Where the dead ships dwell

September 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

Yeah, I listen to In Flames. I know I’m probably too old and should just listen to 90′s alternative stations on the radio and complain about kids today. (Truth be told, my biggest problem with kids today is how conservative you all are. Seriously.) Anyway, today’s post is about suicide.

Yes, I am a very cheerful sort. If reading about this topic (and I’m planning on being frank) is too disturbing for you then you may want to not read this.

Suicide is one of those topics that, even if you’ve been there you can have a hard time understand it, much less explicating it. There are many different kinds of suicide and many different reasons for it – it’s hard to compare the suicide of a teenager being bullied with that of a person with a terminal illness, and those are just two examples. So all I can really do is explicate what suicide means to me, and why I’m uncomfortable with how our society deals with both those that commit suicide and those that attempt it but survive.

I’m using myself as an example here, because all I can do is use my own experiences. I attempted suicide when I was eighteen. I used one of my father’s guns. It was a Walther P-38, one my grandfather brought back from Germany. To my father’s credit, the gun was kept in a locked gun closet, was itself in a locked case, unloaded, and the clips unloaded as well, and the ammunition for it kept in another part of the house. An accident with the gun was practically impossible, which is why the day I decided to do it I had to go get the bullets and load the clip. I didn’t just put one bullet in, which I easily could have and in retrospect I have no idea why I loaded the entire clip. In fact, I don’t remember the day the way you remember things. I know I did what I did. I can close my eyes and actually feel my hands sliding bullets into the clip. (My father would insist I call it the magazine, but I’ve long since stopped caring.) I took the gun outside, and sat down in our makeshift shooting range near the barrels and looked at it for a very, very long time.

I could sit here and rattle off a list of reasons – my mom had just died, I had a lot of self loathing over my childhood and my having been sexually abused, I’d washed out of a program designed to get people into the seminary (yes, I wanted to be a priest, or at least my mom had wanted that and so I decided I did) and I was coming out of a six month period of continuous alcohol and drug abuse that left me completely destroyed. I sit here now, two decades later, and I’m aware of these things being true, but I can’t tell you if any of them are why I did it. I simply don’t remember what I was thinking. All I remember is sitting there for over an hour with a gun in my hand, staring at it, waiting for my hand to move. I don’t even remember actually doing it – I just remember having the barrel in my mouth, then pulling the trigger slowly as I’d been taught, and then theĀ click.

I shit my pants. I can’t come up with a better turn of phrase for it – I pulled the trigger, heard the click (felt the gun click up my clenched teeth) and shit myself. But the gun didn’t fire. I don’t know why it didn’t fire – maybe the ammo wasn’t good anymore, maybe the mechanism jammed, maybe the clip jammed, I had no idea then and I don’t know now. All I knew was that I was sitting behind some bullet-riddled oil drums in the dirt with my pants full of my own shit. Since we lived on a big acreage with no neighbors to speak of and my father and his new wife were off to the city, I stripped naked and threw my soiled clothes in a can (I would later burn them) and used the pull shower in the back of the barn to wash myself off. Then I went back inside, unloaded the gun, disassembled it (I don’t know why I did that, either) and left it in pieces inside the gun closet.

We talk a lot about suicide being the coward’s way out. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it was simple cowardice that brought me to that place. Perhaps it was a suffering I couldn’t see a way past, a lifetime of shit (shit that haunts me to this day) suffocating me. I don’t have a lot of answers about it. I didn’t know who I was at eighteen – I barely had the slightest idea, and while I wouldn’t say I have life figured out now, I at least recognize myself more than I did then. I remember being terrified of the future, and in my own defense I think I had good reason to be somewhat fearful of it. I’m not writing this now to explicate myself because in the end I don’t think there is any sort of explicit meaning to be wrung from it – it was a spasm of agony, a shriek from a boy who simply could not take it anymore.

Moreover, I don’t know why I didn’t clear the jam and fire again. There was a full magazine in that gun. I could easily have done so. But I didn’t. And I don’t know why I didn’t. I don’t know why, ultimately, I was there and I don’t know why I’m still here. Perhaps that uncertainty made the rest bearable – if you can’t even know why you’re doing something like that, or why it didn’t work, maybe life can’t be predicted and all the shit you’ve already endured doesn’t serve to indicate what you will endure. Maybe life doesn’t have to suck endlessly. Maybe it does, but it’s not a greek drama and its not pre-planned – or maybe I’m just trying to make something sensible out of a moment that simply defies reason.

I didn’t really have anyone left to talk to when I was eighteen. I wish I had. I wish everyone had – the way we as a people treat pain and mental disease and anguish exhausts me, and I wish everyone who ends up at that moment had someone who could try and help them somehow. I don’t know how – for me, something as simple as someone who would just listen would have helped, because I had so much poison inside me and I needed a way to let it out, to vent it, to release it. But there was no one and there would be no one for many, many years. There is now, and I treasure her beyond reason. But there was no one then.

In the end, perhaps it was cowardice, or perhaps it was pain. Either way, I’m still here, much older, and it is hard for me to remember without feeling that awful total blankness where emotion goes, that certainty beyond fear or pain or reason that moved my hand without my awareness. I know that the way we treat the topic of suicide and those that are struggling with it helped keep me even more isolated than I was – the way we treat those in pain or grief, the way we act about mental illness, these did not help me. They were designed to keep you ashamed and isolated, and they only made things worse. Calling someone a coward for this only makes them think it is so, and when you’re drowning in pain it’s the equivalent of turning a hose on a person slipping beneath the surface.

I’m linking to a couple of sites about suicide prevention here, because it seems worthwhile to do so. If you’re in that place, all I can tell you is that life brings change, and hope. Death brings nothing at all, no change and no hope. It is a thief. And that voice inside you that urges you towards it is wrong, and will steal everything from you if you listen to it.

§ 2 Responses to Where the dead ships dwell

  • Cynwise says:

    I’m glad the gun didn’t fire.

    I’m glad she followed me up on the roof that day, that she said the words she said to me.

    I’m glad for the last 20 years. So very glad.

  • Maryalee says:

    Thank you for having the courage to share this. Maybe it will only help one person, but helping one person is a wonderful thing.

    I wish that America’s society was more focused on “helping just one person.” There used to be a cliche that went “America is a place where anyone can grow up to be president.” Don’t know that is necessarily true anymore; but, thing is we have never treated EVERY CHILD as though that child could grow up to be our leader. If we, as a society and as individuals, could begin to nurture all children that way I believe we could change the very world we live in.

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