The Morning Of March 8th, 1983

I find it fascinating how people deal with discussions of death. Especially suicide.

People prefer to say someone "passed away", or "is no longer with us." Let me tell you, most who kill themselves weren't necessarily with us when they were WITH US. And their lack of inner-strength is not a reflection on the rest of us whatsoever. Suicide is the choice of the deceased, not the living, and dumbing down the discussion does no one any good.

My father killed himself when I was 11. I was probably the last person to see him alive, and I remember it well.

It was 2am on a school night. I got out of bed for who knows what reason... getting out of bed in the middle of the night wasn't something I did when I was little. I was a quiet shy kid who did what he was told. I would be more likely to lie awake indefinitely rather than have my parents wonder what I was doing out of bed.

But, on the evening in question, I got out of bed.

I walked down the hallway towards the living room and then into the kitchen. I looked around the corner, and there was my dad looking like a zombie, lurched over our new "computer" (a TI-99/4a. Ha! That thing was badass with 16K of memory). He looked as if he'd been sitting there for hours. He was sitting on the floor, leaning against the couch, with a computer manual in one hand and his other planted on the floor to keep himself upright. He didn't see me. "What the heck is HE still doing awake?" I wondered. The scene just looked wrong, though I knew not why... I took one last glance at him and then went back to bed. I thought nothing of it in the morning.

At school the next day I was removed from class. "You're needed at home" the teacher told me. The principal came over to see me off in a stranger's car. ("Who are these people?") Everyone was smiling. Everyone was so friendly. "It must be my dad" I thought. "He must be back in the hospital again. Another back operation?" Maybe I already knew he was dead... why else would everybody make such a fuss?

My dad was a brilliant man with a lot of problems. He created most of them himself. He had an alcohol problem. He had back problem, earned by falling out of a speeding car. My father walked with a cane before he was even 30 years old (doesn't everyone's daddy use a cane? "He looks so important" I thought) He got my mother pregnant while still a teenager & had three kids with her before losing the kids to her - more or less - in the divorce. He remarried. After seven years of custody battles and such, he managed to get his kids back. That was in the summer of 1979.

At the time, I recall it feeling like the beginning of a bright new era. But it wouldn't last.

By the spring of '83, the family unit as I knew it was falling apart.

My two sisters and I had been living with our father & stepmother for nearly four years. On the surface, things looked perfect. My father had a new job in Columbus Georgia. We had a nice brick house. Two cars. We had a beautiful pool. After having spent years of only having his children on the weekends, the five of us were finally a full time family. But beneath the surface, a storm was brewing. One of my sisters was showing early signs of the chemical imbalance she'd later be diagnosed with. She was always sad. Always difficult - even by teenage standards. She left to move back in with our other set of parents [mother & stepfather]. After having spent seven years trying to get his children, I think the pain of losing one of them was too much for my father to bear - especially when combined with his other problems... the back, the alcohol, the debt (we lived large)... I was only 11, but I wasn't stupid. I knew he suffered.

He had recently started smoking again after at least ten years of not. He and one of my uncles had quit years ago over a $50 bet and their pride. Come to think of it - maybe it was only a $5 dollar bet. My father had also recently 'found god'. We were a very Catholic family that attended church once a week. But, suddenly, my father had become 'involved'... he'd become one of the people who actually passed out communion at mass. Also, my father and I had recently begun doing a few father/son type activities such as building an AM radio from a Radio Shack kit. Not that my dad didn't love me... but he wasn't the "do stuff with the kids" type. This was all quite odd.

On the morning of March 8th, 1983, I was dismissed from school and sent home in a strange car, driven by people I'd never met. I'd find the house filled with countless strangers who'd endlessly ooh and ahh over what a strong & brave little boy I was. Fuck that! I was a lost little kid with a messed up family, and it would take me nearly 20 years to put it all in perspective.

Note: The proper term for those 20 years is "One Big Freaking Waste Of Mental Energy."

I look back on the entire experience now as a lifesaver. My father's lack of inner strength has become my surplus of it. I seriously doubt that my family is finished with suicides yet. I have suspicions regarding others who might do it. As cold as this may sound, good riddance to bad karma is what I say.

Why waste my time with negativity? "Woe is me" only carries so far before it's time to lighten the load. Damn that's cold - but it's HONEST. Would you think better of me if I chose to lie about it? Guess what? That's what put most of those people in a position to be contemplating suicide in the first place. My older sisters cary scars of the past as if they're badges of honor. Sorry gals, but they're not.

I don't get it. Life's too short for that garbage.

It's important to have the strength of character to admit what's wrong and then take steps to CHANGE IT or ACCEPT IT, because the only other option is to be BEATEN by it. I'm not saying you have to share your problems with the world - but you must at least be honest yourself.

Hey - I feel pain just like everyone else - but I choose to god damn well do something about it. I can only be sad for so long before it's time to look myself in the mirror and say "What the fuck?"

The conversation I have with myself goes a little something like this:

"You've been depressed for a week. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Well I'm sad."
"No shit buddy. But you didn't answer the question. What's the problem?"
"Well y'know... life's hard."
"Blah blah blah - hit me with the specifics chump. WHAT'S - THE - PROBLEM?"

And then, I fess up to what's bugging me... I mean, really... we all know what's wrong - but we choose to not admit it to ourselves. How does denial help? I'm certainly no fan of lying to others... but when you lie to yourself...? Wow - that's ugly stuff.

So - I say out loud whatever it is that's bugging me, and then I do something about it. Granted, it may take me a long time to fix some of my problems - but it feels sooooo much better to at least admit what's wrong because that's taking the first step towards fixing it. The honesty is empowering really... and that is why my father was dead by age 34 yet I feel like my life is still just beginning at age 32. Every day is like a gift, and I never cease to be overwhelmed by the many joys I experience along the way.

Portland is bliss, my friends are amazing, phenomenal people, and my life is in my hands because I put it there. What a wonderful feeling.

Don't misunderstand... my father was a great man, and I love him for that. I try to be a great man as well. In both his triumphs and his failures, he taught me more than he could ever know. And I consider it wise that I choose to learn from both.

::::: | Tuesday, Apr 06 2004 at 11:13 AM
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e said:

let the pain of yesterday slip through the crack. that seems appropriate enough for this entry. this was really sad rob, but it was captivating to read. kudos for posting it.

::::: | December 5, 2005 6:20 PM

Michele M. said:

Inspiring. Thank you.


::::: | December 2, 2007 11:58 PM

(won't be published)


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