My friend Pete committed suicide.
Pete had long struggled with demons. He had been hospitalized several times throughout his life for various reasons, all ultimately resulting from his bipolar or depression.
Pete was the first person I knew who had any sort of real emotional or mental disorder. Prior to meeting him, all of my understanding of depression and bipolar disorder was purely academic. As such, it was all too easy for me to dismiss these problems as just lack of will, or some other such shortcoming. "Just get over it," was the kind of thing I'd say, because I couldn't understand how anyone could not get over it.
Pete made real for me all the complexities of depression, and bipolar. I saw him struggle, saw him in pain, and I realized that there was something fundamentally different about him. His brain simply worked differently, and it was he who made me realize that some people really do need medication to live a so-called normal life.
During his manic periods, Pete was an absolute blast to be with -- we could spend hours doing anything and everything. He was creative, witty, and energetic. We'd drive around town, being loud and silly in his car; or we'd hang out in his room making stupid movies with his video camera; or we'd just waste time until we could watch Letterman. I don't recall ever being bored around Pete.
During his down periods, Pete was still an interesting person to be with. Brooding and morose, he was still an intelligent person, and we'd have long conversations about all manner of things. I tried hard through the years to show to him that I was here for him, in whatever capacity he needed. I tried to explain that he was important to me -- valued by me -- and that my life was richer for his presence in it.
After we graduated from high school, Pete went away to college, at Allegheny. I made a road trip out to visit him one weekend. It was a fun weekend, and Pete seemed well, though not great. The next year he came back to Columbus, and enrolled at OSU. He struggled, and eventually dropped out. He drank a lot of beer, and was generally a recluse. He increasingly spoke about killing himself, and made several plans to go through with it. I specifically remember a conversation I had with him at his apartment. He was explaining to me how unhappy he was, and how he wanted out from all of the suffering, and struggling. I looked at him square in the eye and said, "Pete, you mean a lot to me. I don't want to stand over your grave." I think maybe he thought this was a selfish thing for me to say, but it wasn't meant to be selfish at all: Pete made my world -- and therefore the world in general -- a better, richer place.
I saw Pete only a handful of times, after that. My job had me travelling a lot, and we slowly drifted apart. He didn't venture out much. I asked about him amongst my friends, but he'd pretty much pulled back from the world. Somewhere along the way -- some how -- he got married to a young woman from the class behind us at high school. I was happy for him.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the marriage didn't last long. I don't doubt that it must have been hard to be married to Pete. I found out that they never officially divorced, because Pete didn't have the stength to go to the courthouse to finalize the deal. Pete knew his limitations, and spent his entire life making a safe little nest for himself, from which he seldom ventured far. The divorce proceedings were too far outside of his comfort zone, so he never went there. He moved back in with his dad.
In the last years of his life, Pete began to venture forth, a little at a time. He contacted a few of the old crew from high school, and let them know that it was okay for them to call him. Tom invited Pete to a cookout one fine summer evening, and to everyone's surprise he showed up. That was the first time in almost a decade that I saw Pete. It was wonderful, even if I did make things uncomfortable by not knowing the details about his separation or the death of his mother the previous year. Pete was back, amongst the people who cared about him.
I invited Pete to the infrequent movie parties I hosted, knowing his affection for Mystery Science Theater. He joined us on several occasions, cracking jokes and making the entire evening more pleasant. I still marvel at what a delightful person he was.
I asked Pete to meet me for dinner one night, not long after my mom died. Knowing that he had lost his mother, I had hoped to sidle up to the topic of grief, and how to deal with it. I never really got around to it, because I was having such a nice time just reconnecting with him, one on one. He was honest, and open, and I saw the Pete I remembered from so many years ago. We laughed, and I think we both had a really good time. Then, the next weekend, Pete invited me to the movies with him and Jay.
And the next day he killed himself.
I'm torn. I miss him terribly, and I'm so sad that he felt that that was the only way to deal with his pain. I can't pretend to understand how hard his fight must have been. And in that sense, I'm truly glad that he's found peace, and is free from the pain and suffering.
I've been depressed in my life. I've had long stretches of unhappiness and sorrow and angst. I often marvel that I wasn't medicated as a kid because I was so often emotionally unstable. I also marvel quite often at how different my adulthood has been from what I expected when I was a teenager: I genuinely appreciate and fiercely value who I am today and what I've been able to do with my life.
I was the best man at my friend Scott's wedding, some number of years ago. As I stood with Scott on a small balcony in the final moments before we entered the hall, I was overcome with a profound sense of serenity. Through all the anguish and torment and frustration of my youth, there I was with a very good friend, sharing a special moment and the beginning of a new life for him. I remember quite clearly feeling saddened that I couldn't eloquently voice the feelings I had that this was worth the struggle. This was the joy and happiness and sublime, subtle reward for the struggles of an unhappy youth.
I can't imagine living in a world where that reward wasn't present, and might never be realized.
I miss you, Pete.
It often feels like my kids are in a rush to grow up. As a result, I often forget that they're just kids.
Tayler speaks very eloquently. She has very effective communication skills, and she can use this to great advantage when trying to get out of trouble. She's also very good at sticking up for herself. She has a terrific memory, and is extremely compassionate. Her sense of humor is well developed, but sufficiently different from mine that we don't always enjoy the same kinds of jokes. She often gets agitated when I tease her.
Tyler is on the warpath for independence. She wants nothing more than to spend time in her room, alone, with the door closed. She emails her boyfriend, plays games on her computer, or paints her nails. She's quite content to spend an entire evening in her room, and only comes out -- grudgingly -- for dinner. Tyler has a very sophisticated sense of humor, and loves to tease people. She's been extremely short-tempered lately, which has me worried that the long dark years of puberty are quickly approaching.
I once took the day off today to spend with the girls, since they were home from school. We had a pleasant enough morning, with no real conflict until just about lunch time. This was somewhat remarkable, as the girls are usually at one another's throats before they even finish the morning's cereal. After lunch, I took the girls swimming. They love to swim; and would swim all day long if permitted. I don't have the stamina, so it's usually a few hours worth of pool time before we pack up and head home.
The twins are different people entirely in the water. Both of them magically transform from articulate young ladies into silly little girls, and I'm reminded anew of how little -- and how precious -- they each are. Tyler loves to wriggle and splash and tickle. She often gets more than a little out of hand, and I end up with water in my eyes (if I'm lucky), bruises and scratches, or an unintentional kick in the groin. Tayler used to be deathly afraid of swimming in water deeper than her hips; but now she loves to swim all over the pool.
The game we played at the pool that day involved me holding my breath and floating, face down, until the kids came within arm's length. Then I'd grab them and tickle them. That this would amuse them for more than a single iteration is amazing to me: if we did something similar out of the water they'd get bored within seconds. But in the pool, they each kept coming back over to me, knowing full well that I'd tickle them given the chance. After this, I tried my best to sneak up on Tayler to tickle her when she wasn't expecting it. Each time she shrieked loudly, and I had to really work to stifle the laugh that came over me. Were I to tickle her at home more than once, she would snap "Stop it dad!" in a commanding voice.
Once, long before we were married, I babysat the twins while Carina did something. I recorded the twins singing songs and making jokes, and then got them to repeat a few funny phrases. I then used these as interstitials on a mix CD I prepared for Carina. She found that CD yesterday, and played the twins' tracks for them as we drove home. Included were such gems as Tayler saying "Mommy, you're the bees knees", Tyler telling her favorite joke at the time ("Why did the chicken cross the road? Because BOK BOK BOK!" -- this simple joke could keep Tyler laughing out loud all day!), and both of them singing "Where is Thumbkin" (which came out "Where is Pumpkin?" followed by a lot of indistinct mumbling as they tried to remember the words).
After the kids went to bed, Carina and I stayed up listening to WAV files she had recorded from when the kids were little. It was a real treat to hear their cute little voices, and to be reminded of just how much they've grown up since then. It was also amazing to hear the kids saying way back then the same things they still say and do today: Tyler teased Tayler and laughed mischievously about it, while Tayler repeated "Stop!" again and again.
Carina and I both vowed to begin recording more of the kids, so that we can look back in another ten years and be reminded of how precious the twins were at this age, too.
I had the opportunity this weekend to show to Carina the high school photos of some of the people with whom I went to school. My picture was notably absent, since I was expelled from the school three months before graduation.
When I was a student, we had Channel One programming pumped through our classes. I was extremely annoyed at how puerile the content was, and scoffed at the administration's attempts to sell this drivel to us as a good thing. Several of us quickly agreed to express our disdain by launching an underground student newspaper. We chose to call it "Channel Two".
The first issue of Channel Two was pretty silly, and lacked any kind of cohesive focus. It was a single sheet of paper, printed double-sided, with a hodge-podge of articles. At Kinkos we produced a couple hundred copies on blue paper, which were then discretely passed to friends for placement throughout the school. We tried pretty hard to spread out the distribution, so that no one person could get nailed for the whole thing, but in hindsight we were pretty naive about what we were doing.
Channel Two was surprisingly well received. It was a novelty throughout the school, and there was a lot of buzz as students tried to figure out who was responsible. Our group was certainly high on the list of suspects, but no one could definitively finger us as the perpetrators. That initial publication ran out fast, and through the week we overheard a lot of discussion about it. To our surprise, a few of the teachers even commented on it in class. Feeling empowered, as well as brazenly self-righteous, we set to work on our second issue. We also obtained a Post Office box, so that students could mail us contributions.
My friend Pete -- may he rest in peace -- was eighteen, and the only one in our group legally able to rent a P.O. Box. He was happy to do so for us. There was some delay as the post office needed to confirm his application, but it was finally approved. Pete gave keys to the box to two other people in our group, so that we might collect submissions a little more discreetly. The other keyholders were fringe participants in our little project, and had a fair amount of plausible deniability.
The second issue, printed on grey paper, was a lot edgier, and had more cohesion. We attacked one of the teachers who had criticized our first issue. We criticized the administration, and the diocese. We published our P.O. box address, and invited contributions of content, as well as money to offset our out-of-pocket expenses. This issue was also surprisingly well-received by most of the students, but it was clear that we had stirred something unpleasant in the administration. I forget now the exact sequence of events, but several things happened in quick succession. Despite our angst there were a few teachers we genuinely liked. In our zeal to rebel, we had succeeded in offending or alienating some of the teachers who might have been able to help us. The administration also started to quietly try to discern who was responsible. I didn't get wind of this until too late, but the principal and Dean of Boys were working hard to identify us.
Recognizing that we'd been a bit unfair, we tried to make amends. We published "Faculty Trading Cards", with caricatures of some of the teachers and a list of silly facts about them. We printed six cards to a page, picture on one side, facts on the back. We made a dozen or so sheets per teacher, but due to an oversight during the printing, we had one teacher (Sister Margaret, if I recall correctly) that had only three or four sheets printed. The cards were an instant success. By the end of the day, the entire school was scrambling to assemble a complete set of cards. The Sister Margaret card was quickly identified as the rare card, and hallway conversations often included "I'll give you two Mr. Iannarinos for your Sister Margaret!" It was extremely hard to keep a straight face through all of this. We did our best to try to trade with people, to make it look like we were trying to collect the cards, too. The crowning moment of the whole Channel Two experience was when the principal announced on the public address system that he'd trade a couple of his cards for a Sister Margaret card.
Unfortunately, we again let the popularity go to our heads, and published the third, and final, issue of Channel Two. Printed on green paper, the only word to describe this issue is "pornographic". Every article published was about human sexuality, and only a few of them weren't overly graphic or salacious. We very clearly crossed the line of decency, and the administration wasted no time in shutting us down.
There was some minor confusion when Pete rented the P.O. box. He could either rent a personal box, or a commercial box. The personal box was cheaper, so that's what he selected. Because we had solicited money to be sent to our box, the school administration was able to get the post office to reveal the box owner's name. The administration put forward the claim that we had engaged in mail fraud (registering a P.O. box non-commercially, and then trying to engage in commercial activity), and Pete was the first person to visit the principal's office. Since he was legally an adult, and the signatory on the P.O. box, the administration leaned hard on him with the threat of criminal prosecution. The principal wanted Pete to reveal his co-conspirators' names, in order that we all might be punished. Pete looked squarely in the principal's eyes and said, calmly, "I am not a fink." As a result, Pete was suspended for one week.
I was third to be hauled before the principal. I'm fairly certain that the guy before me sang like a bird, but I've never really bothered to find out. I told the principal that Channel Two was the work of me, Pete, and the other guy who'd just left the office. I saw no sense in trying to deny my own involvement, but I wasn't about to name anyone else. Several more people were interviewed before the day was over. In the end, four of us each got a one week suspension. At the end of the suspension, two were invited to come back to class the following week. I was expelled, and so was the guy interviewed before me. It has always been exceedingly clear to me that the administration felt the need to make an example of someone, and for a variety of reasons -- in my case, most notably, because I refused to apologize -- we were that example.
The events that occurred in the principal's office, as well as the appeal before a review board at the diocese, are stories unto themselves. Perhaps I'll document them, some day.
At the time, I was terrified that the expulsion would have long-term negative consequences. I was worried about perhaps being rejected from college. I'd never personally known anyone to be expelled before, so I had absolutely no idea what really happened: expulsion always sounded so "juvenile delinquent" to me growing up. The practical reality of the matter was far less dramatic than I ever expected: I was politely transferred to another Catholic school. The other scapegoat victim transferred to the same school with me. Such transfers happened with surprising regularity, I learned. I was a smart kid with good test scores and a strong academic history, so in truth I had nothing to worry about as far as college was concerned. Perhaps if I had chosen to go to some elite, private college, instead of The Ohio State University, things might have been different. But OSU could have cared less. Once I graduated, no one would have ever known I had been expelled unless I chose to tell them. (I suppose if I ever run for public office that Channel Two will be used against me. Remind me not to run for public office.)
We finished the year at the Catholic high school, where we made a few friends, and generally coasted through the final months. In an ironic twist of fate, the other school was just starting several units we had just finished, so we were able to earn perfect grades with almost no effort. Since I was dating a girl from my old high school, I got to go to two proms, one at each school. The only really interesting story from those last three months was in the second or third week: sitting in history class, the ditzy girl across the row turned to me and asked "So why are you guys here, anyway?" I glanced over my shoulder, where my fellow Channel Two publisher-in-exile sat and asked in a deadpan voice "Should I tell her?" He nodded solemnly, so I looked the girl square in the eye and said quietly "We killed a teacher." The girl blanched, but I couldn't keep a straight face long enough. As I burst into laughter, she sighed her contempt and turned away. She never spoke to me again.
I feel awkward attending the first school's reunions, since I wasn't actually a graduate. I go anyway, though, since all my close friends went there. Interestingly enough, I have yet to receive an invitation for a reunion at the school from which I graduated. To this day, I have a moment of pause when trying to answer the question "Where did you go to high school?" because I'm never quite certain which school I should mention.
At work, we have signs in all of our student computer labs which clearly state that no food or drink is permitted. Additionally, no food or drink containers are permitted. The justification for this is that we're not going to get into arguments with students as to which kinds of containers are permitted. If we permit empty containers, we'll need to verify that each container is empty, which is not only a waste of our time, but also sometimes difficult to do (as in the case of a Thermos, or other opaque container). We also don't want to have to check our video surveillance system to confirm that the container was empty when the student entered the room. Most of the infractions to date have been from people who feel the rule doesn't apply to them: their container was empty, or they have no place to put their sandwhich, or whatever.
I sympathize with the students, even as I'm enforcing the policy. I know exactly how they feel.
The RPAC at OSU has an arbitrary policy that you're only allowed to forget your membership ID twice a year. I forget what the penalty is for forgetting your ID a third time. I didn't feel like finding out this morning as I realized I'd left my wallet at home for the third time in a year. Instead I turned around and went home without exercising.
The CharityChannel mailing list, on which I've participated for some time, has a completely arbitrary -- and in my opinion asinine -- "signature" requirement for participation:
If for some reason you prefer not to provide the name of your organization, or if you are not with an organization per se, you may provide the following information as your signature.
i. Name. Your first and last name.
ii. Location. City/State or City/Province (or equivalent).
This is the only list on which I participate that has any formal rules at all!
I consistently fail to place my last name when signing my messages to this list. As a result my messages get held for moderation, and the other day I received a rebuke from the list manager reminding me to sign my messages according to the rules. Just like the students I deal with I work, I feel like the rule doesn't apply to me, or that my efforts to comply have been "good enough".
I replied to the rebuke with the following:
I hope you'll agree with me when I say that providing my first and last name is completely redundant, given that the same data is available in the header of my email messages. I am not one of the people who uses an alias, or obfuscated FROM SMTP header. If any of your readers are unable to read the FROM header in my messages, that's surely their problem, and not mine.
I then encouraged the manager to unsubscribe me from the list, since it's unlikely that I'll ever comply.
I bought a portable karaoke machine for Carina's birthday, along with a two-disc set of 80s karaoke discs. It's marginally depressing that all the other karaoke discs were either country or religious.
The twins have been having fun with the machine since the moment we opened it. Tyler loves to crank up the echo when she sings. She's also taken quite naturally to belting out a song in thrash vocal style if she flounders on the proper style. It's adorable to watch her growling along to "Our house". Tayler's a little more timid about it, and will often simply speak the lyrics on the screen rather than take a shot at singing them incorrectly.
I took a shot at "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer. About halfway through Tyler's eyes lit up as she finally recognized the tune. She blurted out "Addicted to Spuds!" It pleases me beyond words that my kids enjoy Weird Al as much as do!
Now I need to practice (a lot!) if I want to be able to do a passable job of "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister.