At the end of January, my cousin killed himself. I originally wrote “took his life,” but what he did was the opposite. On the tail end of a whole bunch of deaths in my family, including both my grandparents and a few friends, his passing marked something strange for me. Something I’m still working out.
His funeral was full of tears, closed casket due to the way he went, and my brothers both telling me how they felt strange not feeling sad for him. No, that isn’t the case. How strange they felt not feeling like everyone else. They understood my cousin made a choice, and he was in control, and it was his decision. My brothers and I are all about control, I think. And owning ourselves. Perhaps they thought, on some level, it was a good death, because his life wasn’t taken. It was freely given.
Other than a bout of depression in high school, I never felt what my cousin felt most of his life. It is foreign to me. I don’t understand it. I understand how he came to it, on the other hand, and his death wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Or it was a surprise to everyone. Hindsight says we all could have done more. But who knows who will kill himself until after it’s tried?
Fourth of July weekend was a kind of sombre one. While the week before was a single, broad ray of sunshine, the Fourth had me walking through my grandparents’ empty home. My parents (and uncle and aunts) had gone through and cleaned up a lot. After being uninhabited, a farmhouse tends to find nature encroaching a little quicker than otherwise. So they cleaned for a week. Filled a dumpster. My father and I drank 43 year old sweet wine, and it tasted delicious and full and syrupy. Like port. (I never knew where my love for sweet wine came from. Heritage, I guess.)
Dad teared up twice while talking about his parents. He held it in, like a good man. Like a strong man. He kept his emotions out, his feelings separate from what had to be done. I am not my father. Some days I want to be. Some days I’m glad I’m not.
My cousin (and his mother) lived a mile down the road. Given it’s a farm, that’s not far at all. He’d spend a lot of time there. He had random objects to mark his stay; a .22 rifle, a painting of a dragon, a painting of himself. My aunt, dealing with the death of her son, couldn’t stand to think about him. Yet his paintings hung. His things piled. Clothes, used toothbrushes, things that could have (should have?) been donated or trashed.
My aunt gave me his ties. Two unused, I took. A third, used (Probably still has his sweat on it, she said. Should have given that to one of the girls from his work. Those pheromones do a lot to calm a person in grief. Probably rotten now.), stayed in the pile. My aunt also gave me his weight set, barely used. A small set of dumbbells in a plastic case. And that’s it.
I walked past the car, filled with things to transport as if it were any other car.
He had very few things, I guess. I’d assume if we were to clean my aunt’s home, there would be much more.
Almost six months after his death, these things still weigh on me.
They weigh because a grown man of 23 years took his life somewhere else due to a lack of respect. They weigh because I watch people work their asses to the bone for a cracker, and people laugh all the way to the bank. They weigh because I walk through a country that prides itself on past successes (like freedom from British Mainland rule), while drowning in current failures. This whole country is one. Big. Hot button.
And our people are not only dying in the street, but going because they feel there is no better alternative. My cousin wasn’t a vet, didn’t serve a great purpose in the world, didn’t move mountains. He wanted self. Something inside. He was raised without value. How many of us are raised without value?
And I take the dry ties instead of the used on some strange thought that it’s still his. I walk past the car wondering if he’s still there. I stumble at the festive picnic, feeling oddly unfinished and uncharacteristically separate from the rest of the world.
Yes. Now. Fucking now. It is time to write. I am shaken from my inward-turned thoughts, and my hamster work-wheel. I shudder as this new shock wave barrels through my clothes and skin like a squall line before rain. Here, I am made to feel hurt. Pain. Sadness. Fear. Uncertainty. And I rail against the silence I don’t understand because it isn’t silence. It’s just so contained, held behind such great walls as skin and bone and perseverance and valor and duty, that we walk past it, daily, and see so little we think it’s a stream, or a trickle, or nothing, coming from a great and lofty dam inside us.
My family is a family of power contained. Our legacies are how well we can build our dams, our powerhouses, to keep us lit and moving. So perhaps my brothers say (without much knowing they say it), “He could not contain it, he had so much. It is a good death.”
Or perhaps they do not. Perhaps it is a realism thing, that the dam without water is just an empty wall. Containing nothing and releasing nothing and therefore without practical use. Disassemble the wall, restructure its pieces, or else leave it to rot in the wilderness.
On the Fourth, I took three pieces of my cousin’s dam. Failed tries at normalcy, at being strong. Tries to be accepted, seeking acceptance. Seeking value.
So perhaps, in a way nobody else in the world (save my aunt) can, or wants to do, I value you. I value your message. I will not forget.