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February 15, 2011


Things, as you can imagine, are a little crazy around here.  We're trying to get ready to move, finding my husband a job, getting pre-qualified for another mortgage (please God, make this work!), and trying to keep up.

Something's gotta give.  And right now, that's the keeping up.  My house is a disaster area, I haven't worked out in 3 weeks, and all I seem to eat lately is junk food.  Oh, and I missd rehearsal last night.  On purpose.  Because I am not superwoman, you know?

My realtor emails me yesterday, just to check in, and complements me on how organized we seem.

As If.

I wish I felt as organized as I must look.  I think I need a week off.  I need to just sit on my ass until I'm bored enough to get up and do any of the 500 things on my list.  Including fixing up the house so someone else can live in it starting in July....  BTW, if any of you know someone looking for a 2BR house with a yard (pets ok!) starting in July, in Pasadena, let me know.


Posted by caltechgirl at 01:57 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

February 18, 2011

Anniversary of the not so happy kind

A year ago tonight I lost my oldest friend.  He killed himself at the end of a freeway offramp on a cold Friday night because he couldn't face the consequences of his actions.

Today, I want to remember him and also reflect on how his life and death affected mine.

John (He's gone now, so why not use his name? I miss it) and I met when we were 7 years old.  He was in 3rd grade and I was in 2nd grade.  It was the very first day of school, and I had to ride the school bus home for the first time.  I stepped onto the bus, and he looked up at me and asked me to sit next to him.  Within 5 minutes he was my new best friend.  Admittedly, I hero-worshipped him as a child. I can say that now, 25+ years later (and, really, when did I get so old that I can say 25+ years about anything?) He led me a merry dance.  We went too high on the swings, jumped off the jungle gym (once resulting a really bad neck injury for me), and ran around the parts of the school that you weren't supposed to during recess.  Everyday we played GI Joe.  He was Duke (natch.) and I was Scarlett.  In fact, when we met he started calling me Scarlett, and even now I wonder how long it took for him to learn my name.  I know we were adults before he learned my last name.  I guess you could say that I got my dose of "bad boy" out of my system early.

But John wasn't really bad.  He was Ferris Bueller.  Charming, funny, a little geeky, but in an endearing way.  He got away with everything and built a legend doing it.  One of my favorite stories is about how he liked to swing so high that he could jump off into the branches of the trees near the swingset.  The trees really were too close, but they were old, and left there to discourage us from swinging too high.  John never cared.  It was his ambition to fly into the tree.  One day he did.  And walked away, amazingly.  He had a lifetime ban from the swingset, but other than that no punishment.  He didn't mind, since to him, there was no longer a reason to swing.  He had accomplished his goal and was moving on.

His legend really began to take shape in high school.  He drove like a maniac, carried knives and guns under his trenchcoat, and managed to do no work and pull good grades out of his ass.  Ferris Bueller.  With weapons.  And by the way, weapons were his love.  He was a collector, and he knew the good stuff from the bad stuff.  One day, someone tipped off our campus security that John had a gun in his car.  They searched and searched, but all they found in the car was his bible.  That was the kind of thing John could get away with.  To this day, I'm still not sure how he managed to hide that thing.  Another time he got hauled into the principal's office for "hacking" the school's computer system to change his grades and attendance records.  At the time, he didn't even have a computer at home, let alone the internet.  His dad went nuts on the Principal and he had to apologize to John.  Of course, he HAD changed his records, but he did it the old fashioned way: Number 2 pencil.

This is not to excuse that kind of behavior, which even then we knew was dangerous.  I can remember watching the news live from Columbine with my husband (then fiance) and seeing the pictures of the disaffected white boys in black trenchcoats with their guns and bombs and as we looked each other, we both said "John and Kevin".  Kevin, another friend, is now a decorated member of the US armed forces.  John, well... you know.

And John had two girlfriends.  One of them he worked with and the other went to school with us.  I was one of few people who knew them both.  My job on their graduation day?  Keep the girlfriends apart.

I could tell you a million stories.  Each of them like another episode of Ferris Bueller (with my husband co-starring as Cameron) chock full of nick-of-time excuses and amazing escapes, a pouty smile, and promise to do better next time. I mean, there are stop signs in Fresno that got put in because of John.

John had two goals in life: to be a soldier, and serve his country; and to be a lawyer.  The two things he loved most were weapons and argument, and he had been a champion at Forensics.  He made it to the first goal.  He served in the army from 1994-2000, he was trained as a forward scout and given his choice of posts.  He chose Ft. Irwin NTC, where his boyhood fantasies got played out every day as he and his crew rode around in a modfied tank playing OPFOR, or the opposition forces, training other US soldiers for desert combat.  I don't think I ever saw him happier than when he started at Ft. Irwin.  He loved his job and his crew, and his marriage was pretty good.

But Irwin is also where his life really began to fall apart.  He became obsessed with video games (more than ever) and drinking.  He spent more and more of his nights bringing his friends over, drinking, and waging war through a Nintendo 64.  His marriage fell apart, and his wife left.  One night, during a drunken party in his new apartment, he fired a gun through the wall, into his neighbor's kitchen.  Though the neighbors weren't home at the time, he was arrested and threatened with dishonorable discharge.  Faced with the loss of his wife and the only career he'd ever wanted, he attempted suicide.  He came within millimeters of slashing open his heart, but he survived.  This was February 2000.

As part of his recuperation, he began therapy, and was diagnosed with "Personality Disorder not Otherwise Specified," a catch-all diagnosis.  Later, I would come to learn that a much more accurate diagnosis would be Intermittent Explosive Disorder, co-morbid with severe alcoholism. He received a medical discharge, and left the army.  His family thought a change of scenery would help, and so he moved first to Indiana to live with another friend, and then to NC to stay with my while my husband was in the army.

At first things were good.  He had promised his father that he wouldn't touch a weapon for ten years, and thus left them all behind.  He was living in a mostly sober house (I don't keep alcohol much, except to cook with, especially then), and he wasn't drinking.  He had someone he trusted to talk about his issues. He really became like my big brother.  We could finish each other's sentences, solved problems the same way, and even shared much of the same politics, though I will always be FAR left of him on some issues. We became really close.

And then he got new friends.  And they weren't sober friends.  And he fell off the wagon.  I don't need to tell you what happened between us.  I've written about it here before.  Just search the archives for "quasi-stalker".

In the time since we left him behind in NC (ironically, he came to take care of me, and never left.  He hated NC.  Said so every day.) , he had ups and downs, worked a bunch of jobs, bought a truck, and eventually, at least one gun.  In fact, I think he had that shortly after he left us.  I know he had gotten a DUI and spent some real time in jail because he didn't take care of it.  Other than that I don't know much.  I know he made some healthy friends in spite of himself, and he seemed to be working towards really getting his shit together by February of last year.

And then he got pulled over.  Well, actually, he led the deputy on a short chase, then stopped and pulled the trigger.  I would love to speak to the deputy.  To tell him it wasn't his fault.  That John's death was more of a promise kept, and not the result of anything he did.  He was just the last straw in a big pile.  10 years, almost to the day after his first suicide attempt.  The irony of that is so bitter it makes my throat hurt.  I've never quite been able to say that before.

Since that day, my life has been a little bit harder.  I know it sounds selfish to talk about me, who was really not that important in the overall scheme of his life.  We were friends when we were babies, I was never his girlfriend, or friends with his family.  I just happened to know him as a kid and then marry his best friend, the one he called the brother he never had and his conscience.  But we WERE close.  Maybe not the closest relationship in his life, but one of the longest, and that has to count for something, right?  But I think it's important to say what we have been through, because he's the only one who got off scot-free.

In the past year I learned that I can't feel guilty for cutting him out of my life. He was an addict. I had two choices, enable him and be abused, or ask him to be responsible for his choices.  I know that the best thing I ever did for him was throwing him out on his ass.  I have also learned that suicide is heartless and selfish.  At least when someone dies naturally or is murdered, there is an answer to the why.  Even if it's just an accident or senseless violence.  Those are answers.  But with suicide, you can only guess.  We have all been doing a lot of guessing.

I have also learned that someone I thought I had removed from my life entirely never really left me.  We stopped talking to him, we stopped talking about him, I ignored all of the things that reminded me of him. Over the past year I have learned that I can't do that anymore.  And here I sit, with the door closed to my office because I can't stop the tears.  I got this far without them.  Which is good, because a year ago, even the mention of his name was enough to make me flood a little.  It's the stupid things that make me sad.  GI Joe toys, fire and ice roses (thanks, Farmville, you assholes), Guinness, Amazing Grace played on bagpipes, I was looking through an old cookbook and found a recipe he brought home years ago to make dinner for his parents when they visited, a glass from the set he broke doing the dishes one day, pictures from Halloween, you name it.  Even logging into the bank. "Who was the best man at your wedding?"  BTW if any of you fuckers hacks my account, I'll track you down and get it back the way he would have.  I'm thinking samurai sword and poison darts......

I can admit it now, I pretty much stopped functioning for 6 months.  I stopped leaving the house, I stopped singing, I stopped going to the pool, I stopped caring what I put into my mouth.  I was really eaten up with sad.  Just sad.  Yes, I still went to work, and taught my classes and all that, but I couldn't do anything I didn't have to.  And you know, only John has this effect on me.  When I threw him out all those years ago I went into my shell pretty hard.  Only then it took me three years to realize that I wasn't funny any more, and that the reason I was angry all the time was because I was scared. So I stopped being scared.  That was pretty easy seeing how there was an entire country between us by then. This time, I know what's wrong, and I am working hard to be better.

I feel a lot of guilt.  For enabling him since high school, for looking the other way because I didn't think he meant any harm.  For not being there the last few years when maybe I could have helped him.  For throwing him out. For not being able to get him the help he needed.  For not letting him know that we were still there for him if he needed us, regardless of the past. But most especially for being the weepy one. My husband (a crier, don't let him fool you) hasn't been as sad as I am. John's closest friend (you know who you are) has been much better at holding it together (although I'm guessing the pair of small sunny faces in your house helps with that, too), and I doubt even his family has cried as much as I have.  What makes it worse, is that I feel like everyone "in his life", his family, his then current friends, etc. would rather forget about the time in his life that he and I were so close because of what happened between us.  Yes it was a hard time in his life, post divorce and post discharge, but ignoring that makes me feel as if I was not important to him, and therefore I have no right to be sad,  Yeah, I know written down like that it makes zero sense, but that's how I feel.  Maybe it makes more sense if I say that I feel like anything I did for him or with him was worthless in the eyes of the people closest to him, and that makes me feel worse.

But I think the worst thing of all is that someday I will show pictures and tell stories about Uncle John to small people who will laugh and appreciate how their daddy and his friend did so many silly things but who will never get to meet him.  And he won't get to meet them, who I know he was looking forward to corrupting in his image.

If I don't stop crying, I'm going to get dirty looks later, so I'll finish here.  The moral of this long and rambling diatribe is please, don't ignore that someone has tried to kill themselves or spoken of it.  Even as a joke.  When they are physically well again, that doesn't mean they are mentally ok.  Get them help.  Make sure they get help.  Treat their underlying issues, like alcoholism or depression.  If you don't feel like you can help, find someone who can.  Make sure they take their meds.  And don't give up.  Your friend will thank you for it, and you won't be left behind bewildered.  No one has to die by their own hand or circumstances.

** Some of you may be upset that I chose to relate some of these details.  I feel like it's important for me to say what happened, at least the things I knew about and the reasons he shared with me, in case some one else recognizes the path he took and maybe can intervene in someone else's life.  And really, as anonymous as I try to be, it feels good to say his name again.  If you are really upset, email me and let me know, and I will do some editing.  Comments are closed to avoid the spam monster. Drop a note on facebook or email me if you want to say something.

Posted by caltechgirl at 10:53 AM | TrackBack