Death on the Brain
I don't (never, in fact) hide the fact that I am a complicated man with a lot of baggage and a relentless thought process. It's becoming easier, as I age, to unpack my bags and calm my mind (especially lately, thanks to the support of my husband, the help of my therapist and the honesty of a few friends like Hunter, Jason and my new buddy, David). The death obsession has become less at the front of my mind, over the years.. but it is never not there.
I was born complicated. It was a downhill (or uphill, depending on your point of view) journey from there... I tended toward depression, drama and dissatisfaction. It wasn't until I was something like 7 or 8 years old, though, that I became aware of the weighty effect left on human beings by death. I came down to breakfast one day and my mommy said to me, "be nice to your daddy, today -- his mommy died last night." I wasn't really sure what it meant; but I saw him sitting at the dining table, his elbows up on the wood and his head down, his eyes cast at the space between his hands. He sat forward on his chair, so I went to him, sat my little bottom on the cushion between his body and the back of the chair, and placed my hand on his back. Silently, we sat there for a long time - it was one of the most intimate moments we ever shared; and, yet, I didn't understand what it meant.
I began to understand more about death when my obsession with old movie stars and my obsession with library books joined hands. There, in our local library, I found books like HOLLYWOOD BABYLON and biographies about the stars I saw on the Saturday and Sunday movies on channel 11. I became fascinated by the tragic demises of Jayne Mansfield, James Dean, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, the Black Dahlia. Few things in this world seemed to have the same effect on the human race as death, especially a tragic one. A famous person, a beautiful person, a young person taken from the world seemed to leave the most lasting impressions on people ... and suicides.
I recently told my friend, Jason, that I had three suicide attempts under my belt before the age of 21. This, fairly, shocked him. It isn't something I talk about a lot because it is such a part of my past that I cannot fathom the thought of suicide -- yet it is a part of my mosaic, like my alcoholism, and I don't hide it. It just, rarely comes up. Hearing it made Jason sad. I told him not to be sad, that I was happy he knew because it gave him insight to me. Jason is one of the most important people in my life and it is important to me that he know me. So we talked for a bit about suicide and my thoughts, my feelings on the matter -- and my history with it...
My first two attempts at taking my life were the misguided actions of a teenager crying for attention. The most serious of the two was a farce, in fact. I tried to gas myself in the science lab at school, not knowing that the gas was not lethal. However, I began to hyperventilate and passed out and, when they found me, I was only unconscious because of my lightheadedness. In the end I only wasted a couple of dollars worth of the school's gas and a lot of peoples' time. It did, though, alert my family and the adults around me (not to mention all my schoolmates) to the fact that I was in trouble and needed help. And so began a series of trips to a series of therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other specialists, designed to help me stay alive. The most serious of my suicide attempts was when I was 19. Depressed over so many things that, to list them here would be impossible and ridiculous, I swallowed 36 sleeping pills with a Texas tea glass of Ronrico and green Kool-Aid (the only mixer in the house and, in those days, drinking it straight was not an option). I did it at college so my kid brother wouldn't find me; but a classmate did and I awoke in the hospital. I ended up in hospital for two weeks and in therapy for six months. It would be a few months before the effects of the therapy would take root; and a couple of years before the desire to kill myself would take flight.
It did, though, and these last 2 plus decades, I have found myself losing touch with everything that, once, lived within me, causing in me an understanding of the will to die. Oh, there have been times that I thought about my death - but none in which I have thought about causing it. In fact, I cannot understand what drives a person to such an act... even though I have been there. It is as foreign a thought to me as killing another person.
The day after I came home from my cruise to the Caribbean, I turned on the tv and, on HBO, there was a documentary about a 15 year old boy who had jumped to his death. His parents were film makers and they took footage from his life and added it to new footage, interviews with people affected by his death, and made a movie about him. Within the film, a kindergarten teacher told the camera that, at age five, the boy said he wanted to kill himself so that he wouldn't feel anything anymore. I understand. Still, I don't understand. I guess when you are 15 and manic depressive the entire world seems to be a powder keg - and you don't know if it will ever get better. Nevertheless, I don't understand peoples' inability to realize that the problem is never as permanent as the solution. There is always help, hope and love to get you through it. When you're dead, you're dead. That's no solution.
I know it is different for people living with something like ALS or Alzheimer's or any other incredibly debilitating illness... I can't speak for those situations, though I do remember a line from one of my favourite movies (never seen the play) 'NIGHT MOTHER, in which Anne Bancroft tells Sissy Spacek that they will have to drag her, kicking and screaming, from this earth "and you've never heard a sound like that!". That's how I feel. There is so much here that I love, I don't ever want to leave - and I am ashamed and embarrassed that I ever did. Although, it is a good thing that I was in those situations because it made it possible for me to talk friends, loved ones, off the ledge - an act for which I am, extremely, grateful and proud. Had I not been suicidal in my youth, I would not have been able to help those in need, at their moments of dispair.
Recently, in the public eye, some young celebrities have killed themselves. They didn't commit suicide - but they did kill themselves. It is a sad and tragic event in the world when a young person of fame dies; and when it is a suicide (as in the case of Marie Osmond's son), one cannot help but wonder what could drive a young, vibrant, beautiful person with something to offer the world to this point, oh so sad. When a young person, or any person, for that matter, is responsible for their death, though, I feel a different, a conflicting, emotion. I am, naturally, sad that Brittany Murphy is dead, that Corey Haim is dead, that Heath Ledger is dead. I loved their work. I felt a strong, a STRONG affinity for Heath Ledger, though I never knew him. He touched my soul, time and again, with his work. However, I cannot deny my feelings: these three people killed themselves. They abused the drugs they were taking and it killed them. I am all for accountability and these people (like many others) didn't commit suicide, they made mistakes in judgement and it killed them, leaving behind a heartbreaking legacy for their loved ones. Tragic. It makes it difficult to have a full sympathy (for me) for someone who took their life by accident, by carelessness. It makes me want to go to them, in their afterlife, and say 'shame on you". But I can't. It isn't fair. They've suffered enough.
It's a complicated thing, death. Maybe that's why I have spent so much of my life fascinated by it, obsessed with it. Even now, thanks to movies, tv shows, books and the actions of real people in this world, I find myself wondering: if I had ALS, would I take my life? If one of my loved ones had Alzheimer's could I take theirs? Could there ever be anything that would make me consider suicide? How will people react to it, when I die? What kind of a meltdown will I have when my loved ones begin dying? Could I kill someone who was threatening to kill me? What about killing someone threatening to kill my loved one? How would I react to one of my loved ones taking their own life? Will there ever be a day that goes by where death does not cross my mind, at least once?
There are no answers for me, at this moment; only questions. Every day there are questions for me; it is a reality I cannot escape. Some days there are answers, but every day there are questions. Like death, that is one of the unfailing realities of my life.