I Don’t Mean to Shock You

Suicide has been my friend, and yeah, he’s not a very nice friend. He’s been the friend that whispers to me, that offers me a way out, an end to the pain that boring, everyday life can bring.

Well, if I put it that way, suicide hasn’t been a friend at all, but all the same, I’ve lived long periods of time with the enemy inside my head, chattering at me.

Since he’s been such a constant companion, well, I come across insensitive when I talk about death and suicide. I can shock and offend people so easily, and over the years, I’ve tried to keep my flippant comments about suicide to myself.

I had a friend (a real one, not in my head) who killed himself in college. When I found out, I said, “Well, at least he’s found a way to quit smoking. Permanently.”

My dad’s a cop. Dark humor goes with the territory and it must be genetic.

I didn’t mean to come across callous, but I understood what had killed my friend, and when faced with death, I usually laugh inappropriately. Again, I’ve had to do some pretty heavy self-editing at times.

The problem is, people have had close friends, relatives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers kill themselves, and the living are left to deal with it. And that’s a hard thing, made harder if the survivors never had suicidal thoughts. When I get all flippant about suicide, I hurt people who’ve experience such loss.

One of the things I tried to add to my novel, LONG LIVE THE SUICIDE KING, is that suicide, even talking about suicide, has consequences. No one can be suicidal in a vacuum. When someone kills themselves, it affects everyone around them, and in a way, it kills the ones closest to them. It’s a form of murder.

Heavy stuff. Life is hard. Death might seem like a solution, however, I don’t believe it is. Don’t ask me for specifics, but I think we have lessons to learn, and if we don’t learn them here, if we checkout, permanently, we go somewhere else to learn them.

I don’t think suicide is a way out. In the end, I think it’s a monumental waste of time and, again, it murders those around us.

It’s my job to be heroic, to find the other side of my pain, to reach out for help. And it’s my job to talk about my dark thoughts with at least one other person on this earth: a close-mouthed friend, a pastor, a therapist, my mom. As humans, we heal through our mouths. The words we say can shed light into the darkest parts of our psyche.

And there is hope and good stuff about life, in all of our lives. Chocolate. Seriously, there is chocolate in this world. You know what I love? I love those cheap, crappy chocolate donettes–not a real donut, but a donette–you find in gas stations and convenience stores. Hmm, crappy chocolate donettes and the waxy milk you can buy to wash them down. Convenience store milk isn’t exactly sour, but it really wants to be sour, you just know it.

I could swing that into analogy, about me wanting to be sour, but somehow, something inside of me, like a FDA-approved preservative, fights the sour, and so I wash down the chocolatey goodness, standing outside the Conoco, with the morning sun on my face.

Life is sweet.

How to Fight Despair

I’m not going to get all dictionary on you guys.  The words I’m about to use, I’ll define by how I understand them.  I’m gonna get totally subjective.  You’ve been warned.

Despair, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behavior, you know what I’m talking about.  Life is a shit sandwich and every day is another bite.  In other words, despair.

I like despair.  I trust despair.  I firmly believe that the worst possible thing will happen and we’ll all be killed and die and be killed some more, or we’ll be crippled, wounded, hurting, in pain beyond endurance.  Yeah, despair is my buddy.  Hello darkness, my old friend…

My default position is despair.  I generally bypass sad and go straight for helpless, hopeless despair.

Do you know what I use to fight despair?  Well, not fight, really.  Any war I fight in my own mind, I always lose.  I can’t fight my despair.  Not a bit.  It’s like the tar baby, or the blob, when I hit it, despair grabs my fist and pulls me inside it.

Instead, my despair is like a huge clockwork structure of madness and sorrow.  But I have a screwdriver to dismantle it, and that tool is called gratitude.

I had a spiritual adviser who taught me about gratitude.  Let’s define gratitude as finding a hundred dollars in your coat pocket when the rent is due.  Or when you’ve lost your wallet, and someone has turned it into Lost and Found with all the cash tucked away.  Gratitude is that feeling of having been gifted.  Gratitude.  Thankfulness.  Thank God I didn’t get in that car accident this morning.  Thank God I didn’t send that scathing email.  Thank God.


So back a while ago, when I was trapped in my clock tower of despair, I called my spiritual adviser, and before you think it was some guru on a mountaintop, my adviser was a shower glass installer.  He had thick fingers, dead-skinned white knuckles, and dirt in the lines of his palm.  But he was my guide and he was very, very wise.

My heavy-glass guru listened while I complained about life, about my sad, mad sorrows, and he said, “Aaron, be grateful you’re not on fire.”
I stopped.  Yeah, I wasn’t on fire.  Right now, where I’m at, in this second, I am not on fire.  I’m not in great physical pain. I’m okay.  Generally, for every minute I’ve lived, I’ve been okay.  I’ve been relatively safe.

But I forget.  My mind races.  I regret the past and fear the future.  I forget to be grateful of the little things.

And it’s the little things that either kill us or destroy us.

For example, at Starbucks I get coffee with steamed soy.  It’s really good and only costs me $1.73.  In the early morning, when I sit down in my special spot on the back wall by the window, and it’s dark outside, I sip my coffee-soy goodness, and then I get to work writing.

Life is sweet.  Too bad I forget to be grateful for all the sweetness.

Why Suicide?

So my next book, LONG LIVE THE SUICIDE KING, is coming out in April of 2014.  This is gonna be a tough one, folks.  This doesn’t have the nice little hook that my first novel, THE NEVER PRAYER, had.  Demons, angels, love, Twilight-esque themes—that was easy to sell.

Suicide?  Not really what some people want to read about.  Others, well, they want an “issues” book, right?  My wife loved to come home in middle school and read all about the afterschool special topics of the day: drug addiction, surviving divorce, teen prostitution, et cetera.  And yeah, suicide is in there as well.

I’m going to be talking a lot about suicide in the coming year, and I’m going to have to answer the question: why suicide?

What do the experts say we should write about?  Write what you know.  And I know about suicide.  Ask anyone I went to high school with.  Everyone knew I was on the edge, and some thought I did it for attention, and some thought I did it to be cool, but I was suicidal because I found normal, dull, boring life completely overwhelming.  I wanted to die.  Or I wanted answers to the big questions: why are we here?  What is the meaning of life?  Is there a God?

In my book, my hero goes around asking people why they go on.  He asks the question, why not suicide?  Not many people have a good answer to that question.  Or maybe a lot of people don’t want to admit that they even have self-destructive thoughts. Or maybe, for many people, they are happy, or at least fairly content, and they don’t think about suicide at all.  And never have.

I truly hope there are such happy, contented people out there.  I have my doubts.

I would love to be fairly content, but I’m not.  I need answers, and here I am, thirty years later. I still want answers.  I’m not suicidal today, but that’s because I understand now that I don’t have all that much time left, and there are cool things in this world, really cool, not-to-be-missed stuff.  And I’ve learned not to trust what I think.

So I wrote a book about suicide, about the search for meaning, and it has all the themes I love to write about: atheism, drug addiction, hope, and hopelessness and love.

I love my little book.  I’m proud it’s going to find a way out into the world.