Thursday, May 21

Sympathy for the traveler

I had lunch with an old college chum a couple of months ago. She was an Amazonian woman, brassy, full of humor with a big laugh to match. We weren’t close but we enjoyed each other’s company when we occasionally met over the years at a book store or the Saturday Market. I always like talking with her. She had few friends-no boyfriend either-and she was grateful to chat with me.

“This old broad turns lot of people off with the attitude and tactless manner” she apologized.

“Nah, it’s all bark and no bite, besides you’re hardly an old broad. You’re the same age as me.” I told her. She gave a mock look of shock and we laughed at aging ungracefully.

She was still lively as we sat and discussed politics, gossiped and doing a road trip together but I would catch her gazing off with a sense of loss. She had changed I noticed, her laughter was sardonic and she lost interest with the outside world. The passion she so grandly felt for everything was missing. She was animated but it was forced. She was deeply depressed but brushed it off jokingly as disappointment in former President George Bush.

She also had some serious personal demons, I recalled. Although she was smart, she lacked ambition and was unable to stick to one thing. Her indecision caused her to wander academically. She never had a steady job. Part time work, a professional student living off grants or family fortunes.

“I’m just tired of everything.” she suddenly confessed and I nodded, knowing the feeling but I could see she was in deep pain. She was heavier and dazed as if she had seen too much. She admitted that her creativity and love of music was gone. Not a good sign, I thought as I watched her clutch her mug nervously. I tried to cheer her up and she gave me a wan smile in gratitude for the attempt . We hugged tightly as we parted, promising to keep in touch.

I didn’t hear from her again. Messages and e-mail went unanswered. I met a mutual acquaintance a few months later and asked about her.

“Oh didn’t you hear, she committed suicide.” I was stunned by the news but strangely, not surprised. The details were shaky; someone was alarmed by the house being dark and silent for too many days. They found her on the bedroom floor quite cold and gone.

Gone. The image stuck in my head. Just like that, we are here then gone. I shook my head when I thought of the waste, the loss of life. She had so much talent, so much to give. It made me a bit nervous, we were alike in many ways.

I thought about my own struggle to find a place in the world. Life is easier for some than others. Some people can’t out run their demons- Sylvia Plath, actor Oliver Reed, the droll George Sanders whose suicide note allegedly began “Dear world, I am bored”. They fell short of the finish; ending an incomplete life. Did she leave behind a note, would anyone care? Chronic depression is my demon. This may come as no surprise to those who know me but we are all in denial. Who wants to deal with that? Certainly not me.

How many times have we heard of someone who fails at life and wonder “Why didn’t we see the warning signs?” deluding ourselves that such a decision can’t be true. Like the doctor who refuses to believe a patient is really in as much pain as they claim. Can’t be true, no one can endure such- and so we lie to ourselves because the truth is too painful to bear.

Theodore Roosevelt - also given to sharp changes in mood- said “Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough”. He found relief from his melancholy in the vigorous life. For some of us, it’s constant race against the blackness that threatens to overwhlem us.

The arc of my friend’s life haunted me as I contemplated yet another let down in my life and a familiar heaviness fell on me. My friend’s fear of the known was greater than the fear of the unknown. She took the nearest exit to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns. That took guts, I mused as I gazed out at another gray Oregon day. Conscience does make cowards of us all I thought as I poured a glass of brandy and saluted an old broad.

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