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It was the lipstick. Pink. A tawdry hooker kind of pink, drawn small like a geisha bow. And the peculiar package of your knees, body draped by too many sheets, as if they had never straightened you out. Here in the back of the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street.

Those were the day’s worst details. The ones that still cause a cringe. Worse even than finding myself standing in front of a thick window as the clerk at the medical examiner’s office parted a drab curtain to reveal your maternal edges on the other side of glass.

You hadn’t wanted this, an autopsy and an ignominious showing, the required “identify the body” that followed the discovery, head in large plastic balloon, helium tube attached, sedative jars in a row on the bathroom sink.

You had intended to set a poetic example, a healthy person’s #BetteroffDead. Inspiration against America’s industry of old-folks’ homes and Alzheimer’s and feeding tubes. Speech writer of your own obituary.

But when you cleaned out your house and organized your papers, wrote your goodbye emails and snuck the black chaise lounge down the kitchen stairs to the car to occupy a cheap motel room then taped up signs saying “Stop! Don’t come in. Call the police!” so the maids in the morning wouldn’t have to be the ones to find you, when all these things happened, you forfeited the hero’s role.

And let the official world summon me into this hall with its glass cubicles like a passport line in the airport and the bleak showing room in the back. Where all I can see is the pink of the lipstick.

This is what happens, Mom. When you dream your own death. When you expect the applause.

Silence greets me.


From Reading Jane, a memoir based on the story of a daughter reading her mother’s secret diaries after her suicide (querying now).

Born in India, Susannah Kennedy grew up in New York and San Francisco. She is a passionate bicultural/bilingual mother and identifies as a pre-tech northern Californian who has just recently returned to her roots. She now lives on the western coast and can see whales on her walks. Other nonfiction pieces have been published in (mac)ro(mic) and The Summerset Review (forthcoming).

© 2020, Susannah Kennedy

One comment on “Lipstick, by Susannah Kennedy

  1. Roslin P. Moore says:

    Very powerful. Very sad. Well said.


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