April 13, 2019

Chapter 19 - The End of My Beginning 2

The End of My Beginning 2

Kevin finally succeeded in killing himself on his fifth attempt at suicide. I had been there to prevent him from doing it his first four tries. Actually I was the one who found him close to death the first time he attempted suicide. He came to me after each of the three other failed attempts for help. I took him to the hospital each time to patch his wounds. The wounds healed easily enough but the pain that drove him to inflict them never did.

Unfortunately, on the day he died, I wasn't around to take the knife from his hands. Since the day he first tried killing himself I had made it a point to spend as much time with him as possible. We spent a lot of time together anyway, as best friends do, but I made more of an effort after his first suicide attempt. I thought it would help more to be with him rather than let him be alone. But I didn't get the chance on that fateful day.

In a selfish display of disloyalty, I had decided to do my laundry rather than go hang out as we usually did on a Saturday. We lived a just few blocks apart from each other. The Laundromat was on the way to his apartment. On that day I only had a small load and it wouldn't take long to dry. So, rather than head over to his house and hang around while my load dried I stayed and waited. When it was done I headed home. I had a date that night so I didn't see Kevin that day.

The next morning a friend came over early. He brought the news about Kevin. Kevin was dead. He had stabbed himself in the heart. It took a few tries but he finally succeeded and was found with the knife still in his heart ... still in his hand. He killed himself while I was waiting for my laundry to dry. He died in less time than it took for it to dry.

The blame for his death was all his own. He was determined to end his life. Nothing that I, his family and friends said or did could stop him. He alone was to blame. Yet, for over twenty years, while the blame was all his, I lived with the painful knowledge that it was entirely my fault. That much was obvious. It happened when I was doing my laundry. If I had gone over to his house he would still be alive. I wasn't there when he needed me. He died. It was my fault.

The first time I found him was the worst. Kevin was always an early riser. No matter how late we were up the night before, I could never remember Kevin being in bed past 7am. It's how I knew something was wrong that morning. I had tried to raise him by banging on his door and bedroom windows but got no response. I went down to the basketball court and found his roommate. Together we went back and went to his bedroom. We found him in his bed with the covers pulled up to his chin. His breathing sounded labored but he seemed OK. He just wouldn't respond when I tried to wake him. I pulled the covers off intending to toss some cold water on him. It was the pool of blood that covered his t-shirt and the sheets under him that stopped me.

He lay on his back with one arm by his side and the other bent up and under the pillow next to his head. He looked like someone usually does when sleeping peacefully. I couldn't tell where the blood came from until I moved the arm that was bent. When I moved his arm the blood that had dried to a clot in the crook of his arm cracked open and a spurt of blood shot into the air followed by another. He had slashed his arm deeply. If not for the fortunate fact that he passed out with his arm folded he would have bled to death well before we found him.

We were lucky that day. The ambulance came quickly and he was rushed to the hospital where he spent the next week recovering. He resisted suggestions for counseling and rejected any attempt by myself or his family to talk about what lead to his suicide attempt. As friends we had always talked about everything and anything. We shared those intimate and personal secrets that bind friends to each other for a lifetime. I thought I knew him better than anyone. Never once did he ever express a thought that revealed he had considered suicide. After, we talked about his feelings, my feelings, the pain it caused his family and friends, but they were one sided conversations most of the time. I tried every way I could to reach him but he never opened up. I knew how he felt but never learned why he felt what he did.

He had been my best, my closest friend since grade school. We were inseparable growing up, closer than brothers. We shared a passion for music and basketball. He was the first person I ever allowed to read my songs and poetry. When he told me how good he thought the lyrics were I believed him. He helped me to believe in myself. We formed our first band before we were teens. On weekends and during long lazy summer days we would take the court early in the morning, playing basketball until the night took the light away. At night we would practice the music that would take us on to fame and fortune. Kevin was an incredibly talented guitarist. There was no doubt he was going to be a success.

We shared all the usual experiences that kids go through while growing up together. Like two bookends, we held those memories between us. Special, singular, one-time-only moments that I expected us to relive through tall tales as we left those years behind. In one afternoon all those memories were wrenched away. I lost the chance to remember and share the memories we had created growing up. My youth died along with Kevin. Like him my memories died before they had a chance to grow old.

Kevin's services were excruciatingly painful but I didn't know that until years later when they finally got to me. For a long time I was numb to the hurt. His mother was beyond devastated when he died. She cried inconsolably for days after his death. His mothers' cries filled the church and covered the words of the priest from the start to the end of his funeral mass. I can still feel the anguished pain they voiced 30 years later.

I had never attended a wake until I went to Kevin's. I have never gone further than the lobby on the few wakes I've attended since that day. At the wake his mother had tried climbing in the coffin and pulling Kevin into her arms. I was horrified when I entered the viewing and saw Kevin. The image of his body lying bent with his suit twisted and his hair disheveled is one I can never shake. He lay there as if he had been tossed carelessly into place. I remember thinking it looked more like he was being thrown away rather then buried. Of the thousands of memories I have of him it is always the first picture that comes to mind when I think of him.

Life went on and I went with it. I made new friends that have become important parts of my life since then. But you only have one childhood. If you're lucky you have a best friend to share it with. My new friends have friends like that. I laugh when they describe the adventures of their youth together. But I don't share those kinds of memories with them. They didn't know me then. They didn't know Kevin. It would mean having to explain who Kevin was and what happened. The stories would be an intrusion into those happy memories.

When long-time friends reminisce together their stories often start with words such as "Remember that time we ..." I have a hundred stories about the fun Kevin and I had growing up. I never had the chance to start a story with Kevin using those words. I never will.

I am the only one who remembers those days in the beginning of my life. All the memories, those special feelings that should be bringing me the warmth and comfort we often get when we recall the best times in our lives, are now a source of bittersweet pain. Any smiles that come when I think of Kevin and me are wistful and tinged with longing for a future lost.

People who take their own life are often referred to as "suicide victims". But it isn't true really. Kevin committed suicide; His family, his friends, all the people who loved and cared for him are the real victims of his suicide. Left with lives full of unanswered questions, doubt and pain over what we may have done or what we didn't do; Always holding some small measure of guilt that we were, in some way, responsible.

It took twenty years for me to forgive myself for something that wasn't my fault. I did everything I could to prevent Kevin from killing himself. It was what I didn't do that haunts me still. I didn't go over to his house that day. If only I had he ... it's a thought with so many endings that I can never finish it.

I try to forget what no one else remembers but I can't. Kevin died that day and in a very real way, my life, the life I had thought was ahead of me ... of us, ended as well. Time has muted the pain but it hasn't put an end to it. At times, unexpected and unwelcome, it claws its way to the surface. When it does the hurt feels as abrupt and brutal as it did then. In those moments, instead of dwelling on what was, I dream of what might have been.

No comments: