A bad day in March

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.

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29 thoughts on “A bad day in March

  1. Jim

    Dear ,dear Colette, Yes you do have the right weigh in, rant about, criticize, praise our dear unique infuriating [name edited out by post author], whom you so tactfully do not even name. Thank you for this long, semi-reverential homage to that vivid man. Yes, Philip Seymour Hoffmann, another suicide, would have been perfect to play [—-]……………..How appropriate that you have given us your thoughts on Memorial Day weekend……..

    Gratefully, Jim

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you Jim. You were one of the people I thought of as I worked on this piece, knowing your own feelings of loss. I’ve edited out his name since I don’t name people in the blog (and certainly anybody local who reads this will know who it is). I hadn’t connected the Memorial Day, but yes, you’re quite right. I appreciate your words and your description of him.

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  2. vanbytheriver

    sigh….I hit “like”… mostly for the way you honor this man with your words, Colette. Was the manner of his suicide in line with that personality ? Just curious. I’m sorry for this loss, and for the way it affected you. There are far too many stories like this. And it strikes painfully close to home. I watched my son attend funerals for high school friends. Devastating.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Understood Van, about “liking.” I don’t like it much myself. He deliberately chose a public, locally-meaningful spot (which caused quite a lot of speculation & discussion). The best I can say with confidence is that he was dramatic and over-the-top and so was his death. He wanted our attention, always.

      There are too many stories. It’s said our will to live is the strongest human impulise. To go against that a person must be so motivated, i.e., in so much pain. But there’s no good spin after suicide; stuff like he “lived a long life” or at least she’s “not suffering any more” or any of the other sayings just don’t work.

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      1. vanbytheriver

        You’re so right. The words don’t work. I once wrote a piece about my grandfather, who suffered what I called a 20 year suicide. I speculated that it might have been better for his family if he had taken his own life after losing everything during the 1930’s depression. We’ll never know.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          If you wrote it on the blog, please post the link if you like. I sometimes think people who smoke, drink to excess or use drugs are going the slow/passive suicide route too. There are these people – a lot of them – who can’t quite stand to be here and can’t quite stand to leave (your grandfather?). They are in pain, no doubt, but they cause a great deal too.

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  3. Julie Winters

    I’m glad you wrote this. Everything you wrote about his public life resonates with what I knew about this individual (yes, through reputation). I think it’s good that you’ve given voice to these thoughts. Would he have hated it? Maybe, on the basis of the pride which I suppose kept him from widely seeking help with his situation. But it’s a valid response to his actions. And he sounds to have been a person who didn’t back away from, for lack of a better word, a challenge. So it seems very appropriate.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I really appreciate your words Julie. I felt compelled to write about him. It was probably the most difficult piece I’ve written here. If he could I’m quite sure he would write a blazing response putting me in my place. He always had to have the last word and he certainly didn’t like being called out on his behavior (on his group, anyone who challenged him got handed their head in short order or, I suspect, their posts never appeared). But I get to write it because he’s dead. I just wish he wasn’t.

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  4. Luisa Robles

    Thanks for writing this. You captured this person very accurately, and farily. I think many of us feel the way you do. I am heartbroken too.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Oh Luisa, thank you so much for saying so, it means a lot. I’m sorry to hear you are heartbroken too but it’s really hard not to be. If only he knew…

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  5. Ellen Carter

    I knew this man well. The real living breathing walking talking man. He was my friend and challenged us all. I read this post and it has a lot correct. It does a great job in capturing the essence of his unusual special combination of talents and accurately describing the outcomes that we all experienced. It could use a little more of the human side, and maybe I am the only one who saw this side of him, but I sure hope not.

    Last summer or perhaps the year before, I got him to go with me to a neighborhood party. You know the one, very [location edited out by post author], inclusive of all, a roving monthly event. Right before we walked into the heavily attended gathering, he said to me, “Don’t leave me alone with anyone”. I can still see that ever-so-slight pleading look in his eye as he turned to me with a quick glance seeking acknowledgment of his request. All the sudden his vulnerabilities were apparent to me. I was kinda shocked because I always thought he was fearless.

    As I ponder this incident, I realize he was aware of the unfortunate outcome of his polarizing words. People thought they knew him, labeled him, judged him, and sometimes this was all before actually meeting him in person. I am not exactly sure what he was thinking, but what I think is that he like any of us apparently could be just as nervous given the situation of facing people who knew him in only one way. I wish the online persona could have been more like what I got to know and experience — challenging yet open, a little pushy but considerate, opinionated but inquisitive.

    Believe me, I disagreed with almost everything he said online and I called him on it when I felt his words crossed a line and were more dramatic than necessary, But, I cherished his need to do the research, organize his approach, and educate others. He absolutely without fail got conversations out in the open. He would present a different perspective than your own which resulted in making your think about what you believed and why.

    I wish so much that he had told me he was considering this awful permanent act. I wish so much that he had been able to secure an employment position in his beloved selected field. I wish so much that he had not pulled the trigger that night, or any night. I, too, wish he was still here. I don’t think about him every day any longer, but I do think of him often and hope I never forget him.

    Your post is a special tribute to a man who is irreplaceable because no one else will ever be just like him, nor will anyone else contribute to this community like he did. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you for commenting.

      I knew in writing this piece and especially in sharing it locally that his friends and people who loved him might read it. I opted to emphasize certain things over others. I really didn’t want to over-inflate my small/tiny role or focus on a private moment or two and in doing that, left a few things out.

      That said there was a point where I did spend a little time around him, and had a moment very similar to yours, where he leaned on me. In my instance I felt it had more to do with insecurities or vulnerabilities about connecting generally than with (facing the consequences of) his local reputation, but I see your point. I absolutely saw another side and was encouraged by it. But not for long. He had his own agenda and it trumped a sincere, potential friendship. In person I unsettled him. But in the end, I certainly think he was more important to me – even if it existed primarily in the abstract and included less-than-good opinions – than the opposite. He compelled my attention.

      I feel for your loss, I do. I’m sorry.

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  6. Christina Kavanagh

    Thank you for your very personal recollections of this man who was my kind and dear neighbor. I miss him and frequently find myself still expecting to see him. I got to remember him again today through your words. I hope he has found peace in the next life.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you Christina for saying that. I saw a man on a bike just today that caught me off-guard for a piece of a second; I do still think I will see him. Subconsciously I am very resistant to the idea such a large personality could simply no longer exist. I’m glad you came by.

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  10. Maggie Wilson

    I understand your conundrum: to write a story that is clearly YOUR story to write, yet… how will it be received? By people who might not be able to defend (for lack of a better word) their case?

    Parts of character, and certainly his death put me in mind of Robin Williams – an over-the-top, larger than life sort, while living, and tragic in his dying.

    In a way, it doesn’t surprise me that you eventually did write this tribute to the man. I would go as far as to suggest that you had no choice, that what you did was an extension of his energy, a response, a ripple-effect of his life on yours. He demanded/commanded attention and you obliged.

    I’m sorry, almost a year later, for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I love what you say here Maggie. You are absolutely right that I had to write this. I gave it a little time to see if somebody else might write something substantial and it didn’t happen. He drew my attention in a way few do and I wanted to just shake him a lot of the time; the things he wrote made me so mad. I didn’t stop being mad just because he was dead but I was devastated by what he did. My tears would have shocked him. I did catch heat from people in the community but nobody whose opinion I was worried about. And as you say, this was mine to write. He was a “public character” here by his own doing. He loved getting people riled up. It gave him something to fight against. And the comparison to Robin Williams fits too. He was funny and quick. Not as much as HE thought but still. Thank you so much.

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