Damn Liberal Politicians
How Illinois’ strict gun laws saved my life
It was a typical pandemic Sunday. My husband and I both looked at the clock and knew it was time to get up, but neither of us wanted to. So I turned onto my side and my husband put his arm around me cuddling close. Intuiting our awakening, not two minutes later, one of our girls ran into the room and piled on top of us. “Time to squish mom and dad,” she yelled to her older brother and twin sister. There were squeals of excitement as her siblings ran up the stairs and followed suit. My husband made a valiant escape from the kid mound and turned the tables on our captors by laying on top of them. After a few more minutes of wrestling and tickling, the whole family lay in our queen bed giggling. I planted a kiss on the top of one of my daughter’s heads and was instantly transported to a year ago when I gave her just such a kiss before deciding to end my life.
I have told very few people this story and most of my friends and family will be shocked to learn I hit such a low point. See, I was a very high-functioning depressive. I had a high-paying legal career. I was a frequent volunteer at my children’s school. I hit the gym daily and met up with friends for drinks every week or two. Hell, I ran the Chicago marathon only months before my suicide attempt. But I also cried in my office. And in the car as I waited to pick up the kids from sports. And I had daily suicidal ideations. I was burnt out and miserable, but too ashamed to tell anyone. Having come from a lower middle-class family, the very idea of leaving a successful career seemed like the ultimate affront to the single mom who worked so hard to give me the opportunities I currently enjoyed.
And so one morning in January, two months before the pandemic was declared, I put into action the plan I had been devising for months. As usual, one of our children had crawled into bed with us during the night. This time it was the daughter that I jokingly called my shadow because she always wanted to be next to me copying what I was doing. I turned over and looked into her beautiful sleeping face and pushed back the brown curls that covered her eyes. I thought about all the things I would miss if I went through with my plan: the high school and college graduations, and potential grandchildren. Hell, I wouldn’t even be able to hold her hand and dispense tissues during her first viewing of Fried Green Tomatoes. And while those missed moments filled me with immense sadness, I knew I would gladly give them all up for the chance to not spend another day wallowing in sadness and shame. So I said a silent apology, kissed her on the forehead, and got ready for my trip to Indiana.
Over the course of the last few months, I had obsessively imagined every possible way to kill myself before ultimately deciding I would need a gun. All the other options came with the very real risk that I wouldn’t succeed and would have to face the sadness and disappointment written all over the faces of my family and friends. I would be forced to hear whispers of “how could she think of doing that to her children” at school pickup. And I wouldn’t blame them. What I was planning did seem pretty selfish from the outside. But inside I knew it was the only way to get relief from the constant sadness. And so I made the trip from our home in Illinois, with its very strict gun laws, across the border to Indiana. During the hour-long drive, my sister called me for a casual chat. We had a completely normal conversation about politics and family, which came to a natural conclusion right as I pulled into the gun store parking lot. I tried to keep my voice steady as I said goodbye for what I thought would be the last time.
Having been raised in an extremely anti-gun household, I had never before stepped foot into a gun store. I was instantly overwhelmed by the rows and rows of handguns and shotguns that filled the strip mall location. My confidence started to waver as my eyes took in the hundreds of weapons I knew nothing about. Helpfully, the man behind the counter asked if he could be of assistance. I approached him nervously and told him the story that I had concocted: I needed a gun for protection, but was a total novice. He told me he had just the thing and handed me a small silver handgun. He said the advantage of purchasing this model was that there was no safety to worry about. All I had to do was load the bullets, point, and shoot. And it was the cheapest handgun available at just under $400. The surprisingly heavy weapon shook a bit in my hands and I told the man I needed a minute to think about it. I stepped away from the counter to supposedly peruse the ammunition shelves as my mind raced. Was I doing the right thing? Would the kids ever forgive me? Most likely not, but would they at least remember the good times too? The times I cheered them on at their games and meets. The holidays I made extra magical. When I held them when they were sick. Or read them countless stories before bed. Would all these memories disappear and be replaced with a terrible void? The thought stole the breath from my lungs, but when I imagined walking away, I was overcome with despair. I absolutely believed I couldn’t live another day like this.
So I walked back to the helpful counter attendant and told him I’d take it. His face lit up at the easy sale and he said he just needed my license and credit card to complete the transaction. His expression changed, however, when I handed over my Illinois identification. “Oh, that’s too bad. If you were an Indiana resident, I could sell you this gun and send you on your way in minutes. But Illinois residents have to obtain a Firearms Owners card that can take weeks to obtain due to the background checks. Then his Indiana store would have to send the gun to an Illinois store for pick up, which, again, could take weeks. He shook his head and apologized, blaming the liberal politicians for standing between me and home safety.
I drove home in disbelief. I had finally mustered the courage to do something about my depression and somehow managed to fail at that too. I was sitting in my basement crying when I heard my front door open. My husband walked down the stairs and sat next to me. I asked what he was doing home early, and he said he was worried about me. He felt something was off and needed to come home and check. I broke down and told him I couldn’t live like this anymore. He said I didn’t have to. We could step back from everything and start fresh. I agreed to give it a try, but was dubious that we would follow through. It’s easy to fall back into old habits after all. But then two months later, the pandemic was declared and we were forced to step back from everything. And it was the best thing that could have happened to us. Over this last year, I’ve had the chance to figure out what makes me happy and keep doing those things while quitting the things that made me miserable. I left my career, published my first book, and began training to be a pilates instructor. But mostly I’ve spent a lot of Sunday mornings cuddling with our kids in bed. Sundays I would never have had if it hadn’t been for those damn liberal Illinois politicians.
Melissa Manning first caught the writing bug when she took fourth place in a city-wide writing competition in elementary school. Though she succumbed to the pressure to choose a safe, lucrative career, her desire to write never left. She is now a recovering lawyer writing and living in Chicago with her husband, three children, and cat Kermit. Darkness Drops Again is her first novel.