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When I met her she was a gazelle... delicate collarbone, amazing profile, breasts that came out of nowhere and declared themselves: she had a dance card longer than most of my English texts...

Suicide's seduction lies in the complete stop.The foot comes off the brake, the engine stops cold. Stops dead. No long sexy painful slope.

Sensual bohemian chick

Greyhound Jack

and other slow suicides

from a novel, The Suicide Project
by Chris Lombardi
illustrations by Amy Conger

Jack Kerouac died at 37 of severe liver damage, due to his acute alcoholism. His first wife said he'd planned it that way, that his Irish Catholic soul forbade the quick surcease but allowed him to drink himself to death.

I had this pointed out to me by, of all people, my first boyfiend -- a Freudian typo? Jack Greyhound was a self-named sophomore from Godknowswhere Missouri, a tall, rangy guitar player with a taste for William Burroughs, Kerouac, Camels and 15-year-old virgins. (In which category I barely qualified: oversexed at an early age, at fourteen I'd seduced my parents' Brazilian housecleaner, whose husband and children were so loud and demanding, she said, "they crowd my brain." I have no idea how it came to me, so early and so guiltlessly, that men and women could be equally tasty, make me just as warm inside. ) To Jack, my earlier adventures were both enticing and irrelevant -- he was far more intrigued by my suicide poems, my scars, the cynical attitude I already wore like a pullover. He introduced me to the Beat poets, Jim Beam, caffeine, and condoms.

I think he brought up Kerouac's alcoholic suicide in an effort to train me as a fellow drinker -- trying to make his addictions match mine. I probably accepted the whiskey, but certainly not the argument. Kerouac, guy of guys, the seedy underbelly of the 1950s, had very little in common with the androgynous Romantic poets who filled my high school journals, whose example seemed just perfect to me, whose passionate melancholy had filled my head for years, as I watched the water rush down the waterfalls into the gorge.

(Although none of my English Romantics died by his own hand. After Keats' TB, Shelley left his wife behind in a drowning accident, Byron managing an ambiguous death in a Mediterranean war. But it hardly mattered, they had all sung so beautifully of suicide and each contrived to find, quite young, Byron's "quiet of the heart." And along with their cousin Goethe they inspired an era: dozens killed themselves inspired by The Sorrows of Young Werther. Looking back on it many years later, the safe survivor Flaubert would sigh, "We swung between madness and suicide... one strangled himself with his tie, several died of debauchery in order to escape boredom; it was beautiful!")

I suppose Jack could be included in Flaubert's line about dying of debauchery in order to escape boredom. God knows he taught me a thing or two about debauchery: I still purr remembering his body pressing at me from behind, his hand sliding forward and down.

Exasperated at my lack of enthusiasm for Kerouac, Greyhound Jack (or Jack Greyhound, it hardly mattered, he had named himself for his hero and for the bus on which he'd escaped his not-to-be-spoken-of family) threw Sylvia Plath at me like an insult. "At least get yourself into the twentieth century," he taunted, while I turned green trying to get over the first sick-stage of learning to smoke. He knew she'd hook me, she and Anne Sexton, whose Wanting to Die book featured a skinny photo, a wan face, a slim cigarette -- who startled my system with her hunger to "thrust all that life under your tongue!"

Both Sylvia and the cigarettes lasted longer than Jack, who found a blonder cuter virgin the next semester. (He's quite a legend among a certain generation of Cornell faculty brats.) My mother threw the cigs in the trash at every opportunity, which increased my determination to keep smoking them; and suddenly, between them and Jack, I was "cool," no longer the nerd popular only with my teachers. My suicide attempts and lesbian experiences turned out to be an asset as well, no longer my little secret but another sexy cool thing about cool Judith Rossi, cigarette in one hand, beer bottle in the other, who gave a mean blow job during fifth period if you asked real nice.

No kidding. For nearly a year I was like that, trying to "die of debauchery in order to escape boredom." It gave my mother apoplexy, which was perhaps the point.

"You're not going to get yourself killed in my house!" she would declare at three a.m., dismembering my cigarette pack and phoning the police to tell them they could relax, I wasn't dead, so sorry she had rung them. I'm sure they got to know her voice: even now her clipped British command will snap you to attention. Somehow she didn't understand what I was really doing, trying a new tempo -- as if my failed attempts meant I should instead try the slow suicide track, the long sexy slope into oblivion. Ignore the hangovers and keep going.

I knew somehow she was going to be important in my life, if not my friend. I didn't know if I would marry her, write about her, or kill her.

I still wonder sometimes if that's the only real division: if there are no true non-suicides. If there is only the slow and the fast lane. And the lane changes can be sudden or seamless.

What got me out of it, the slow lane, was Colette Desouches, the most elusive and exotic of the "cool girls," daughter of a French professor and erotic role model to us all, who wasted away before our eyes.

Understand that speed was part of it, that these girls had access to more pharmaceuticals than most of the faculty at the nursing school. But I never saw Colette eat, except when offered a bite of someone else's lunch.

When I met her she was a gazelle: I was quite enraptured with her, but except for a few stray kisses at someone's party when she was far more drunk than I, she was quite firm about not being "that way." Delicate collarbone, amazing profile, breasts that came out of nowhere and declared themselves: she had a dance card longer than most of my English texts, mostly Cornell boys with a few high school guys thrown in at free moments. She took ballet class and, when she read, read gushy romances about ravished kidnapped maidens. Her mother had died when she was quite young, her father was a high-powered attorney who taught at the law school when he wasn't maneuvering some hot-shot corporate merger.

Over the course of the year I knew her, Colette began to drop weight, her only observable calories coming from alcohol. It's a tribute to our sick culture how thin she was able to get and still get praise from all her friends and attention from so many males of the species; even when she stopped going to dance class and began to complain of fatigue, we thought it was "just" the drugs.

When Colette heard about my botched suicide attempts, the painful aspirin incident, the dull razor blade in my parents' medicine cabinet, she always just smiled and shook her head, saying "Not me, I'll never do that."

As her breasts evaporated and her wrists grew bony she still always had at least two boyfriends: she was first on the block with a black guy, a Pakistani college freshman, a gas station attendant "with the biggest dick you ever saw!"

I watched her with a steady fascination, as if she were my own personal anthropological study: I knew somehow she was going to be important in my life, if not my friend. I didn't know if I would marry her, write about her, or kill her.

At 3:31 Wednesday morning, Colette Desouches died in a boyfriend's apartment of intestinal inflammation due to starvation. Our high school snapped into action with "Eating Disorders Education Month", coaxing many closet anorexics and bulimics out of the closet. The coolest of the cool crowd didn't fall for it -- they sort of knit tightly together, focusing on the fascinating stuff, the amount of vomit they'd found in the bed, the blood she'd spit up.

I had nightmares for weeks, about spitting up blood. I stopped drinking and the nightmares turned to insomnia; I stayed up and looked out over the darkened Ithaca hills, my approving mother dozing in her comfort that I was at home. I stopped returning phone calls from Colette's friends, who had never felt like mine. None of the guys I was fucking could be thought of as "boyfriends," so they stopped calling pretty quickly.

My mother even stopped complaining about my smoking, which escalated, as if I was trying to develop emphysema overnight, to somehow accelerate the process that had taken Colette a year, Kerouac 30 years, Dylan Thomas even longer. I chain-smoked till my fingers stank and my teeth were yellow. I think she knew what I was doing, because the day came that I did, indeed, vomit. I vomited all day, and finally cried, not because I loved Colette but because I didn't, because I should have, because someone should have, because she had let the lack of love eat her from the inside.

Defying the stats, quitting smoking wasn't hard for me; just looking at cigarettes made me want to go to sleep, cry, throw up. My mother hired tutors to help me catch up at school, offered to pay for counselling, but she needn't have worried. I resumed my introverted ways, with Sylvia dancing in my dreams instead of Shelley.

She could have worried about the other, my fast-lane ambitions, but I was too good at stealth. Or perhaps she just knew me for a coward.

That one year apart, the slow lane has never made any sense to me. Despite my apparently endless tendency to keep rehearsing it all, suicide's seduction lies in the complete stop.The foot comes off the brake, the engine stops cold. Stops dead. No long sexy painful slope.

"You're drinking yourself to death" and those like it are the easiest slow suicides to tag: the heavy drinkers, the reckless drivers (which is in fact how Jack Greyhound went, forsaking his namesake bus for a Volkswagen Bug at 90 miles an hour), the rock and rollers whose skin goes raw and sandbagged, whose eyes seem teary in the afternoon sun even if they haven't shot up in the last few hours. And in recent years our puritanical culture has got around to tagging the smokers for that act alone -- though word has obviously not gotten out in Asia, whose small airplanes seem to exude smoke from the vents.

But what about people like my supervisors, who come to work at six a.m. to talk to Europe and break only to go to the gym and sweat, who turn out the lights at perhaps 10 p.m., apologies to the wife und kids? Wife und stepkids?

What about my cousins who turn on the TV every fucking morning as soon as they wake up, go to work at some retail store where the tube amuses customers between purchases, and channel-surf over takeout every single night, whose kids don't seem aware of much beyond the latest sex scandal?

What about the blunted dentists and real estate folks who littered my high school reunion, with nothing to talk about besides point spreads -- either of sex or mortgages?

Having murdered every minute of their lives, who are they to sneer at me with my scars? At Kerouac and his booze? At Colette as she refused food, bleeding through her teeth rather than become one of them?

There are different kinds of self-murder.

Same chick, 10 years later?

Chris Lombardi began writing fiction at the age of seven. Her publications include Minnesota Review and the upcoming Guernica Press anthology, Mary Loves Angie, Vinnie Loves Sal. Greyhound Jack is drawn from her new novel, The Suicide Project. Her novel blue: season is a meditation on forgiveness, drawn from the life of Lucia Joyce. Chris is represented by Scovil, Chicak, Galen Literary Agency, Chris Lombardi, San Francisco at

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