Hey, Mum… just figured I’d come chat with you for a while. Kind of having a tough one.
Everything I do today is doomed to be weighted and ponderous. Menial tasks from putting the tea bag in the cup, filling it with water, buttering some toast to putting a soiled dish in the awaiting rack of a dishwasher, all of it, slave labour.
While I may not own the appearance of your typical slave, and certainly no longer reside in a time where bondage is the accepted social norm, I am no less shackled by a master of misery.
Today is January 26th, 2020. What should be an arbitrary square on a calendar, has become a moment immune to the ticking hands. A moment saturated by sadness and forlorn cogitation. To me, that empty square on the waxy pages of time stretches into a pristine canvas, awaiting the stroke of a wounded man’s brush. And from behind my eyes, I begin to paint…
What unfolds is the imagery of loss and pain. I hear his voice and then hers… even yours. All of them, piercing, agonizing… unforgettable.
The owner of my torment is grief. Today, I am a slave to it. Memory has become the whip. My soul, the recipient of punitive slashes and tears. Today is a day where even skin feels too heavy to wear.
Mum, five years ago I lost a friend. His name was Greg. He was a sort of mentor to me. To many people, really. He was a good medic and a great man. I actually told you about him when you were still around. I called you one night after one of the bad ones, and blathered at you through whiskey breath. Though my speech may have been slurred, I think you were able to comprehend just how kind Greg was to me in my moment of need. You even said through your British timbre: “That was nice of him then, eh?” I agreed and then started to cry. You didn’t say much. You didn’t have to. You just sat on the other end of the phone and listened to me for a while. I could almost feel your hand on the back of my head.
Mum, five years ago, Greg died by way of suicide. The fabric of my black and white world was ripped from under my intoxicated feet. You see, I used to think that suicide was selfish. I used to condemn any and all who even contemplated it, let alone died by way of it. Those calls I went to, some of the rough ones, they were suicide calls. I would walk in with a chip on my shoulder and a weighted brow. I had already passed judgement never having met the person before. That narrative was challenged one night when I responded to a young woman who had died by method of pills. She was lain on her bed. Pale, cold and alone. I walked in wanting to hate her… it was easier that way. On her nightstand was a note. One of the last ones I ever read… until yours…
I won’t tell you what the note said, I’m sure you remember, because I told you in life. But what I will say is this; that note, read on that night beside the lifeless woman, that was the first chop of the axe towards the pillar of my simplistic narrative. How could I possibly label a woman so tortured and wounded as selfish? I couldn’t. So I became a man conflicted. Thus making each of the following suicides that I would attend more painful. More confusing. More debilitating. The unity of those three things would be taken to the forge and melted down to anger, then shaped into a goblet… a bottomless glass from which I would consume the rage. And I would drink from it until my eyes closed and the world around me would fade… I did this for years.
In fact, on the morning when I received the phone call about Greg, I was terribly hungover. I listened with hefted incredulity and nauseated stomach as the voice of my friend, Rob, spoke on what had happened. That was the fatal blow to my flawed narrative of judgement. Greg was anything but selfish, and now he too had died by way of a wounded mind. In that moment when Rob’s words bled into my ear, I relived each and every suicide that I had ever attended. Even the ones less lethal, leaving the person badly wounded. Every face, every feature and every scent returned to me before the completion of a blink.
I hung up the phone. I went to the bar, sat at the counter and asked for the goblet. I drank the world invisible. You see, in that moment, on that day five-years ago, every death that I had survived by way of labeling as selfish had come back to me with a haunt that was obliterating my fallacy. I could no longer justify calling those poor people selfish. If Greg was unselfish in his pain, then why were they any different…? These people were not selfish. They were hurting. They were frightfully sad and burdened by unfathomable pain. And right there in that dingy alehouse, the weight of that pain came crashing down onto my shoulders like sickening beams from a showerhead. I was drowning.
In order to survive, condemnation and judgement had acted as my life preserver. Erroneous or otherwise. But all of that was gone now. So I drank and pretended the world didn’t exist. During that time, I am glad the goblet was bottomless…
So, that’s part of what today is; Greg’s anniversary. Thing is, I don’t have a goblet anymore. Rage? Sure… plenty. Most of it, self-directed.
But there’s something else about today that seems especially loathsome and abhorrent. The symbolism behind it is nice, I’ll concede. But the reality of why it’s happening is not…
Mum… I have some bad news. Awful news, really. Are you sitting down…? Mum… a few weeks ago, your little girl, my big sis… she died, mum. I don’t know if you’ve seen her yet, and if you haven’t, I am sorry to have been the one to tell you. Believe me, I wish this was all untrue. All of it.
Today, the town of Beiseker, population 819, is holding a memorial for her… for Lisa. Her death wasn’t expected, so there are a lot of us still reeling. I know memorials are supposed to be celebratory, in a way… It’s just that I am not ready to do any of that just yet. I wonder if you can see now why I think that today sucks. It’s kind of a big one.
I still feel awful that I spent years judging all those people. Mum, there were so many… for a time, it seemed and felt like everyone in the world was dying by their own murderous mind. The repetition of which my job saw me witness suicide was… well… it feels so incalculable. And I feel utterly worthless that all this skill at saving people was useless when it came to trying to help my sister. I feel like I failed you, when you died. And now, I feel like I failed her. Like I should have called more. Like I should have been in better mental health so that I could have travelled to see her… to see you… I hadn’t seen either of you in 11-years. 13, for you now, I guess…
Today is a lot, mum. I’d give anything to feel your hand on the back of my head now. Truth be told, I don’t even believe in an afterlife… making these words even more horribly sad. Because really, I’m just talking to myself. The dead and gone don’t answer me. Not even sure they forgive me. Perhaps that’s why I have so many bad dreams—sentencing for my crimes of judgement.
Bell Let’s Talk day is coming… I guess, maybe that’s what I’m doing—talking.
I’m going to go for a walk now, be by the water for a while. Maybe I can skip a few tears across the bouncing lake. Throw them somewhere deep… so they can rest. So you can rest. So you can all rest…
Mum, if you see Greg… tell him hi for me, okay? And if you see Lisa… mum, grab onto her and just love her. Tell we all miss her. Tell her thank you for me. We didn’t speak much as adults, but she was a damn good older sister. I love her. I love you. And Greg, brother… I love you too. I promise, for whatever time I have left on this earth, I’ll keep talking. No longer judging. At least… not those around me.
Rest easy, wherever you are. Hopefully I’ll see you sometime.