Sometimes you can pinpoint moments in your life as turning points that changed your life. You might remember the date. You might remember the people, the places and the events of that day. The moment remains with you, a constant reminder of where you were, where you are today, and where you are going from here.
June 6, 1994 was the day I decided to take my own life.
No one single event was really responsible for my decision. There was a series of events that provided the catalyst for my decision to choose suicide, but those events were the result of many years of being consumed by a self-destructive pattern that left me more depressed with every disappointment in life, and there were many.
Never lose your sense of humor. If there is any advice I can give you in life, that may well be the most important. Life is funny. When you stop laughing, the music dies.
In November of 1992, I got engaged. The engagement ended after several months when she broke it off. She couldn't handle the idea of getting married. She turned twenty-one in December of 1992 and being engaged was like a weight around her neck. When you turn twenty-one you want to be free to go out and play at being an adult. You can now go out anywhere, drink with people, dance in clubs, do whatever you want. Justine just wanted to put off the engagement until she felt she was ready. She wasn't kicking me out of her life, she just didn't want to be engaged at twenty-one.
I found that unacceptable.
I had serious issues with trust. Three years earlier I had seen a long-term relationship that lasted nearly four years disintegrate. I figured Lisa and I were going to stay together for the rest of our lives. We had a lot in common, loved the same music and movies, loved spending our vacation time in New Hampshire, had great sex, great conversation and cooked together like the rhythm section of a rock band. After three years together I took our relationship completely for granted. Then I woke up on the morning of my twenty-fourth birthday and found her with another man in our living room. He wasn't the first, but he was the first I witnessed first hand instead of just noticing the evidence.
Lisa decided she wanted to stay with her lover. She did not want to reconcile. I wanted to, but only because I was frightened of the prospect of not "having someone." I loved her, and after three and a half years together it was very comfortable and reliable. The passion had faded and the relationship had been dead in the waters of complacency for some time. It was time to move on, but instead I tried to hold on. By the time we completely severed our ties, I was in serious emotional pain and thousands of dollars in debt.
In the beginning, Lisa had been the beautiful older woman, twenty-four to my twenty years of age. The gap doesn't seem very big now, but at the time it was. She taught me pretty much everything I know about the physical side of sex. There wasn't anything she wouldn't do or try, and we did it all. By the end, we were just bored with each other. I had been trying to have an affair, and I hadn't been able to. She just managed to do it before I did.
A woman who had been in my circle of friends at the time, who knew about my situation because she asked me to tell her about it, told me that I was worth more than what I was putting myself through. I considered myself a failure. Susan convinced me that I needed to get away from Lisa and move on. Then she told me she had always been attracted to me and wanted me for herself, so I dove in. Two months later I found out she was lying about her intentions with me and that she was putting my best friend through the same trials, professing love and need for us, and also wanting us to keep "our love" a secret. So, we did, until one night when my best friend Martin and I got drunk and coughed out the truth to each other. Susan had already prepared her escape hatch. She knew we'd eventually talk to each other, it was just a question of when. This was the nature of the game she liked to play and Martin and I bought it. Hook, line and sinker.
Then my childhood best friend, Bobby, killed himself. While we were growing up together he was being sexually molested by his father and I never had any idea. The pain drove him to suicide. I wasn't that far behind.
"I can't trust anyone."
It was how I genuinely felt, although I fought against the feeling constantly. I was drowning in debt, working two part time jobs and waiting to get offered a full time position at one of the jobs. For the next two years I went to great lengths to try to prove to myself that I was worthy of love and companionship. I had no self-confidence and was looking for someone to basically save my ass. Somehow I became convinced that my life would be fine if I just met someone and got married. It wasn't about happily ever after. It was about feeling I could depend on something. I was looking for stability and a way to sidestep loneliness.
"The date went well, but that wasn't the one I was asking about."
I met Justine at a small party. She came with Martin's little brother's entourage. Pete used to travel with a posse in those days. He never showed up anywhere without at least three other people in tow. He was master and commander of his circle of friends, a cocky bastard who did anything he wanted and got away with it. He brought three girls to a party at the house Martin and I shared. I asked him about one of them, but confused the names. Instead of getting information on Pam, I got myself hooked up with Justine. I didn't bother correcting the situation. Justine was nice and seemed to like me. I would run with it. Six months later I proposed to her and she accepted.
"To break off an engagement and go back to just dating would be a step backwards in our relationship. It cannot be done. We can move the wedding date to a later time, but you cannot break off the engagement. Either we stay engaged or we break up."
I don't know what I thought I was doing. I was taking a weird stand and sticking to it. I was a real asshole about it. She was freaking out about the idea of getting engaged and married at twenty-one, feeling she was too young and immature to make that leap. I poured a truckload of guilt onto her and told her "my way or the highway."
She took the highway.
Like a twig.
The complete madness that drove me to depression and suicide began at that point. I began calling Justine and telling her, "We are still engaged. You accepted the proposal and I am not accepting your attempt to break the engagement. We will get married. You committed to it."
Then my behavior became even more bizarre. I called Pam, the girl from the party I had originally been interested in before being accidently set up with Justine. I told her that she had always been the one I wanted and that I was in love with her. I all but got down on my knees while imploring her to consider being with me, because she was the one I really wanted. I began writing her long, angst filled love letters and telling her that she was the reason my relationship with her friend had failed. My relationship had failed because Justine wasn't the right girl, Pam was. It freaked her out, she told me that I looked like a complete madman and that I was frightening her. When I left her house after demanding an audience, she called Justine and told her everything that had happened.
When Pam was unwilling to consider my offer of "love and happiness," I changed directions again. I wrote a long letter to Justine telling her that I had been confused and angry and that I had no interest in Pam whatsoever. She said she didn't care, but that there was now no way we could ever reconcile. I had written long, passionate letters to one of her closest friends and now I wanted to backpedal on that and pretend it never happened.
Justine stopped taking my calls. I became depressed, beating myself up daily over the stupidity of all I had done. I was a failure, couldn't maintain a relationship, drowning in debt, unable to hold onto a full time job, unable to go back to college, unable to do anything but sit at home eating macaroni and cheese and drinking rum and coke. I became a miserable bastard. Even my closest friends stopped hanging around with me. All I ever asked them was, "Help me convince Justine to get back together."
The only person who would listen was Justine's best friend. Josephine was involved with Martin, and they had their own problems. Josephine was as desperate to hold things together in her relationship with Martin as I was to reconcile with Justine. We would talk, and she would come to see me, sometimes bringing food, drink and other gifts to "cheer you up." We were friends in misery, with nothing else much between us. No one else would listen to our whining and our self-hatred.
Josephine would be the first person to truly gain my trust in almost four years.
The betrayals of Lisa and Susan had left me unwilling to trust anyone, especially women. I never trusted Justine. In fact, during our relationship and engagement I insisted she call me every night before she went to bed, a weird request she complied with for many months. I wanted to be certain she had gone home alone. I was very paranoid.
I came to trust Josephine because we were "in the same boat." We understood each other, and she wanted me to help her convince Martin that she was "the one." She said she would eventually convince Justine to give me "another chance." I believed her.
Then Josephine betrayed me as well.
What began as "We're going to help each other be with each other's best friends" changed into something else. Josephine started telling me that she was convinced that our lives were fucked up because we ended up with the wrong people. We were the ones who should have paired up. Justine made me miserable and Martin made her miserable. If we were together, since we thought the same way, we would have worked out much better. "But it is too late for that now."
While Josephine dedicated herself to bringing Martin dinner at work and at home, as well as offering her body to him anytime he was horny and buying him presents, I took a different route. With Josephine telling me that devotion was a good thing and that she wished Martin was as devoted to her as I was to Justine, I started writing letters. I wrote them in greeting cards and mailed them to Justine, professing my love and devotion to her on a daily basis. For three months I mailed her a card every day. It became extremely creepy, and eventually she called me and said, "Stop."
During the early winter months of 1994, Josephine came to my apartment to see me quite often. Even Martin had no idea how often she came to see me. One night she was a complete emotional wreck. Martin had called her "an annoying cunt" and told her he never wanted to see her again. She was crying and told me, "At least you still love me." It was below zero out and she showed up at my apartment in a miniskirt and low-cut blouse. She wanted me to hold her, to tell her everything was going to be okay, and then she climbed into my bed and asked me to bring her a drink. An hour later she left my apartment in a hurry, looking frightened and disturbed. Later I found out she had gone to see Martin, to tell him that I had spiked her drink and was trying to take advantage of her. She asked him to protect her from me. She had the presence of mind to go home and change clothes first. When she arrived at Martin's apartment, emotionally distraught, she was wearing long pants and a heavy jacket.
Two months after the order had come to stop with my daily mailing of angsty greeting cards, I called Justine and left a message on her machine. I was sorry, I had lost my head and I was "feeling better" now. I asked her to simply have dinner with me, as a friend, and that where we went from there would be determined by her. I would stop making demands and telling her what to do.
After a couple of months where I would call no more than once every two weeks to ask her how she was doing, Justine agreed to have dinner with me. I planned to put on a show of shows, one that would convince her to get back together with me. It would be impressive. I charted out every minute of the date, what I would say and do, and selected a very nice restaurant that I knew served some of her favorite dishes. It was all planned out, and this would be the new beginning.
The problem was, she saw the date as an opportunity to bring closure, not to start again.
It was an incredible acting job. Inside I was completely broken up and desperate, but on the outside I managed to exude confidence and normalcy. The performance was so well acted that she put off her need for closure, kissed me goodnight and said she would consider going out again, "If you can be normal."
We never went out again.
Three weeks passed. I left a couple of messages for her, just along the lines of, "Hope everything is going well, and I'd like to go out again sometime." She didn't call me back until June 6, 1994. I came home from work and found a message from her on my answering machine.
I don't remember if I called her back and talked to her or if the entire message had been recorded on the answering machine. She told me she had met someone else and that I needed to accept that it was completely over between us. No more calls, no more letters, no more anything. It was over and I needed to move on. She was right, but I didn't see it that way. This was the final rejection. My finest acting job had failed. Even when I was on the top of my game, I was a loser.
In March of 1994, I had started renting a house in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts with Martin as my roommate. I felt that getting out of living in an apartment by myself would be good for me, and I was right about that, but it wasn't enough. When it came time for me to accept Justine's final answer, that things were over with no chance of reconciliation, I snapped like I had never snapped before.
I just wanted to die.
I remember how amazingly calm I was about my suicidal intentions. The memory plays in slow motion in my mind. I calmly got into my car and drove down to the pharmacy. I consciously selected a bottle of sleeping pills that had a warning about calling a poison control center if more than two are taken in a twelve hour period. I also picked up a large bottle of extra-strength aspirin, sensing the need to thin the blood to keep me from waking up. The young clerk at the register looked at me with concern. He asked if I was going to be okay. I said, "I'm fine," and walked out of the pharmacy and went to the liquor store next door. There I bought a liter of Bacardi 151 rum. I calmly got into my car and went home.
I found the number for the poison control center and placed a call. I told them I was a writer and that I was working on a novel in which one of the characters commits suicide. I wanted to know if the combination of sleeping pills, aspirin and liquor would be enough to kill the character. They told me that what I suggested would be overkill, that it wouldn't take the whole bottle of sleeping pills, the whole bottle of aspirin and the entire liter of rum. I thanked them and hung up.
My suicide was almost ritualistic, as I am certain many are. I pulled out a number of CDs and record albums, wanting to hear favorite songs as I worked to get all the poisons into my system. I began a slow review of moments in my life, both happy and sad, playing through my life in a kind of recap before the end. I managed to get down all of the rum, which I mixed with caffeine-free cola in a conscious effort to avoid anything that might keep me awake and alive. I downed forty-six sleeping pills and thirty-two extra-strength aspirin. I listened to a lot of music, but it was when I started to listen to a song called "Boy" by Ian Hunter that I finally choked up.
Take a turnpike heading west
Turn the people on to Beau Geste
'Cuz that's what you did the best
I wasn't thinking about Justine. I wasn't thinking about Lisa, Susan, Pam or Josephine. As I listened to the song I thought about where I had been and where I had gone wrong. There were tears streaming down my cheeks. I was saying goodbye to this life and slowly letting go of everything I had known in this life, but there was one thing I could not let go of. I cried because I realized that for years I had avoided believing in the one person I loved above all others because I didn't think I was good enough for her. At that moment I felt like I had disappointed her in the ultimate way. I was killing myself before telling Marci how I really felt about her, how I had felt about her since we first met nine years before.
For much of my life I had been acting. I had been playing a role, trying to be who I thought I was supposed to be. As death came closer, a guaranteed sale since I had already consumed all the pills and liquor, the overkill the poison control center warned me about. In the calm before the storm, I finally achieved a moment of clarity and peace. Everything I did and everyone I tried to attach myself to was an excuse not to admit to myself what I really felt and wanted in life. Still, it was too late. Even without my impending death, there was too much water under the bridge. I had screwed up everything and it was too late to change.
With all the women I had been professing love for, why was how I felt about Marci any different? Was I now trying to attach myself to her? We hadn't even spoken for eighteen months. She had disappeared from my life after I told her that I was getting engaged to Justine. She said, "That will be the death of you. Don't you ever learn?" She didn't know how right she was, or maybe she did. Marci was never concerned about us maintaining a relationship. She was always trying to convince me to believe in myself.
Sitting there, listening to music and knowing that when I finally passed out I would never wake up again, I had many realizations. The careful review of my life I had done as I was consuming pills and liquor had been organized like some kind of "best moments" episode of a sit-com. Once I reached the point of no return, it changed into something else. I could see everything I had done wrong and how I could have taken a different course. I had been acting my way through life, never really being myself, and attaching myself to women as if they were drugs. As long as I was with someone, I wouldn't have to deal with the pain in my heart. Then I realized the only reason I had that pain in my heart was because I was trying to suffocate it.
On the surface, admitting to myself that I had spent the better part of a decade being an actor instead of a person, does not seem like much of a realization. What hit me was that I was miserable, depressed and taking my own life because I had been too afraid of being who I really was and feeling what I really felt. I had become so good at acting my way through life that I even believed it myself. My engagement to Justine? I didn't even really like her. We had nothing in common. I had managed to convince myself that it was the right thing to do. This need to attach myself to a woman in order to justify my existence was insane. Why didn't I believe in myself? Why did I need someone else to validate me? Years later I would marvel at the humor value attached to realizing I was using women to justify my existence and that the last woman I used for that purpose was named Justine.
"Why do you keep doing this to yourself? You let these women walk all over you and treat you like shit and then pretend that you love them. Why don't you stop being a wimp and have some balls."
For years, Marci had told me that, every time I got involved with someone and we saw each other and she could see how unhappy I was. She kicked my ass when it needed to be kicked, but I wasn't listening. The only woman I had ever really fallen in love with, someone I convinced myself was too good for me, was trying to save my ass. She was trying to save my ass for years. I just never listened.
I realized that Marci was my best friend, not Martin. Martin was always complicit. The main reason my friendship with Martin fell apart after my suicide was the pain he felt over not doing anything to help me. He never could, even when I was in college and he came to visit me one weekend. I had gotten into trouble at a party and offended this guy because I accidently fell into the bathroom while his girlfriend was sitting on the toilet. The guy came by to kick my ass the next day. When he showed up, Martin who was bigger than the guy at 6'3" 210 lbs, walked out of my dorm room and went outside. It took two of my suitemates at the dorm to send the guy who came to kick my ass packing. When Martin came back he told me, "I failed again. I'm a jerk."
That became the nature of my relationship with Martin. He saw himself as my protector, but every time I needed him he was nowhere to be found. We had been living in the same house together for three months as my depression spiralled out of control and he did nothing. He never told me I was being an asshole. Even as he watched me fall completely apart and seal myself in my bedroom night after night, he just silently watched television and pretended nothing was wrong.
For years people had told me that Marci was cruel to me and that being friends with her was destroying my self-confidence. I didn't have any self-confidence to be destroyed, but it was never what she was about. She was the only person who wouldn't shut up when I needed someone to speak. My other friends would say, "I hope you know what you're doing," when I did something fucked up. Marci would say, "You're fucking up, you idiot, what is wrong with you?" When she would kick my ass and I would get defensive, she would shake her head. "Don't you have any idea how much I care about you? Stop being a wimp, I'm sick of listening to it."
The floodgates of memory opened when I reached the point of no return. I saw everything in a different light, and I finally realized that Marci hadn't been making fun of me, she was trying to keep me from ever getting to the point I was now at. Why had I let her slip out of my life? That was a failure as well. I was too far gone now, it didn't matter. I was going to die and the life I led was no longer going to exist in the morning. All day I had prepared myself to say farewell to everyone and everything I had known in life, but I got hung up on a nail Marci left in the wall. It was as if my shirt got caught on that nail on my way out of life. I let go of everything else as I prepared to push myself through the steel wall of death, but I couldn't say goodbye to Marci.
My final words as I lay down to die were, "Goodbye Marci, I am going to miss you."
Everyone else pretty much got a "fuck off" style farewell.
There was more than just failed relationships and my fear of real love. It was just what I was focused on at the moment.
The music stopped, the house was quiet, and I was lying on my back in my bed, staring up at the ceiling and waiting for death. I imagined what Marci would say if she had seen me at that point.
"Oh, great, good move, wimp. What is this going to prove? As if I don't have enough problems without your suicide on my conscience."
The room started spinning and I closed my eyes. I felt my life leaving my body, and then I regained consciousness, but I wasn't in my bed. I was on a rickety raft going down a jungle river with a tattered and broken sail to guide me. The jungle around me was burning with an intense, blue flame and people were coming out of the jungle, gathering at the shore and calling out to me to help them. I could do nothing for them. I was helpless and there was no room on my raft for anyone but me. It would have sunk if anyone else got onto the raft. That part of my death experience holds great symbolic meaning to me. It represented how I had lived my life.
A huge dragon appeared overhead and blew wind into my sail, sending me rapidly along the river and away from the people who were burning with the blue flame. I could hear their suffering as I traveled down the river towards "the light." Once I hit the light, the dragon flew off, and I felt my life and my body depart from me.
I passed through the light, feeling changed, and my body returned to me. I needed it to walk across this empty and vacant desert, a dead place where nothing lived or grew. There was a man, sitting on a metal folding chair in the middle of this desert. I walked to him.
He asked if I wanted to continue. I acted as if I didn't know what he meant. The actor in me was still present and I fell back on him. The man in the chair asked if I wanted to go on from there and leave the life I had known behind. I continued to question what he meant, unwilling to make the decision.
"There is more you need to do. Go where there is no snow. You will know her when you see her. You will have no doubt and the sky will turn to gold. You already know what to do."
I stopped acting and stopped thinking. I turned around and walked back towards the light. I could see it directly in front of me as soon as I turned around. I walked into it and received a feeling that can best be described as rapture. In one single moment, which could have lasted anywhere from one second to thousands of years, I received total consciousness and complete awareness. Time, you see, in death is very relative. Only key events are focused on, everything else moves by in a flash.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt stronger than I ever had in my entire life, even though I was completely paralyzed and alone. I was forever changed and could never go back to who I had been.
You see, I understand better than you think what it is like to be depressed, alone and filled with self-doubt and self-hatred. I also know what it is like on the other side of the coin. It is now, as it always has been, my intention to share my experience in the hope that it will mean something to others.