Posts Tagged 'suicide'

How suicide songs saved my life

I fell in love with suicide music the fall I was 15. I was lonely, shy, and bone skinny that autumn, and my mom had just moved the two of us to a dumpy two-bedroom apartment in El Paso while my dad remained in Iowa to finish out his teaching term and sell the house.

To me, El Paso was concrete and heat and thugs with guns and pretty girls walking right by me. I detested that city. It was my very own scorched hell.

One Sunday, my mom, who realized I was depressed and homesick and wanted to help me make friends, took me to Trinity First United Methodist church. After the service, which lasted an hour but felt like a season, I was pointed to Sunday school in the basement in a building behind the church. I found the room, slipped in, and saw a teenager wearing a black cape.

Sure. I know. A cape. Like Zorro.

The boy in the cape was talking to a balloon-shaped girl with acne and a guy about my age with horse teeth who looked like Hoho the clown.

Sunday school lasted another season, but the kids were welcoming, and balloon girl kept checking me out, and Hoho the clown never stopped grinning, and I have to admit that I liked being with fellow teenagers, even if they rocked out to Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, even if their preferred adjectives were “nifty,” “swell,” and “super.”

That same night, I went to my first Methodist Youth Fellowship or MYF as the smiling misfits in Sunday school had glowingly referred to it.

As you might suspect, I didn’t go to MYF to commune with Jesus, not that I had anything against the dude or his omnipotent old man or the holy ghost, whatever that was.

No.

I showed up in the hopes that I might meet a cute girl who’d be charmed by an underweight newcomer who believed that the El Paso sun was his one true enemy. The girl, as I envisioned her, would be snarky and smart and maybe a Christian but not too devout. I didn’t want to have to marry the girl to see her boobs, after all.

I didn’t meet the girl of my dreams that night, but I did make a friend. His name was Andy and he’d just moved to El Paso from Arizona. Like me, he was a first timer at MYF.

Three things stood out about Andy:

1. He wore a Free Nelson Mandela tee-shirt, and it wasn’t even tucked in.

2. He was either laughing loudly or smirking every time I noticed at him.

3. He won a burping contest, one of the activities the youth minister dreamed up to show us that worshipping Jesus was cooler than drinking candy-colored cocktails with beautiful co-eds at any of probably a hundred bars less than 10 minutes away in Juarez.

Toward the end of MYF that evening, I walked up to Andy.

“Cool shirt,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said, smiling or maybe smirking. “You know, I bet none of these fucking idiots even knows who Nelson Mandela is.” He pointed to the lopsided lot of teenagers who had started to form a circle a few feet away to pray or sing Kumbaya or play another game that would demonstrate God’s great love for us all.

Hoho the clown, turned around and smiled, a questioning look in his eyes. The poor bastard had heard Andy. I suspected they all had, and no doubt, they weren’t much impressed with the smirking new addition.

But I was. I liked Andy from the get go.

Andy and I soon became friends because we loathed El Paso, hated high school, disregarded most of the rules, read good books, and adored melancholy music.

Music, especially, cemented our friendship. Andy introduced me to the blackest bands I’d ever heard that fall—The Sisters of Mercy, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, early Cocteau Twins—and I loved them all.

It was the Cocteau Twins, in particular, a group that would later make ethereal and soothing records, that blossomed inside me like a tumor. I heard them for the first time one afternoon at an MYF retreat in which Andy and I skipped bible study to smoke cigarettes and talk music in the trees outside our bunk house.

“Listen to this,” he said and lobbed me a copied tape of the Cocteau Twins’ first album Garlands as we sat under a tall ponderosa and smoked More 120’s. I slipped it in my Walkman and pushed the play button.

A thin drum machine and a wall of guitars that sounded a lot like cats dying backed up a female vocalist who screeched or sang or maybe yodeled. I didn’t know what to make of it. The only lyrics I could understand were, “Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary.”

And then again. “Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary. Die in a rosary.” Was this music or noise or something evil? I wondered.

But the more I listened to that tape, the more it seeped inside and became melodic and pulsed in time with the hurt in my heart. By the time I got to the song “Blood Bitch,” I was hooked.

“This might be my new favorite band,” I told Andy.

“I knew you’d get it,” he said like I’d cracked a code.

Looking back on all those recordings from the Smiths and Diamanda Galas and Christian Death and The The and the Dead Kennedy’s, I realize Andy and I had collected the perfect music to off ourselves to, but for me at least, the tapes I kept in a box and grocery bag served the opposite purpose. The music whispered that I wasn’t alone. It reminded me I was part of a community. It manufactured a space for me to express myself and be different and grow into my own strange mind.

And it probably saved my life.

Andy probably saved my life as well. He was sometimes an asshole and we’d bicker like brothers on a cross-country road trip, but he was as loyal a friend as I’ve ever had.

And he was my only friend those first few months in that burning city when I hated everything and suicide music was the soundtrack that accompanied my every step.

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About suffering they were never wrong

I keep thinking about this guy David, who I used to ride bikes with. David was gregarious, competitive, and confident. He smiled almost all the time.

David loved cycling. In winter, I’d meet David and a handful of other regular riders before sunrise at the Upper Crust Bakery. We’d slurp coffee, crunch on pastries, and talk bikes and races. As the sky greyed, we’d pedal through the cold city streets.

David, 10 years or so older than the rest of us, often struggled in the hills on the early part of the ride. But towards the end, where the route turned flat, he’d be out front, setting a 20-plus MPH pace, dropping all but the strongest riders.

I last pedaled through town with David sometime in early 2004. Fatherhood loomed that winter, and my priorities had shifted. Racing had stopped mattering much, and I couldn’t bring myself to get up at 5:30 on Tuesday for those hard rides.

I’d see David from time to time in the years that followed, going the other way on the greenbelt or in the parking lot at the start of a charity bike ride. I’d say hey, and he’d say hey back. I’m not sure if he even remembered my name.

Last month, David sold his well-loved bike, a Giant NRS he’d owned since the days of those early morning bakery rides, and unloaded his professional tool set.

A week or so later, he emailed his family and friends. “Life’s a beach,” he wrote.

On the local cycling message board, he posted the same words. Life’s a beach.

Then he drove his van to Port Aransas on the Texas coast, placed his wallet on the dashboard, stared at the sand and the waves, and committed suicide.

I have a hard time imagining that David, the man in his apartment alone, the cyclist selling off his well-cared for gear, the 50-something scheming to end his life. 

Last week, Sally and I loaded up the boys to go to Port Aransas for boogie boarding, fried fish eating, pool-side lounging, and late night talk with our old pals, the Tubres. As always, the trip ended too soon. We dig the beach life, its simple days of flip flops and iced beer and too much sun. We could float through the summer there.

I didn’t know of David’s fate then. I didn’t know that his van with the Bike Mojo sticker that I’d seen so many times had been towed off the beach the day before we walked onto that same sand. I didn’t know that David had gazed at the ocean in those final moments just as I would a few days later.

I wonder if, like me, he was awed by the Gulf, its vastness, its violence lurking inside its green water. He probably wasn’t.

My guess is that his insides were clouded and dim as winter as he stared at that Gulf that went all the way to the sky.

But I’d like to think that he got the power and beauty of that place that final morning, that he felt stilled and lucid as the light left his world. And I’d like to think that right now he’s on his Giant NRS, his body muscle and vein, grinding up a steep hill at the front of a wheezing group and smiling all the way to the podium.

That’s what I’d like to think.

But what I believe, what churns in my gut and sloshes in my head, is something entirely different.

Note: I wrote this a week or so ago, alone, late at night, in a strange mood. When I read it the next day, I hated it. I despised the tone, the maudlin narrative, the platitudes about suicide, pretty much all of it. And I wasn’t sure if I had the right to write about David, a guy I didn’t know in any meaningful way.

Today, I saw the post sitting as a draft, and I reread it. To be honest, I still didn’t like it, and I still wasn’t sure if I should share it, but I decided to click publish anyway. I’m not sure why. Maybe I just needed to get this story out and then move on.

Also, the title comes from a W.H. Auden poem on suffering called Musee des Beaux Arts. You probably knew that. You’re smart people, all four of you Bad Chemicals readers.


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