This morning I got a phone call from an old friend I hadn’t heard from in at least a year. It’s been so long, I didn’t recognize the tone in her voice. “Hey!” I said, excitedly. “Hey,” she responded flatly. “What’s up?!” I nearly yelled.
Moments later, my voice matched hers. Hushed. Trembling. Serious.
“Trey hung himself,” she said.
And the world kept spinning without me.
I don’t mean to be crass, but this isn’t my first rodeo.
In July ‘06, one of the best friends I’ve ever had threw himself off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Mike was a brilliant writer and musician, possibly the smartest man I ever knew and certainly one of the funniest. He was eccentric and often standoffish, but had a good heart and a soft spot for his dog Rudie.
He was known for pouring his heart out while on stage and hiding it completely while off. He was also known for his long, spindly fingers, which not only made him a gifted guitarist, but also gave him the ability to hold a cigarette, a beer and a cocktail all in the same hand (which was pretty much his standard appearance). And he was known for his thrift-store-professional fashion sense, which equated to wearing second-hand sport coats and dress slacks with retro T-shirts and used Hush Puppies.
One time our company — we worked together — threw a staff party at the beach, and everyone was stunned when Mike showed up. I was stunned because he showed up at all. Everyone else was stunned because he was dressed in a suit. On the beach.
Because he was Mike. And that’s how Mike dressed.
I’ve almost never looked up to anyone, but I looked up to him. He was pretty much my hero.
He couldn’t fly, though.
Suicides are weird.
They make people do odd things.
Every time one happens, it’s only a matter of time before friends and (mostly) acquaintances start airing the deceased’s dirty laundry.
“You know he was in an abusive relationship, right?”
“I heard she had a serious drinking problem.”
“I saw him doing blow in the bathroom at that show last month.”
“She told me once that her mother suffered from severe depression.”
This phenomenon drives me nuts.
First of all, have some fucking respect. Second of all, how does knowing any of this information help me? I don’t know for a fact that any of these things were what caused this tragedy, but even if I did the fact remains that my friend is still gone.
I think people just want to believe it can’t happen to them. They’re more comfortable when they know the suicidal person had bigger problems — or, at least, different problems — from their own. So they talk about ‘em.
I suppose I don’t blame them. I wish I could believe in all that. Dealing with these things would be so much easier if I could.
But I can’t. Because I’ve been there.
My cousin was the first suicide I had to cope with. Mike was second. Trey, naturally, is third.
Through those, I’ve noticed one other thing about the way people react.
For whatever reason, people love to attach themselves to suicides. Even suicides that barely affect them. It’s as if they want to be victims.
Or, more likely, they want people to feel sorry for them.
I saw this the most when Mike died. Because he was a musician of some renown, local scenesters came out of the woodwork to eulogize, mourn and bask in the martyrdom of my friend, who in my rage at this development I dubbed the Patron Saint of Tampa Drunks.
Fuck those people. Their loss, if it existed at all, was theirs to keep. But when they broke down sobbing over someone they barely knew or fainted over his casket, all I saw were opportunists exploiting the death of my friend. My friend for whom I was feeling real, genuine grief — grief that I still feel to this day, while those attention whores sit at the bar sharing a laugh.
I’ll be honest. Trey and I had drifted apart.
For about eight years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, we were tight. We were part of a group of friends roughly a dozen strong who embraced their nerdiness. We were computer programmers and creative writers, theater geeks and political wonks, chess players and D&D dungeon crawlers.
We didn’t have much, but we had each other. And we stuck together through thick and thin. Partly because nobody else would have us, but also partly because we shared that special bond that only outcasts can ever know.
In high school, Trey was an actor, and he would talk at length about his chosen craft during the keg parties we’d throw at our friends’ houses, in empty lots and underneath bridges. In college, he became a DJ, spinning records at the local alternative danceteria until one night when he took so much LSD he became convinced he was in the cockpit of a alien spacecraft and his turntables were the controls. (Disaster, of course, ensued.) Not long after we graduated, Trey joined the Navy and started traveling the world. Pretty soon, contact with him began to dwindle until it disappeared entirely.
He met a sweet girl and got married. They moved back to the Tampa area and we reconnected occasionally, whenever time allowed. Eventually they had two kids — both boys — and Trey got a job as an ER nurse. There was almost nothing he loved more than telling stories about the lives he’d saved (or helped save) in the emergency room.
The last time I saw him was over a year ago. He called me out of the blue and said he was in Gainesville, which is where we went to college. “I’m at Caribbean Spice!” he said, naming a so-small-it-barely-exists eatery that we frequented during our school years.
“Dude! Have some carrot cake for me!” I said, remembering how much I loved their dessert.
About two hours later, my phone rang again. It was Trey. He was downstairs, standing outside my office. I went out to meet him and after we hugged, he handed me a small package.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“I brought you some carrot cake, man.”
While his influence will always loom almost as large as his hulking frame, Trey barely existed for me in my everyday life as an adult. I heard from him maybe twice a year and saw him even less. From that perspective, I don’t have the right to pretend I’m as affected by his loss as his family or friends or even his more recent co-workers. After hearing the news today, I gently replaced the phone’s handset, took a brief moment to collect myself, and went to a staff meeting. Over the course of the day, I mentioned it only to a small handful of my closest friends.
Maybe it’s just that I hate attention, but I refuse to publicly parade around my grief over his tragic death.
But goddamnit, it’s fucking hard.
Because I’ve really missed that guy for a long time. And now? Now it’s forever.
No, this isn’t my first. Or even my second.
But it never gets easier.