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Letters About Literature National Winners 2011

National Honor Winner, Level 3: Fabiola Urdaneta, FL

Dear Sylvia Plath,

I have recently been trying to find someone who can understand and empathize with what I have been feeling. Up until a couple of months ago I was extremely hard-working and focused. My dedication to the things which I knew were important was nearly unmatched. This all changed however, last April when my brother committed suicide. It surpassed any obstacle I had previously encountered. It was more difficult to understand than any mathematical equation, more engrossing than any philosophical question, and more heartbreaking than anything I have ever experienced. Words will never be able to convey how terrible this experience truly was, not only because I lost the person I loved and looked up to the most, but because it left me feeling empty and meaningless, “the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” I felt too numb to do anything. I just sat in my room staring at the guitar my brother treasured and listening to the records he loved, waiting for something. I am still not sure what I was waiting for, and have been waiting for ever since my brother died.

I slowly started to deviate from the path I had been following my whole life. I stopped working hard, stopped caring about school, stopped looking after my health, and was ready to throw away everything I had once worked so hard for. I told myself that I would keep waiting until I found what I was looking for. Yet, the days passed by too fast for me to keep up with. What was originally a couple of days rapidly turned into a week. Time kept on passing and nothing happened, nothing changed. I still felt empty, alone, and numb. My parents and friends noticed this and often asked if I wanted to talk to someone. They encouraged me to revisit the psychiatrist I had seen a couple of weeks after his funeral, but I continually said no, and that I could handle it all on my own. Maybe it was an answer I thought I was waiting for. Maybe it was someone to tell me everything was going to be okay. Or maybe it was none of those things.

I started reading your book, The Bell Jar, for a school assignment. When I initially chose the book, I thought that reading someone who was manically depressed and suicidal would help me understand what my brother had experienced, help understand his thoughts, and help understand why he did it. All of those questions remain largely unanswered. Esther’s experiences did not help me understand why my brother chose to use a helium tank, or why he did not just ask for help if he needed it, or why he did it on that Tuesday. Esther’s experiences did however help me understand myself. As I saw her letting her own life slip away, infatuated with ways in which to escape the “bad dream”, just hoping that “the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again, “ I realized I was becoming Esther. I realized the path I had set myself on was headed towards destruction. I cried as I imagined myself “sitting down in the sopping grass” feeling as desperate and lonely as Esther felt when she grieved over the loss of her father, a loss she had never really come to terms with . I could not help but think that I would one day feel as depressed as my brother and by unable to ask for help. That’s when I realized what I was waiting for: I was just waiting for myself.

It had been months since I could figure out why I worked so hard, or why I participated in so many activities, or why I had been so focused. I cannot say with certainty that I have found the answers to these questions. However, what I have found is that I do not want: I do not want to keep going down the path I am currently on. Your book made me realize this. It made me change my attitude towards things that should be important to me. It made me think about my actions and the way they were hurting my parents. It made me think about my life and what I wanted to do with it. If it had not been for The Bell Jar, I have no idea when I would have woken up from this endless dream of despair. I still cope with my brother’s decision every day, but somehow, I manage to get through it. I know The Bell Jar is the reason I have strength and courage. It exposed me to my alternative. It changed my life. Thank you.

Fabiola Urdaneta