It’s been seven years since you killed yourself. This past year has been emotionally tougher for me than the past few, and I have struggled with keeping my own life, so deciding how to mark this seventh anniversary has proven more than a bit difficult. I have spent hours staring at blank paper with tears in my eyes and heavy blood in my heart, sitting in the library, at the cabin, in bed, and in parking lots, wondering what I could possibly write that would make sense of everything I feel, persuade others to get help before they abandon all hope, and relieve some small measure of the mighty grief and pressing guilt that plague me to this day.
I considered writing a piece on the things I have learned over the past seven years about suicide and its impact on survivors, but everything I wrote sounded selfish and insensitive. For a few days I considered recounting my own emotional struggles over the past several months, but again, selfish and insensitive, with a touch of melodrama. I thought I’d write a short story about searching the shallow waters of the Lamprey river for your James Dean watch, the one that fell off your wrist during one of our canoeing adventures, but I found myself lost and alone in a canoe made for two, riding a tidal river of memories and paddling without success against a thick and salty current of regret.
I was told in therapy a long time ago that I would one day be angry with you, and that only then would I be finished mourning your loss and be able to move on with my life. A week or so ago I fell apart and wondered if that time had come. I spent some time alone in the woods, recklessly chopping down tall trees, shooting invisible targets with Grandpa Bond’s shotgun, and driving higher and higher into the thinning air on roads and trails that were not meant for careless drivers.
But I’m not angry with you, not yet. Maybe it would close some doors if I were, but for now they remain open, and I suppose that I am glad, because inside those rooms I can sit and visit the rawest of my emotions, the ones that remind me I am alive. In recent weeks I have caught myself seeking sensory overloads. Standing naked and sweating in the hot sun, banging my head against my fist, and staying awake until my head hurts have provided stark reminders of what it is to be alive, and a strange, cooling relief from everything burning inside of me.
Don’t fret and worry yourself over my situation, however; these frantic moments are few and far between. I have Elizabeth and the kids, and with them in my life I remain a fair distance away from that dark line, the one that you stepped over, the one that you crossed and kept walking away from until you were lost into a place from which you couldn’t make your way back. If only you had found someone like Elizabeth, someone to cling to, someone who you couldn’t bear to leave behind…
So, the kids are good…
Caleb is determined to write professionally, and that makes me smile. It helps that he is blessed with talent, more than I ever possessed at his age. He will improve with time, experience, and practice, and the world will know his name for it. He talks about you a lot, telling me what he remembers about you, and stories about my life after you died, but from his perspective. Caleb inherited so many of your mannerisms and ways of thought that I sometimes have to gulp at the air around me when I see you in him. I don’t think he minds when I call him by your name, a mistake I have made often, because he loves you, and because he know that his resemblance to you is that strong.
Hannah is a can of gas thrown on a gas-fueled fire, with gas raining down on it from a gas cloud above; she can’t stop, she won’t stop, and the world better stay out of her way. She won’t be completely happy until she is eating fruit and doing yoga in Bali, and I hope to someday visit her there and try my hand at both. A couple of weeks ago I shaved her head (at her request), and she looks beautiful. Being an independent teenager, she doesn’t allow much physical contact, and the time spent with my hands on her head and my fingers tangled in her long hair was like water to a withered sprig. She is so much like me that I feel a heavy guilt to think that I may have cursed her future, but I know that she will do better than I ever will at life.
Solomon is my sea anchor, stabilizing my worn and swaying vessel in white-capped stormy seas. The kid makes me laugh and pulls my lips into a wide smile on even the darkest days. He has a quick wit to accompany his scampy charm, and is loved by anyone who gets to know him, except for his school principal, for whom the boy has little if any respect. Solomon has smooth criminal moves fueled by a confidence that I would kill for, and yet he lacks any hint of pride or malice in his heart. He draws, he writes, he dances, he loves, and he jokes, all of them well, and I can’t wait for the world stage to throw wide its curtains for his one man show. Fortunately for me, he has made a conscious decision to stay young for the time being.
Elizabeth misses you. She is soft and quiet about you, holding her Jared moments close to her chest. I often wonder what my life would have been like had I embraced you without conditions from the moment I met you, the way she did. I admit to being guilty of stealing the limelight when it comes to grief over your loss, but she has never once accused me of being selfish in my emotional hijackings. She is patient with me, believes in me, and has permanently hitched her wagon to my sad, stubborn, aimless and weather-beaten mule, expecting a sudden strengthening of muscle followed by a frightening burst of speed towards the starting line of success. Her confidence in me fuels my greatest fear, which is that I will let her down.
As for the world, it marches on in your absence. Technology is outpacing thought, greed has all but broken the spine of necessity, and discussion is losing ground to contention. I love so much about this world and all it offers, but a greater and greater part of me wishes I had long ago followed my teenage dream of heading into the Alaskan wilderness to homestead. I hope that I have succeeded in teaching the kids (and in the process remind myself) that in the end, no amount of wealth, gadgets, knowledge, faith, or possessions will be counted when it comes time to determine whether you were a good person or bad.
I wish you were here to see the happier moments and share in the bouts of laughter when they come, because on most days they outnumber the sad. But you aren’t, so I will do my best to live well until we meet again. Fortunately, I am blessed to have a small but able crew that is willing to push me forward through the storms and the darkness. I will be forever sorry that I could not, that I did not, that I would not, do the same for you. It is my great regret, and I cannot truly make amends for it. Perhaps the best thing I can do is to find some measure of anger towards you in this life, so that our next time around can be as sweet, fun, loving, and thrilling as the first one should have been.
Tonight I will spend some time up in the mountains, hoping to see the bear that has taken to visiting the cabin in search of something sweet to eat. I spent a few nights up there alone this week, and I watched him the other evening as he lumbered through the green. I felt no fear as he came closer to me, only a reverent thrill at seeing him in his wild habitat. Free from any other care but that of achieving the happiness that would come from filling his belly, his innocence reminded me of your simple and sensitive desire to be nothing more than happy, filled with love from others.
This letter has been a bit heavy, and I don’t know how to end it, other than to say that I wish things were different. I wish I was writing you about our upcoming road trip through the southwest, and how we are going to chase tumbleweeds, climb colored mountains, and meet weirdos in strange and beautiful places.
But things are not different, and they never will be.
You know what? That kinda makes me angry…