December 11, 2004.
A frigid day here in the Chicago suburbs, but otherwise, not noteworthy. All my kids were home—was it already Christmas break? Or was it the weekend? How can I not remember what day of the week it was?
I was leashing up the dogs for their walk—all three of them jumped on me in their undisciplined mania, our lab, the Great Dane, and Charlie—the terrier mix we plucked from the beach in Puerto Rico.
In the kitchen, my husband and his business partner were getting a health check for their company insurance. The guy conducting the tests had to draw blood from their fingertips and take urine samples, which seemed like an odd thing to do right there in our house.
I finally got the dogs somewhat under control, and as I tried to jam a hat onto my head with my free hand I heard my husband say, “Before you go, could you go down and talk to Bobby?”
“Can’t it wait?” I sighed, exasperated, yanking back on the leashes and trying to stay upright as the canine hurricane whipped and whined around me. I knew he and Bobby had had an argument about a broken curfew the night before and that it had ended badly, but it was pretty standard stuff.
“I’ll talk to him when I get back,” I said, and let myself be dragged out the door.
Outside, it was bright and cold. I waved to the lone police officer who trolled our three street town, and watched him park in his usual spot by the stop sign at the corner, hoping to catch people speeding as they tried to find a shortcut between more important places.
“God, what a boring job,” I thought.
I crunch crunched through the snow, winding through adjacent neighborhoods for about 45 minutes before heading home.
When I walked in the house, I heard someone shrieking, “Call 911! Call 911!” from somewhere in the basement—I still don’t know who that was.
I dropped the leashes and rushed downstairs. The door to Bobby’s room was open and he lay naked on the floor. A stranger knelt over him—the insurance guy I think—desperately pressing against Bobby’s sternum with his hands. My husband stood next to him. When he looked up at me, his light blue eyes were filled with horror.
Bobby was dead. He had hung himself with a belt from the bar in his closet.
He was 16 years old.
Ten years later, we are still trying to figure out what happened; unanswered questions torment us.
Was it a moment of desperation? Mental illness? Hormones? Or was it the culmination of years of hidden sadness or anger or hopelessness?
Had he tried to do it before or was this the first attempt? If we’d caught him in time to save him, would he have tried to do it again? Had he even wanted to kill himself at all, or was he playing the “asphyxiation game” that had it’s moment of popularity right at that time? And if it was a true attempt, did he want to die—really die—or was he trying to get our attention or punish us in some way?
What were those last moments like for him? What could we have done differently? What signs did we miss? How did we fail him?
How did Bobby’s death change our destiny as a family? How did it alter our individual paths, particularly the other children? Did it, as we have been told, leave them more vulnerable to suicide as well?
And perhaps most excruciating: Where is Bobby now? What would he say if we could talk to him? Is he at peace? Will he be re-born?
When strange little things happen around the house—a television turning on for no reason, the lights flickering when Bobby’s name is mentioned, a handprint showing up repeatedly on a clean mirror that hasn’t been touched—is that his spirit or just wishful thinking?
Our grief counselor, Father Ruby (a warrior for the bereaved regardless of their denomination—fortunately for us, because we have none) once told us that suicide was “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
It is also a permanent problem with no solution.
There is life after someone you love completes suicide, but not the life that was. Our life now is bruised and blackened, a damaged thing. No day is free of speculation or sadness.
At the heart of the matter is this; there are mysteries we will never come close to unraveling in this lifetime. There are unreasonable things we must accept, and live around, like a tree lives around a telephone wire that has been placed in its way.
And we can do that. We can grow and adapt, and even flourish. But we can never be free.
If I had one wish for myself and my family…if I had one wish, one wish…what would it be?
Not to change the past—that would be arrogant—but for a future that isn’t diminished by what has happened.
I would wish that each of us become trees that are so lush and glorious that whatever has blocked us or harmed us doesn’t twist our branches, but becomes irrevocably tied up in our wild beauty.
That we can stand together in our familial grove, our leaves reaching out across time and blue skies, brushing the known and the unknown equally, accepting all that is, and growing on regardless.
That we can drop our seeds and watch saplings around us take root, and that these saplings will be straight and true, unmarred by that ancient bruise which lingers in our own hearts.
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