I have always defended a person's right to commit suicide, if it can be called a right. Or a choice. It seems so when people seek out a Dr. Kavorkian to help them. I believe that there is a biological imperative toward suicide in mammals that sits inside the genes of some of us. It is a cousin to the death that sits inside us all. We don't have the choice whether or not to die, and some of us don't have a choice about whether or not to commit suicide. It comes, and is carried out.
Yesterday I learned of the suicide of a person I once knew well. It wasn't a surprise that he killed himself; I still have his ID card from Shepard Pratt. He wore that caul all along.
I have always talked about him from the perspective of the end of our relationship, when he was heading for a breakdown, and violent. He threw me down a set of stairs through a glass door--thinking I was his mother, and hurling at me (hurling me) the rage he felt toward her. "You loved Betsy more than me!" Then he tried to run over me with his car. My best friend was with me, and we still speak of it often. Yesterday, when we were remembering him, I reminded her that I had seen him a couple of years later sitting on a bench on Locust Walk, at Penn. I was seriously ill, on my way into the hospital where I'd remain for 10 days on an IV drip of antibiotics. He wanted to talk to me. I couldn't stop. My friend said he probably assumed I didn't recognize him when he wasn't behind the wheel of his car.
Dark humor. That was a joke he'd have laughed at.
He was the most charismatic, wittiest, coolest boy in our college. Older than me. Irresistible and wildly destructive. I have a picture of him that portrays his characteristic style: a faded blue shirt, khakis also faded worn low on his hips, an alligator belt, his face pointing toward the ground, hands pushed into his pockets, his hair cut in curls around a long thin face. Louche and slouchy. Absurdly thin with veined arms that made you want to be a vampire. Somehow he always seemed to be on the post office steps. You'd say hello, and that lowered head would raise like a horse's heavy head, and in a moment he'd be laughing from deep inside that concave chest. Did I mention the cigarette? There was always a cigarette, dangling from his mouth or pinched between the tips of his fingers.
He groaned when he read. He was picky, and poor writing tortured him. His female fans wrote his papers for him. We all had a laugh when he became a successful magazine editor and writer. Who was his ghost then?
He took me to Disney World when it first opened. Can you imagine going there with a person like that? It tortured him, too. Yet it had to be done. He was from Florida and he had to exorcise Florida. He became a New Yorker, in with the in crowd.
He took me to Martha's Vineyard and disappeared every day. Finally he told me he was going to the gay beach, just out of curiosity. There were many women after me, before he became gay. Perhaps we were all a curiosity too.
I don't think it means anything to describe him.
There was an explanation for his suicide, but those explanations always come from the rationalizations of the living, to make the mystery of self erasure less confusing.
Suicides of sacrifice are far more accepted than suicides that seem to be made of sorrow. One unselfish, the other private. We are terribly afraid of what we don't know about another person, or ourselves. The idea that this lives inside is so threatening it is literally criminalized.
But maybe they are coming, coming from the beginning, like all of death.
I have written all this down the way I always write this blog, in a fast unfurling of a skein I've yet done nothing with. This is only partly elegiac. It's also about something else.
It's about being thrown through a glass door, and feeling ashamed of it. I tell the first part of the story, but not about that feeling. It's sickening, sad, and confusing. Like knowing a person is gone.