too heavy to bear. She couldn’t hear about anything that interested me, anything good, seemingly, not books or experiences that engaged with grit and complexity, failure and resilience, muck and joy. It was almost as though she closed her eyes to hope, lost in an impenetrable shadow, down below her eyes, invisible to those who seemed to cast it, as we stood before her, trying to feel the sun.
The last time I’d seen her was in August, on a bench in Minto Park, near the Montreal massacre memorial. She was sitting in the shade, bent and weeping. Emily was with me, so I swept by. Confronted by grief like that, grief I bury, I couldn’t bear to see it. I didn’t want Emily, so young, to know about it either, not then, or ever.
The previous summer, weeks before my wedding, Albina had given me a small pewter mirror with an engraved lily along its edge. It was not at all my style, and when I opened it, she said, “Just remember who you are.” I thanked her, while dark thoughts skittered inside me. Even then, I knew I was doing something that threatened the heart of me. I wondered if she knew that.
Now, I wonder whether she had done that, too.
It was only well after my husband left, walking out in a rage, leaving me with the baby, and all the lonely months that followed, that I began to see the connection between us, that I could understand Albina’s sorrow.
As a young woman in a tight-knit Italian family, Albina had married a man beloved by her parents. Soon after her wedding, however, he became controlling. She didn’t mention more than that, and her voice trailed off when she told me that part of the story.
“I tried,” she said, “I did, but I could never do things right in his eyes. Nothing I did was ever enough and I was so tired. It was so tiring. No one seemed to notice, or care. That’s why I came here.”
For a time, it looked like she might be happy. She felt free to be herself, finally, but it came at a cost. I’m not sure how or when things began to go wrong. All I know is that she was haunted by this past. She couldn’t seem to shake free.
When Emily was born in the late fall, Albina once again gave me a gift. It was a rose-strewn baby onesie set, another pretty and feminine gift that set me on edge. It still hangs in my closet these nine years on. Usually, I skim by it, much as I rushed by Albina in the park. I realise that I kept that beautiful gift aside, away from my daughter, because I was afraid something of Albina’s sadness might linger there and I didn’t want it to touch my baby.
The mirror Albina gave me still sits on my bedside table, although I don’t look into it and never did. Even so, Albina shadows my heart. I am reluctant to believe her pain is in any way connected to me.