Suicide isn't painless


Nor, apparently, is it easy. After swimming out into the Gulf of Mexico late at night and trying to drown himself (swam back in because he was so afraid), then trying to asphyxiate himself with a rubber hose hooked up to the tailpipe (went to sleep and woke up with a blinding headache), my elder brother Ian went down to the neighborhood Academy, bought a .38 nickel-plated Rossi, and put a bullet in his chest.

At the funeral home they had neatly folded his hands, but if you looked closely, and you know, I always look closely, you could see the powder burns on the crease between his right thumb and forefinger.

He didn’t have any veins in his hands, and his eyelids sank unnaturally into his head. He’d donated his eyes and everything else of salvage value to people who needed it more than he did. The sleeves in his suit were completely flat and looked empty, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask the funeral director what had happened to his arms.

They’d tried to cut and stretch and twist his face back into something that might have looked like Ian, but it reminded me of the time I’d tried to throw clay on a wheel. Once it gets out of shape, you can’t ever put it back into shape. It’s just all pretty much fucked up forever.

Let me count the ways

Suicide is apparently painful in the planning. It’s painful in the execution. And it’s painful in the aftermath. The pain ripples out, not like a poetic pebble tossed into a still reflecting pool, but like a massive, horrible, endless discharge of vomit with your head hung over the toilet, splattering and splashing and staining and stinking and ruining everything it touches. And it touches pretty much everything.

Suicide’s real painful in the telling. For some it’s an embarrassment. For me it’s painful because Ian’s not the first person in the world to kill himself, and as I say it my friends and acquaintances share the spatter in their own lives with me. The sister hanged herself. The father shot himself on the son’s eighteenth birthday. The goddaugher did herself in after a happy, normal phone call. The brother threw himself off the balcony. Ian’s choice, for someone as imaginative and creative and original was so…pedestrian. It was just another suicide, one more bloody mess that family got to find and strangers got to clean up.

Suicide is unquestionably painful in the discovering. Dad checked his email at 8:00 AM on Saturday, June 16, Central Standard Time, conveniently before Father’s Day. Three emails sat percolating in his inbox, all from Ian, all time-stamped at 7:03 that morning. Tired of living. By the time you read this I’ll be dead. Etc.

Suicide is unbearably painful in the confirming. Screeching through traffic, blowing through red lights, frantically dashing up the rickety staircase and bursting into the filthy and debris-strewn apartment to find your eldest slumped over on the couch, the ragged drainage hole from the .38 having emptied the contents of Ian’s heart onto the sofa, and the dead fact of death leaving Dad there with his firstborn, deadened.

For whom the bell tolls

Suicide is painful in the alerting. I’d just finished up a Donut beatdown, and it’s odd how good I felt after such an abject thrashing. Shredded on the Switchbacks, unceremoniously dumped in Homes and Gardens, shelled up to the Domes, caught and dropped after the Glass Church sprint, and DFL all the way up Zumaya, what right did I have to feel good? I dunno. I just felt good.

“Seth?” Dad said over the phone and he didn’t have to say anything else because I knew it was bad, awful bad, and a few hours later I was on the plane to Houson.

Suicide is unbearably painful in the sharing. I didn’t want to go over to the apartment and find out how we were going to clean up the mess, but someone had to. That couch looked at me with an evil sneer, its cushions spotted with unthinkably huge circles of gore where Ian had slumped, gushing blood out of the hole, the back of the couch decorated with an enormous, thick clot that looked like a giant painter with a giant paint knife had cut out the biggest chunk of red oil off the palette and smeared it on the canvas, a clump bigger and thicker than five fists stuck to the fabric of the couch and thinning towards the bottom into a spill.

To think: All that raggedy, jagged exit wound, mess and destruction caused by the same thing that made the small, neat, perfectly round hole in the wall where the bullet passed into the next apartment.

I stared at the awfulness wishing I had a delete button, but it’s been recorded now permanently. The biohazard disposal contractor dude smoking a cigarette and driving a big white van that said “Plumbers” on the side next to a hand-lettered “Bio-Expert Cleners” was humane and human.

“Sorry for your loss, man,” he said in the 90-degree heat and stifling humidity as we stood outside the apartment. “Yeah,” I said. Me, too.”

Nothing ends like it’s supposed to

Suicide’s painful because it blames you. Unlike the cancer or the runaway truck or the accidental drowning, suicide’s uniquely the fault of the survivors. What could I have done differently? Was it something I said or did? Why didn’t I see the signs? Where was I when he needed me most? Oh yeah, I remember. I was on the Donut, riding my bike while he was bleeding out on the couch.

Suicide’s painful because Ian’s the person responsible for my decision in 1982 to buy a road bike. The person who inspired the gift that has made me happiest, was so terribly unhappy that he killed himself. The word for that is irony.

Of course nothing is all bad. Despite this ghastly ordeal, there’s something good and positive that has come out of it. But I’ll be goddamned if I know what it is.

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