A year ago, I was in the middle of a fantastic evening. I’d gone to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with C and some of my favorite people. C & I had parted for the evening, she to Muni and I to BART and I was turning on my phone and trying to decide if I had enough power to listen to music the entire ride home. I was high on my friends and C’s company, and a relentlessly silly movie.
So I had to read the words on my screen several times before I could make sense out of them.
A year ago began a time of waiting—less than a week. It was a time of hugs, and of stress, and of quietly and desperately wishing to be able to do something, or help, or find magical healing powers. It was a time of rediscovering an intense dislike of Oakland’s Highland Hospital, of sitting in painfully stark waiting rooms with friends and family while waiting to spend 15 minutes talking to a man being kept alive by machines. It was a time of everyone remembering to express love and appreciation for everybody else, before our oh so powerful minds stepped in once more to protect us from the constant awareness of the fragility and impermanence of life. It was a time of trying to believe in miracles.
The call was made. The machines were turned off. The time of waiting ended.
I wrote this post about Donovan when I was finally able to put something of how I was feeling into words. I wrote this post as I realized I was feeling, but not dealing with, my feels. I wrote this post as I flirted with coming to terms once again with the fact that I cannot protect everybody I love.
And this post? I guess it’s just to say…fucking hell, Donovan. I miss you.
I had high hopes for 2012. 2011 was such an unbearable year, I thought that it could only get better. Briefly, it did. And then it all went to hell, for me and mine.
The death toll of 2012 rivaled the first five minutes of a Michael Bay movie. Loved ones and loved ones of loved ones were lost to accident, suicide, illness, and just shitty, shitty luck. When I wasn’t powerless with regard to my grief, I was powerless in the face of grief suffered by people I love deeply and dearly.
My attempts at finding love or even a halfway interested lover failed repeatedly, and early 2012 brought me a very badly broken heart and an utter loss of hope, not to mention a great deal of frustration and confusion. Many of my friends were unlucky in love and went through relationship strife as well.
There were a number of friendship upheavals about which I remain unsure, and I believe 2013 will involve some restructuring.
Things began to turn around for me toward the end of the year. Slowly, like the Titanic attempting to avoid the iceberg.
- I finally got a full time job at an amazing organization, working with phenomenal people and the best office dog in the world. I love my job. And it almost pays me enough to live on.
- As part of a last-ditch attempt to find somebody I might want to date, I showed up to a bar one evening with a book and a thirst for Scotch, and hoped that the woman I’d messaged on OKC wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time. Since I was pretty much over dating by this point, I wore the same unwashed jeans I’d been wearing for the past several days and a shirt I never checked for stains, and I didn’t bother to wait to start in on the whisky. I’ll go ahead and skip to the end of this one: She’s wonderful, hysterical, loving, caring, and has the prettiest, smiliest eyes. We just finished moving the rest of my possessions to her apartment in SF. She likes my cooking. (ETA: She has corrected this statement to make sure I know to call it OUR apartment.)
- My cat Thumper is in good health and happy in our new apartment, which is much smaller than our house in Oakland, but cozier and has many soft and warm things for him to sleep on. He even has his own chair, from which he can observe his neighbor cat girlfriend, Foxy. He and my lady absolutely adore each other.
- I opened up about a very serious topic in a very public forum and was rewarded by a show of love, support, and trust from individuals known and unknown to me.
2012 still sank, but I and many of my friends ended up on life rafts, paddling toward 2013.
I don’t think anybody expects 2013 to be amazing. But I am hoping that we all have the space to recover from losses, strengthen new and old foundations, and remind each other that we love and care for each other, that we are there for each other, and that we may occasionally want to give up on everything, but that we won’t give up on each other.
I can’t help but be a little optimistic; I’m in the best place I’ve been since maybe 2008. I’ve found love and employment, I have a roof over my head, and my cat has the most adorable mitteny paws in the world. Things are not easy; I don’t know if they ever will be. But it isn’t all difficult, and for the first time in a long time I really feel like it’s worth it to keep working, keep fighting, and keep pushing through. I am not in a place where I can say, “Bring it, 2013, I can take whatever you have to throw at me.” I am, however, in a place to say, let’s do this.
So. 2013. Let’s do this.
Last night I was talking to a friend of mine who is going through a really tough time, and she mentioned something that I related to entirely: the active and conscious effort she is having to put in to not jump in front of a bus. Now, before you all start screaming about intervention and 5150, let me explain something, first.
Because I think, given some of the ridiculously stupid shit people say about suicide to me and to others, it’s time to come out of the closet: almost every day for the past couple years (and actually, for much of my life) has included the conscious decision to survive the day. Some days, that’s easy. Some days I have to actively remind myself of why I should choose to live. Some days I just make myself numb with weed, watch tv and let the hours slide by, because that’s all I trust myself to do. But I choose to live, every day, whether it is a good day, or a bad day, or a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
People talk about suicide in terms of weakness and strength, selfishness, rudeness. All of those things are factors. But there’s also the issue of perspective. Which is to say, what might seem like piddlyshit to one person might be devastating to the next. I have yet to meet the circumstance that would be sufficiently devastating to send me over the edge, but that doesn’t mean I won’t (doesn’t mean I will, either).
2010 and 2011 were brutal, and 2012 has brought blow after blow after blow and let me tell you, I am fucking tired of wishing that my heart had an “Eject” button. I am tired of living with everything I’ve had to live with (here is where I will get the “Buck up! That’s just life!” comment from some jackass who has never experienced the desire to just fucking end it. Save it. I know life is hard. But when every day in a given week—or every other day, or even a single day—feels like being thigh-deep in the Swamps of Sadness after watching Artax die, it becomes a little overwhelming).
Thus far there is nothing I haven’t been able to weather. People call this strength. But strength is a trap. When people expect you to be strong all the fucking time, showing weakness is nigh on impossible, which is why for the vast majority of my friends, this post is going to be news. There is no real break from being strong. There’s (prescription) drugs, but in the rare event that they work—my body laughs at most drugs and tells them to come back with something stronger, next time, in a bad Russian accent—while they mute the depression they also mute everything the fuck else, and I would rather feel everything I am feeling than feel nothing. I will resort to them when I know it is impossible to drag myself out of some pit without them, but not before.
And it’s really difficult some days when somebody says, “You’re strong, you can do this” to respond with, “I know,” and not with, “Fuck you. I want to be weak, this time. I want to give up.”
I don’t call it “strength”. I call it “determination”.
People talk about how selfish people have to be to commit suicide. Yes. Ultimately it is a selfish act. It is an act done for that person and that person, alone. They may have convinced themselves that people would be better off without them; obviously most of the time they are utterly incorrect. But that justification at its foundation remains a selfish one.
The experience will be different for everybody, but part of my conscious decision to live involves remembering all the people who would be hurt and confused by my death. But, as I said, I have yet to experience something devastating enough to make me lose sight of them, and I remain fully aware that this is a possibility. So I never judge people who have genuinely attempted or committed suicide—not for their selfishness. I just assume that the decision was made at a point where the people they loved stopped being real to them in the face of whatever anguish drove them to the act.
I find that the people who don’t understand this have little-to-no experience with that level of depression and pain, and are assuming that whatever depths of sadness they have experienced are the most extreme anybody else might suffer as well. I have begun calling it “emotional privilege” in my head. I’ll never forget the day I was watching The Wall with a woman I was seeing and she turned to me halfway through the movie and said, “But why doesn’t he just get over it?”
(Click to see entire picture @ the source)
Now, let me make something clear: I am not defending suicide as an option. If I thought it was viable, I might not be sitting here in my messy room writing this post while I have Top Gun on in the background to unheavy this shit a little bit. I have lost people to suicide. Both friends and family. I have experienced that particular hurt and confusion, the search for answers, the need to find meaning in an act that causes such extraordinary pain to those who have been left behind, the endless questioning—what if I had been there, called more, texted back, remembered to say “I love you”? Oh, God, what did they need? What could I have done?
But what I am saying is that this has been my experience. And I am not the only one who feels that way. And talking to my friend yesterday was helpful to me, and hopefully to her, because when it becomes a shared experience, when you can remember that one other person has some understanding of it, then it becomes more difficult to forget that there are other people in your life, in general, and more difficult to lose sight of them.
Most days I’m fine. I’m not always walking around in a lightless slimy pit of despair, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am.
This post isn’t a ploy for attention. It is not a plea for help. I am not writing this for your advice (in fact, unless you have something in mind that is mind-blowingly new and possibly alien, don’t fucking bother. I’ve been dealing with my own issues far longer than you have and I have made my decisions for how to manage my situation consciously and with pretty comprehensive knowledge of what is available to me). Actually, it was really difficult to make the decision to write it, because I don’t want my friends to change the way they act around me or talk to me. I don’t want people to freak out, or worry. I am hoping that everybody realizes that this is not new and that I am still exactly the same person they knew before they read this. I want the opposite of attention.
This post is partly an attempt to educate, but mostly putting myself out there in the hopes that the people who need to find this post, do. And when they do, I hope they reach out. I’ll be waiting right here.
I have been waffling about writing this post, because I haven’t the faintest idea of how to describe where my mind and heart have been over the past few days.
Sunday night I learned that Donovan Pugh, a friend and member of my essential chosen family, was in the ICU at Highland. He was comatose after a severe head injury.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I lost my shit. I lost my shit, and then prepared to visit Donovan, to see him in his bed in the ICU, to tell him I love him, to hope he could hear me. Monday afternoon I told him everything I could in the twenty minutes I had with him. Monday night I went to work and tried not to let everything I was feeling, all the anguish and the fear that I was losing my friend, show. I failed, of course.
But this was true of all of us, to some extent or other. For some reason, as my friend Marisa observed, time and the world didn’t stop and wait for us to catch up with them. And the people around us—at work, on BART, in the corner store—somehow didn’t know that one of the most magnificent people in the world was fighting for his life in a tiny, ugly room in Oakland. I almost got into a fight with a guy who was self-righteously butt-hurt that I didn’t take the time to sign his petition when I was on my way to visit the ICU.
So all of the people who love Donovan had to somehow keep moving and keep functioning as if we weren’t terrified that an integral part of our world might be ending.
Thursday evening Donovan moved on to the next party, and we were all left behind to keep this one going.
I have been wrestling with grief, and the forms it can take. I’ve been fundamentally relieved and confused by the way in which my grief over the loss of Donovan is so intertwined with the joy I have been finding with this woman for whom I have fallen so very, very hard. I’ve been comforted by the fact that he would be the last person in the world to begrudge me my happiness despite this loss, and he would have loved her for, if nothing else, the fact that she’s been so wonderfully supportive and kind throughout.
I have been reading people’s stories and memories of Donovan, and looking at the pictures they have been posting, and it’s been truly amazing. He managed to touch so many people (some of them appropriately) and it shows. People have displayed a fantastic combination of love, exasperation, and humor in their efforts to remember Donovan at his best and at his most improper. It has made me think about this post, which I wrote after attending the most depressing wake in the history of wakes, and realizing how true it remains.
I have been avoiding imagining a world without Donovan, and his soundtracking tweets, and his Ren Faire shenanigans. I have not been allowing myself to fathom family events without his hugs and his ability to throw dignity and decorum to the wind (if he even arrived with them in the first place, which was unlikely). I have not been allowing myself to see the ways in which the world has grown visibly darker without him. And when I do, I know my heart will continue to break.
If there is a party in the sky, I hope they have plenty of pickle juice. If there is another destination, I hope they appreciate the occasional reacharound. If there is an afterlife, it just got a hell of a lot more fun. RIP†, Donovan Pugh. I love you.
†Wherein the P stands for…Party? Pickle? Prank? It’s unclear.
In the last week, I received news of the deaths of no fewer than three people I know. One of those was somebody with whom I went to high school. Two of them were friends. Two of the three were suicides.
I have been flailing emotionally. I didn’t realize it until today. In the process of this flailing I managed to be extra irritable, totally failed to communicate properly, and I appear to have alienated somebody I really like. This was a major failure on my part—normally I am much more in touch with how I am feeling, and why. Additionally, some of this might have been avoided had I managed to mention any of this to anybody.
I. Death death death—afternoon tea…
I think this is first due to the magnitude of the news: the untimely death of one friend has enough of an effect on a person. The untimely death of three in rapid succession is just overwhelming, like a personal version of Eddie Izzard’s murder standards: Well done! Three of your friends died recently, two by their own hand? They must get up very early in the morning.
II. Family Traditions
Then there’s the suicide bit. The people in my family tend to kill themselves, either quickly or slowly (or in the case of my grandmother, both). Suicide and attempted suicide run rampant in my family. So there’s that. Additionally, I haven’t figured out where I come down on the issue, myself. I have heard suicide characterized as rude, selfish, tragic. I believe strongly in the idea that we should have complete power over our own lives—not just how we live and die, but whether we live and die (to the extent that we have that choice to make).
I also believe strongly that the day I give up and take my own life, I have failed, utterly. But that’s not to say I don’t believe that despair cannot be so all encompassing that death seems like the better option, and that’s not to say I haven’t experienced that level of despair.
Grief is probably the biggest emotion I just swallow and deal with. When I have multiple levels of headfuckery going on around the grief, I choke on it—without, apparently, realizing that I am choking.
But then there’s the standard issues—the questions, the guilt, the realization that now I get to miss these people forever, that there will never be another chat conversation, another movie, another night of Jameson shots and bad bar food. There’s wondering about who they left behind: their families, their lovers, their pets. There’s the inevitable: would my being there more have changed anything at all?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t talk about any of this stuff because I don’t even know where to begin. I prefer not to waste words, and to avoid statements of the obvious like, “This makes me feel sad.” I tend to only say such things to people who are grieving with me over the same people—as more of an acknowledgement of what they are feeling than anything else.
While avoiding statements of the obvious, and chewing on the complicated, I fail to communicate anything at all.
Obviously that has to change. I just haven’t the faintest idea of how to change it.
In the mean time, I am going to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in honor of one of them. I am going to raise a glass of Jameson to all three of them. And if I have enough Jameson, I will likely pull out my guitar to sing a song I learned for yet another dead friend.
Three people I know are dead. This makes me sad.