Still Dead

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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24 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Strong stuff Will.

    I thought of three people reading this. One was K. a friend and someone who used to work for me when i worked at shelter for street kids. I knew her husband and their best friend also since i hired them all. I knew K was odd but we all were in our own way. One day a couple years after we had all stopped working at the shelter she hanged herself. She was deeply mentally ill, which i never knew. She and her husband would never have a gun in the house but it obviously didn’t make any difference in her case. When we still all worked together two teens who we had known for a while both died by gunshot in “accidents” a few months apart. I put accident in quotes since there was uncertain whether the deaths were due to stupid adolescent accidents likely fuelled by drugs or impulsive suicides. It didn’t really matter, we had memorial services for them since their families didn’t. I don’t know how they got the guns, if they were legal or not. But if they didn’t have the guns, they wouldn’t have died when they did.

    Such is life that the living must always wonder about the fates which have left us alive while so many of our loved ones are gone. Our lot is to always ask questions with no answer.

    Jim Carroll Band- People who died

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    Is it a statement that you didn’t make this part of the symposium?Report

  3. BlaiseP says:

    Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
    In death’s dream kingdom
    These do not appear:
    There, the eyes are
    Sunlight on a broken column
    There, is a tree swinging
    And voices are
    In the wind’s singing
    More distant and more solemn
    Than a fading star.

    Let me be no nearer
    In death’s dream kingdom
    Let me also wear
    Such deliberate disguises
    Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
    In a field
    Behaving as the wind behaves
    No nearer —

    Not that final meeting
    In the twilight kingdomReport

  4. Maribou says:

    Dammit, Will, you made me cry. And worse, you made me remember. And yet, I feel a little bit better than I did before.

    An incredibly moving post. I’m so sorry for your loss, and thank you for sharing your experience with us.Report

  5. Christopher Carr says:

    Powerful post Will. A fitting way to conclude the symposium perhaps?

    Sorry to switch into functional mode so brusquely, but with this anecdote you’ve crystallized the essence of guns in America: in the hands of the righteous, guns can be a powerful tool for good: witness the Revolution. In the hands of the unrighteous, guns can catalyze evil: a man in Akihabara a few years ago drove his car into a crowd of people and killed a handful; American psychopaths get to use guns.

    In the hands of the emotionally delicate or the agitated, or the angsty, or those in altered states of consciousness, guns can make permanent an evil that was never meant to be part of reality.

    When we talk about guns, we tend to talk about rights, when really we ought to be talking about values.Report

  6. Rod Engelsman says:

    Augghh… you actually have dreams like that? [Shivers] My lifepath has been blissfully free of suicides. Lost a friend to a motorcycle accident in hs, and that’s bad enough. Thanks for sharing your powerful and intimate story.

    Some thoughts:
    Concerning guns and suicides, my understanding of it is that most, not all, suicide attempts are impulsive events. So just not having the means readily available can prevent a lot of them.

    You said your friend was “tripping.” Do you literally mean on LSD or something? Because suicides as a result of psychedelics isn’t particularly common. There were even experiments in the ’50s and ’60s that suggested that use of psychedelics under controlled, therapeutic conditions was an almost miraculous curative. Sort of like hitting a reset button on your brain. But, you know, just say no and all that. Alcohol is a much more common trigger chemical for suicide.

    When I hear people calling for increased mental health services as a response to Sandy Hook events, I’m reminded of the maxim that the first symptom in something like 80% of the cases of heart disease is cardiac arrest, which is usually fatal. Please don’t blame yourself. Yeah, there may have been signs that a trained professional could pick up on, but you’re not a trained professional. And it wasn’t because of anything you or your girlfriend did or didn’t do. Your friend had a serious chemical imbalance in his brain. It was inevitable.Report

    • Christopher Carr in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

      “I’m reminded of the maxim that the first symptom in something like 80% of the cases of heart disease is cardiac arrest, which is usually fatal.”

      Not really true if we’re counting highly-correlated comorbidities like hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, diabetes, tachycardia, atrial fibrillation, etc. These people should expect cardiac events. Lifestyle is a huge predictor, but overhwhelmingly Americans choose to ignore that fact to such an extent that the medical profession has largely given up on a pushing a known cure for a well-understood disease and chosen instead to concentrate on developing “cheats” like blood-thinners and clotting antagonists that acknowledge our civilization’s unnatural, sedentary reality.Report

      • M.A. in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        but overhwhelmingly Americans choose to ignore that fact to such an extent that the medical profession has largely given up on a pushing a known cure for a well-understood disease

        It’s as much the medical industry though.

        They want to sell blood thinners. They want to sell clotting antagonists. Those make money for drug companies.

        They don’t really want people signing up for a fitness center, or stopping by the local primary care physician’s office for a checkup. They don’t want to pay out on the specialist referral to send you to a nutritionist. None of that will make money for the drug companies or the insurance/HMO.

        On the last insurance plan I had, I couldn’t guarantee which of the 10 rent-a-docs I would actually see when I went to the clinic where my official “primary care physician” was a member. It took me 3 visits to get them to finally give the referral to a chiropractor to look at the underlying cause of some back pain (a shifted disc) rather than just giving me pain meds.

        Societally, should we emphasize getting in shape more? Yes. But we need to remove the drug companies and to some extent the “don’t wanna pay for anything to support it” HMOs and Insurance Scam companies in order to get that to happen more.Report

        • Kim in reply to M.A. says:

          umm… my insurance company returns money to me (deductible) if I go see a wellness coach. About Stress, about Exercise, about Nutrition.

          The insurance company cares about your health! And they want to fix you in the cheapest way possible.Report

          • M.A. in reply to Kim says:

            Your insurance company, maybe. Lucky you.

            Most of them don’t. The number I’ve been through that wanted to have nothing but minimal usage of services (as in, “one PCP visit a year to say all’s well and that’s it”) make your experience an outlier.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

      suicides as a result of psychedelics isn’t particularly common…Alcohol is a much more common trigger chemical for suicide.

      In my understanding this is all true. But even those of us, like me, who support the legalization of drugs must concede that they can interact unpredictably with certain individuals’ biology or mental states. I have seen people become paranoid and aggressive under the influence of MDMA (behaviors that are decidedly NOT in the normal effects profile of this generally fairly-safe and predictable intoxicant; but on the other hand, neither of the people in whom I witnessed this effect were totally “normal”; but on the third hand, who is?)Report

    • Kim in reply to Rod Engelsman says:

      A friend of mine used bleach.
      A different time she used rocks…

      I don’t think these were really meant to kill her… but…Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kim says:

        Suicides tend to tall into a couple of categories, the spontaneous and the determined. Walt’s case was the former. I’m familiar with another case that was the latter. When it’s determined, having a good tool on hand doesn’t make that much of a difference. Honestly, even in spontaneous cases, if they’re recurring, eventually they’re going to have the impulse when something is handy even if a gun is not.Report

    • Augghh… you actually have dreams like that?

      Not often. Most of them involve Walt. I guess it falls into the category of one of the big traumatizing events and so it festers in Dreamland.

      His parents didn’t specify, and I didn’t ask, but I assume it was LSD for a couple of reasons. I don’t have difficulty believing it is rare. But I believe that’s a big part of what happened here. There was maybe alcohol involved, as well, though generally speaking he wasn’t a manic drunk or depressive drunk. Mostly just a philosophical one. I am inclined to believe that it took more than alcohol to peel back to whatever it was that he felt he urgently had to get away from.

      I have my doubts that it was inevitable, though I am of the mind that – dreams and some dark thoughts notwithstanding – it really wasn’t foreseeable.Report

  7. James Hanley says:

    Great essay, Will. Tragic and heartbreaking.Report

  8. Burt Likko says:

    I sincerely hope most of your dreams are better than this, man. I feel like I want to respond further, to engage further, but it would either be too bland to be helpful or too personal to be appropriate here.

    All I’ll say here is that the demon who came after you… Well, he comes after me too. And pretty much everyone else. He custom-builds his disguises. He comes at night, at a time he chooses. If you’re a Freudian, he lives in the superego, not the id. You can tell by virtue of the weapons he uses against you — guilt and anxiety. For me, understanding what’s going on in my unconscious at least takes some of the edge off of the attacks, afterwards. I hope that helps you too.Report

  9. Tod Kelly says:

    Wow. I want to second what everyone else here has already said.Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    There is so much we don’t know how to deal with when it comes to mental health. Heck, there is so much we don’t know about adolescence and the hormone bath your brain takes for almost a decade.

    Going back through my list of friends who are still dead, I’m noticing that two of them used chemicals and one of them used a car (we think… it could have been an accident… but he had a chemical attempt that failed under his belt).

    It’s difficult to tell the difference between a kid who’s going through a loner phase and is trying to figure it out and a kid who is seriously bad off… but most of the people I know have a ghost, like this one, who haunts them.

    I wish we knew more. I wish we weren’t so impotent.Report

  11. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Maybe it’s something that colors my perception, but of all the people I’ve known who committed suicide (& it’s a disturbing number, close to a dozen) only one used a gun.

    Ironically (I think, is this ironic?), I saved a girl from committing suicide by gun.

    I was 12, had just come home on my bike from a friends house (we lived out in the sticks, so you needed a bike at the very least to go see friends). My parents & my sister were gone, which wasn’t unusual, my folks trusted me home alone. As I pulled up to the driveway, I noticed a large land yacht (Cadillac, Bonneville, the make & model escapes me, I only remember it was a late 70’s vintage & garishly gold) parked on the side of the highway right at the edge of our yard. Which is odd, since this was a county highway, and parking on the side usually meant a breakdown, or some hippies trying to steal my moms Asparagus, either way,I chose to investigate.

    As I pulled up alongside the car, I noticed the driver, a girl… a very pretty girl, at least, she would be, except for the pain twisting it… staring at the steering wheel like it held the Question to Life, the Universe, & Everything. Then I saw the gun – a revolver, long barrel, chrome, a Dirty Harry gun, the mouth of the barrel a cavern – propped against the steering wheel, pointed at her heart, both her thumbs hooked around the trigger. I didn’t grow up around guns, mom didn’t like them, & dad wasn’t a hunter, so never made an issue of it. So seeing that gun was certainly something new to me.

    I asked her if she was OK, if I could do anything for her. She never looked up at me, her eyes never left the abyss of that barrel, as she calmly said no, she was fine.

    I was 12, but I was no fool. This was beyond me. I calmly rose my bike back to the house, called 911, calmly gave them my address & fire number, and politely asked them to please send someone to try & stop this girl from killing herself in front of my house. I then went outside with the dog & we played in the yard while I listened for sirens & a gun shot (I was a Boy Scout, & 1st Aid was my first Merit Badge, I had the 1st Aid kit sitting on the porch – if she shot herself before the police got there, I figured I could try to do something at that point).

    I heard the sirens first. In the Wisconsin country, you can hear sirens for miles. They were there, in the distance. I remember thinking, if they don’t shut those off soon, she’s gonna hear them & shoot herself. I saw an old couple pull alongside the girl, and then drive away quickly, horror etched on their faces. The sirens stopped. I knew exactly where the Sheriff deputy was, just behind the top of the hill my house was at the bottom off. Had he crested the hill with the sirens on, the sound would have filled the valley. Smart guy, that deputy.

    The cruiser came screaming down the hill, and when he was a bare quarter mile from the house, I heard the loud pop. I took the dog inside, & we watched TV.

    I have never been a person who feels the need to watch what first responders are doing. I always figure they are busy enough without a bunch of rubberneckers gumming up the works. If it’s important, I’ll hear about it later.

    And I did. Two months later, a blue Camaro (80’s style) pulled into my driveway. The beautiful young woman who stepped out of that car, I almost didn’t recognize. She introduced herself, although I forget her name, & she asked if I was the boy who called the police for her 2 months ago. I said yes. Then she apologized for putting me through that, and thanked me. Both things I had never expected to hear, because I had no idea if she’d survived the gun shot. I remembered my manners & asked if she would like something to drink, or an ice cream drumstick. She smiled, a wonderful smile, and said no. Then she did the strangest thing (at least, to my 12 year old self, it was strange), she told me why she did it.

    A common story, about a girl turning 18 soon, uncertain about her future, whose love of her short life had just dumped her before heading off to seek his fortune. For some reason, this was too much, & she stole her fathers, or maybe it was her step-fathers, gun, and his car, and found somewhere quiet to kill herself. Seems several people drove past, but I was the one who called for help. The appearance of the deputy’s cruiser startled her, and she jerked the trigger. Gave herself a nice clean hole through her lung. The deputy was able to plug the sucking chest wound until the EMTs arrived. She spent a couple days in the hospital, and then a couple months in a different hospital, and she was feeling much better now, & very grateful I had called for help.

    I never saw her again. I hope she found love, & happiness, & somewhere she is out there having a great life.Report

  12. Will H. says:

    That’s a powerful bit of writing.
    I really don’t know what to say.
    I’m sorry for your loss. And I’m sorry for the life of a young man cut short.
    I understand all to well the type of questioning that goes on when someone close to you dies, and you wonder if it might have been preventable.
    Death is often so senseless, and I have more questions than answers.
    I hope you find peace.Report