I am not a purse person. I carry my wallet and my phone in the back pocket of my jeans when possible, and only begrudgingly drag around a bag when only absolutely unavoidable. Still, I too have owned a Kate Spade product. It was a gift, a little green wallet with just enough room for a few credit cards and some cash. Small enough, of course, to fit in the back pocket of my jeans. It said, demurely, “kate spade” in gold letters. Its leather was supple and rich, and I loved it, my constant companion. I used it until it was falling apart, and replaced it only when I went to L.A. the week my book came out and bought a new one in the outdoor carts by Hollywood and Highland, up the road from Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the handprints of the stars.
Until yesterday, I knew next to nothing about Kate Spade, the woman behind the eponymous brand. I suppose if I’d been pressed to speculate, I’d have imagined a wealthy New Yorker, moving with the “right” crowd, never feeling financial pressure, traveling anywhere she wanted to go. Such are the stories we tell ourselves about others: our pain is private, and their fabulous lives public, so we think they don’t share our struggle.
It has been decades since I last considered ending my life. But I can visit that dark place without much effort, that maze of hopelessness, that sinking feeling that nothing will ever improve. It is a map that etches itself into the fabric of who you are, a footworn path anyone who has ever trodden it glimpses in times of sadness or trouble. I couldn’t think of any circumstance under which I’d feel that way again, but I remember it like an ache in my bones, a panic that rips me from sleep. The despair one needs to feel to even think about it is vast beyond my capacity to measure and explain. Any time I hear of it, it fills me with sadness.
The other day, my daughter got her yearbook. She and her classmates engaged in the age-old ritual of writing messages to one another in the blank back pages. She shared one with me, from a lonely boy in her math class. He wrote that the fact that she would say hello to him in the hallway and call him by his name was the only thing that had sometimes kept him from making what he called a “stupid choice.”
One person had used his name in a sea of indifferent faces. That the person is one of my making makes me feel proud and reminds me that the web that holds us all together is like gossamer: seemingly insubstantial, but surprisingly strong. There were days that only one or two threads kept me woven in, but they did just long enough for me to make a human that kept someone else woven in, decades later. I cried about the boy, when she told me. I thought about writing him a letter. “It gets better,” I wanted to say. I figured it might seem creepy, though, so I didn’t. He had intended it as a private message to someone who had been kind to him.
I wish I had a sweeping message of hope to share here at the end, a prescription for all to follow. I don’t. Life can be unkind, and difficult, and choices can seem limited. We all find our paths, and, if we’re lucky, we make meaning from the more painful things. But as Kate Spade reminds us, that meaning is not always derived from what others would consider good fortune or success. It may just be a smile, and a hello by name in the hall.
We don’t always know who is hurting. We don’t always know what to say or do. But, if you can, be kind to someone today. And, if you’re hurting, know that there is a multitude of us who have walked the bramble-edged path and who have found our way to gentler roads. You can too. There are so many people just waiting to help you, so many ways to happiness you haven’t yet found, but can. Please reach out.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, confidential: Call 1-800-273-8255.