This draft has been floating around for about nine months. I’m not sure, even now, that I’m making the right decision by publishing it. It’s raw and it’s painful and there’s no right way for me to say the things I want to say. This may even be offensive or hurtful to some. I don’t know. But I feel like I need some way to commemorate a life, and this is one of the small ways by which I can do that.
A year ago today, January 7, 2013, my cousin committed suicide.
He and I were close, but not that close. We were friends on good days, acquaintances on most. He lived a long way away, so we Skyped on occasion, spoke in French together, admired the Versace furniture catalog (he had dreams of being an interior designer) and talked about golden and opulent lives.
He was always a dichotomy. Sometimes I loved him, sometimes he drove me insane. When we were younger he would get songs stuck in his head not for a few minutes, or a few hours, but months on end. He would sing them over and over and over again. He was in love with Emma Watson for about five years. He could quote his favorite movie lines ad absurdem. I think he subsisted on macaroni and cheese alone for the better part of his life.
But the miraculous thing about my cousin was that he was always himself, always, without fail. He was one of the few people I’ve ever met who could never have been anyone but himself. He didn’t try to pretend he was someone different and he didn’t try to make himself into someone different. He was content in his own skin.
Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.
It’s not so much a present-tense missing, in the sense of, “I miss you right now and I wish I could talk to you just one more time.” We weren’t really close enough for that. It’s more an awareness of the hole he has left in my life as a person, a friend, a member of the family. It’s not a present-tense missing so much as it is an acknowledgement of the fact that I will never hear his voice or see his face or Skype with him about the joys of Paris, Harry Potter, and fettucine alfredo again.
I know other people who have tried, and failed, to take their own lives, and not a day goes by that I’m not thankful they’re still alive.
There is, for me, a bitter sense of helplessness in these cases, because I can see both the point and the pointlessness inherent in the act of taking one’s own life. I can see how one would get frustrated with the world, with the devastation and violence and horror we experience every day, whether personally or vicariously. I know I do. I can understand thinking, from an existential sense, that there is no point to life, that we are all just going around in circles, that all is vanity and chasing after wind. I get that feeling too, on occasion. And given that, why not? As the existentialists asked, “Why should I not commit suicide today?”
But there is also the tearing, the vicious destruction of lives and loves that is associated with self-annihilation. It contributes to the horror, rather than taking away from it. It adds to the burdens on the world, rather than lessening them. It dramatically affects the lives of those around you; it is a fundamental statement that “my despair is worth more than our relationship, than all the relationships I will destroy along with myself”. Looking at it from the outside, it’s easy to see it as selfish. But I would imagine that from the inside, sometimes it feels like the only way to escape a problem that has consumed a life.
Who am I to judge? To condemn? I have never felt comfortable telling someone, “Your life is worth more than that,” or, “You just have to keep going,” because that’s not my decision. I can ascribe value only to my relationship with that person, not to that person’s life itself. And ultimately, he or she is the one who has to live – or not – with that decision. I will always want my friends, family members, and even distant acquaintances, to find the strength to keep going. I will always hope that. But I cannot judge their lives and their choices from where I stand.
When it comes to that fundamental question, “Why should I not kill myself today?” I try to remember that although there is pain in the world, and anger, brutality, hatred, disease, starvation, and cruelty, there is also beauty. There are green trees and flowers in spring, laughter and songs, celebrations, ripe red tomatoes, and my cousin’s favorite, macaroni and cheese. There are friends who love and care for us and animals we would never abandon. Though winter is deep and cold, spring will come, the days will lengthen, and the sun will always rise in the morning.
I wish, every day, that my cousin had remembered that.