Suicide is Painless
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.