Close Cover Before Striking
21 April 2k10
Tonight my friend is in the hospital. He is dying. Yet, lingering in a vegetative state, many would say he is already gone. His heart beats, a machine fills his lungs like a bellows, another machine regulates his medication, and monitors his vital signs, however his mind is…disconnected. He is dying. It was an accident, one that could have been avoided, except that he was drunk, which is suspected of being a contributing factor. In truth it could happen to any of us: while walking home, he slipped on a treacherous remnant of winter ice and fell on his head. In happens in the blink of an eye: One moment my friend was making his way through this life, the next moment he was clinging to that life.
And though this is terrible in itself, the truth of this is far more tragic. The truth is that we knew he was in crisis. We, his few friends, knew he was struggling with depression and alcoholism. Of course, we tried to help, some more than others. Still, we all tried. But he can be difficult to communicate with, brilliant and troubled, often recalcitrant. and…and…and…bullshit, all of it.
The truth is that I had my own problems, my disability, my own acute depression, and when he did reach out to me I avoided his calls. And eventually, my friend stopped calling.
Given that we were both fighting depression, and suicidal ideation, I thought of my friend often. I knew that, like me, he was isolating. That he was breaking beneath the weight of pain and loneliness. I knew that he was self-medicating with alcohol. Nevertheless, I didn’t call him.
For me, alcohol is an issue, mainly because many years ago I also drank…before the brain surgery, before the onset of ‘major depressive disorder’. And back when I drank I invariably turned into an asshole. It took a while for me to wise up, I lost friends, I lost girlfriends, I lost self-respect from my actions while drunk. Seven years ago I quit drinking. I stopped because I finally realized that I did not like the person I was when I drank, that it brought out the worst in me. Luckily, I quit before I became a full-blown alcoholic.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my friend. He was suffering, and like so many countless souls he self-medicated to dull the pain, and the unspeakable emptiness that depression creates in us. I feel that because of this he became a chronic alcoholic. And I should make it extremely clear that he did not become an asshole when drunk; he was always a good man, even when he was in misery. Still, despite however nice people are, I admit I still have real difficulty dealing with a drunk person. In truth? Perhaps I can’t stand to see what used to be me.
This went on for a few years as he deteriorated. We worried. We all tried to help him, but he wouldn’t have it. He kept slowly self-destructing and it was so painful to see that many of us looked away. To my shame, that is exactly what I did.
The last time he called me, I didn’t answer the phone. I know he was reaching out for help because no one calls that late without a serious reason. I stared at the phone and rationalized that I would call him back the next day, when I was better able to deal with his pain, better able to help him…after all I could barely help myself at the time. So, I didn’t answer the phone. He never called again. And tonight he is dying.
My friend spent day after day living with the belief that he could not escape the wretched cycle. This is what depression does to you. It whispers that you are alone in your despair, that there can be no escape. It is a cancer of the soul.
As he lies alone in the hospital I am drinking, something far worse than alcohol. Tonight, I drink the cup of regret. It tastes of the bitter guilt of trading my own peace of mind for having empathy for a friend who needed help. As I drink this cup, I beg you: learn from my mistake. If there is someone you care for who is suffering do not let them pull away, regardless of how hard they try. Do not give in to the corrosion that eats away at love and empathy. As frightening as confronting depression can be, if you see signs of someone who is in crisis do not be afraid to talk with them, it could save their life. Sometimes people are screaming for help on the inside and yet it’s still so very hard to hear.
He is dying. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t put it off until you find yourself like me, sitting in front of a screen futilely searching for a way to say, “I’m sorry.”
Close Cover Before Striking
My friend Tom walks and talks—
He slouches through the day
the noxious TNT distillate of Depression,
the cloying soulsap rendered from rage:
He has made a bomb of his heart.
The Tombomb works his job and wonders why—
He has built an Anti-Tom device,
it is hidden under an oilcloth against the walls of his chest.
He is surprised every time he finds it
ticktickticking sinister beside the fleshbricks of his ribcage.
Much like finding a landmine in a plate of mashed potatoes,
he is not sure what to do.
The Tombomb loves (screams) and does not remember—
He rocks but does not roll.
Waking to a new day, he finds the old one wired into his heart.
He stands in the bathroom and will not look in the broken mirror.
He shuffles to table, and staring into coffee, toys with the fuse.
She wants to take cover, yet every morning she diffuses him
…red wire…green wire…blue wire…green wire…red wire…
only to find fresh solder sweating from his heart by night.
The Tombomb wishes Things Were Different—
He has seized himself for a hostage.
He sits in the driveway and says, ‘No…No, nothing’s wrong.’
But I can see in his arms that he is holding the Bomb.
His pleas for lightning go unheeded,
as I back slowly away, with
Fumes bleed into the air, which shimmers around him
like a desert mirage, distorting all that he can see.
The Tombomb has a fuse but he cannot find a match.
Dawn, you are a very good friend. I should have left my thoughts here. Your words are beautiful even in writing about these tragic turn of events of crisis and despair in your friends life. You’ve brought awareness to subjects of issues all to easily hushed up about. The fact that so many suffer from clinical depression and then mask their pain with drugs and alcohol, is not an issue of “will power” as those who choose to remain ignorant and judgemental would like to believe. None of this is easy or “pretty” to look at. You are a very, very good friend. You have reminded us all, never to give up even in the most impossible of situations when communication is impossible, one never knows what words could be spoken that will tip the scales in the direction of recovery. I love you.
April at 7:22 am
P.S. I’ve got a phone call or two to make…
April at 7:28 am
I lost a friend to alcohol (and drugs) five years ago. It never leaves me; I have just gotten used to the ache. Your post really hit home with me, and I appreciate the honesty you put into your writing. It means a lot to people who need more honesty in this life.
May at 10:32 am