Esther goes to the beach with her friend Jody, Jody’s boyfriend Mark, and a man her age named Cal. She and Cal talk about a play in which a mother considers killing her son because he has gone mad. Esther asks Cal what method he would use if he were going to kill himself, and he says he would shoot himself. This answer disappoints her; she thinks shooting oneself a typically male way of committing suicide, and decides that not only would she have little chance of getting a gun, but she would not know where to shoot herself even if she did get one. She decides to try to drown herself in the ocean. Cal swims out with her, but decides he cannot make it to the rock that is their destination. Esther continues swimming, thinking she will continue until she tires, and then let herself drown. As she swims, the mantra “I am I am I am” thuds in her mind.
She thinks of that morning, when she tried to hang herself. She removed the cord from her mother’s bathrobe and walked around the house looking for a place to hang the rope. She could not find a suitable place, however, and tried to kill herself by pulling the rope tightly around her neck, but every time she started to feel woozy, her hands weakened and loosened their hold on the rope. She thought of going to a doctor again instead of killing herself, but then imagined living in a private hospital and impoverishing her family with the cost of her care, and ending up in a state hospital.
Esther decides not to swim to the rock, as she thinks her body will rebel and regain its strength by resting on the rock, and she decides to drown where she is. She pushes herself down through the water, but every time she dives, her body bobs to the surface.
Her mother says that Esther should pull herself out of her depression by thinking of others, so Esther volunteers at the local hospital. On her first day, she must deliver flowers to women who have just given birth. Esther throws out the dead and dying flowers and rearranges the bouquets, which displeases the women. They complain, and Esther runs away from the hospital. Esther considers becoming Catholic, thinking the Catholics could talk her out of suicide, or let her become a nun, but her mother laughs at the idea of a conversion to Catholicism. Esther goes to visit her father’s grave for the first time. After some effort, she finds his stone and begins to weep. She realizes she has never cried about her father’s death; she did not see his corpse, and she was not allowed to attend his funeral, so his death never seemed real to her. Her mother never cried either, but smiled and said he would rather die than be crippled for life.
Esther decides on her method of suicide. After her mother leaves for work, she writes a note saying she has gone for a long walk. Then she retrieves her sleeping pills from her mother’s lockbox. She hides herself in a crawl space in the cellar, takes about fifty pills, and drifts off to sleep.
Esther wakes, semiconscious, in darkness. She feels wind and hears voices, and light begins to pierce the darkness. She calls out for her mother. She does not realize she is in a hospital, and when she says aloud that she cannot see, a cheerful voice tells her she can marry a blind man. Soon a doctor visits her and says her eyesight is intact and a nurse must have been joking with her—she cannot see because bandages cover her head. Esther’s mother and brother come to visit. She wishes her mother would leave, and tells her brother that she feels as she did before she tried to kill herself. She denies calling out for her mother. A young doctor who is an old acquaintance, George Bakewell, visits Esther and she sends him away. She does not really remember him, and thinks he only wants to see how a suicidal girl looks. She asks to see a mirror, and when she sees her bruised face and shaved head, she drops the mirror. The broken mirror angers the nurses, and Esther is moved to a hospital in the city.