Acts of Kindness for Ten Years

Heart shaped splash

A week from today – June 7th – will be the 10th anniversary of my first date with Tony.  We met online, but June 7th was our first in-person meeting.  Our first dinner together.  Our first kiss.

Some of you who know me know that Tony’s 43rd birthday was less than a month after he died.  On that day, I, my sisters, my mother, my nieces and nephews, and friends and family and acquaintances and strangers on six continents went out into the world and tried to make it a kinder place.  People did all sorts of things.  Here in Seattle, we went to a Laundromat and left bags with a Tide pod and enough change for a load of laundry in each one.  My nieces and younger nephew made cards, and we delivered them to a nursing home.  We donated two screenwriting books that Tony liked to the local library.  We brought cookies and coffee to the firehouse.  We gave out Starbucks cards.  We went into ladies’ dressing rooms and put up signs on the mirrors that said, “You are beautiful.”  We donated cat toys and treats to a local animal shelter.  I made a donation to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and my sister Laura made one to It Gets Better.

In San Diego and Boston and Great Britain and Germany and Ethiopia and Bahrain and Japan and China and so many other places, people celebrated Tony’s life by helping others.  It made what could have been a truly terrible day one that, while sad, was full of too many blessings to count.  It saved me.

Next Friday we’re going to do it again.  I invite anybody who is reading to participate, whether you knew Tony or not, whether you’ve lost someone to suicide or not.  I ask you to do it because kindness is contagious.  Most of the time, Tony felt that the world was not a kind place; that people were not kind and that there was no kindness for him.  He wasn’t right, of course; he was viewing everything through the skewed lens of depression and mental illness, and he couldn’t see the kindness and goodness that was all around him.

Right now, there are millions of people like Tony out there.  People who have depression, people who are thinking about suicide.  They’re not wearing signs on their foreheads, but they are out there.  What can you do to help them see the world as it truly is?  I saw, time and again, Tony’s reaction when he would see, really SEE, an act of kindness.  It lit him up.  He had a hard time holding on to that hope, but he felt it.  To do this, you don’t need to spend a lot of money.  You don’t need to spend any.  It can be as simple as smiling more, holding the door for someone, letting a mom with little kids go in front of you in the checkout line.  You could make time to have lunch with a friend, or buy lunch for someone who can’t afford it.  If you’re inclined to make a donation, here is a list of links:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Alliance of Hope

It Gets Better

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

The idea behind this project is to remember Tony. I probably will not talk about his death with most people. After all, the idea behind this particular project is to brighten people’s days. Awareness is something I’m very concerned with, but that will happen in other ways.

Friday June 7th. Let’s make the world a kinder place.

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I Am Just One Human Being

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what I can do to make the world a better place.  I’ve been thinking about what my place is, in this new life of mine.  I didn’t choose where I am – did I?  I mean, I chose Tony.  I chose to move to San Diego with him, and to marry him, and to try to help him.  I chose his needs over my own more often than was strictly healthy for me. 

I didn’t choose his death.  I didn’t choose to have my life explode like that.  There are days I feel like I haven’t chosen anything in a long time, that right after Tony died I wanted and needed others to choose for me.  I remember the night he died, being so confused and alone and sad that when my father asked me if I wanted him to come I had a hard time saying yes, even though I wanted him there.  I felt in that moment that all choices had been taken from me.

Then I chose to start blogging.  That was my choice.  I chose to write not only about my own experiences and feelings, but to write about mental illness and depression and suicide in a more general way.

Now I am making another choice.  I am just one human being – the Dalai Lama said that.  I, too, am just one human being in a world of billions.  One human being, who feels a call to do something to change things, to make them better for at least some of those billions.

Starting soon, I am going to be introducing a new feature here.  I’m going to be talking about some other people, people who are walking through the same valley of grief that I am, people who did not choose to be there, but who are there.  I wrote before that statistics are people, not just numbers.  I will continue to talk about the numbers, but the people matter more.  The people are what make the numbers mean something.

We are all, each of us, one human being on this planet.  One human being in this universe.  We can feel so alone, so utterly alone, amidst the billions.  When we lose somebody we can feel pressure to move through our grief at a particular speed; to move on with our lives on somebody else’s timetable.  When we lose someone we love to suicide, we can feel that we can’t – or shouldn’t – talk about it.  That it’s somehow shameful.  Others may lower their voices to a whisper when they speak of it, and when they do, we may feel that we need to whisper too.

There will be no whispering here.  I am not whispering about Tony, and I am not going to whisper about anything, not anymore.  I loved Tony.  I am not ashamed of him, I am not ashamed of how or why he died.  I am just one human being, but I have a voice, and I’m prepared to use it.

Two Tickets for the 6:30 Show

movie tickets

I love going to the movies.  I still remember the very first movie I saw in a theater.  It was Bambi, and I went with my aunt, uncle and cousins.  I remember crying when Bambi’s mother died.  In spite of the sadness, I was enthralled.

Tony and I wrote movies together, but we also went to see them together.  A lot.  The first movie we ever went out to see was Lost in Translation.  During our time together, we went to the theater and saw hundreds of movies together.  We didn’t go every week, but we went at least a couple of times a month, and there were stretches where we did go every weekend.  The last movie we saw together was Looper.  Tony didn’t like it, and insisted that we leave.  I wasn’t really loving it either, but would have stayed for the whole thing because I wanted to see how it ended, and because every film I see is a learning experience for me as a screenwriter.

After I hurt my back in October and wasn’t able to sit in a theater seat (or any seat, for that matter) without excruciating pain, Tony went (with my encouragement) to see two films by himself.  He saw Argo and Lincoln, and loved both of them.

Until this past Friday night, I had not been to a movie since before I hurt my back.  It hasn’t felt right, not without my movie-going partner.  Not without Tony to share a Diet Coke with and roll my eyes at after a bit of clunky dialogue, or grip his arm during a scary part, or warm my cold nose (my nose is always freezing in movie theaters) against his shoulder.

But then last week my sister Stephanie was supposed to see Star Trek with a friend.  She had IMAX passes.  Her friend had to cancel, and I found myself saying, “We could go see it.”  I think I surprised her with that.  The truth is, I surprised myself.

So we went.  By the time we got there, the 7:00 show was sold out.  We were disappointed, but it turned out Iron Man 3 was still playing, it was starting at 6:30 and we had ten minutes to spare.  My sister loves Robert Downey Jr. (as do I) and so we went with it.  I had a tough moment at the beginning.  Iron Man’s real name, in case you don’t know, is Tony.  Tony Stark.  There’s a scene at the beginning where his girlfriend Pepper is trying to wake him from a nightmare, and she’s yelling his name.  I had a little bit of a panicky feeling, but Stephanie reached for my hand and I got through it. 

I enjoyed the movie.  It wasn’t anything earth-shattering.  It was very explode-y and action-y, with lots of Robert Downey Jr. to ogle and some really smart, funny dialogue courtesy of writer/director Shane Black.  Stephanie and I put on our goofy 3-D glasses, shared some popcorn and peanut butter M & M’s (dinner of champions) and laughed and flinched and oohed and aahed our way through it.  It was fun.  I thought of Tony many, many times during the movie.  I missed him most, I think, when Tony Stark referred to a character as Laurence Oblivier, because that would have cracked my Tony up.  He would have let loose with the full-throated laugh he had, the one I loved and miss so much.

It hurts to think that I will never sit in a theater with Tony again.  What I know now, though, is that I can sit in a theater and enjoy a movie, still.  I can go with someone I love and trust, and we can laugh and share popcorn.  I have lost so much, but it’s nice to know I still have the movies.

Gabrielle Molina Was Twelve Years Old

Gabrielle Molina

This is going to be a tough one.  Yesterday afternoon I saw a headline about a twelve-year-old girl from Queens who killed herself.  I want to say up front that this just happened, and so information that’s being reported may be incomplete, but I need to write about this.

She was twelve.  She was just a baby.  Anybody who think that suicide isn’t an epidemic, a problem that’s not going away, needs to look at that little girl’s face and think about the brain and soul behind that face being so distraught, so scared, that at the age of twelve she thought her life was not worth living.  Think about where you were when you were twelve.  How little you knew about the big picture things, and how huge all of your problems seemed. 

There are some reports that Gabrielle was self-harming.  There are reports that she was bullied at school, and that she left behind a note saying that was why she did what she did.  Her father was quoted as saying that he tried to help her.  The school denies the bullying.  I cannot and will not speak to those reported facts, because it is, as I said, such early days.  What I will say, though, is that somehow, some way, this little child reached a point of despair that I cannot imagine. 

How much potential did Gabrielle carry within her?  How much love?  How many people will be irrevocably changed by what she did?  Even now, the ripples of her untimely death are spreading through her family, her community, the whole world.  We are poorer today because she is gone.  We are poorer.

Her name was Gabrielle Molina.  She was twelve years old.

Meditation on Not Trying to Meditate

tree and sky

Tony was always an early riser.  In the last year or so of his life, he frequently would get up at 4:00 to write, and quite often that meant that he would be falling asleep by 8:30 or so, well before I was ready to go to bed.  Things were pretty stressful for me on a lot of different fronts, and so I decided to try meditation.  I used the mantra that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in Eat Pray Love.  It’s a simple one: Hamsa.  In Sanskrit, it means, “I am that.”  Its simplicity appealed to me, and I found that the more I worked at meditation, at quieting my noisy brain, the deeper I was able to get into a state of profound relaxation and tranquility.

I have not been able to do that since Tony died.  I’ve tried, but it is just so hard to let go of all thought and I have been so frustrated by my failure (my word) to do what I used to do, if not easily, at least somewhat well.

Last week, my therapist suggested that I stop trying.  Not stop trying meditation, you understand.  Stop trying so HARD, though, to achieve the goal of perfect calmness that I was striving for.  She suggested that maybe I could think about just sitting quietly without a fixed goal.

So on Monday after I finished work for the day I took a chair out to the sunny lawn.  I talked to my friend Jodi for a bit.  I had a book with me, but after my phone call I lay back in the chair and closed my eyes and just… was.  I simply existed, in that moment, in the warm sun surrounded by bird calls and breezes and the smell of grass and the occasional nudge of Diego’s nose against my hand.  When my brain got too busy I let it run, and before long I found myself in a state that, while maybe not technically a trance, was the closest thing to true calmness that I have experienced in a very long time.  I wasn’t trying, and I got there.  An exercise in non-meditation turned into a lesson in metaphysics.

That’s my struggle, encapsulated in one short space of time.  I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself.  I think on some level I believe that my grieving process should be different.  That I’m failing, as ridiculous as that sounds, at grief.  I am putting retrospective pressure on myself about how I dealt with Tony’s mental illness.  I am burying myself in shoulds.  What that moment taught me is that I can get where I need to go.  I can do it without pressure or blame or fault-finding or what my therapist calls “the tyranny of the shoulds.”  I’m so accustomed to pushing myself that I know this will be hard, maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Trying not to try so hard … well, I’m going to have to try hard to do that.  It would be funny if it weren’t so true.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  I am that.

I Own What’s Inside of Me

pills oil

For a very long time, I have felt that I didn’t – or rather, couldn’t – own my own feelings.  I spent my time and energy trying to cover them up.  I hid them from Tony because if he sensed even the slightest bit of frustration or anger at the situation, it immediately became anger at him, personal and unkind and “Why do you have to be my enemy?”  That’s how he saw it.  He didn’t like it if I raised my voice, but he didn’t hear me any other way.  Truth be told, he didn’t hear me even when I yelled.  All he heard was that now I had involved other people in our personal problems, and that, of course, was the big taboo.  Nobody could know what was going on. 

Toward the end, when he was spinning into darkness, he didn’t even like it if we were having a conversation in public and I used my hands to gesture too dramatically.  I don’t really know what that was about, truth be told.  A few times I tried to joke him out of it.  “You’re Italian.  I’m Italian by marriage!  We’re supposed to talk with our hands.”  A couple of times that did actually make him laugh, but not always.

I hid what was inside of me, too, from my family and my friends.  I glossed over – no, let’s be honest – I flat-out lied about the status of my marriage, about how Tony was doing, about how I was doing.  I lied because the truth was so excruciatingly painful.  I wanted my marriage to work, and I truly loved Tony, so I stayed even as it seemed that the road just got harder and darker, with more and more pitfalls and dangers along the way.  I kept all of that inside, not even admitting it to myself.  I believe that’s why I stopped keeping a journal.  Writing it down would have made it real, and if it was real?  Well, then my life was a terrible, scary, unmanageable place and how could I deal with that?  So the only writing I did, for years and years, was fiction.  Screenplays with characters who often had a hard time, sure, but I could see what was coming for them even when they couldn’t.  I could know, this character will make it out alive; this one won’t, but it’s beautiful because it’s a sacrifice.  Or it’s necessary because the bad guy can’t win in this situation, and it’s the only way to stop him.

There are so many things that Tony’s death changed.  Too many to count, truly.  But the biggest thing, I think, the thing that has already and will continue to change my life, is that I own what’s inside of me.  All of it, good, bad and ugly. 

Last week, I accepted something really scary that’s inside of me.  I accepted that I have, and may have had for some time, depression.  I accepted that when my psychiatrist told me, the first time we met, that she was worried about post-traumatic stress, she wasn’t just talking about Tony’s death.  She was talking about the years of worry and stress before that.  I don’t want to think about my marriage as a trauma – and it wasn’t, not all of it.  Much of it was good.  We spent so much time laughing, and loving each other, and creating stories that unlike Tony, will live on.  I can’t deny, though, that I was under an enormous amount of stress and in denial about it.  Deep, deep in denial.  So much so that it’s taken me nearly five months after Tony’s death to admit it to myself.

I have said that I want to change the way people talk about mental illness and depression and suicide.  I do.  So I am telling you that last week, I started taking an anti-depressant.  I cried when I told my family about it, and when I took the first pill I cried and yelled at Tony.  I yelled twice.  Before I took it I yelled, “See what you did to me?”  After I took it, I literally shook my fist like a thwarted villain in a silent film and said, “Was that so hard?  Why couldn’t you have done that?”

He couldn’t own what was inside of him, and so he ignored it.  His denial killed him.  I am going to own it, and proudly too.  I have been through a lot.  My doctor told me that prolonged trauma can alter your brain’s chemistry, and that sometimes we need help getting things back in balance.  That is a physical problem.  It should not be viewed any differently than we would view something like diabetes – isn’t that just another chemical problem within the body?  Or what about hemophilia?  Hemophiliacs are missing a vital blood chemical that means their blood can’t clot.  Why is it that those chemical imbalances are treated as medical problems, and changes in the brain’s chemistry are not? 

I am taking an anti-depressant, and all that means is that I am someone who is taking responsibility for my own health and well-being.  I am acknowledging that I have been through a hell of a lot.  I wouldn’t try to cure cancer, if I had it, on my own.  I wouldn’t ignore it if I had hemophilia, or expect that I should just get through it without help.  My insurance company wouldn’t expect me to deal with those things with a limited number of doctor’s visits, either.  They would pay for it, because it’s serious and life-threatening, and that’s why we have insurance.  Well, mental illness and suicide are a worldwide epidemic.  We ignore it, we turn away, we shame the people who are struggling to the point where they are afraid to ask for help; and we make it so prohibitively expensive that those who decide to get help can’t afford it.  We need to start directing our shame to those who shame the sick and needy.  Our brains are part of our bodies.  People with depression can’t just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get over it, any more than someone with a broken leg should be left to set the bone themselves. 

Will you help change the conversation?  Will you talk about this with your friends and co-workers and make it a priority to help those who need it?  Will you stop throwing around words like “crazy” and “nuts” and start talking about this issue with the respect it deserves?  I find myself using words like those more frequently than I would like.  I am working hard to be more aware of them, to be more compassionate.  To understand that any person I encounter who reacts badly to something minor may be in the grips of something so much bigger than what I can see. It’s a serious thing, not something to be dismissed and joked about.  It’s scary, but no scarier to me than cancer or Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis. 

The bottom line is, this is our conversation to change.  All of ours.  Compassion and kindness and understanding are contagious, but ignorance is too.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not content waiting around for the change to happen, for somebody else to make it happen.  It’s my job.  It’s yours.  It’s everybody’s.

Versatile Blogger Award: Thanks, and Nominations

versatilebloggeraward2-e1367610180301

Something new today.  I am very honored and grateful that MeWhoaMi has nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award.  MeWhoaMi was one of my earliest followers and supporters, and the slogan of her blog is Life – How it changes you. Where you go. Who you become.  That pretty much it, isn’t it?  Life changes you. You go places, and you become things that are different than who and how you thought you would be.  Anyway, I love her blog and you will too, so go check it out!

For this award, there are some rules to follow. They are:

  •  Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — then notify them of their nomination
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

Okay, so I’ve thanked the awesome MeWhoaMi and directed you to get yourselves over to her blog, forthwith.  Now, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my nominations.  Some of them have made me bawl into my morning coffee, some have made me smile with their whimsy, and all of them are great:

Out of My Mind Images

Tell Me About It

Shawn L. Bird

MaggieMaeIJustSayThis

TrytoMATTter

Yr Enaid Sipsiwn

To Set the Whole World Laughing

Hollowed Out

Impossible Words

Fresh Perspective

The Culture Monk

Sarah Catherine Hanson

Emma Henly

My Daily Presents

My Desire For Inspiration

And last but not least, here are seven things about me:

  1. My favorite flower is the lilac.  They make me think of my grandmother.
  2. The very first movie Tony and I watched together was About a Boy.  It’s hard to think about that now, because near the beginning, the little boy’s mother tries to kill herself.
  3. In a few minutes, I’m going to go to the kitchen and cook a cardoon.  I’ve never had one before, but supposedly they taste like artichoke hearts.
  4. I am tearing through episodes of Battlestar Galactica whenever I can’t sleep, which is almost every night.
  5. I have watched the lip sync battle between Jimmy Fallon and John Krasinski approximately 513 times in the past week.
  6. My favorite poem is A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne.
  7. Writing this blog is simultaneously the most terrifying and the most liberating thing I have ever done.

Thank you again, MeWhoaMi, and congratulations to my newly anointed nominees.  Reading your blogs makes my days a little brighter, and I’m grateful for that.

The Man in the (Funhouse) Mirror

Tony walking funhouse

One thing I have realized with the benefit of hindsight is how much depression skews a person’s view of the word, and of himself.  There’s nothing fun about seeing yourself in a funhouse mirror all the time, but Tony did.  He saw the world that way, too.  Everything was twisted and the wrong size and shape, and uglier and scarier than it was in real life.

I’ve mentioned before that Tony was not a tall man.  He and I were about the same height – I might’ve actually been a little taller than he.  He was so insecure about his height.  A few times before we met, he had been on some internet dating sites (we actually met on one) and had really internalized the height requirements specified by certain women.  Height didn’t matter to me – he knew that it didn’t, because I told him so repeatedly – but he really hated that he was shorter than average.  He wanted so much to be tall.  I remember shortly after we moved to San Diego he read an article in Men’s Health magazine that talked about a surgery that could add 2-3 inches to a man’s height.  It was said to be excruciatingly painful; but he said that if he had the money, he’d have it done in a heartbeat.  I never understood that, not really.  Looking back now, I can see what I couldn’t see then.  He looked at himself in that funhouse mirror because his depression meant he didn’t have any other kind.  He looked, and he saw a dwarf.  Someone to be pitied, looked down upon, mocked. 

The same was true of his skin.  He would get a tiny little whitehead, and in his mind, in that mirror, it was Mount Everest.  It would become the only thing he could see, and he assumed that it was the only thing other people could see, too.  Like most people, he had some bad experiences in school with other kids saying cruel things to him.  I don’t know anybody who hasn’t had at least one experience of that kind.  Many of us manage to shake those off.  I was constantly mocked for my curly hair.  Not only do I not worry about that any more, I love my curls.  Sure, I’ve recently discovered the thrill of flat-ironing my hair; but I wouldn’t actually trade my curls for straight hair.  For Tony, that’s not the way it worked.  Those schoolyard and school bus taunts stayed with him.  They were all he could see.

I didn’t understand, while he was alive, how pervasively negative his view of himself was.  I had myself convinced that it helped when I told him what I saw when I looked at him.  He was so handsome, truly.  That’s what people saw when they met him.  I’m sure people noticed his height, but I know that none of our friends judged him by that.  What they saw, what they loved about him, was his quick wit, his sense of humor, his contagious laugh.  His passion, his talent, his drive.  His affection and his compassion.  That’s what mattered.  But in the mirror that Tony used, those things were so small as to be invisible.  What loomed large were his lack of height, his imperfect skin, that he didn’t work a traditional job or drive a new car or wear nicer clothes.  The fact that I wouldn’t want to be friends with anybody who would judge him based on those things, the fact that I am naturally drawn to people who have a different sort of value system than that, never made a real impression on him.  That’s not to say that he didn’t love our friends and family.  It’s that he didn’t see them for who they truly were, any more than he could see himself accurately.  Or me, for that matter.

That’s the one that hurts.  I wonder, so often, if he really understood how much I loved him.  How much I would have done for him.  How much I did actually do, how much of what I needed I gave up so that I could try – and fail, as it turns out – to give him what he needed, so desperately.  I do know, intellectually at least, that it’s not my failure.  It feels like my failure, though.  It still feels that way.  I wanted so very much to believe that I could save him.  To believe that I could pull him away from that funhouse image of himself and give him a true picture of what he had to offer, of why the world was better with him in it. 

What I am struggling to accept is that nobody could have done that.  The only one who could have was Tony himself.  But how hard, when his whole life he saw only that image of himself, to believe that it wasn’t the true image.  How hard, to make yourself believe in even the possibility that you’ve been wrong about yourself for so many years; that maybe you know yourself least of all, certainly less than the people who love you who would give anything to have you back.  He thought he did know. 

So many of my memories of Tony involve him looking at himself in the mirror.  He worried about how he looked, constantly.  That sounds like vanity, but it wasn’t.  He was looking because I think he was hoping for what he would have considered a miracle.  He was hoping he’d look and see a tall man, with clear skin and shining eyes and self-confidence, a man with the keys to a new car in his hand.  He was hoping to see what he felt he should be; and instead, he felt shamed by what he was.  He had this image of what it meant to be a man that was so at odds with what matters to me, and yet so dictated by societal expectations.  I think that on some level, in spite of all my reassurances to the contrary, he thought that I was shamed by what he was.  He couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Statistics Are People, Not Just Numbers

Today my friend Shannon, who started the Matthew Patrick Geary Trust, posted a link to a New York Times article about a sharp rise in the rate of suicide among middle-aged people.  People like Tony.  Middle-aged men, in particular, are at increased risk.  More people now die of suicide in the United States than die in automobile accidents.

Think about that.  MORE PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES DIE OF SUICIDE THAN OF INJURIES RECEIVED IN CAR ACCIDENTS.

And we are not talking about it.  Yes, there’s an article in the New York Times.  But that doesn’t mean people are talking about it.  There is still so much shame, so much secrecy and fear around the topic of suicide.  What I am asking you who are reading this to do is to sit with that statistic for a minute.  Sit with it.  Think about it.  Don’t just think about the numbers.  Think about IT, think about suicide.  You probably don’t have any difficulty believing that someone you care about might at some point be killed in a car accident.  So many of us travel by car, every day.  So many people speed, or drive while overtired or drunk.  So many people get caught up in bad weather, rain or snow.  So many people talk on their cell phones or even text while driving.  I have been in car accidents, one that could have been a lot worse than it was.  I know people, several of them, who have lost their lives in car accidents.

And now, I have lost someone I loved to suicide.  As uncomfortable as this may be to think about, anybody reading this, anybody at all, could find themselves in my shoes someday.  That is how big a problem suicide is. 

And yet.

Mental health coverage in this country is a joke.  It’s practically non-existent.  People who need help can’t get it, and that’s if they can manage to get past the stigmatization of mental illness, past the shame and judgment of people close to them, and maybe past their own self-blame and self-judgment and actually ask for help.  The truth is that if Tony had listened to my pleas, if he had agreed to seek out the professional help he so clearly needed, I have NO idea how we would have paid for it.  His first twenty visits – a drop in the ocean – would have been covered at some pathetic percentage.  The rest of it would have been out of pocket. 

Nobody is suggesting, ever WOULD suggest, that we limit and stigmatize and bar people from getting treatment after a car accident.  Such a suggestion would be completely laughable.  We love our cars here, don’t we?  We love our cars more than we love our hurting, sad and lost fellow human beings.

A person who’s contemplating suicide is driving a car.  The car is his brain.  He knows, sometimes, that something’s not working the way it works in other people’s cars.  He drives through mud and grime, and the windshield gets harder and harder to see through.  All he can see is the mud.  He tries to clear it off, but he feels like he can’t reach out and turn on the windshield wipers.  He wants somebody else to come along and turn them on for him, but he doesn’t have the words to ask.  Or he does, but they can’t reach.  So he keeps driving, but he can only see glimpses of the other people on the road through the dirt and the grime that obscure his vision.  He thinks the whole word is like that, filthy and hardly visible and he is the only one who feels that way.  Everybody else, it seems, drives around with ease.  They flip their wipers off and on as needed, they apply the brakes, give it more gas, and navigate turns and unexpected detours as if it were nothing.  But the suicidal person feels that he can’t do any of those things, he just has to keep driving.  He can’t see the road ahead of him.  He’s tired of trying, and even though he has AAA they won’t come out for this.  It’s not part of the coverage, you see.  They’ll come out, but only if he can come up with a huge amount of money, money he just doesn’t have.  It’s something he’s going to have to deal with alone.  Only he can do it.

And so finally, he gets so tired of the trying; so tired of the people pointing out how different his car is, and how he should be ashamed of being so different; so tired of feeling like people are judging his car for its flaws; so tired, so tired, so tired of trying to drive when he can’t see and can’t get help and can’t avoid getting hit by other cars and can’t afford help or feels that he shouldn’t even have to ask for help, that he sees a cliff coming and he takes his hands off the wheel and he lets the car skid and fly and slip over the edge into oblivion.

And those of us who tried to clean off the windshield, or tried to get him to understand that he could do it himself, are left standing on the edge of the abyss and looking down and wishing so much we could reverse time and make the one we loved come flying back up over the edge and into our arms and into our lives and our hearts.  But we can’t do that, because it’s too late.

If a car manufacturer were selling cars without safety features, without working brakes or seatbelts or airbags or windshield wipers, nobody would buy the car.  If companies decided suddenly that some illness with a huge public profile, breast cancer or leukemia or multiple sclerosis or heart disease, would not be covered or covered at laughable levels, we’d be outraged.  If major HMOs announced they would no longer provide coverage for injuries received in automobile accidents, there would be an uprising.  So why not over this?  Why not now?  Why not to save the people who need saving the most, the people who are ostracized and shamed and made to feel like they are not normal?

It’s scary.  That’s why.  The human brain is a mysterious territory, different for everybody and largely unmapped.  We are each alone inside of that territory, and we have to make the map ourselves.  Some of us are born cartographers, and even if we have moments when we fear we are lost, we find our way back again.  We have a compass, we have a sense of direction.  A sense of confidence in ourselves that we can work through it, come out of it, find our way back to the path.  Some of us don’t have that.  Some of us don’t, and that scares the hell out of those of us who do.  We can’t understand it.  We fear it.  We shy away from it.  We throw around words like “nuts” and “crazy” with ease, because it’s so much easier to label than to learn.  It’s so much easier to run than to sit with the idea that we all, any one of us, could lose someone we love to suicide.  It’s so much easier to turn away, to lalala our way past the words, the terrifying words, that suicide is a problem that’s getting bigger.  It’s not going anywhere.  It’s a monster.  It’s the child in the basement in Omelas.  We know it’s there but we pretend it’s not because it’s so much more comfortable to pretend.

I’m done pretending.  It’s time to get noisy.

The Inadequacy of a Pretty Bouquet

I ordered Mother’s Day flowers for my mother-in-law.  I did it today, because Tony’s not here to do it.  I did it because his mother is grieving for him at a time when she is also, in all likelihood, approaching the end of her own life.  I did it because I love her.  I did it because no mother should ever have to hear the news that she heard in December. 

I did it, but Tony should have been here to do it.  He should be here.  I’m angry that he’s not. 

I did it, and I sobbed my way through it. 

I wish I could do more.  I wish, instead of flowers, I could have her son – her living, breathing son – delivered to her doorstep.  I can’t do that.  So instead, I sent flowers.