Thursday, February 11, 2010

On suicide

Alexander McQueen has died. He committed suicide. Purportedly, he hanged himself.

For the last couple weeks, I've been thinking about writing a post about suicide on February 15, because five years ago, on February 15, 2005, that's what I was thinking about doing. I've alluded to it a few times over the years, mostly on my old blog, but I don't think I've ever really written about it much. It's sort of an odd thing to write about, and you wonder what people will think, and you wonder why you didn't do it. But it's been five years, which, I suppose, is some kind of a miracle.

I was without a doubt one of those types of people who never would have believed I would have ended up wanting to kill myself if you had asked me prior to that time in my life. In all likelihood, I would have designated such an act either a sign of terrific personal weakness or the consequence of lunacy. And perhaps it is those things, for some, some of the time, and something else, too. I'm not even sure I know what.

I could tell you that there were a series of things that happened right around that time that prompted me to want to end my life, but, looking back now, as if through a kaleidoscope, it seems the build up to it predated it by a long, long time. After my father died on January 6, 1996, things were never quite the same for me mentally. And, surely, I was far from "normal" before that. The years that came after his death were, in a way, a long route of avoiding his death. When my stepmother called me the night my father died, while I lay sleeping, she suggested I come and see my father, who had died of a heart attack on the living room floor. Later, some person in the medical field would describe his heart as having "exploded," and that was pretty much what that news did to me. It was as if someone had fired a bullet into my brain, tearing a path straight through, after which things would never be the same. At the time, I declined my stepmother's invitation to view my father's dead body; but, sometimes, looking back, I wonder if it would have been better if I had. If by seeing him unequivocally gone, I would have in some way been able to better let him go. But I didn't. Instead, I dodged, parried, and, after hanging up the phone, went to the neighbor's, as I was concerned I was going to toss myself out the window. So, every suicidal mindset has a back story, and mine was years old.

In 2005, after things came to a head, I wanted to kill myself pretty much every minute of every day from mid-February until around mid-April. I suppose I snapped. I had some kind of a mental break. After the death of my father, I had moved to Los Angeles, where I spent several years writing about the adult movie industry. In that world, I followed some of the most extreme things the hardcore corner of the Valley had to offer. And it is impossible to say that what I saw there did not have a significant impact upon my psyche. Standing front row at "The World's Biggest Gang Bang III" does not generally lead an individual to believe that people are inherently good. Repeatedly visiting the sets of bukkakes, in which as many as 100 men ejaculate onto the face of one kneeling woman, does not typically cause one to conclude that the world is a beautiful and wondrous place. Visiting and revisiting a world in which there are no rules, and people respond to this fact by treating one another as if the single goal in life is to annihilate each other does not for a happy, healthy human make. Still, I did it. And, as Billy Pilgrim says, so it goes. For every action there is a consequence, and these actions were not without their own.

In the months when I most desperately wanted to kill myself, it's hard to describe what it was like. My suspicion is that my current brain, in working to protect its current, one hopes, healthier state, is predisposed to avoid connecting with a time during which the body in which the brain is housed no longer wanted to continue living. I can say one thing unequivocally: It was absolutely terrifying. It was like being trapped in a madhouse, only you are the madhouse. It was like being a bug in amber, but the bug is alive. It was like your body knew that your brain was sick, and because you were sick, you were no longer of use to the gene pool, and the best thing for everyone involved, the body knew, was to destroy itself, because otherwise it would be at risk of contaminating everyone else in the pool. The thing that's hard to understand if you haven't been immersed in it, that, I think, is portrayed well, if it can be that, in "The Bridge," is that, from inside, it seems like the most logical thing in the world. It's hard to underscore how perfect the logic is, from the inside looking out. At least, that's how it was for me. It was ... perfect.

I wanted to gas myself. I was living in an apartment at the time where the central heating system was gas, so there were gas valves in the various rooms that you could open if you needed heat. I spent hours and days staring at them, wanting to turn on the gas. Looking back, I see I would have taken those who lived in the other half of the house with me. At the time, I can't say it crossed my mind. Mostly, I didn't tell other people what was going on. In fact, I believe I told no one. I lied. All the time. I listened to my girlfriends talk on the phone while I stared at the pipe, wondering how long it would be before I turned the lever. The first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning and saw the ceiling was that I wanted to die. It was never ending. I entertained other measures: a gun, some pills, the train. But, in the end, I didn't do it.

Today, I no longer want to die. In fact, I want very, very much to live. But the fact that at one point you wanted to take your own life -- well, it lingers in a way that I find to be, frankly, haunting. It's always there. The fact that you went that far. That you were there. Like a shadowy figure in a noir novel that you can't quite shake. And if it's there, who says it won't catch up to you again one day? So, you walk a little faster. And you try a little harder. And sometimes, when you wake up in the morning, you look at the ceiling and think, Thank god, I made it through the night.