Saturday, October 17, 2015

the suicide

So.  I keep getting mail about my high school reunion.  Remember to reserve. Are you coming? Repeat. On daily basis.  Here's the class list. Page after page of names in 2 columns scrolling down, each with a link to the class reunion website.

Somebody put this thing together. Someone is planning the reunion. Getting the venue. Selecting the menu with meat, fish and vegetarian options. Scheduling the mixer. And the morning-after breakfast. The night before something. Probably drinks somewhere.  They picked a 'nice' place (it must be, right?) on the waterfront.

At last message there were seven reservation slots left.  So I think there was room for an even hundred, and not a body more.

Fifty years. Half a century after escaping from what we called then the 'pink prison.'

I'm not sure I knew anybody at my high school. Anybody. Although I recognize some names. I was too busy cutting school and taking the bus over to UC Berkeley, climbing into a cozy couch in the Student Union, pulling out my Penguin Aeschylus, and pretending I was a student there.  It never once occurred to me that cutting high school and demonstrating to yourself your intellectual prowess does not, actually, get you accepted into the college of your choice.

Yes. I was an idiot.

I had to take the long way round to get into the schools of my dreams, grad school—and eventually into the career of my dreams (if not a dream job). But I did it.

And all the years since, I've thought of one guy, and one guy only from my high school class.

The one who didn't make it.

And I don't mean those who died in Vietnam.  We had, apparently, around ten of those. Or the ones who died of misadventure. Three or four of those, two of which from drowning...

Yes, all of this is up on the website. With links to obits whenever linkable.  Somebody did this. Somebody maintains this list.

I looked for that one name.  That guy. The suicide guy I've thought about for half a century.

He was talented beyond reckoning. A bit goofy, but smart. Sensitive. Actually, I'm making all this up. This is what I thought. How I remembered him. It's not that I knew him. I think once maybe we were at the same holiday dinner together at the house of family friends.

I'm being vague here for a reason.

So. The suicide happened first year of college. The college of his choice. I heard it through somebody who heard it through somebody.  Drugs made him do it, they said. Depression, I think. I mean, it was the 60s outside. Both were possibilities. And all I felt was this oppressive sadness.  Here was somebody who was doing it all right. With talent that was nurtured and put to productive means. (Yes, I know, vague again). I had the you-coulda-been-somebody-important anger at him. Coulda been significant. Coulda made a difference.

These, I realize, are thoughts I have never once had about myself.

But I thought these things about him. And as a result, I worked like mad to make something of myself, however modest a contribution that might be. Made the decision to follow my dreams, despite the long and arduous path. If he didn't get to live that life, I was going to make sure that I did.

And then— a half-century later, there on the high school reunion list was his name.

And there was no asterisk implying he was dead. And no double asterisk implying he was missing.

Alive and well, after all this time.  No tragic demise, no youthful indiscretion. No blow your brains out (which was the image stuck in my head those long 50 years).   And it's because he's alive and well running along merrily just living his life that I won't tell you a thing about him.

All I can say is that he influenced my path, and kept me on it as I thought about alternatives. I owe my PhD to him. And probably my children too. Poetry and academic writing. Enjoying the daily hikes with dogs along the trails overlooking the Pacific.The beauty of the world. I owe to him. Because I thought he blew his brains out when life was just beginning.

But here's the thing.

If I hadn't thought him a suicide, would I have thought of him at all?

Oh. PS
That reunion thing? It's today. And no. I'm not going.