I’m taking the suicide equivalent of the Pepsi challenge. A handgun sits on the left, a scalpel on the right. Modern media kindly labeled them coward and man. I never understood why we needed a distinction. Dead is dead. Whether it happens from a head on collision, a suicide bomber, a bad dose of Allegra or a pistol, you’re gone. Death is the one thing where the end doesn’t give a fuck about the means.
As an American, I don’t have much of an excuse for this course. Culturally, we’re not even in the top ten of the world for suicides. Greenland holds the distinction (or burden) of being number one by a mile. Next up is Lithuania. For one, they blame insomnia spawned from long days in the summer. The other comes from social and political shit thanks to Russia or something.
Japan doesn’t break the top five and I’d always heard how famous they were for people offing themselves (they’re still number seven so I wasn’t totally off). The US is all the way down at number thirty. We are the number one country for murder so I guess we’d rather kill our neighbors than ourselves. People think suicide is selfish—well, trust me I think I’d rather someone take their own life than five random people at the mall.
These are the thoughts dancing through my brain as I try to make my decision. Life’s there too. The good and the bad talk it out like they’re on a shitty remake of CNN’s Crossfire. As they construct their arguments, each event becomes a bullet point on their side meant to influence my inevitable action. If one side wins, I walk away but if the other…well, the gravity of their evidence will lead my hand to the implement of my end.
It’s 1995. High School seemed like the worst thing in the world and it finally ended. I looked out on the future as if it was the holy land I long sought. Nothing out there could be worse than the mindless cliques and needless rules…the bullies and the days spent suffering at the hands of underpaid babysitters who already gave up on life. I was free and it felt fucking great.
It’s 1996. I lost my virginity in the bathroom at a Denny’s. Not the most romantic of situations but at least it was fast. Er…maybe this should’ve been on the bad side…
Later in 1996, I entered college. I was convinced it would be different than my previous education and for the most part, I was right. The teachers were people who wanted to be there and many of the students did too. They paid for it which instantly elevated the value. In the first six months, I learned more than in my last two years of high school. My holy land proved to be awesome and inspiring.
Christmas time, 1996. I met and fell in love with a girl in my anthropology class. She was smart, funny and seemed to be into all the same things as me. She wasn’t drop dead gorgeous or even all that pretty but neither was I so it worked out. We hung out, watched movies and attended some plays. A few times, I saw what happiness looked like in her eyes. I couldn’t imagine not waking up to her face for the rest of my life. I proposed six months later and she accepted.
Spring, 1997. A play I wrote got picked up by a small theater and they performed it. No one encouraged my creative side before but my English teacher convinced me I had some talent. I put it to paper and proved it out through this small success. Someone else besides the guy grading my papers liked my work and as a result, the public saw a little bit of me on display.
Autum, 1997. I’m at the Puyallup Fair. The smell’s nostalgic from the only times in my childhood I was ever happy. Raspberry…deep fried food…barbeque and the scent of animals created a mélange that never failed to make me smile. I shared it with my fiancé for the first time and it just felt right. I loved the rural feel of that part of Washington and the shorter days with the hint of winter’s breath. I’d never been more content in my life.
January, 1998. Our fabulous wedding occurred at the Chinese pagoda in Point Defiance Park. We dressed traditionally, me in black and her in white. The whole thing felt far too formal, too mature for us but she insisted and I didn’t care. The party favors were hand made as were the centerpieces. I didn’t have anything to do with the wedding other than getting fitted at the time and place specified. We drank too much and had a blast. It goes down as an amazing party I hoped I’d never forget and I got to be wed to someone I loved very much.
Late 1998, I got a promotion at work. I moved to the customer retention department where I talked people into staying with Comcast. This allowed me to offer all kinds of deals and though the people I spoke to were still a bunch of greedy pricks, they tended to be happy when I got off the phone. I suppose this isn’t a huge deal but it did come with a little more money and a hint of satisfaction.
Late 1998, my son was born. I placed a level of responsibility on him not seen since Anakin Skywalker was informed he’d bring balance to the Force. He was the answer to all my problems, the thing I could focus on to save my life, my marriage, my inspiration. I could impart in him the mistakes I’d made and see him blossom in a way I did not. We named him Evan and I shamelessly pinned my hopes and dreams on him.
December 1999, I wanted to party like Prince said but instead, I spent a quiet evening with some friends playing a card game. The new year came and went and we barely noticed. Four guys hanging around enjoying each other’s company seemed enough. Moments like that were rare and somehow, even before I turned thirty years old, I knew they should be cherished.
1991 through 1995 involved High School and Jesus Christ, it couldn’t have been much worse. I hated it. The stifling atmosphere threatened to overwhelm me daily. I’d show up, find something new to hate and try my best to power through the day. I experienced hazing, fights, rejection and even disdain from the teachers. I couldn’t believe it didn’t kill me or that I didn’t consider suicide back then.
It’s 1996. I’m barely nineteen hanging out at Denny’s for the coffee when some older lady started flirting with me. I sucked at gauging age but later, I found out she was thirty-two. Too much makeup, shabby short dress, fake leather jacket and a whisky voice all should’ve been clear indicators to stay away. Instead, we fucked in the bathroom and I lost my virginity. It lasted about ten minutes. The crabs took three days to get rid of.
Points: -25 (I still got laid and she was good at it…even if she did leave me a lingering side effect).
Late spring, 1997. The play lasted two weeks and failed to launch. Critics called it pedantic and meandering. People said they’d had worse times. One can’t expect one’s first work to be perfect or even great but I couldn’t help but get my hopes up. Unfortunately, I lacked the commitment to press on with writing and gave up, turning my attention to something which would make money…or at least, could sustain me. Thus I began down the path of spiritual masochism.
It’s 1998 and I’d been married for less than three months. The woman I couldn’t imagine never seeing again became the one person I wished I'd never met. Every night, I went to bed thinking there’s no way this can be the rest of my life and every morning, I struggled to move on. The moment we said I do, she became a shrew just like her mother. She decided to dictate my life and tried to tell me exactly what to do every single day. I dropped out of school to get a job when she became pregnant.
More 1998. My job sucked ass and I knew it was killing me one day at a time. I took on a customer support position at Comcast where I basically talked people through their bills, basic cable set up and argued about fluctuating rates. If it were any more mindless, they could’ve had Siri do it. The bosses were miserable assholes who looked forward to torturing their employees and all of us, the cube farmed idiots too dumb to work elsewhere, were little more than fodder for those with more endurance than us.
Late 1998, my credit became all fucked up because of school and credit cards I took out when I was a kid. I couldn’t pay them and though I made a token effort, I was ultimately fucked in the financial arena. As I sunk slowly into debt, I felt like a dude in quicksand with a villainous bastard gently pushing me under with the toe of his shoe.
Mid 1999. I lost my shit one day and could no longer take it. The brow beaten whiney bitch I’d become finally felt cornered and grew a pair. I fought back, tired of my wife’s guidance so like the crap my parents tried my whole life. There was no kindness, no generosity and all the love I felt in college turned into bile as I went off. Evan cried but even his concerns couldn’t hold back my final attempt to restore some pride. My marriage ended and though she was a rampaging bitch, I cannot bring myself to make this a good thing.
I still miss her to this day. Masochistic, I know but fuck, we’d known each other a really long time.
Points: -20 (getting my balls back makes this less shitty than it could’ve been).
Early 2000, I wrecked my car on the way home from my shitty job. Comcast didn’t pay enough to buy another one and I lived too far away to get there easily. My commute went from 15 minutes to over an hour and a half. Between that and the custody battle draining my funds, the 2000s started out with a big ‘fuck you’ and a kick in the nuts.
Tally: Good: 260. Bad: -305
These events don’t go up to make a life. Fifteen years held a lot of other random shit too, good and bad. What leads one to looking at a pistol and a knife? The numbers don’t matter nearly as much as the substance of what happened. My kid turned seventeen years old recently and I barely knew him. The custody battle left me bankrupt and alone.
I changed careers and tried my hand at sales. At first, it felt exciting and gave me a thrill I hadn’t experienced since the birth of my son. The job sent me all over the region and I did okay. I finally had some money in my pocket and could afford many of the things I looked at longingly but couldn’t have. Recent tech, better car, decent address, food outside a box…I got seduced by having.
This meant I liked being well off enough that the job itself didn’t wear me down. I became enslaved to my things. If I lost the job, if I sacrificed the income, all my material belongings would go away. This created fear. Anxiety crippled me from time to time as I worried about whether or not I could maintain my career. Paranoia made me look at everything as a subterfuge. People at work became the enemy who I smiled at even as I wondered how they were fucking me over.
Then I saw Glengarry Glen Ross. A buddy thought it would be funny to show the salesman the bleak ass shit Mamet slung. Fuck him and that film. I could do my job pretty well but I was no Roma. I fell somewhere between Aaronow and Levene which terrified me. I could easily become one of those guys. North of fifty, no marketable skills and fucked by a dry spell in the economy.
My holy land future became a landfill and I couldn’t figure out when I opened it to the public.
I needed to get out so I went back to school. My original college plan was nebulous and started because that’s what you did. You left the twelfth grade and went on to university. I didn’t understand the concept of goals or planning ahead. My finances can attest to that. My credit didn’t recover until I turned thirty five and it still limped along like a deer hit by a car. It survived but it sure as shit got fucked up.
Academia made me happy. I loved it when I was there so I couldn’t imagine I wouldn’t love being a teacher but not at high school. No one wanted to be there, not even the faculty. Community College became my target. It didn’t require quite as much school as a major university and the class sizes were smaller. I could interact with the students and make a real difference.
What a change from Comcast…or selling shit…or the few other asinine jobs I held between my early twenties and my mid thirties.
We build everything up in our heads though. School didn’t suck but it wasn’t as enjoyable as when I was a kid. I remembered the frivolity I saw, the scattered focus leading me to my shit life in just about everyone there. I focused on my studies and my grades where the others, the younger kids, were there because they had to be. Sure, they were paying for it but they didn’t really know what that meant. Grants or parents or loans, those were things to worry about some other time.
Plenty of people returned to school and, much to my amusement, we were called a clique. The thing I hated most about high school still lived in the real world. Jobs, college, social circles, subdivisions were alive and well. We suffered through them just as surely as the youngest child. We’re born into them like some kind of feudal system from ancient times.
Defying them is possible. You have geeks born to jocks, rebels porn to prom queens, preps to thugs but branching out is hard. Choosing to go your own way can ostracize you not only at work or school but at home as well. Suddenly, your parents don’t know you and they can’t communicate effectively. You’ll never feel more alone than when you decide to be yourself.
Which led me to sit on the sofa ready to perform the suicide challenge.
I became a teacher but it didn’t solve any great mystery, didn’t make me feel better or grant me the wild fulfillment I hoped for. I helped people which made work suck less than other positions I held but ultimately, I came to an understanding about happiness. We must decide to be happy and create the reasons. You can’t go looking for them, they must be invented. Everyone has the power to do this but no one teaches us how it’s done.
I tried to impart this to my students. They needed to understand money wouldn’t do it nor would material items or station in life. It wouldn’t matter if you were a Senator or the head of a major company. Anyone can be miserable if they don’t know how to rip joy out of life whenever and wherever they can.
Does money make it easier? No, actually. You can quickly fall into the trap of buying something new when you start to feel down. You create a momentary surge of excitement and have it collapse as soon as the novelty of your new acquisition wears off. Wealth may actually make this harder than poverty because it gives you a method to deceive yourself, to believe you can buy your way to contentment.
It’s exhausting work. The bad makes it harder, the good gives it a boost. We can all tally our losses and gains, look back and wonder why we fucked up when someone else succeeded or feel lost when others seem found. Everyone struggles under the weight of their circumstances and opportunities. You may or may not make it but trying…that’s the important part.
I look at a picture of my son and I think about all the shit I missed. I impose myself on him, waxing nostalgia from my earliest memories. Three years old singing along with a theme on television. Five biting into an onion for the first time and losing my shit. Seven and marveling at the splendor of the Fair. Ten and riding my bike alone to the store for the first time. Twelve and left alone in the house while my parents went away for the weekend. Fifteen and my first kiss behind the gym. Eighteen and my graduation…
A hundred events, a thousand, all happening without me. If my father hadn’t been there, I couldn’t imagine enjoying anything as much as I did but I had no frame of reference. Of all the failures in my life, I look at how I involved myself with Evan as the biggest. Yes, his mother was a fucking bitch but I should’ve bit back my pride for the kid. Instead, I lost it in a selfish rage and fucked up his life.
Maybe I did the right thing, maybe I didn’t. Second guessing is why we end up fucking ourselves over and turn to drugs, alcohol, prescription pills or therapy. Life happened whether we liked it or not and the good and the bad, they’re just things, learning experiences we should shelf and move on. When we don’t, we linger and then we don’t progress.
I turned my attention to the gun and the knife. They blurred in my tear stung eyes and I reached a trembling hand to the left…then the right…left…right…choices…a final one or just another. I’m so fucking tired and I’m not even forty years old. What the hell will fifty be like? Sixty? Will I make it to seventy?
If I take the challenge, I’ll never know. Things could swing one way or another. My cynical outlook could change. Friendships or relationships may rise and fall. How many lives could I affect between today and thirty years from now? Should the unknown matter to this grave choice, this ultimate finality?
Max raises his hand. I gesture to him with a nod. “The unknown is all that matters. Sure, it could be good or bad but if you check out now, the adventure ends. Why not try a little longer? What’s the saying? You never know what’s around the bend? I for one would rather push on and suffer than choose to check out myself.”
I smile. It’s not about the precious value of life or the higher calling of some God or super power. It’s not because society tells you to stay alive or the law makes it illegal to blow yourself away. Curiosity can compel us forward into a world of endless possibilities. There’s plenty of shit which will never be within everyone’s reach but they can still grope for it.
If for no other reason than wanting to know, life is worth living. Always aspire to see something else. The moment you stop experiencing, you’re already dead.
Author of several books, composer of several CDs. Please check out the rest of the site for some of my work.