23 December 2008

Remembering Other Friends and a Cat

It's a good thing I've been so busy the past few days. I know, you're wondering where I find the time to write in this blog. Well, I'll just say that until now, this blog hasn't recorded how much I've slept. Nor should it.

In any event, all the activity has kept my mind off things that would normally preoccupy me on the 22nd and 23rd of every December. Yesterday, the 22nd, was the anniversary of Cori's suicide, as I mentioned in my previous post. And today is even more intense: three anniversaries, all of them deaths. One happened when I was very young; the other two occured on the same day in 1991.

Seventeen years ago, I lost Caterina and Kevin. Who were they? My first cat and my first AA sponsor. They both came into my life at about the same time: I met Kevin during my first few days of sobriety, and I adopted Caterina not long after my 90th day without alcohol or drugs. If any of you who've been in AA or any of the other twelve-step programs, you know that 90 days is your first major milestone: It's recommended that you make it to 90 meetings in that time (I beat that easily; I once went to five meetings one rainy Saturday.) and, after that, ask someone to be your sponsor.

I don't have to tell you that 23 December 1991 was one of the more depressing days in my life, and wasn't made easier with the knowledge that both were destined to die sooner rather than later, and that, if nothing else, their suffering ended. They were both very, very sick: Caterina was old (She was close to ten years old when she and I adopted each other.) , and Kevin's immune system fell apart so thoroughly that it took a long and particularly thorough autopsy to determine what, exactly, killed him. However, the cause of the pneumonia that finally took him was clear: AIDS. He was one of many people in the twelve-step programs who died that way during the late '80's and early '90's, which were the first few years I spent sober. John, my second AA sponsor, also died that way nearly four years later. So, between them, Kevin and John guided me through my first decade without intoxicating substances.

At least John, Kevin and Caterina died when I had developed some resources, however rudimentary, for dealing with grief. But the first death I expereinced on the 23rd of December came much, much earlier in my life, years before even Cori's death. Adam had also killed himself, though by different means and for different reasons (at which I can, to this day, only guess) from Cori's.

Adam, who lived alone, turned on gas in his oven. Perhaps I will seem callous in saying this, but it really is a minor detail: Once you're dead, it really doesn't matter how you died, does it? Well, I guess to some of the living, it does, although their interest is, more often than not, questionable.

And what of the reasons why? I guess the previous answer applies here: They don't really matter to the dead person, only to the living. And why? One of Albert Camus's characters killed himself because someone didn't say "hello" to him that day. Just about any reason you can think of, someone else has had and didn't kill him or herself. This, I think, is the reason why so many people--and the religions they follow--say that people who kill themselves are immoral and weak, and their act is as evil as (or even more evil than) any homicide.

Now, I'm no expert on the subject (How, exactly, does one become one?), but I think that the ostensible reason a person might have for committing suicide isn't actually the impetus for the act--at least not by itself. Most people don't off themselves because other people didn't greet them, or even over seeing the sorts of things Adam saw in Bergen-Belsen. Or, for that matter, over the same dilemma about gender identity that followed Cori over the edge and me to the brink.

No, I belive that people who kill themselves--or who think seriously about doing it--are, in some way, like cancer sufferers. People who off themselves, or try to, are almost invariably suffering from depression. Sometimes it is overt; other times it is hidden so deeply that people claim not to understand why their friend, classmate, brother, sister or whomever made thirteen loops in the rope looped around his or her neck, pointed the barrel to his or her temple or leapt off the George Washington Bridge as Rufus did in James Baldwin's Another Country. Rufus's depression manifested itself as anger much like the kind I used to carry; others hide it or sublimate it for as long as they can.

In spite of their efforts, they suffer a kind of mental and emotional meltdown analogous to the shutdown and destruction of organs in the cancer patient's body. It reaches a point at which neither they nor anyone else can reverse it; if other people notice, all they can really do is to keep that person from harming him or her self, and to do whatever possible to help that person gain the tools or other resources he or she needs to stay alive long enough for a cure or remission. Telling them that pain is temporary is like telling a cripple that he, too, will win eight gold medals if he follows Michael Phelps' training regimen.

Anyway...I do know this much: The two most difficult days of almost every year are almost over for this year. I had dinner with Dominick a little while ago; now it's time to pack and do other things I need to do to get ready for tomorrow, when I fly to my parents' house. That, too, will pass, if more quickly than I'd like.

If only Toni, Cori and Adam knew...

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