CUE VOICE (FROM BEHIND ME AND TO THE RIGHT):
Remember how the Sugar Free Dr. Pepper fizzed in your mouth and all over your face? Remember how a little fountain of Sugar Free Dr. Pepper shot out of the gap between your front teeth? Remember how one of the Xanaxes got loose and, through a forced perspective, seemed to hover in front of the faces of your dorm-mates. And, drama queen, they’re there because you summoned everyone to their windows for the fountain spectacular. Now we’re just going to freeze it here and zoom in on your roommate, Larry, standing naked in one of full-length stairwell windows. And let’s put one of those shadow circles around Larry’s ridiculous penis. Wow, if everything had gone according to your impulsive non-plan, one of last things on your retinas would’ve been an image of quite possibly the largest member you’ve ever side-eyed.
Y’know how during August, when it’s Shark Week, how you have Shark Week proper on The Discovery Channel, but there’s also Shark everywhere else? All the little ancillary remora channels of the Discovery Network are shark-flogging. Then Colbert does a bit about how the Mueller probe is like Shark Week. Then one of those weird retro channels that have decimal points in their ID programs a block of sitcom episodes where the shark is jumped. Yes, the Fonz is there. Then your Facebook feed fills with sad pictures of sharks with their dorsal fins hacked off because shark fin soup is cruel, and sharks are not the mindless killing machines that Discovery portrays! Didn’t you know that?!? Why do you hate Mother Ocean? You suck at being woke. Then, in response, Discovery has a night where they assure everyone that sharks are perfectly reasonable denizens of Mother Ocean. Sharks gotta shark. Then they will show slow-motion video of hacked-off dorsal fin set to whatever Sarah MacClachlan-ish collection of chords they own the rights to. Then there will be a BP commercial.
You cannot escape Shark Week. That is the whole point of Shark Week. It is a merciless engine.
Well, it’s June, and this June it isn’t Shark Week. It’s Suicide Week.
Just like how Shark Week can only exist in the air-conditioned hellscape of August, the atmosphere needs to be ripe for Suicide Week:
ONE: There exists a background level of constant meh and terror. It is always there. It is often dismissed as “existential.”
TWO: I’m laid up because I’ve effed up my hip. A cascade of failures started in late April with me being too lazy to sit up to close my bedroom window, instead trying to close it with my foot, thus tweaking something in my hip. Now it’s June, and everything between my shoulder blades and my knees is activated somehow –either thru normal pain, or thru this odd sensation which I can only liken to that involuntary refractory shudder one feels a few seconds to a few minutes after a particularly mind-blowing orgasm. It’s not entirely without its merits. However, this time someone’s hit the pause button mid-shudder, and the sensation just hangs there like a trick who doesn’t grok that you need to sleep on a diagonal. It’s kind of annoying. It’s just always there, wanting to cuddle with your spine. And you’re too polite to tell it to leave the money on the dresser and go.
I draw the line at back pain with a psycho-sexual component.
Speaking of psycho-sexual components, THREE: June is also Pride. Pride is like New Year’s Eve in that you must have plans. It’s unlike New Year’s Eve in that you must also look good in shorts and a tank top while you do all your awesome plans. I’m not going to dwell, but Pride has always been a bit problematic for me since long before I came out. Somehow, I’ve twisted Pride into a one-month celebration of othering.
It goes back to the campus gays at Michigan who poked and taunted my conflict and my closet with the prop closet they set up on the Quad. They then spent days pantomiming “coming out” of it. Because coming out is theater.
It runs through the weird school-spirit trapping of corporate NYC Pride. [Let’s go ho-mos! Let’s go ho-mos! Be aggressive. A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E! HO-MOS!] In many ways, experiencing Pride as a gay man who didn’t come out until his 30s can be a let down. Sometimes it makes me feel like how when you’re finally invited to sit at the popular table, you find it’s not the Algonquin Round Table you expected. They talk about nothing but sports.
Finally, there’s this year’s drumbeat to confront corporate Pride. You say, “Great. Stick it to The Man! Did you catch that entendre?” But you secretly suspect if you go and sit at the over-with-popularity table, you will find that it’s not the Algonquin Round Table you expected either. They talk about nothing but how the popular kids talk about nothing but sports. Yay, more pigeonholes to jump thru!
On top of that, standing around shifting from one foot to the other really activates my hip and that god-awful refractory sensation. Of course, Pride always entails a lot of standing around shifting from one foot to the other. I’ll probably have to use my stabilizing muscles more than usual because of jostling drunks. I can use the hip thing to save face. I can cover up my lack of plans by telling everyone I can’t participate because of my hip. No one has to know that I don’t feel quite welcome at Pride.
And now we’re isolating.
It sucks. Isolation just feeds more isolation. I get to the point where I’m finding excuses not to socialize. After all, what is small-talk other than an especially invasive interrogation meant to point out how unworthy you are of talking with other people?
Isolation gives that Voice room to work. I want to make it clear that I do not actually hear a voice. I hated the pills they prescribed me when they actually thought for a hot minute I was hearing voices. Instead, I feel the Voice. It shouts horrid things from behind me and to the right. Always from behind me and to the right. My body and brain react like someone was actually standing there, just out of my peripheral vision and shouting vile things about me, at me, into me. I tense. My fight-or-flight hormones gear up. I wait for a physical blow that never comes, even though such taunting always precedes a punch, right? It’s coming. I know it is. I need to be ready. Then the Voice:
Why aren’t you ready for the punch, asshole?
The Voice is my constant companion. It has never stopped swimming, because if it does, it will drown. It can only survive as long as it’s shouting at me. And its fuel is my reaction to it.
Once the Voice is good and loud, the chum is in the water. Some floating fish guts I can handle, but soon the sharks come to feed…
Last Tuesday I was on my way to buy a sensible cactus when the news of Kate Spade’s suicide came down.
My brain took in the name. Thoughts began to appear in that Baskerville font she used:
I like my Jack Spade messenger bag.
It’s cute that it has a zippered iPod pouch with a little buttonhole for the earbuds.
Her niece is the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on TV.
I haven’t been to the outlet mall up in Delaware County in a while. [What the fuck do you need to buy?]
I met her in around 2004 or 2005. We both made horrible first impressions. I was managing a “Vintage Furniture Gallery” owned by the Spades’ interior designer. One morning he told me a Kate Brosnahan might be stopping by that afternoon. I was afraid to ask, “Who’s Kate Brosnahan?” because my boss was a very angry borderline-sociopath who answered most questions with “Well, retard…” Also, he was always saying so and so might come by. It just usually meant he was out drinking the night before with friends of acquaintances and had networked a vague commitment to “stop by the store.” They hardly ever did. Cut to around 2:30, and a woman walks into the store. She did not introduce herself; she just talked on the phone. After cell phones became widespread, but before texting was easy, there was a hell-spot in 2004 or 2005 when loud, very public one-way communications were a sad fact of everyday life. It was enough of a problem that I had asked my boss what I should do when someone was using the store as a phone booth with $14,000 sofas. “Well, retard, you can just turn the music up so they get the point. Do I have to rub your brain cells together for you?” I cranked up the first Franz Ferdinand CD a couple notches. The woman looked at the speaker, then through me, then sighed, then turned so I would not be in her line of sight.
Just then, the Voice froze the playback and asked,
Why didn’t you just scream, ‘Acknowledge me!’ then run over and knock the phone out her hand? Huh? Huh? You could’ve stood up for the workers. You could have done something tangible with your life. Do you even deserve a life? Instead, you just went textbook passive-aggressive.
The memory resumed. I began to putter around the showroom with a Swiffer. I would dust in her line of sight. You can’t acknowledge what you can’t see. She would huff, then adjust, and then I would putter into view again. This continued for the duration of “Take Me Out” and a little bit of “The Dark of the Matinée.” I then upped the Franz Ferdinand a couple more notches. She grunted and charged into the back office. About a minute later, my boss came out front. “Well, retard…”
You done with your little cocktail party story yet? You always have a little story for any occasion, don’t you? Shut up and listen for once before you go off on some tangent. Always thinking only about yourself.
The Voice meant business. I could sense it hardening.
You’re burying the lede. This is all about suicide. How about you look at a few of your finest suicide moments now that you’ve needlessly dragged poor Kate Spade through one of your little stories? Did that story even happen? Or is this more ‘creative’ non-fiction? Roll tape!
Everyone who hears of a suicide processes it differently. There can be some inventory-taking, some blaming, some quiet prayer. It can stir up a lot of memories. Maybe they’re of the deceased or of a loved one lost to suicide. These memories can be quite powerful. I have those memories, but as the survivor of an attempt, I also remember those specific attempts. The Voice then began to show me what can only described as a shoddily-produced clip show with a title like “Top Ten Suicide Mega-Fails.”
And just as any Shark Week clip show will feature that footage of a great white flinging a seal in the air or maybe Roy Schieder saying, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” my shoddily-produced clip show always relies on a few favorites. Me squirting Sugar Free Dr. Pepper and Xanax out my mouth star-wipes into me pressing the car’s accelerator in what became known as “The Bacon Incident.” That, in turn, dazzle-spins into me being transfixed by the oncoming lights of G train, wanting to meet them with such intensity that I end up sobbing on subway bench.
There’s a lot of footage available, much of it in the public domain. But these vignettes are not just sound and vision. The Voice also serves up the emotions associated with each memory. I am treated to re-feeling that despair, that twisted mindset who says offing oneself is a perfectly cromulent state of things. Soon I begin to process the normal stimuli of everyday life thru the Cuisinart of extreme desolation.
I try to find something, anything, to shut the clip show down. Sometimes music with complicated lyrics helps. Sometimes it’s a drive into the hills and a hike. Sleep is a nice escape. I went to bed at 8:10 last evening. But the Voice just jumps up and down and shouts louder:
Let’s pause the clip show. How’s about some helpful how-to tips, some suicide hacks if you will? Here’s one for free:
- Format your note with bullet points.
- Bullet points are a popular manner of arranging complex notions into bite-sized chunks that today’s busy mourner appreciates.
- They test well over multiple target demos.
- Your President, who is Donald Trump in case you forgot for a second, loves bullet points.
- Increase dying-wish retention!
- Have you considered whittling the note down to a humorous meme? Think of the increased viral penetration!
Then on Friday, I awoke to the news about Anthony Bourdain.
The Voice shouts over everything, trampling even the most well-meaning and innocuous interactions. On good days, I have access to the volume dial, and I can sometimes tone the Voice down to an insidious whisper. But since last week it’s been “Tune in! Turn up! And rip the knobs off!”
There is no off switch.
As mentioned before, the isolation has me spending a lot of time on the Facebook. The Voice tells me:
You should check out Facebook. I’m sure somebody is right now raving about the olives in an Admiral’s Club somewhere. You need to know that. It’s important for you to know that others are better than you because they have access to olives of which you can only dream. I know you don’t even like olives, but I’m gonna have you thinking about nothing other than how you suck so much that you can’t even achieve things you find slimy and overly-salty.
So, I go on Facebook. Over the past weekend, there was a noted addition to the usual mix of preaching to the choir about the decline of Western Civilization, check-ins at chain restaurants right off the Outerbelt, and babies/dogs/baby dogs I don’t know. To my fevered brain, it seemed that every other post was suicide or suicide-adjacent. There were some personal takes on what Spade and Bourdain meant to the posters. There was much I didn’t know about either one of them, and I enjoyed hearing about what an impact they had on friends and folks. However, even in the most heartfelt eulogizing, there was an oft-repeated truism about how even successful, self-actualized, olive-achieving people get depressed.
The Voice relishes working with comparisons:
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were successful. They were much better people than you. Their work will outlast them. And you. Ugh. Look what they ended up doing anyways. Why are you even bothering? Here’s a helpful mantra for you:
No one cares if you live or die. I want you to repeat that at least 1500 times a day. It’s good for me.
Give a shout when you want to see that Dr. Pepper thing again.
The Voice drones on, and I curl up like a potato bug:
Hey look, someone posted the number for a suicide hotline. They want you to ‘reach out.’ Yeah, you should reach out. Everyone has time in their busy suicide prep routine to ‘reach out.’ You should pencil that in between “Distribute meaningful possessions to loved ones” and “Buy poison.” Let’s look at the Dr. Pepper footage again. From what I see, it only took around twenty-seven seconds to convince you to off yourself.
I try shouting back at the Voice, but all I can manage is a squeak like in a nightmare when you can only squeak for help.
So, go ahead, try to “reach out.” Everybody’s too busy for you. You know if you do manage to get someone on the phone, you’ll just end up talking about their free olives because they’re better people than you. You’re weak. Have I told you that you suck in the last thirty seconds?
The Voice is an asshole. It is on every channel. It is Shark Week.