Monday, March 10, 2008

"I can talk about his passion."

I have known Mike for as long as I have been in Comedy. We have fallen in and out of touch with each other over the years. After my break up with Samantha, I stayed at my brothers house in Lafayette. Eventually, it just made sense to move back into the city. It was suppose to be temporary, but I have stayed because it is cheap.
Mike was the one who told me about the place.
We are room mates, but never really see each other anymore. We talk outside when we run into each other, but that's about it.
I have known the guy for more than 15 years.
He called me today. One of the other room mates in the house killed himself.
I hardly knew the man. He was always smoking when I saw him. Frail, as thin as a stick, I usually saw him sitting in his car out front smoking with a look on his face that said he wasn't there. Not crazy, just some place else.
I saw him this morning at 7:30 when I was rushing out the door to cover a shift at the day gig. We nodded politely to each other as we always did.
That was the last time I saw him alive.
I didn't even know his name till Mike told me.
I keep asking myself what I should feel? I listened to Mike on the phone. He had been dealing with the Police all morning and was understandably shaken up. After we got off the phone with each other, I sat back down at a table in a cafe, put my iPod ear buds back in and checked for messages on Myspace.
Now, a few hours later, I am at a Starbucks in Napa killing time before a show and all I can think about is the pain in Mikes voice when he was explaining the situation to me.
I can't imagine the pain either of these men felt today. I have thought of suicide. After the whole Samantha mess, it crossed my mind on more than one occasion. But I never got to that place in side myself where it became an eventuality. You know? It did for this man.
He handed Mike a money clip and two letters, went into his room and a few moments later, Mike heard the gun shot.
My God.
I just sat back down and thought about what I needed to get done today and how tired I am going to be tomorrow.
Is that cold?
My life has become so busy lately. Shows, teaching, day job-I don't know where to put everything I need to get done. Friends? I have a few people that I would consider close, but my first impulse for anything is to just retreat inside myself. Isolate, bare the pain and hope it will pass.
It never does. Not really.
When I was driving up to Napa, I called Mike to check on him. Still shaken, still that tone of voice I hope to never hear in another persons voice again, he was going to try and sleep. When I put the phone down and really looked at what was just scenery on the way to another gig, I thought how beautiful it was. The hills, the vines that look like open hands tied to their polls, it was beautiful. Those trees that flower for a few weeks at the start of spring were in bloom everywhere. I rolled my window down and inhaled. It always makes me think of being young when I see those trees. The smell filled the air. Instead of car exhaust and urine, the air was fresh with their scent. It was good to be out of the city.
What should I feel?
What should I feel for a man I never had more than a token, how are you, with? I could see he was a shadow. Anyone could look and see he was broken. He was a bare light bulb hanging from a cord over an unmade bed.
I understand what it is to be trapped in your own private world of regret.
I avoided him for that. I recognized to much of myself in his sunken eye's.
He smoked like it would rid him of the ghosts you knew were hanging around him. He was always leaning against the gate, the door or the wall. Always looking down at his feet and always awkward. I understand that the most.
To be so awkward, so stuck in your head but to want someone to reach inside and just get it, I understand that. Truth is, no one ever really can. You want it to be that lover, or your father, or a friend, but it is always best described by something you keep to yourself. A favorite song, a movie, a book. But it is something you never really tell anyone else.
What should I feel?
It feels like I have asked myself that all my life. All I can think is that the answer he gave himself was that he was tired of trying.
When people say, suicide is selfish, I never really got it. Now I do.
Mike heard the gun and ran down stairs and found him.
Can you imagine that?
Mike told me it will be with him forever. I believe that. How could it not be?
That's what makes it selfish. Someone has to deal with it after your gone.
Mike was this mans only real friend. He trusted him with the money and the letters.
I ask Mike how he is doing and he says, "I am mad, I am angry but mostly, I miss my friend."
When I turn onto the last road that leads to down town Napa, I look at a familiar stretch of road. Cynthia and I use to come up here for weekends when we lived together.
20 years has gone by. 20 years since I saw a woman I thought I would go through forever with.
Where does the time go? All that stuff that was suppose to happen that didn't. Why do I hold onto it like stones in my pocket? What was this man holding onto that he couldn't let go of? What brand of pain must he have had? What brought him to this end now?
I think of Samantha of course, some where else with someone else and I realize that I had learned nothing from the first woman I lived with 20 years ago. There is no one person in my life that knows all my truth. Do you know what I mean by that?
Everyone has a piece of a story that I want them to have. Some of the story people have is more fiction than fact too. But there is not a single other human being I have ever really trusted with all of who I am.
I am guessing, but I don't think this man did either. How odd to have something so intimate and in common with someone you thought of as a stranger. A stranger under the same roof.
It doesn't really mater what I am suppose to feel. It's not my story nor my grief. I think too much about me anyway. Maybe not in an outright selfish way, but it is in a way. All the energy I put into avoiding not just conflict, but connection tells people I don't trust them. Truth is, I am just afraid. Afraid of everything any human being is afraid of.
This man had enough. He was worn out by all the unanswered questions that lead to a fear that takes hold of you like cancer.
If there is a God, I cannot possibly believe he is cruel enough to keep this mans punishment going in the afterlife.
For him, it's over. For Mike, it is just starting.
I do the gig in a bar where the noise is like a physical presence. The entire back of the room is disconnected from the show and just try to speak louder and louder over the comics.
I end up doing way too much time, but it was therapeutic.
I get in my car and Mike calls me. He is drunk now and tells me he picked a fight with one of the other roommates in the house. The guy didn't think it was all that big of a deal.
People never loose the ability to surprise me with their callousness.
Why would anyone say anything like that to Mike right now? It didn't come to blows, but grief and vodka mix in such a way that lashing out becomes a reflex your only aware of after the fact. That's how I remember it anyway.
We talk on the phone as I drive. We talk about putting together some kind of a memorial service. Something to mark his life with dignity. Mike says something that is so sweet and so profound it catches me off guard. "I can talk about his passion."
I cannot think of a better way for any of us to be remembered than to have a friend do exactly that, talk about my passion.
When I pull up in my car, Mike is outside with another roommate, an unlit cigarette in his hand, and stumbling between a lamp post and a parked car. I take a breath. It has already been a long weekend, but this has nothing to do with me.
I hug Mike. As soon as I do he starts crying and because we are men and no matter what the lifetime channel tell us, he stops as abruptly as he began.
"I'm sad." Is all he says with a slur.
I ask him when was the last time he ate. Maybe two, he thinks. It is now almost one in the morning.
The other roommate and I convince him that eating something would be good. We climb into my car and head to the Lucky Penny on Masonic and Geary. Open all night and a weigh station for lost souls, it seem like the perfect place to sit in a booth, eat some greasy food and talk.
This other roommate, Bill is a character. All he orders is a Coke he never took a sip from and a plate of well done fries. He picks up each fry one by one, dips it in ketchup, and eats it down to where his finger tips grasp it like an insect. Instead of putting the last little bit of fry into his mouth, he places these fry butts on the table next to his plate.
I am listening to Mike, he is laughing about other times spent here, but I can't take my eyes off those one inch fry butts. What the hell Dude? I keep my mouth shut about it. All he keeps talking about is how good the meals are at the Lucky Penny. Then, without warning, as mike is laughing, he asks if he has ever had to deal with something like this before. I have never seen such a dramatic change in a person happen so swiftly, so completely. The sadness struck Mike like a hammer blow. I thought he was going to throw up. He pushed his omelet plate back and shook where he sat. I could of reached across the table and hit this guy! What's going on with the pile of fry butts too?
Mike answers with a solemn no and looks down at the plate of food.
When we get back to the house, we all stand there for a moment. Mike lights a cigarette and tells us we can go in to bed. He will be OK. We each ask if he is sure, but I get the feeling he wants to be alone for a moment to stand in the spot he use to hang out with his friend. Reluctantly, I head up the stairs to the front door. That's when I see the trail of blood drops and what appears to be cotton gauze or a bandage. That's when it becomes real for me. That's when I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. It's a paper cut compared to what Mike must be dealing with. There is already a pile of belongings sitting outside his door and an official warning sticker on his room's door.
Today I tried to find Mike some help. A grief counselor an emergency therapist, something. Here is what amazes me. There is nothing. If Mike had witnessed a rape or homicide, if he had been a victim of a violent crime, the police would have given him a card with a number on it. But for a friend of a suicide, there is nothing. No emergency number or website or professional help. Nothing.
How do I feel?
I feel sad for my friend and angry at the gapping hole in our mental health care system.
But what is really important is how Mike feels.
Out of the blue, another friend called me while I sat in my car before the gig. I told him everything. He said the perfect thing. "You are not responsible for the bad in the world. All you can be is responsible for the good you put into it."


Stacy said...

Oh, Joesepher, it sounds like your whole house should do some group counseling. Maybe there should be a therapy delivery service.

You can always try calling those toll free 24 hour hotlines for suicide and ask them for help for Mike, or maybe some help for you for how to be supportive of Mike and also watch that he won't get so down that he takes his own life, too.

James and I both have clinical depression that we take medication for. My sister is bipolar (not the sister that is single ;)
So my bipolar sister has been hospitalized twice for suicidal tendencies. The scariest one was when she said she had seriously thought about how sad she would be without her children because she'd miss them so she had thought about taking them with her!
My family was able to get her some help through her health insurance and through having a family intervention to where we wouldn't leave her alone and she is doing much better now, thankfully.

Dude, it's never easy dealing with anyone's mental illness. The only thing that has saved me from contemplating suicide in the past is my faith in God, but when someone doesn't have that, I can see how desperate and alone one would feel.

I can listen, and I can try to help. I'll do some research and email you some resources.
I used to work with emotionally disturbed and suicidal people, so if you can't sleep or just need someone to connect with, I'm all yours.

Life is worth living, I believe that, even when the going is tough.
Oh and by the way, some of my young and hottie students saw your pic in my phone, the one of you in the gray sweater, and they said, "He's hot!"


Joe said...

Thanks. I am fine. It is a little spooky more than anything else, but it's Mike I worry about. I can't understand why there is no emergency resources for those left behind after a suicide in a city like
San Francisco. Shouldn't the cops have given him a number or asked if he wanted to go down to the hospital too?
The more I think about that part of it, the more angry it makes me.
P.S. who are these hottie students?

Stacy said...

The young and hottie students are young. We are old enough to be their parents. How sad is that?
But, nevetheless, contemplate that you're hot and let it stroke your ego, cuz we all need to be stroked. And then you can also think about how these young ones are massage therapists in training and they can stroke more than just your ego, baby.