Me Before You

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. Much of that has been being busy with school, and my new internship, but sometimes I just don’t particularly feel like giving others a look inside my head is a particularly smart thing to do. But right now I can’t sleep, and it’s partially because of the title, so let’s get to it, shall we?

I read the book, Me Before You, months ago – largely because I knew it was being made into a movie with an actress I really like (Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones). And I’ll be honest, it kind of messed me up. The general story of the book (and movie) is this – a handsome, intelligent, wealthy young man, Will Traynor, is in a terrible accident that leaves him almost totally paralyzed, but for his head and a finger and thumb. Unsurprisingly, he spirals into a deep depression, since his life falls apart. Enter Louisa Clark – a down-on-her-luck young woman who has recently lost her job, and sees the pay of being Will’s caretaker as a godsend for her and her family. She is bubbly (and a little bumbling), and he is generally a terrible ass, and then it comes out – he has tried to kill himself once since his accident, and is planning to do so, medically, in six months. Unbeknownst to Louisa, she has been hired, essentially, to try to convince him not to kill himself, and she very nearly quits when she finds out. But she starts to warm to Will, and he to her, and their six months together culminate in a Hail Mary of a shot – a beautiful vacation where Louisa finally, passionately, declares that over their time together she has fallen in love with Will, and she knows about his plans, but she wants him to live and be with her.

Will, sadly, never had any intention of being talked out of his plans. He knew Louisa was falling for him, and he for her, but he just can’t stand living like he is – a shadow of the man he used to be – and tells her that it just isn’t enough. Then he asks her if she’ll come and be with him while he dies. Which goes over about as well as you’d expect. Eventually the two do come together, and he does go through with his plans, and the book ends with her following some post-mortem advice from Will on how to try to move on. The book is far more nuanced than the movie, including several sub-plots the movie jettisons for time constraints, but Emilia Clarke is a perfect casting choice, but both the movie and book hit me right where it hurts, because I can see both sides of their doomed relationship.

Like I’ve talked about many times, I’ve been suicidal before; like Will, I planed my last attempt for months, though mine wasn’t essentially euthanasia. If you watch the movie or read the book and you can’t understand why Will, even when a beautiful, lively, fun woman is practically throwing herself at him, still decides to die, then you’ve probably never been depressed enough to try to kill yourself. The hopelessness, the emptiness, is so profound that it’s difficult to explain; there’s really nothing else in life I can compare it to. It does strange things to your mind, like convincing you that the rest of the world, and especially your loved ones, will be better off when you’re gone. So I can understand why he’d want to die; I don’t think it’s necessarily to do with his disability (the book has an extensive subplot where Louisa talks to other people with similar quadriplegic issues, and many of them are leading long, productive lives), but rather the depression that has come from no longer being able to be the person he sees himself as. In fact, if I, during my last period of serious depression, right before I tried to kill myself a second time, had been in the same situation as Will – with a woman like Louisa telling me she loved me, and begging me to at least try to live for her – God help me, I think I still would have tried to kill myself. So I understand where it comes from.

And, like Louisa, I’ve been on the receiving end of being told that my love was just not enough, and that’s a kind of pain they just don’t make a bandage for. It’s like having your heart ripped out and torn to pieces in front of your eyes, and there’s no salve for that, no magic pill or cure – just the slowly-fading ache of having been told that your love wasn’t enough for someone else, someone you trusted with one of the most vulnerable parts of you only to have them demolish it. I imagine the pain of this kind of rejection is something a lot more people, sadly, are familiar with, and the pain is no less real for being emotional – there’s just no blood to see, no wound to heal. I’ve lost a good friend to suicide, though not in a situation like Will’s, and the pain of that leaves scars on the heart that don’t heal easily or well. And I can only imagine the extra pain that comes when someone who has just rejected you then asks you to be with them when they die – not of some natural cause, but because they just can’t stand life anymore. I don’t know that I would have had the strength, the ability to forgive, or the willingness to help someone I loved die that Louisa shows, even knowing how badly it will likely mess her up.

I think both the book and the movie are worth seeing/reading, and the sequel to the book, cunningly titled After You, continues with Louisa’s efforts to recover from her time with Will. It’s also good, if hard to read, and I think that it’s largely because it’s marketed as romance (both the movie and book). While there is a romantic element to the story, I think it’s much more of a tragedy, because there are times when love can’t conquer all – when something like depression takes over and beats love bloody. It’s not a happy story, but it is one that I don’t think I’ll be able to forget anytime soon. And now that I’ve written this, maybe it will let me sleep.

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