I am an adjunct member of a sober confederacy. I’ll call it “Children of Suicide.” My father is still living, which is why mine is an associate membership. But the members of this club come to me, one or two a year. I don’t know what I do to draw them except that this is something no one can ever put to rest.
My friend, Tara, shared with me today that her father had killed himself several years ago. Wendy’s father shot himself in the backyard, Kevin’s on the stairs, Gina’s father hanged himself, Mark’s dad blew himself away. (Note: I change the names of all my friends on this blog, unless I am promoting their work.) At a writing conference a woman at my table read, for the first time, her “why?” poem, written to her late father. I wanted to find her later and introduce her to Wendy, who was also at the conference. But how do you start a conversation like that? Would either of them have wanted one? (I’d have asked first.)
The first time I wrote about this in my own life, my critique group had to hold my hands so I could get through the story without falling apart. I realized that it was as if my father had killed himself, even though he ultimately didn’t pull the trigger.
I’m so grateful to have him still, but I’m wary around him. I don’t talk to him or visit him as much as I feel I should. I’ve been steeling myself against his death since I was sixteen. I share a link with the suicide club because of the shame we all feel in talking about this. No one knows what to do with it. Maybe people talk to me because I am not shocked when they tell me. I’m only sad. I want to heal all their fathers – to take the guns and the ropes away and to sit them all down together to talk about it and know that they’re not alone, they’re not the only ones who ever hit their wives or drank too much or failed in business. I want them to know that inside of them is goodness – it’s still there, if covered over in pain. I want to raise them up out of hell if that is where they are still.
But my friends, their children, have not even begun to express their rage. Instead they get sick, they fight depression, they get scared. Not all the time. These are amazing and resilient people -- every one of them a creative artist – writers, actors, painters. But how does one begin? How does one trust? How do you love the person who murdered your father?
But you do. Even hate is a kind of love. And my father? I adore him, though I neglect him. Every few months when I can’t reach him on the phone, I make the mad hour-long drive to the city, get myself into his secured apartment building and let myself into his unit, ready to find a body. He’s not directly threatened suicide for years now, but his health is failing and he’s letting it go. “Death’s not so bad,” he says. “It’s a natural process.” And if it were anyone else, I’d agree. But he’s been trying to die I was sixteen and since I was sixteen, I’ve been talking him out of it. That’s the story, anyway: that my heroic words have saved him every time. It’s why I wear a big W on my chest: WordWoman Saves the World Again.
Maybe someday I’ll talk to him about Tara and Wendy and Kevin and Gina and Mark, about the lady at the poetry table and my classmate, Fran, who found her father’s brains spattered on the walls when she was in high school. I don’t think I’d phrase it like that. Not this time. I’ve tried to shock him out of his lethargy, but shock treatments didn’t work for him in college, so I don’t know why I’d think they work now.
I’m to the point of compassion now and maybe my father has something to pass on to my friends. Maybe he knows some secret their fathers never told them. Or some secret he never told me. And there is some secret I’ve never told myself. Maybe I’ll write my way to it. Maybe my friends will teach me.