A Year Later (A bad day in March)

It’s almost  a year since the man I knew shot himself dead. I first wrote about it two months after it happened and again, at six months later.

I need to be clear. This man was not my friend. In fact, there was a point, quite a few years back, where I said as much to him, namely “I have been a friend to you, but you are not a friend to me.” I don’t repeat those words now out of any kind of regret. It was true. It’s still true.

I was drawn to his energy, his smarts, his talent, and his charisma. I was turned off by his selfishness (including self-destructive habits), his mean-spiritedness, and his willful blindness to other people’s feelings.

After I met him in person (he was well known in the community through an online group he started) we danced around having a friendship. There came a day when I had to call him out on his behavior. I already knew he wouldn’t like that. I was right. Instead of attempting to compromise, he said a unilateral “Let’s forget everything then.” That was okay by me; I had already severely restricted my interactions with him and his access to me; in fact, it was that boundary setting that brought things to a head between us. Appropriate boundaries, at least from me, seemed to incense him and I couldn’t so much as know him without them. It wasn’t like there was going to be any big upheaval in my day-to-day existence. It was disappointing though; I had hoped I could reach him.

There was a conversation between me, him, and a third friend where he revealed that he owned guns. By then I was already not involved with him in any fashion (he had invited himself to join a conversation already in progress in the local coffee shop) so although I was surprised, the information had no personal impact on me. Only after, when my friend and I were speaking privately did I say what a bad idea I thought it was for an angry man to own guns. Honestly, at the time my thought was that he might shoot somebody (a perceived intruder maybe?). It never occurred to me he’d use one on himself.

He shot himself in the head not quite a year ago in what amounts to our “town square.” This location is an emotionally-loaded one in the community. Some thought he’d chosen it in order not to upset his neighbors in the row house, in that they had shared walls. Or that he wanted it to be a “cleaner” death by doing it outdoors, as opposed to in his home. (I doubt I’d want to be the one who moved into the house where the previous owner had shot himself.) Another faction was incredibly angry that he’d chosen the spot he did, next to a big central statue, believing that in choosing that spot he’d desecrated a beloved landmark and had done so deliberately.

On an unusually warm early March day he went to the “town square” in the pre-dawn hours when no one was around. He fired off a couple shots. Nearby residents called the police. When the police arrived and an officer entered the area on foot to approach him, he then shot himself in the head. I hadn’t understood this series of events until it was pointed out to me that he had essentially summoned a witness so that there’d be no ambiguity over how he’d died.

The following morning the news broke online, in bits and pieces, in a community Facebook group (one that had been started years earlier as an alternative to his heavy-handed behavior on his own community group). It wasn’t clear at first WHO was dead. I was horrified when I realized who it was and that I knew him. So many of us knew him, if only by name. The comments were fast and extensive, as people came to grips with what had happened.

I felt lost and distraught and I took a walk that morning. It led me by his house with its overgrown, scrambled yard and ultimately to the spot, already cleaned with no trace of the previous night’s events, where he’d shot himself. I didn’t know where else to go. As I sat there on a bench, quietly, sadly, trying to feel his presence, I gazed up at the statue. That’s when I noticed something odd. A bullet-shaped indentation in the statue’s head. He’d shot the statue. I was almost certain of it. I had to snort: You shot the statue??!?

I knew what it was. He was sticking it to the community. One last raspberry before he went. I really didn’t care personally. I don’t love the statue but A LOT of people do so I kept my observation to myself, entrusting it only to one other person (who was able to later confirm via other sources yes, indeed, that’s what he’d done). I didn’t write about it last May because I knew many people in my community might read my blog post (I had offered up its link on the very group he owned/ruled) and I didn’t want people more pissed off with him than they already were. I don’t think it matters now.

Grief and I are old comrades. But I didn’t really know how to grieve this. My feelings about him were convoluted. I’d avoided him and his online public ranting for some time already by then. I thought he was angry and getting angrier. Years back a friend had commented, because of the wit in some of his online posts, that he should be a “stand-up comedian.” No way, I said, he’s too angry. I had no respect for how he treated people online. He was often vicious and ugly. And bizarrely tenacious. Oh my god, he couldn’t let anything go. Typety, typety, typety.

The whole thing about grief is it isn’t about the dead person. It’s about YOU. How you feel about it. How crappy you feel about it. How sad. How bereft. And how badly you feel for others left behind, family and friends, who are often destroyed. I kept most of what I felt to myself because I could not legitimately say we were friends. I spoke to a few people about him but by and large I muddled along, thinking most of my thoughts about him privately, as I had done for years.

My year became hued in death. I thought about death a lot last year. His, deaths of other people I’ve known, and death in general. Suicide in particular. He wasn’t the first person I’d known to kill himself, but he was the person I’d known the best. He was someone whose car I’d been in, whose doorstep I’d been on (and declined the invite in), who I’d sat next to in the coffee shop. I could not abide that a MAN WITH SO MUCH TO SAY WASN’T GOING TO SAY ANYTHING EVER AGAIN. I couldn’t believe he’d willingly deprive himself of his voice, be it written or spoken. I couldn’t believe a man who hunkered down on life like the Ghost of Christmas Present I’d envisioned him as when I first knew him – sitting on a throne holding forth, a large goblet of mead in one hand and a big chicken drumstick in the other – WILLINGLY gave it up. Willingly. Actively.

No more beer. No more food. No more sex. No more talking. No more writing. No more photography. No more tennis. No more composing dreadful puns. No more manifestos on crime or politics. No more Letters to the Editor. No more bike rides. No more grandstanding. No more taunting. No more laughing.

He didn’t live quietly. And he didn’t die quietly. Maybe it has to be that way.

I miss him.

But I get it. He’s gone. And he’s never coming back.

I am still here. I think of him often. In the last year especially when I did anything pleasurable. When I felt the sun on my face. As Spring came on. When I sat down to enjoy a good meal. When I embraced anything good about life. And thought about what he was missing. But of course he isn’t missing them.

If I could, I would ask him if he had the power to undo it, would he? Is he sorry? Was it a horrible mistake? If he could still regret, would he regret it? I know there is no answer to these questions, but they have stayed with me for a year nonetheless.

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21 thoughts on “A Year Later (A bad day in March)

  1. autumnashbough

    So sorry for your loss, and the pain that lingers. Suicide is difficult to wrap one’s head around, at least for me. Yet it seems to be increasing, especially among white males. I’ve heard several NPR stories about the rising stats and speculation on the cause. Mostly it seems to boil down to mental health and depression — the deaths are related to overdoses, drugs, and suicides. Possibly related to feelings of failure, of not achieving their expectations.

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  2. Anne Mehrling

    This is haunting. We’ve probably all known someone who has contemplated suicide, even if we didn’t know his thoughts of it. Thankfully, many do not follow through and manage to get past the hurdle that derailed them.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      You’re right; the thoughts are probably very common even. I do think those that go through with it have been headed that way for some time before they actually do it. Like it was always in the back of their minds (or maybe not even the back) as an option.

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  3. C.E.Robinson

    Colette, his loss still haunts you, and you miss him. I think that happens when it’s a sudden, unexpected death, and one you might have predicted with your thought, an angry man should not own guns. His anger turned on himself! There are too many physical reminders for you in that community! And those unanswered questions! Sorry for all of that! 💛 Christine

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Oh, it’s true that there are reminders in the community but in that same way there are also many other people who still feel this loss, many no doubt more deeply than I do. I ultimately accept that life is full of unanswered questions. But I keep asking them anyway.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      That’s a sound point. And some people weren’t ready to let go of the animosity. I was impressed though, to see a number of people he’d been argumentative and even ugly with, put that aside and stand up and do the right thing when it mattered.

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  4. Maggie Wilson

    I haven’t lost anyone I know to suicide. Two or three degrees separation, yes, but not someone with whom I’ve had personal contact, as you did with your friend who was not a friend.

    But I have lost someone whose suicide set me on my ass for three months or more. I was a total wreck for the first two weeks. It consumed me. It drained me. It took me about a year to get over it. You know the same person, actually. Robin Williams.

    More than trying to understand the whys and wherefores of his suicide, I was puzzled by my reaction to it. I hadn’t seen any of his movies for about 10 years, might have caught a glimpse on a YouTube video here or there, but for the most part, he was not important to my life. Even ‘back in the day’ I wasn’t that much of a fan. His stuff was too wild and over-the-top for me. Larger than life.

    But holy hell, judging by my grief? You’d think it was my husband that passed away. I wept longer and harder and for many, many more days than when I lost my dear ol’ cat Joey.

    The closest explanation that I could come to was this: (I hope I don’t sound too flaky when I write it)

    I think larger than life people are connected to a pool of spiritual energy that drives them, that sustains their creativity, that makes them radiate (for better or worse) and therefore compels people to gather round and to “touch the hem of their robes” to quote a Jesus story. Now, we too are connected.

    This energy to which they are connected comes with a price – it exhausts them, it drives them mad, and if they do not have the resources to deal, then crazy bad shit happens. Some unplug. And by doing so, they leave the rest of us unconnected to that source of dazzling energy.

    And it’s a terrible, terrible loss.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thanks for this Maggie. I think too that when the big personalities die, it makes it all too clear that anybody could. And yet it doesn’t seem possible to our unconscious minds, as in “No, not HIM“, he’s too big, too alive, too much, to die. And if these huge, life-grabbing people can die, what does it say for the rest of us??

      I took Robin Williams’ death particularly hard also. He gave so much and it seemed to be from such a genuine, real, all-too-human place. For that, I wanted him to be happy. Not tortured. It seemed so awful and unfair when it was said that the medication he was taking for early Parkinson’s may have contributed to the depression that led to his suicide (if in fact that’s true).

      My sense is whenever we overreact to something (and we know we’re overreacting), it is because it triggered something else in our lives, possibly far in the past.

      I’ve written two posts that have their origin with Robin Williams’ suicide. https://writerinsoul.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/grieving-for-famous-people-youve-never-met-part-2/

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  5. M. Oniker

    I read this at work and there was no way I was going to type a response on my cell phone. This is very poignant, all the more so because of your honesty. I had/have several reactions upon reading this. One being (again) appreciative or your honesty, because a lot of people would make the person a close intimate friend when he wasn’t. I’ve written on my blog, not in depth, but here and there, that I’ve been suicidal. I’m a person who “gets” it. (I also don’t know why he shot the statue, but I might have done the same in the same environment. I just don’t think I’d have staged the whole thing as he did.) I don’t know if you’d ask him if he’d regret it. He might not. But you do, and that’s important.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Your thoughtfulness in your words really touches me. You actually crossed my mind when I was writing this this morning because I remembered that you’d talked about suicidal feelings in your blog (although I’d have never mentioned it now unless you did first). I really, really didn’t want to over inflate my role or relationship with him. That being said, when I feel things, I feel them big. And I felt I had insight to offer. I think he shot the statue because it is the “heart” of the community and he knew it’d get a reaction (he LOVED getting reactions). Statistically, men choose violent, no-turning-back suicides and women choose quieter methods. My own, few, very anecdotal observations bear that out. You make a very sound point. He might well not regret it. –Colette

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  6. vanbytheriver

    It’s hard to write about this stuff, you have addressed it well here, Colette. We saw you disappear from blogging during that time, and are happy to see you back. Healing comes at a different pace for us all, and like Maggie mentioned, you don’t have to have a close personal relationship to the person to be affected. I can’t say a lot, having been too close to the flame for comfort. But I did activate my blog after a 2 year absence right after Robin W’s suicide…it was time to get a voice.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you. Not hard really but emotional. That’s when I know I’m getting at the truth of what I want to say. You are right that I wasn’t posting as often after he died but I’ve never left. Still, when I grieve things or have big things to deal with, things slow/stop and I go inward. I expect you needed the time-out for much the same with your own health.

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  7. Ron Walker

    Sorry for the loss you feel. Suicide rips so much away from those that were involved even in the tiniest way with the individual. It leaves so much unfinished and unsaid. Smile today and remember anything that was good and then smile again.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you for that. I’d like to think anybody that lived through another person’s suicide would really think twice before doing it themselves (even while I know it doesn’t tend to work that way). I’m not quite ready to smile about him although I can do a smirk and a head shake now and again when I reflect on his antics.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thanks Tim. I definitely don’t think time heals all. Time changes things, including how you think about them. With suicide, especially with a vibrant, smart, involved person, i.e. not someone with a terminal illness or “nothing to live for” it is hard to find a good spin.

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