As I stepped into my new life, I settled into a routine: work; come home and work on revising whatever I’d just finished; make dinner and wash up; then work on something new in writing. Every now and again I would catch up with friends. It wasn’t much, but it was more than I’d ever had.
One night I had just made dinner when a friend I’d studied with messaged me that a mutual friend had taken his own life – a young guy, in his mid-twenties, smart, witty, handsome, and talented. He’d even written a novel, which he had told me in the past he was slowly revising. I’d read parts of it and the writing was great. For him just to have finished it – especially at that age – was an accomplishment. A lot of people talk about writing a book. Not many actually do.
I’d had dinner with him a couple of weeks earlier, where he seemed as normal as always, bar for his outlook on relationships, where he’d had some bad luck. I don’t know how much that contributed to his decision. All we – his friends – were left with was speculation. Everybody had theories. There was lots of talk. But we’d never know, regardless of how much we tried to understand it.
Allie always told me I thought too much. A number of people have told me that. My mind turns something over, and over, and over, and over, and over, probing for possibilities, drawing out potential narratives, whirlpooling endlessly – and, admittedly, sometimes manically, thoughts so fast and evocative they’re hard to contain, and which elicit as much emotion as if these things were physically happening to me out in the world around me. That level of thinking has always been there, but maybe the constant hyper-alertness of anxiety developed it further.
I grew preoccupied with the why behind my friend taking his life, and how he would’ve felt once he’d decided to go ahead with it. After our dinner, I’d kept meaning to send him message, just seeing how he was, but just never got around it. I wondered how isolated he felt in his final hours, how disconnected from friends, family, and life, that he felt this was his only option. I wondered about the depth of hopelessness and resignation. I wondered how he could be so adrift without anybody really knowing, and how somebody could progress to that stage, especially when they had so many loved ones around them and so much going for them. I wondered about his final moments knowing that they would be his final moments, knowing there’d never be any others.
Suicide has frequently gallivanted through my mind, never resolutely, but often enough that sometimes my preoccupation with it has been concerning. I wondered now if it was a resolution you arrived at over a long period of deliberation, or whether it was like the flick of a switch. The prospect that the latter could happen to me scared me, that I might be so damaged, like faulty wiring that leads to the inevitable fire.
I saw at the service how my friend’s family and his friends were affected, and thought about all the occasions he’d never be part of – the birthdays, the Christmases, and all those things. I thought about all his lost opportunities, all the dreams he’d never chase, and all the things he’d never get to do. I thought about how if he’d just waited, things might’ve seemed a little better and he might’ve discovered there were things to live for, things to strive for. I thought about how if he’d reached out, he might still be here, and he could pursue the things he wanted to do. I thought about the waste of it all (as clichéd as that is), and how somebody could come to a point they believed there were no other answers left.
Our problems in life, our shortcomings, our failures, are puzzles, albeit puzzles that are so complex, so perplexing, and so consuming to us. Usually, we rarely address them, and instead just blunder along obliviously, getting further and further away from answers as we tangle ourselves up in life, with others, and our own expectations, desires, and responses.
I’ve seen it in the people I know, like Stan, and Pat, and Allie, but – most of all – I’ve seen it in myself. How long was it before I started to address the issues in my life, that I started to explore possibilities that I’d always been closed to previously? How long before my mind opened up to a world that I was blind to, or took for granted? How long before I awoke to my own potential – and, by that, I don’t mean a material, professional, or social potential, but something unique to myself as a person?
Life is about solving the puzzles. Well, that’s what I’ve grown to think. If we don’t, those puzzles just get harder, and their consequences hurt more. But when we do come up with a solution, it’s like progressing to a new stage. We’re better for it. There’ll be another puzzle waiting – there’ll be plenty. But it’s trying to find and apply solutions that lead us to becoming something greater than our current-selves, something hopefully better, and it’s part of the journey of finding out what lays next.
It’s about learning about the other me in all of us.
And becoming one with ourselves.