Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It’s hard to know how often people fail to commit suicide, except in movies where someone always comes in at just the right moment, playing it for laughs. How many of us have watched people we love walk back from the razor's edge? If they really meant to die, how is it possible that they could fail? It's only then you realize how our lives turn on the thinnest of coincidences, coming home too early or too late to save someone. It’s hard to know how to respond - pretend it never happened? Pretend they won’t try again? Wait for them to succeed next time? Both Stephen Fry and Mike Daisey have talked about their failures to slip away silently, but the ones who have succeeded, they give us no answers. The dead can’t talk, and anyway, everyone knows answers only lead to more questions.

Last night I thought again about the husband of my mother’s old college friend, who hanged himself when I was in high school. I had just met him and his family earlier that year. I can still remember his face, his thick shock of badger-striped salt-and-pepper hair. What we didn't know then was that he'd been battling depression for some time. One night, his wife called our home, her voice troubled, and I wrote down her phone number on a napkin that then was accidentally thrown away. In those days my Chinese was much worse than it is now; I'd forgotten her name, and it wasn't until a few days later that she finally reached my mom. I’ll never forget the shame that went through me when I heard why she'd called. I couldn't sleep without thinking about their son, some years younger than I, who'd been the one to find his father's body in their garage. I hope he understood, it wasn’t anything he did.