The Darkness and the Light
This post originally appeared on my previous site, ipanemic.com
Cue it up, listen now as you read.
I’m kind of battling with two different things right now, and trying to find the balance between everything. I think I should warn you that, while this isn’t graphic in nature, the content of this post may be upsetting. If you’re of influential mind, just take into consideration that suicide is NOT the choice you have to make.
I made this statement yesterday and just sort of left it floating out there. Let me connect the dots in my mind and make it a little more transparent.
For Christmas this year, I bought Alec the book Gonzo, The Life of Hunter. S. Thompson. After Alec was buried, I stopped by his mom’s house to go through his stuff. The book was lying on the coffee table. I asked for it.
It’s sitting beside me as I type. I read bits and pieces, what I can at any given time. I already know the story.
There’s a reason that Alec wanted that book. It was on a Christmas list of the few things he wanted. Of all the simple things on that list (like shoes), I really wanted to get him the book because I knew how much it would mean to him; and it meant a lot to me to give it to him. When Alec and Zach moved back to live with me here on the beach, the three of us watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Unquestionably, a great movie. A movie I knew that Alec would appreciate. At some point, and I don’t know when, Alec fell into this routine where he would fall asleep with this movie playing each night on the tv in his bedroom. I would walk in the room later in the evening sometimes and cut it off. His eyes would be closed, he would be in dream land.
I always loved that about Alec. I loved his mind.
The big-screen version of Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal psychedelic classic about his road trip across Western America as he and his large Samoan lawyer searched desperately for the “American dream”… they were helped in large part by the huge amount of drugs and alcohol kept in their convertible, The Red Shark.
Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide. He shot himself in the head.
Alec used a 12-gauge shotgun to end his life the same way.
I’m undeniably in a pretty dark area right now. This is my dark spot. This is the place I hate for my mind to wander. It’s not a good place but it’s a place I can’t avoid stepping; the horrible murk of my mind where I bog myself down. I think about who Alec was and why he became the person that he was. And my role as his father in his life.
And it’s barely the beginning; it’s only a small part of my madness right now. I spend a LOT of my time right now trying NOT to think too much about this. And this little bit with Hunter S. Thomspon is only a small fraction of everything factoring into Alec’s psyche. And there’s a lot of that psyche that came from me.
Unfortunately, because I knew Alec so intimately, I feel certain that I know I can figure out exactly why he did this. I feel certain that I can figure out the exact mental state that brought him to the place he was. Only it’s difficult. And I wasn’t the only influence in his life. And there was a lot of day to day that factors into this that I’m missing. There are so many variables and this is only one.
For example, let’s take into consideration the movie Donnie Darko. Let’s take into account that it was one of our favorite movies (Alec, Zach, and I). Let’s factor in that on the Wednesday following his suicide, as we’re all sitting around with the pastor who would preside over his funeral, that Alec’s girlfriend and I instantly remember one of Alec’s favorite songs, Mad World as performed by Michael Andrews (a Tears for Fears remake). We looked at each other, smiling, knowing that little bit about Alec that made him special. And then the pastor asked how it went. And then I started to quote the chorus:
“And I find it kind of funny,
I find it kind of sad,
The dreams in which I’m dying,
Are the best I’ve ever had.”
And before I could get the words out, I had already stopped in my mind to contemplate the theme of the movie. The character development of Donnie Darko. And why he made the decisions that he did.
I think about the parallels between Alec’s life and the movie which had such an effect on him. If you aren’t already listening, here. Listen. Or don’t. I can tell you that I will listen repeatedly for the rest of my days. Only now, I will be hearing one thing. This was one of my favorite songs. This was one of Alec’s. We didn’t play it at the funeral. It was playing at the visitation, though.
My god, he was beautiful. So very beautiful.
Alec took a left turn that I didn’t see coming.
When I was at the airport in hysterics the night he killed himself, trying to get a flight home, I was on the phone with my ex to let her know where I was; let her know that I would be there soon. At the time, I was completely intoxicated, trying to numb anything and everything. The only thing I knew was that Alec had shot himself with a 12-gauge shotgun and died. And he had done it in the front yard of his mother’s house. Alone.
And then, as I’m standing in line at the security checkpoint she told me, “Alec left a note.” She told me that it was at the police station. She said she hadn’t read it and wasn’t going to pick it up but that someone else had read it and relayed to her that the gist of the note was that Alec was happy. And then my phone died.
For a few brief moments that followed, maybe half an hour, I had relative comfort. I had some peace, thinking about Alec and his mental state.
The next morning, before seeing anyone, I drove to the police station to get the note. I had to have the note. I waited in the station with my mom for what felt like an eternity as they made a copy of the note. The chief of police brought the copy out to me.
In classic Alec fashion, he started in one pen, scrawled out a sentence, and then it ran out of ink. Or wasn’t writing well enough for him. He switched pens.
In the note, Alec wrote that he wasn’t scared to do it anymore. (Change pens.) He wrote that he wasn’t doing it because he didn’t like his life. That he was actually happy as hell. And then he said that he only wished that he could hold his girlfriend in his arms once more and see his dad. Then he said he would see us later. Then he signed it: love love love love love LOVE Alec/Benji. He drew a heart at the bottom.
After he wrote the note, he left it on the front steps of his mother’s house. Then he went into the front yard and took his life. There were six empty beer cans around him. Liquid courage, I assume.
This is the thing. This is the left turn. Nobody knew that he was going to do this. Nobody had any idea that he would even ponder something like this. Alec and I had had conversations in the past where suicide had come up, not as something that needed to be addressed between us but just in casual conversation. And when I would ask him to assure me that he would never do anything so stupid, he would just laugh and say of course not. That it was absurd. It was absurd and I knew it.
And yet, here we are. And he was happy.
I don’t know the steps Alec took to get to this place. I can’t fathom his mental state entirely. But I know this:
Somehow Alec reached this decision. This was a choice he made. A choice. He could have done something else entirely different. Yet, this was, in his mind, the step that he chose to take.
I am left with no choice but to respect his decision.
It’s a horrible decision. But I have to respect it because it was his. Somehow, in that beautiful mind of his, he came to this. In his apparently tortured self, this was the path to travel. I have to respect that he made this decision and just say, “Okay. Well… okay.”
I don’t know. My mind wanders in a million directions trying to pull everything together. Well done, son. You stumped your old man. And I want to believe that you were happy. It makes it so much easier while at the same time absurdly baffling. Of course, he knew if he had talked to anybody about this ahead of time, they would’ve tried to talk him out of it. His mind was made up. This was the decision he was going to make.
Shortly after the news of his death started to circulate, there was an incredible outpouring of love. Love for which I will never be able to thank everyone enough. There was one email I received that stood out differently from the rest. Someone had referenced the following analogy: If a man is burning alive and has a gun, can you fault him for taking his own life?
I can’t. I just don’t know what the hell was going on. I don’t know that he was burning.
Alec was suuuuuuuuch a good person. He had the biggest heart and never wanted to see anyone hurt. His girlfriend told me that Alec had said that he didn’t want anyone to have to suffer because of his decisions. (He had just gotten in trouble the previous week, had lost some privileges.)
So then… what?
Alec wasn’t an idiot. He knew that this would break the hearts of everyone in his life. He knew that time would heal the wound or at least make it bearable. I just can’t make the left turn that got him to this place. I can’t see how he made it. Alec was such a good kid. So full of life. Everybody loved Alec. Everybody. And he had SUCH a positive impact on the people in his life and the lives that he touched. He had EVERYTHING going for him. And he had a level of confidence about him that was so impressive. Yes, he had insecurities, but he had this… this air about him.
The act itself – the actual suicide – not a good thing. I don’t condone suicide. Suicide is NOT the solution to anything. But what the hell happened?
As confused as I am and unable to figure out how to do basically anything that requires thought right now, I’m left with only one option and that is to simply enjoy every bit of who he was for those 18 years. While the thoughts plague me, I have to appreciate that this is what his life was. That this was all there was. I had 18 years with him. And I have to love that. It’s not that difficult. Just there are moments of pain and grief and guilt and blame and everything else.
My god, what a beautiful life. A tragically beautiful life. I just love him.