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(I am posting this some months after the death of a close friend on Feb 14th, 2010. It was written a short time after. It was not until recently that I felt ready to share and post it after a recent four month extended vacation home to Chicago to spend much needed quality time with my family. I needed to go home to learn things about myself I had forgotten.)
(For Russian Mike Tripolsky. I hope you’re be laying on a beach somewhere.)
I sit tonight caught somewhere to between numb and angry in what I guess is a state of shock. Sadly, I have been here before, too many times. Even sadder is the fact that these feelings seem to get, if not easier, simpler to cope with if I just go through the motions. That in itself scares me.
Last night I lost another friend. I say another as I have lost so, so many in my life far too many. Lost to violence, murder, drugs, suicide. Not too many years ago I sat by helplessly as a dear friend was dying of AIDS next to me. He was one of the toughest guys I ever knew in every sense of the word. I am still not past that one. Even the violent deaths were easier to handle.
My friend was suffering inside and his inability for whatever reason, to cope with his own emotions and the world around him ultimately caused his death. Sure many would say he made the decision but when you’re hurting that badly, can you really decide anything or do you just go with the moment? I don’t know I can say to this. Again? Things seemed to move too fast for ‘Russian Mike’ a name we fondly called him because of his ethnic origin. Mike was only 31 years old. He was by all accounts a good man and good friend to many. Generous in time, laughter and finance. Yet he was also very private and a bit reclusive and he had his dark place too. He knew I knew this because I have mine. That place some of us go by choice when we try to forget the world around us and sometimes end up there if when we don’t want to. He and I suffered from a similar malady, addiction to alcohol and drugs and the constant fight with loneliness even in our sobriety. Yet, unlike Mike I feel loved, he did not. I have learned, though cautiously, to trust others and with practice I get a tiny bit better at it daily. Mike could not and did not trust anyone. That is a whole other kind of loneliness. We would talk often of the demons we fought with that would have us try to live an easier, softer way, a criminal life rather than a straight, honest life. An addiction of the street if you will, that is one you acquire when you hang out in the dark corners in life doing the wrong things too long. It has a way of sucking you in. Spending too much time with bad people doing bad things is a very real addiction. He and I fought it in our lives and knew the allure of the street was all too real. It was all about what you have, not who you are. Cash in pocket and acting as if, when really your feeling apart from and falling apart all the time. We also knew how easy it was to slide backwards if not ever vigilant in our efforts to life well and decent and sober.
Russian Mike did not know how to cope with what went on in his head or maybe he did but just didn’t want to anymore. We spent a brutal few weeks arguing and going through suicidal discussions over the phone, in person and via social networking sights. After some time I believed he was past it and I think, for a moment, he believed it as well. Still, I knew if he did by some chance do it there was really nothing I could do to stop it. I set myself up for that possibility. That does not keep the pain and self doubt away now. I question what I said and how I said it. Did I not say enough or possibly too much? I will be the first one to admit I can often be too blunt or to often just say it as it is. I question why it was he and not I and why I again was spared that final decision. Because if truth be known, I have been in that dark place. I was there once and once is enough. But I turned the corner and fought through it after having made the decision to confront the darkness and accepting that I would either make it through it or … I would not. Somehow I did. That was several years ago and I was a different person stuck in a dark room literally speaking and a dark corner in my mind, literally speaking. No, there was nothing figurative about it, it was all very real. So I know the place Russian Mike was living in his head and heart and soul.
He had stepped too far into that dark realm where one finds himself at that crucial moment of a feeling of finality that threatens to becomes reality. A place where an overwhelming loneliness and sadness crashes into ones own self loathing and anger in a solitary moment of ultimate darkness. Factor in that you have the available means and tools to commit the ultimate act of selfish self violence staring you in the face. It’s only a moment and it only takes a moment to be there. Mike was there. He did it. He did not choose a silent method, he went out in anger. He died like he lived, all of a sudden. Nothing could stop him. His last Facebook post was Feb 14th, ’10 at 7:02 pm. ll he wrote was “bye bye to all.” Had I been there I probably would have unwittingly and unwillingly gone with him as a mutual friend said a short time later.
I never found that place, thank God. The sun came up just before I did. Those elements never came together at that darkest of dark moments. The thing I had going for me at that moment was my God as I know Him and the belief that I had already been through too much and put others I love through too much to go out that way. I had to believe I was tougher and better than that or maybe God just had plans for me I was unaware of. Those elements did not converge on me at that one moment of darkness all together. I believe what saved me was that my moment was a silent one, not a noisy one like Mikes. Just a moment.
Once I received the call I had to call some mutual friends scattered from west coast to the east coast. The first call was to a buddy here in LA who grew up with Russian Mike only to find out he was once again back on the dope and fresh out of detox after a long run. He was in his own dark place and had no empathy or sympathy to spare. The second was a mutual friend on the Maine coast living in the middle of nowhere just off the Atlantic Ocean. I needed to reach out to him in order to reach the mutual friend whom I had met Russian Mike through several years prior. He was in New York City where Russian Mike was from as well they grew up together. From my Maine friend I learned that our mutual friend in NYC himself was currently trying to drink himself to death and ready to cash it in. It was then my friend in Maine informed me that he too himself after almost four years of sobriety had also been shooting dope for the past three days. The irony that Russian Mike was sober when he decided to and finally did commit the act of suicide was not at all lost on me. Nor was the fact that Valentines Day was the day he felt most lost and unloved in that moment.
After a period of sitting in shock, it became intensely clear that I had to act quickly to save myself from the same fate. See, I have come to know that it is my thinking that will kill me and I decided some years ago to live. Live and enjoy life and contribute the best I can to it. To contribute to others as as well as I can. I have too much to do and I wasted too much time doing the wrong things or nothing at all. I want to live!
Being the private person and something of a recluse that I can be I went totally against the grain and reached out at that moment in a flurry of phone calls to friends who know me and who share my disease or variations of it. Because I knew if I did not do it immediately I would let my head play games with me and wake up in a really really bad place. To be in my head can at times be like being in a really bad neighborhood. I do not belong there. I fit in too well and know that. I like being there too much therefore I should never be. So I picked up the phone and talked about what happened and what I was feeling and I am certain saved my own life. I cashed in on those ‘insurance payments’ of sorts I have been making on my future. The insurance of sanity. My friends who care talked me to where I needed to be to get through it all. It all comes down to wanting to live again.
For me it’s not about dying, that doesn’t really scare me anymore. Not living while i am here is what scares me. I want to live everyday like there is no tomorrow.