Sunday, June 7, 2015

don't try suicide

I personally knew two people who committed suicide.

I went to high school with Merrill. Although he was a year behind me, he was in my art major class when I was a senior. Our relationship could be classified as "frenemies," decades before that term was coined. We weren't exactly friends, but we did, on occasion, hang out together. For a brief time, we also dated the same girl. During those few months, I think we fell into the "enemies" category. He was very into music (as was I) and very into drugs (as I was not). He also had a very intense personality that was somewhat unpredictable and bordered on violent. When I graduated from high school, I thought (secretly hoped) I'd never see him again. And I almost never did, until years later, when my wife's best friend introduced me to the guy she was dating. It was Merrill. They had a tumultuous relationship – passionate one minute and vicious the next. He eventually married and divorced someone who was not Mrs. P's friend, although that never stopped them from continuing to see each other. His brief marriage produced a child that calmed Merrill's malice down just a bit, but not enough to change his fate.

In 1997, the ringing phone in our bedroom broke the silence of the wee morning hour. A ringing telephone in the middle of the night rarely brings good news. I fumbled for the receiver in the darkness with only the faint illumination from my alarm clock to guide me. I whispered a throaty "Hello," and was greeted by the distant, tinny reply of Mrs. P's friend's uncontrollable sobs. Through her hysterics, I was able to decipher a few words, specifically "Merrill killed himself." A jarring bolt shot through me. I nudged my wife and passed her the phone. Her friend elaborated as my spouse sat up, blankets wrapped around her shoulders, mouth agape in silent dubiety.

Merrill had phoned Mrs. P's friend and dramatically told her he had a gun and was going to end it all. Always one to be the flamboyant center of attention, he waited patiently in a second-floor bedroom as Mrs. P's friend rushed to his house. He waited until he heard the sounds of her struggling with the front door until it opened. He took that as his cue to pull the trigger, wanting her to hear the shot and knowing that she'd be just seconds too late to save his life. It was so obvious that he had selfishly planned the whole scene and it played out exactly as he had hoped. Looking back, I think Merrill's suicide was expected by a lot of people who knew him.

While innocently checking my email one evening in March 2010, I was blindsided. I read and reread an email I received announcing that my friend Tanner had passed away. The email, from Tanner's sister, was a sentence or two in length, only explaining that Tanner resided in Florida and that his death was sudden. I replied quickly, asking for further details. The response was just as vague as the initial email, but alluded to a still-in-the-planning-stages memorial service for Tanner's Philadelphia friends and family.

The next weekend, I found myself in the community room of a suburban high-rise apartment building twenty minutes from my house. This was the designated place for the memorial service. The room began to fill with people I had not seen for nearly thirty years. We shared stories and anecdotes about Tanner's life. We laughed and cried and shook our heads in disbelief. Although I had not seen Tanner himself for quite some time. I often heard from him in the form of an email or text. He regularly kept me apprised of his whereabouts and latest endeavors. I had heard from him last just a month prior to the final email from his sister.

Just after the service ended, Tanner's sister pulled me aside and told me that Tanner had taken his own life. Through tears, she elaborated that Tanner was a very, very troubled man. Internal trouble that had lasted many, many years. I had a hard time understanding this, as I had known Tanner to be a funny, upbeat character who could ably match my twisted sense of humor blow-for-blow. She described his long-time battles with depression and how he hid it the best he could... until he couldn't hide it any more.

Merrill and Tanner didn't know each other, however they both chose to end their lives the same way and on their terms. I wonder, when coming to the conclusion that suicide was the only solution to their individual dilemmas, did they consider the can of worms they were opening up for those they were leaving behind?

Or did they just not consider anything?

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