On April 12, 2001, Stevie Miller died by suicide. She was 18. She was also the love of my life.
Stevie and I first met at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, early in the summer of 2000. I can still remember the first time I saw her: her silky brown hair and beaming blue eyes made me melt, and we could both feel the electricity between us. We were inseparable from that moment on and the passion was overwhelming. However, she lived in Texas and my life was in New York City, so neither of us knew whether we would see each other again. I wrote many songs about her; some of the happiest songs I've ever written. After all, I had never met anyone quite like her. She was so warm and giving; so intelligent and vibrant. God, she was beautiful. She believed in me in a way that no one else had before, and I loved and appreciated every bit of admiration and support that she gave me.
When the festival was over, not a day went by without an email or a phone call between us. I bought her a guitar for her birthday because she said she had always wanted to learn to play. A little over a month later she came to visit me in New York, and surprised me with a CD of songs she had recorded for me. I was so touched—no one had ever done anything like that for me before. It was so hard feeling such intense love with the knowledge that we lived so far from one another.
But love would not be denied. Six weeks later Stevie moved to New York City. There were many challenges we faced, as I was several years older, and my life was very busy juggling a demanding job and a music career. She was 18, and on her own in one of the toughest cities in the world. But we created some beautiful memories together that I will always cherish: an incredible winter trip to the mountains of Lake Tahoe, skiing the soft white powder by day and making love every night; a yoga retreat in the serene countryside of upstate New York; a moonlit cruise around South Street Seaport in each other's arms. Unfortunately, one never realizes how truly special these experiences are until after they have passed.
Stevie endured a harrowing childhood, with the trials and tribulations of years of sexual and physical abuse that would always be with her. Her warmth and openness to people were all the more impressive in light of these inner demons. And now Stevie had to go from living a high school life in Texas suburbia, where food was already on the table, to the rigors of adult life in New York City, maintaining a job, an apartment and a relationship with me.
After living away from home for a few months she began to realize just how badly things were in her past. She began to get help, but the feelings came out like an earthquake that shook the very foundation of her being. She felt hard pressed to know what to do—she loved New York City, but internally she felt so much chaos that she just wanted a safe place to go.
No one that knew her really understood just how badly she needed help. Even when I took her to the hospital after her first suicide attempt, I thought she would realize how lucky she was to be alive. I think the madness of her childhood left her in a bubble where no one could really touch her, and a sense of aloneness that would always be with her until she got the professional help and the love that she so desperately needed; the kind of love that all of us need.
If I could have that night back I would have held her in my arms for the next month."
I saw Stevie two days before she passed away. It was just after midnight when she came to my door asking for help and advice. I was petrified. I had never seen her that upset before. I felt helpless in the face of her depression that was now spiraling right in front of me, but I was also afraid to somehow "lose control" of my own life in taking care of her.
If I could have that night back I would have held her in my arms for the next month. I would have done whatever it would have taken to get her back on her feet again. She was an incredibly bright, sensitive person. But she was also terrified for her life. And I will always regret not doing more to help her. That night was the last time I saw her.
When Stevie died, I was thrown into a bubble of my own; I was completely numb. It was my turn to feel emotional overload. I would see horrid, distorted visions of her around my house, and I often thought I heard voices. Many of my friends just "disappeared"; they didn't know what to say to me, and I didn't know who to trust. Yet I desperately needed help in dealing with this insanity. After all, how could I have let something like this happen? How could I not see so clearly that before my eyes she was losing a battle with her own worst fears? And why didn't I do more to help her? I did what I knew how to do within the range of who I was at that time. At least that's what I try to tell myself. I'm just eternally sorry that I couldn't see past that to help her beautiful soul rise above her experiences.
So I began to write songs about losing her. It was the only way I knew how to express what I felt over Stevie's death. I had so much inside of me that desperately needed to come out. It was as if now I was doing this for two people. I couldn't let her death go in vain, and somehow expressing such an intimate part of myself in these songs enabled me to feel a shred of dignity in the total insanity that seemed to surround me. And now I was out to tell a story—a story of love, loss, grief and ultimately, survival. Yes, survival—though I wasn't sure of even that at the time.
It occurred to me after recording these songs that other people might benefit from what I had to say about losing Stevie -- people who were suffering from depression, or those who had experienced loss. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was responsive to my efforts, and subsequently put my music on their website. Through a special charity CD I dedicated to survivors of suicide, and of course to my beautiful Stevie, money continues to be raised for the Foundation.
At SPAN USA's annual National Suicide Prevention Awareness Event in July, I sung one of my songs to hundreds of suicide survivors from around the country. There was a 10-year-old boy who lost his father; a woman who lost her brother; a man who lost both his father and his son. To be able to sing about my loss to other people who have been similarly affected was truly incredible.
Stevie brought me tremendous joy in life, and her spirit will always be an inspiration to me. While her death brought me great sadness, it also propelled me to make changes in my own life that I was never able to before. She was so free, and always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do on the deepest levels. How could I not be inspired by her? And knowing that my music has provided comfort to people experiencing loss and depression has been rewarding beyond description. One man from Canada told me that my songs helped him cope with the loss of his son. Another woman suffering with depression contacted me after hearing my music and seeing Stevie's picture on my website. Subsequently she is getting help, and has made a decision to try to heal. Most importantly, she has made a decision to live. Stories like these are so meaningful to me, because I felt so helpless in losing Stevie. To think I could make a positive difference in someone else's life from something that came out of such tragedy in my own life is unbelievable. Stevie Miller will not be forgotten.
For more on Erik, go to www.erikhendin.com.