Suicide: The End, and the Beginning

I think a lot of people who say they don’t think about suicide, think about suicide.

I’m not saying they think about committing suicide, but the idea, the notion, the concept, is pervasive in our culture, and frankly, our DNA. It’s there, bubbling underneath the surface. As I write in the opening lines of my book, “No Alternative”:

Suicide is a universally human phenomenon. It’s what separates us from the animals, despite the fact that people shun it and cloak it in taboo. Animals do not commit suicide, at least that’s the common wisdom. It is this received wisdom that reveals something about our attitudes on the subject, as suicide is most always painted in the light of shame and pity, something we reserve for lesser beings than ourselves. In actuality, suicide is a refined and selfless act, usually a result of many thoughtful hours, days, months, or years of meticulous and steadfast preparation. Suicide is not thoughtless; it’s precisely the opposite.

Perhaps I think about suicide more than others—I wrote an entire novel on the theme, in an attempt to prevent others from succumbing to self-harm. My idol killed himself when I was 15 years old. His death was the reason I picked up a guitar, because I wanted to learn all of his songs, perhaps in an attempt to somehow keep his spirit alive. His suicide not only united many alienated teens in 1994, but it also led tragically to a number of copycat suicides. In retrospect, every song on his band’s album, “In Utero,” reads like a suicide note. We didn’t realize it before—we rarely do realize it before—it’s only after one commits suicide that everything that came before, that led up to it, seems so patently obvious.

KC-Hell

While my parents and I believe the overdose that led to my sister’s death was accidental in nature, she had attempted suicide several times in the past. Two of those times were, seemingly, in direct response to me.

I live in Los Angeles, California, though my family still resides in Yonkers, New York—as did my sister while she was alive. One of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder is a constant need, and consequent demand, for attention. Pay attention to me! in its most severe incarnation. If the sufferer of BPD perceives a lack of attention, it often leads to a concentrated feeling of abandonment, which can then metastasize into rage and recklessness, or worse, self-hate and self-harm. I only get to visit New York about twice a year; so understandably, my parents spend a lot of time with me while I’m there. Two of those times, in attempts to redirect their attention back to her, my sister tried to kill herself.

When she did try to kill herself, she always managed to do a pretty good job. She put herself into a coma on more than one occasion. I was by her side one of those times. When she awoke, the drugs having been eliminated from her system, I asked her, “Why are you doing this?” In one of her most sober of moments, she looked up at me and said: “I don’t want to live anymore.”

Suicide is the thing; the goal; the beginning and the end; the next big thing; the be all, end all; the eye in the sky – it’s the Tylenol bottle with the 20 bonus pills, because swallowing an entire bottle of Tylenol can kill you.

Suicide is an option; it’s an alternative; it’s aqua seafoam shame; it’s dead of a shotgun blast to the head.

Suicide is the lyric of a song; packaged inside a gold record.
Spinning.
Spinning.
Spinning.
Spin the black circle.

While I might be able to rationalize that my sister is in a better place—that she is finally free from the terrible yoke of mental illness and addiction around her neck—it is still impossible to accept. I alluded to this in a letter I wrote to her while she was in one of her comas, and within inches of her death, a letter that I also included in my novel. Here is an excerpt:

Dear Briana,

The moment I’m writing this, you’re unconscious in the hospital, a stomach full of charcoal, and you’re on a ventilator because you cannot breathe. They say you might not make it. I don’t know what I’d do if you don’t, because I can’t bear to think about living in this world without you in it.

You’re my little sister, and big brothers are supposed to protect their little sisters. And I’m weeping right now because of how incredibly helpless I feel—I’m right next to you, but still a thousand miles away. It tears me apart to think that I somehow failed you as a brother. Out of anyone else on this planet, you’re the person that most resembles me; genetically, we have the same make-up. By killing yourself, you would be, literally, killing a part of me. For you to leave this Earth is an abstraction my mind simply cannot accept.

Right now, I’m hoping for one thing, that you will be able to read this letter. I can’t bear the thought that you might not be able to—that you might not make it. That can’t happen. I love you so much, Bri, more than anything, much more than myself. I might not have ever said those words, but I’m writing them right now.

If you need a reason to live, and all you need is one, here it is: I want you to live.

I’ll be with you forever, whether you know it or not.

Love,
William

BrianaAndWilliam-NoFilter-Web

One thing that I am grateful for is that my sister did awaken from that coma, and she did get to read that letter. In fact, she apparently read it often at times when feeling the siren call of suicide reach out to her.

It did give me some consolation, in my grieving—a grieving that will continue until I, myself, am in the ground—to know that Briana read how much I loved her. There are many people who, for one reason or another, never get to convey their personal feelings to those who they love most. Then it’s often too late. At least it wasn’t too late for me. Not that time.

However, regret looms, and it looms large and it looms heavy.

Regret is a theme that weaves its way into all of my work, and that’s because it’s a theme that weaves its way through my life. I would often avoid communicating with my sister—when she called, I wouldn’t answer; when she texted or messaged me, my responses would be terse and included the phrase, “I’m really busy.” My dime store psychoanalysis of my behavior might be that I wanted to keep my interactions with her brief and dispassionate, for fear of saying the wrong thing and potentially setting her off, something siblings are experts at doing.

What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and pick up that phone, or write an overly verbose and emotional response, but I can’t go back in time. I ignored my sister; I ignored her while pursuing my often quixotic attempts of getting my movies made out here in Hollywood. Putting my work ahead of my family is something that concerns me greatly; it concerns me, because I’m sure I’m guilty of it. If I regret anything, I want to use that regret for the good. I don’t want to ignore it, I want to reroute its impact on me. The truth is the regrets will never go away. I can use it in my writing, and my filmmaking—that I can do. Does this make me feel better? I think in a lot of ways it does; even though I know it won’t erase them. It exposes me to the pain of these regrets; it forces me to relive them, since ignoring things doesn’t make those things go away. Those things must be dealt with.

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I honestly don’t know if my grief is changing. And I shouldn’t use the word honestly because that implies that other things I’ve written aren’t honest. I’m trying to be honest. Somehow, though, this inevitably leads to me beating up on myself. It’s easy to blame, and feels good to blame, because it makes things black and white, and it’s easiest to blame myself. Because I’m still here, I can hold myself accountable—there’s no need to issue a warrant for my arrest, I can lock myself up whenever I see fit.

My sister is gone, and in many ways I grieved for her before she died. I was told on two occasions that she wouldn’t make it through the comas she put herself in, when she tried to take her own life. I was told to be prepared for the worst. I grieved then, even though she ended up surviving; I also knew that as each day passed, there was a distinct possibility that she would not be there. Every call I received from my parents, just seeing their names on my phone, filled me with dread. Were they calling to tell me something had happened to Briana? This was always the first thought in my mind.

When my parents call now, that thought is no longer there. While that knee-jerk dread is gone, I wish it were still there, because that would mean that Briana was still there.

Perhaps this film is my way of giving her the attention I should have given her before; the attention she deserved as my sister. Perhaps it will do some good for those thinking about committing suicide, to see how suicide affects a family in this story. That is certainly my hope. Perhaps this will help alleviate some of the regret that weighs me down, that shames me on almost a daily basis.

One thing goes without question: I will regret not making this film. There is “No Alternative” but to make it.

And I need your help to make this film a reality: http://bit.ly/1qmwc1A

Top Ten 90’s Misfires

10. LASERDISCS

While an earnest attempt to satiate cinephiles’ appetite for a higher quality home viewing experience of their favorite movies, the laserdisc was a clunky, impractical product. They weighed into the pounds, were very noisy to operate (due to the weight and speed it had to be spun) and not all the analog information could be stored on one side, necessitating the flipping of the disc every 30-60 minutes, and in some cases, the removal of the disc and loading of an additional disc for movies that were especially long.

10.Laserdisc

I admit to having a laserdisc player back in the day, and still sing its praises when it comes to “Star Wars”: it still remains the only medium in which a high quality version of the STAR WARS TRILOGY was released in its original state, before it was permanently altered by George Lucas. Yes, I still have the trilogy on laserdisc…and I continue to treasure it today.

9. BEEPERS

Also known as a “pager,” this simple communications device allowed someone to call it and leave a return phone number on its digital display.

9.Beeper

Teenagers in the 90’s seemed to want to have one, and actually thought it was cool to wear—backwards, with beeper inside the pocket and clip displayed proudly on the outside of the pocket. This didn’t last long, not only because the beeper was soon to be overshadowed by the cellular phone, but also because everyone realized that there was no good reason to have one of these damned things unless you were a doctor, drug dealer or a teenager who enjoyed having their parents beep them every half-an-hour.

8. THE LEXICON OF GRUNGE

In November 1992, The New York Times ran an article that cracked the code of “grunge speak.” The newspaper listed a number of slang terms that they claimed to be uniquely associated with the Seattle grunge scene.

8.LexiconOfGrunge

Turns out, the list was a hoax, a practical joke pulled on the esteemed newspaper by Megan Jasper, a receptionist for Caroline Records. By not adequately scrutinizing the article before running it, The New York Times proved itself the cob-nobbler [loser] in this particular instance.

7. “WATERWORLD”

This movie starring Kevin Costner was the most expensive film ever made at the time. It was released in 1995 to terrible reviews and is still considered one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time. Dennis Hopper also won the Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor.

7.Waterworld

Having said all that, I don’t think WATERWORLD is as bad as everyone thinks it is. It’s a cool concept and visually enthralling. And, come on, a Razzie for Dennis Hopper? For playing Deacon, the leader of the “Smokers,” a ragtag group of post-apocalyptic outlaws who ride haphazardly around on spiked jet skis and armored boats? Did I mention Deacon is a futuristic pirate who has one eye? A pirate who chain-smokes; notwithstanding the conceit that the world in which the movie takes place has been covered in water for generations and the last tobacco plant to have grown anywhere is not even within the scope of anyone’s memory. A Razzie for an actor forced to smoke such old, stale cigarettes? This is more like an Oscar-snub.

6. CRYSTAL PEPSI

Crystal Pepsi was marketed on the shelves as a “clear alternative” to normal colas, insufficiently equating clearness with purity and health.

6.Crystal-pepsi

Its slogan was: “You’ve never seen a taste like this.” While it was interesting to look at, no doubt, the fact remained: sodas are meant to be swallowed. And this soda, in addition to being caffeine-free and not at all resembling the flavor of a cola, tasted…bad.

5. THE “RACHEL” HAIRCUT

The “Rachel” haircut is a short, choppy, layered ‘do, square-like around the face, which was made famous by Jennifer Aniston in season one of the hit television show FRIENDS and named after her character, Rachel Green.

5.Rachel-friends

Despite her association with the cut, Aniston disliked the hairstyle:

“Have there been disasters? I think that’s a very relative term with hair. Let’s say there have been moments I’d rather not relive, like that whole Rachel thing. I love Chris [McMillan, her hairstylist], and he’s the bane of my existence at the same time because he started that damn Rachel, which was not my best look. How do I say this? I think it was the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen. What I really want to know is, how did that thing have legs? Let’s just say I’m not a fan of short, layered cuts on me personally, so I don’t love revisiting that particular era.”

4. CANDLEBOX

Okay, maybe there were worse crimes perpetrated against music in the 90’s by the likes of Vanilla Ice, Billy Ray Cyrus, The Crash Test Dummies, Snow, and Los Del Rio and their godforsaken “Macarena,” but the trouble with Candlebox was that they were often directly associated with the grunge movement—at least that’s what major radio stations had you believe at the time, due to their relentless playing and replaying of “Far Behind” at the top of every hour and between much better songs from bands like Alice In Chains, Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

4.Candlebox

The other above-referenced songs were at least excluded from what was labeled “alternative;” it’s the distinction that Candlebox was included among that which was deemed “alternative,” when in actuality their music didn’t really aspire to be anything greater than the perfect music for an elevator or radio in a dentist’s office, that qualifies them as a “misfire.”

“Now maybe/

I didn’t mean to treat you oh so bad/

But I did it anyway”

Yes, you did, Candlebox…yes, you did.

3. DIAL-UP INTERNET

We all remember the days of dial-up internet, and those are days we would surely like to forget.

3.Dial-up-Internet

Dial-up connections require nothing more than a computer, a telephone network and an honorable amount of patience (it could take up to an hour or more to download a few megabytes). These days, dial-up is virtually obsolete; especially considering that most of the things we do online now—stream videos, skype, game, file share, download music—are impossible to do with such a slow, and archaic, connection to the net. That didn’t prevent people from trying, just as long as you didn’t use up all of your 1000 free hours you got on CD.

For many, AOL is synonymous with dial-up, and the mere mention of the acronym still frustrates a lot of people and brings back memories of the piercing static sounds one had to sit through while waiting for a connection and praying for the words, “You’ve Got Mail.”

2. “NOT!”

Not: for the purpose of this list, a word made popular in the early 90’s by the movie “Wayne’s World.” A user adds “not” to the end of a sentence to overtly highlight the sarcasm in the sentence itself.

Example: “What a totally amazing, excellent discovery… NOT!!!” -Wayne Campbell

2.Not

There’s a reason why no one uses this word in this way anymore, and I’m positive most of us would like to keep it that way.

1. Y2K

The Year 2000 problem (aka the Y2K problem, the Millennium bug, the Y2K bug, or just Y2K) was a problem for both computer and non-computer documentation and data storage that resulted from abbreviating a four-digit year to two digits.

1.Y2K

Concern swept the world—the apocalypse was about to arrive, and it was going to be caused by the inability of computer systems to process that changeover in dates from the year 1999 to the year 2000. Without corrective action, long-working systems were suspected to break down when the pattern of ascending numbers […97, 98, 99, 00…] suddenly became invalid. And this catastrophe would, of course, lead to the end of the world as we knew it: infrastructure dependent on computer data and management, like subways, phone service, and financial transactions, would implode.

John Hamre, the United States Secretary of Defense under President Clinton, was quoted as saying: “The Y2K problem is the electronic equivalent of the El Nino and there will be nasty surprises around the globe.”

Needless to say, we survived.

For a whole lot more on the nineties, check out my new film “No Alternative”: http://igg.me/at/noalternative

 

William Dickerson is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache