Tuesday, October 22, 2013


"How could anyone purposefully leave us, us, of all people? This is how I thought of it, for though I’ve often lost faith in myself, I’ve never lost it in my family, in my certainty that we are fundamentally better than everyone else. It’s an archaic belief, one that I haven’t seriously reconsidered since my late teens, but still I hold it. Ours is the only club I’d ever wanted to be a member of, so I couldn’t imagine quitting. Backing off for a year or two was understandable, but to want out so badly that you’d take your own life?
“I don’t know that it had anything to do with us,” my father said. But how could it have not? Doesn’t the blood of every suicide splash back on our faces?” - DAVID SEDARIS, from THE NEW YORKER

Last night I went to a reading of Frank Basloe’s SLEEPY HOLLOW, which sounds like it would be an action adventure but is really about living ghosts. Five friends meet for an uncomfortable dinner in a house in Westchester County; as it begins, you know there is something going on that no one will talk about. It takes a while to get to the heart of the uneasy truth: one of them tried to commit suicide three months before. Even though he is alive, everyone seems to treat him as a ghost, not wanting to face him, not wanting to ask what made the world so unbearable he tried to leave it. He is a traveler returned from a distant land, where few people ever come back from, viewed with mistrust and alienation by everyone, his wife, his children, his old friends. The forced awkwardness of the first half of the play rings false, until your mind catches up and you realize, it's as real as real life.

It’s hard to know how often people fail to commit suicide, except in movies where someone always comes in at just the right moment, playing it for laughs. How many of us have watched people we love walk back from the razor's edge? If they really meant to die, how is it possible that they could fail? It's only then you realize how our lives turn on the thinnest of coincidences, coming home too early or too late to save someone. It’s hard to know how to respond - pretend it never happened? Pretend they won’t try again? Wait for them to succeed next time? Both Stephen Fry and Mike Daisey have talked about their failures to slip away silently, but the ones who have succeeded, they give us no answers. The dead can’t talk, and anyway, everyone knows answers only lead to more questions.

Last night I thought again about the husband of my mother’s old college friend, who hanged himself when I was in high school. I had just met him and his family earlier that year. I can still remember his face, his thick shock of badger-striped salt-and-pepper hair. What we didn't know then was that he'd been battling depression for some time. One night, his wife called our home, her voice troubled, and I wrote down her phone number on a napkin that then was accidentally thrown away. In those days my Chinese was much worse than it is now; I'd forgotten her name, and it wasn't until a few days later that she finally reached my mom. I’ll never forget the shame that went through me when I heard why she'd called. I couldn't sleep without thinking about their son, some years younger than I, who'd been the one to find his father's body in their garage. I hope he understood, it wasn’t anything he did.

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