Sometimes I just land here. Sometimes the world pushes me here.
When I first returned to work after my brother John's suicide, a coworker said to me, "You know, he cannot be buried in a Catholic cemetery."
That was before John's name would become internationally associated with the award-winning film Leaving Las Vegas, although I'm pretty sure that individual would have said the same thing under any circumstances.
One man wrote to tell me he was going to "join" John amid pages of barely comprehensible ranting. One woman wrote me 14 years after John's death to tell me he'd made a pass at her while he was still married.
Once at a terrible book signing wherein I sat by myself at a table for hours with a pristine stack of copies of my novel before me, the one person who came in from the blinding blizzard did not buy my book, but asked me casually, "So, why did your brother kill himself?"
I do my best to mothball the unfortunate comments, but as you can see, they are pretty indelible. Hence, I did not comment on Robin Williams' death, but it did move me to this post.
The Grim Reaper and I are old friends. I know his ways all too well. He'll let you say goodbye to just about everyone, but you will never lay down a suicide. It is a badge he sews into your flesh.
At some point after Dad's death, Mom gave that box to Eric. It remained sealed until nearly 19 years after John's death.
On January 4, 2013, some cosmic switched toggled. It was time. Someone had to verify the gun--acknowledge it--and it had to be me. I asked Eric to dig the box from wherever he'd stowed it. He did. When he handed it to me, it was at once too heavy and too light. I could not open it. I handed the box back to Eric as queasiness overwhelmed me from my stomach to my head. I was shaky and flushed.
As he worked through the wrapping, I thought, what will you do if it's covered in dried gore?
The masculine tailored look of the Smith and Wesson, a terrible handsome thing, was not lost on me. It was exactly the gun I would have expected John to select, which was oddly painful: to not be surprised by it.
The evidence tag was another story. I had not expected that: written verification on the inside of what Dad refused to acknowledge on the outside of this box. That rote slip of paper amid all this blood and emotion struck me at my core.
I could not touch the gun, but documentation seemed important. I don't know why. I took the photos and Eric took it all away.
Perhaps the heaviest burden associated with John's death is the dichotomy of the act: was it the zenith of cowardice or bravery? After 20 years and countless hours studying his body of work, I've concluded that it was both. Whether I'm right or wrong isn't the point. I deserve the modest liberation it affords.
This is what it is like. This is exactly what it is like.
|Bill and John O'Brien, circa 1961|
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