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.