This post is dedicated to a smart, sensitive, funny, unassuming Slovak girl who has gone through some brutal experiences lately.
I wasn’t planning to write this, but I think it could do her a bit of good. There is something healing in the simple act of sharing.
I have written about this before, but perhaps not with this much detail.
It happened ten years ago.
I was in a rotten mood, because I hated, truly HATED, my job.
I remember calling my mum from work to tell her how much I hated my job.
I don’t recall what she said to it but she was supportive.
What I didn’t realize was that my mum already knew that my dad was upstairs. Dead. A suicide. I still think society killed him in the end, but for practical purposes, let’s call it by its technical term, a suicide.
On the way home from work my then girlfriennd, Maryam, a physician with Iranian roots but speaking Dutch with a clear Ghent accent, informed me that we had to go to my home town. That something had happened. But she couldn’t tell me what.
I called my mum.
I was at the train station of Ghent.
I pushed her to tell me.
She said my father was dead.
He did it himself.
My first reaction was to see if I could jump under a train. But of course a train station is the worst spot to jump under a train. They’re too slow. They can brake. You just risk losing your face from the steel cleaning brushes under the locomotive, or an arm or a leg.
I got in the first train back to my home town.
When I arrived home my father’s body was still upstairs.
I was not allowed to see him.
The paramedics treated it like a potential murder case.
I and all other visitors had to leave the house or we would be treated as suspects.
My mum stayed behind. She was interrogated by the police. It quickly became obvious that she had nothing to do with it. She had been at work when he did it.
Much later she admitted to me that she knew he was going to do it when she left for work, but that he couldn’t be stopped. The only thing she could have done was to have him committed to a mental institution and she didn’t want to do that to him. He didn’t want to be dependent on anyone. And she couldn’t follow him around 24/7 to stop him from doing it.
I am sure that this trip to work was the hardest thing my mum has ever had to experience. Leaving the house knowing that by the time she would be back my father would not be alive anymore.
They had sex before she left. It was the last thing they did. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me how my father and mother managed to him such a good relationship. On paper they couldn’t have been any more different. You could say my father was an intellectual and you could say that my mum is pretty much the complete opposite of an intellectual. But somehow they gelled. I suppose it’s true that the basis of a relationship is really ‘just’ sex. As long as that works, the relationship works.
There was no goodbye. My dad didn’t call me. He didn’t let me know anything. I wasn’t informed of his decision.
I felt massive guilt. The whole thing hit me far, far harder than I ever thought it would.
And I should have expected it, but I didn’t see it coming. He had written about suicide. He talked about suicide. His father had committed suicide. He had expressed admiration for people killing themselves. He was fascinated by suicides in history and movies, etc. It shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. And when I was a small child and my father left for a drive, which he would do when he felt particularly bad, my mum often said she was afraid he would go and crash into a tree on purpose.
My earliest memories are of watching movies where people committed suicide. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of a woman who kills herself while she is being raped by the murderer of her lover.
The first nightmare I remember is of me stabbing my father at the kitchen table. I was shocked to the core that I could dream something like that.
Growing up I had always been afraid of my father. Looking back this seems absurd to me, because he was a very sweet man. He just looked scary to me. He almost always wore a leather jacket. Even inside the house. He was tall and very muscled and he looked angry, and when he was in a good mood he could look as funny as Robin Williams. I suppose he was bipolar.
I also didn’t feel good enough. I didn’t feel worthy of being hugged by him. I certainly didn’t feel worthy of his attention. And even though I tried hard to be show interested in whatever he was interested in, it took me till I was 19 before I started sharing what I was interested in.
All through highschool, EVERY DAY, after school he would ask me: ‘So what did you do in school?’
I would always say: ‘nothing.’.
I don’t remember ever answering anything else to this question. I don’t know where he found the patience to keep asking this question.
I was a depressed teenager.
I thought about suicide every single day.
I would look for spots in the house where I could hang myself with an electric chord. Under the staircase for example. Somehow I always changed my mind at the last moment. The closest I got was one day before a mathematics exam. I stepped down from the chair, thinking: either fucking do this or study like hell for that exam. The teacher didn’t understand how I could have failed mathematics the whole year and then do so well on the exam. Imagine if I would have told him. We are so mute and inauthentic in our culture.
When I went off to college our relationship got better. Am not sure why. Did he respect me more because I was now a college student who managed to live alone in a room in a city? Did I finally change?
We did do things together when I was a child.
- For years we went to flea markets together, almost every Sunday.
- He never made a problem of driving me somewhere.
- He always had money for me
- I would save the whole year to buy him something big on his birthday. Other fathers on our block complained they never got anything good for their birthday.
- I would sit through documentaries and concerts and movies that he liked to keep him company. I remember being bored only once: a very long Elvis concert I only watched to make him happy.
- I listened to him as he spewed his hatred and resentment for his job and bosses and certain politicians.
- I listened to his funny, enthusiastic monologues about certain celebrities he admired. Not realizing that I was soaking up the belief that I had to be more like those crazy celebrities with their sex, drugs and rock and roll life style. My dad had something with people who were deeply humane but also crazy and super talented, and I have always felt a burning, searing desire in my stomach to be like that. Am not, so it’s taken me until 2018 to sort of make peace with how simple my life is compared to the lives my father admired.
- We would pick beans together. He never asked me for help. My father always expected me to do things out of my own initiative. And when I didn’t he would complain to my mum about it, who would tell me about it. Until I was 19 very little was said between us.
- I did pretty much anything to please him. Until I got incredibly depressed and became really something of a weirdo between the ages of 15 and 19, for reasons I won’t go into here.
- we listened to thousands of vinyl records together
What I felt especially stupid and guilty about after his death was an episode half a year before.
My mum was on a trip to Croatia. My father was home alone. I decided to stay in Ghent. I understand why I did that. I really enjoyed talking to my father by that point. I don’t remember why I chose to stay in Ghent and not visit even once the whole time my mum was gone.
Much later I found out that my father had cooked my favorite food, and had tried to call me to tell me to come over. My father never owned a mobile phone. He didn’t know my number. He tried to get it from my grandmother, but he got the wrong one. So he didn’t contact me. The idea that he cooked my favorite food and wanted me to come over, but couldn’t contact me makes me deeply sad to this day. I don’t remember having any serious reason to stay in Ghent that week. Maybe it involved dates with some women, I don’t remember. I should have gone home at least for two days or so. The opportunity will never come back. And by the way, nobody expect my father could cook my favorite food that way.
I regret being negative about many things in the months leading up to his death. I regret being very egocentric in those days. I regret being pretty much clueless about psychology in those days. Knowing what I know now I think I could have handled things differently, maybe have prevented it.
I often dream that my father is miraculously still alive.
Waking up after a dream like that is still nightmarish.
The worst nightmare is the nightmare that only starts when you wake up.
I don’t know if the girl am writing this for will have dreams like that. I know she will rack her brain to think of scenarios in which he could have survived.
So much would have had to gone differently to save my father that it becomes pretty much impossible.
What makes the whole thing extra painful is that after he died lots of things happened that I know he would have thoroughly enjoyed.
Based on what I was told by the girl this post is dedicated to I think the young guy who took his own life, could also have changed his mind, given the right support. It could have been prevented. In his case he got some direct encouragement to go ahead with it, advice that came from a very dark place, from a person equally depressed. The blind leading the blind. That adds an extra layer of anger and frustration to what the girl is going through.
I don’t feel like rereading this post, cause it’s too painful. So if you spot typos in this post, well, I’m not going to care.
Maybe we would all be better off if we didn’t try to be perfect the whole fucking time and have everything be perfect. Maybe if we could be more accepting of imperfection, share more about those imperfection and dashed hopes and desired, we wouldn’t see people going for the ultimate perfection: vanishing completely. Cause nothing will assure not ever making a mistake or never being imperfect anymore than simply not existsing any more.
Go forth and be gloriously imperfect, like this crappily designed website you are currently readin this typo riddled post on.
But what you read here comes from the heart.
The opposite to addiction is connection says Johann Hari.
The opposite to depression is expression.