He would be really, really mad about me writing this. That’s why it’s taken a little time to do so. I mean, I’ve tried, already, more than once, to get something down on paper so to speak. But I hesitate. And then I examine my hesitations. Yeah, he’d be pissed. And do I have any right? Some right? Do I have any business saying I knew something about him? Do I have a right to claim I had insight into him? He would tell you NO. But is his opinion the only one that matters here? Don’t I have a claim on my experience? And my version of said? Good lord, these are the kinds of things that have been going through my mind for two and half months.
In March, on what had been an unusually warm day which had turned into an almost balmy night, the kind of pre-Spring day that gets your hopes up, he went out alone at about 2am to the center of town, a mile from where I live, and fired off two shots from a gun, which ultimately summoned the local police. On their arrival, he shot himself in the head. Dead.
He’d planned it. He’d planned it and had then gone about the regular business of his life in the days leading up to it. His financial situation had worsened. He wasn’t working except for little gigs. He’d decided in mid life, after losing a newspaper job (print media being what it is now), to go back to school for a Master’s in a new field. He was in grad school on loans evidently without simultaneously holding some kind of job. I often speculated about how he could afford to do that – (he seemed to have an awful lot of free time) – especially as a single person and a homeowner. Well, turns out, he couldn’t. His plan, to land a relevant, high-paying job soon after finishing grad school (and pay off his student loans) hadn’t materialized. So he was very in debt, behind in his mortgage, you get the picture. Add to this a recent breakup with a woman he’d been seeing for at least the previous year.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t have options or people willing to lend a hand. People, and he knew a lot of them, were helping him. Storing his belongings, talking to him, looking for job leads, offering small paying gigs. Hell, even I, as frugal/poor as I am and as mixed in my opinion of him, would have ponied up cash for a month of his mortgage if it meant preventing his death. I can tell you I’m sure five other people would have too, buying 6 months, and maybe even eleven other people would have, buying a year. Had we known what he was planning.
But I didn’t know he was in severe financial straits and quite depressed because I’d gone out of my way to distance myself from him. It was months since I’d even seen him anywhere and frankly I didn’t want to. I was not involved, not at all and his death blindsided me. No matter what else I thought, I’d have never taken him for a person who’d kill himself. My grief was immediate and intense.
So what you ask? Why is this particular guy worth writing about? Lots of people have troubles. In fact, there’s been a rise in suicides of men of his description: white, middle-aged, with financial problems. This guy I knew, privileged by many measures, made himself into a statistic.
I want to tell you about this man because this man was here, this man lived. If you’d met him, you’d remember it. He was larger than life, like a movie character. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have played him in the story of his life. He did everything over the top. Moderation had not met him. He was a big man who did things big. He was smart, really smart. Educated. Loved to write. Quick. Playful. Analytical. A people person. A man of appetites; food, sex, drink, who knows what else. Witty. Informed. Opinionated. Dug in. Involved. God help me, charismatic. When he walked into a room or situation, he brought this presence that said, “I’m here, the party can start now.” And he wasn’t wrong or not entirely wrong. He was also angry. Mean-spirited. Vicious even. Calculating. Lacked a sense of fair play. Cowardly in that he used online forums to vent his nastiest diatribes. Petty. Had twisty attitudes about race. Ruled by his indulgences. Self-involved. Cagey. Immature. Grandiose.
He’d be livid both that I thought those things of him, and more so that I’ve written them for anyone to read. Especially since he can’t respond. His personality is so big that even dead, he influences me. I mean isn’t what I say about him a character assassination? Who’d want to be described that way? And more to the point, he couldn’t stand anybody seeing him too deeply. He doled himself out in bits & pieces, controlling his image. He kept many relationships superficial or somewhat superficial. That’s what I think.
Nobody like him wants somebody like me looking too closely at them. Holding them to higher standards, taking them to task, and steering clear of their usual line of seduction or b.s. He was attracted to me which altered our in-person encounters, especially how he acted around me (and not for the better). His usual inclination was women of color (let me redirect your attention back to twisty attitudes about race; he also ranted endlessly online about black men committing crime in the community) but I knew – and I say it wryly – that he’d make an exception in my case. I also saw in very short order, disappointing as it was at the time – and it was – that this wasn’t somebody I should have in my life. In any capacity. He was smart but I was smarter. I remember thinking very specifically that I was staying half a step ahead of him. It was important to. Allowing myself to be sucked into the vortex of his personality was not in my interest.
I initially “met” him online; many in the community who knew his name – he had quite a reputation – never actually knew him in person. He ruled online. He’d started a forum, the first of its kind here, which had become the main place of local discussion. This group even influenced local elections (not to everyone’s pleasure). He was a big fish in a little pool and lorded it over people. He used his group ruthlessly on a regular basis. Oh, he didn’t see it that way, despite being called out on it repeatedly by lots of people. He claimed he was fostering rigorous intellectual discussions and other horseshit like that. He described himself without irony as an outside observer, local watchdog and innovator, among other terms.
He held no office, no official position yet perceived of himself as a real mover and shaker. He made a long list of enemies by pillorying people and mixing into areas where he really had no business or even necessarily familiarity. It was all like a game to him and that really steamed me. That is, the way he treated people, like we – the community – were maleable pieces for his amusement. I sensed he wasn’t really invested in this particular town and didn’t especially love it; that he’d have acted the same way anywhere he might have landed. I remember thinking he could pick up and move away without much thought. I almost figured he would.
Despite dishing some of his unpleasantness my way online – in times after it was clear he wasn’t going to make any personal headway with me offline – he continued to like me in his own strange fashion, forgetting apparently that he’d given me cause not to feel the same. For him it was a drop in the ocean – and besides, I mostly stayed out of his rants and online arguments and largely fell off his radar. But I still took real issue with how needlessly nasty he was. It got very, very old. He never seemed to understand that people remembered his online attacks and took them quite personally, reasonably so, or that there might be repercussions.
And he got angrier in the last several years. The rants uglier. I stopped reading what he wrote. He was becoming a quite bitter fellow. Who evidently felt the world hadn’t delivered what he was owed. And that most local people he was dealing with, especially online were naive, uninformed idiots who needed to be told so. If only they’d listen to his obviously superior wisdom. That is, the more unhappy he was in his life, the more he took it out on other people, dressed up as political debates and discussion about community issues. That’s my take. People peeled away from the group, even starting a community Facebook group that became ultimately became bigger and more relevant.
It all seems like such a waste to me. And I really hate waste. He had tons to give, he really did. If he’d redirected some of that energy to more positive and/or useful pursuits. But clearly he was a man who felt he was out of options. Or that the options he had were unpalatable. Unpalatable to the point of not being able to live with them. From where I’m standing, it looks like he gave up too soon. Obviously he didn’t think so. Who knows what was in his mind in those hours between midnight and dawn. I’d love to know. I want to be there and say don’t do it. Yeah, you piss me off but we need you here. I need you here.
This man brought color and life and vigor to our community. It wasn’t all good, granted. But without him, the color drained away. I will never, ever think oh fine, he’s gone and taken all that trouble-making with him. No. He made things more interesting. God love him, he stirred that pot. Ferociously. Remorselessly. The thing was that he was NOT a crackpot, whatever else you might say about him; he couldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Enough of what he said was relevant and on point; he DID get people talking. That’s a huge thing that set him apart.
He mattered to me. Even when I wanted no part of him, he was important to me. That’s very clear. I’ll never forget him. I never knew anybody else quite like him. I wish he was here. I’m sorry, no, devastated, that he killed himself. That he thought he had to. He left real heartbreak behind him.