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Tim and I and So Many Others

Suicide

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 20, 2002.

One of the great attractions of Ernest Hemingway to the young was that he killed himself, a heroic end, in control to the last. Sylvia Plath, too, owes much of her popularity to her exit. Suicide was once, weirdly, romantic, primarily because - like actual romance - it was so rare. Or so it seemed. As you get older, you tend - as have all of us for Millennia - to look back through gauzed and painted lenses at an ideal past. You recall the dinners on the porch of summer, the games you played with siblings as a child, the fun times with loved ones and lovers. And else, of course. For example, in the summer months of 1992 into 1993, a common routine for me was, at night, to write a few short letters, address them, leave them on my desk at work. I’d then take a .357 out of the drawer, load it, and go sit on the roof and contemplate blowing my head off. Eh? Fun times, of course, and those weren’t the only ones. I’ve been suicidal on occasion since I was a kid, and there have been at least three periods as an adult where I considered death as a viable option for the night’s activities, probably just after reading the television offerings. It has nothing to do with how life is going; it has to do with depression, which apparently has many diverse causes. And as you might imagine from someone whose own mother called him Dark Cloud while young, I know depression.

Depression as I experience it has little or nothing to do with anything I’ve read and less to do with what the professionals tell me. Depression, for me, is a void, Goya’s great Nada, where you don’t feel happy, rather obviously, but you don’t feel sad either. You don’t feel at all. You seem to yourself to not belong where you are, unconnected. Wrongly placed. You literally feel as if you whither and echo within your own mind. It’s scary, but scary in a sort of academic-interest-nature. Real fear would require actual energy.

Freshen that for you? Ice? Popcorn?

People have told me for years that I’m manic-depressive, which I took as a reflection on my being moody as hell, but I am unconvinced in the medical sense. Coincident or not, my depressions sometimes occur when things are going very well indeed. However, I take some stock in the diagnosis, and I’ve read enough about how physical things - from vitamin deficiencies to pinched nerves to small, reminder traumas - can trigger the sets of circumstances where you want to turn out the Big Light if only you didn’t have to get up off the chair. And knowing that this could be the cause of my black dog moods is helpful, and I don’t stress over them anymore. I’ll feel better. I always do eventually. And, in truth, I haven’t had a return of the serious mind storms for almost a decade. Knowledge - or even the hint of it - can be liberating. I’ve been through a relatively pathetic period, and I feel pretty good.

I never have talked about any of this, and you surely wish I’d retained that stance, because it can be self serving and – to say no more – in bad taste. But I just realized today, reading some mail, that five people I knew had done in the last five years what either cowardice or inertia precluded me from doing. How many of you know five suicides at all, much less in the last half decade? Three people I was not close to, but worked with and talked to daily during the periods of our common jobs. Two by gun, one by rope, two by less prosaic methods. Four were younger, much younger than I. Is it that common? I read it is. Suicide is a major cause of death in the United States. Even flensing out those elderly and ill who choose it as a way to go with dignity and pain free, it is still a large number.

When I heard that an Irish friend had done himself in, I wanted confirmation and finally got it from his heartbroken father, who was clueless as to cause. Tim was a slight kid who was smart, funny, and a babe magnet. People, mostly women, to this day show up at our place of work and inquire about him, clearly hoping he’s back for a year. Tim, though, drank way too much, and it is hard for me to conclude other than that he couldn’t come down from a bender of the first rank when he choked his own life away. There are so many suicides in Ireland, among the young, that the national government appointed a Senator to look into it. It is the leading cause of death among young men in Ireland, north and south, although somewhat heavier in the Catholic ranks. Think about that. Tim is a statistic that belays all the talk about a Celtic Revival. The Celtic young aren’t just killing each other, but killing themselves, most by hanging. It’s the gun over here.

In the US for young people between fifteen and twenty-four, roughly Tim’s age, suicide is the third leading cause of death, behind unintentional injury and homicide. I quote: “In 1998, more teenagers and young adults died from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.” The mind set one is in, or at least the ones I was in, to seriously contemplate suicide even absent alcohol or chemical additive is not easily recalled or explained. I know the things that seemed important then don’t even blip the screen today, and cannot imagine how or why they ever did. I recall also that the reverse was true, that I could not imagine how I had ever felt different than I did then with gun oil staining my shirt.

What pokes me, though, is why four young people of my acquaintance, one female, had the nerve to do that with which I only threatened myself. One did it in after an act of violence, probably as contrition. One did it after an ended relationship. A third left no note, just hung himself in his cabin where his girl friend found him the next morning in the cold of an Irish December. And actually, in writing this, I recall others I knew through the decades who died by their own hand. Several. In a way, it precludes me from going that way. I mean, if everybody is going to do it…

So. What time The Simpsons, eh? This is Dark Cloud.