The Breakfast of ChampionsBy Joe Daly
February 11, 2011
“What the fuck happened to your hand?” I asked.
“Yeah… I hear ya.”
In the spring of 1988, I was a sophomore at a small Catholic liberal arts college outside of Boston. Although I majored in Classics, my attentions were overwhelmingly devoted to rugby. I craved the social dimensions of the rugby lifestyle as much as the bone-crushing action of daily practice and weekend matches. And while our club were admittedly the poster boys for hooliganism (a decidedly un-Catholic brand of leisure), we nonetheless took our sport very seriously. We played fall and spring seasons, practicing nearly every day of the week and playing matches every weekend.
As one of the better teams in the Northeast, we competed against some of the best colleges in the country. This meant that while the rest of the school were filling up pubs and parties on Friday evenings, we were all laying low, saving our bodies for the games the next day and our livers for the post-game drink up with the other team.
My priorities were out of whack, I dedicated my time to battering my body from all sides, and I missed out on many traditional college experiences for the sake of my team. But man, I loved those years.
On your average American college campus, Saturday mornings are left to scholars and athletes. The former are jockeying for the prime study spots in the school library (wherever that is), and the latter are putting their pre-game mixes together, their game faces on, and if their nerves allow for it, addressing the most important meal of the day.
It was on a Saturday morning that spring that I bumped into Jim in front of the school cafeteria. Jim wore the school’s baseball uniform, with a shiny purple pitcher’s jacket fending off the spring chill. I wore purple and grey rugby sweats over my uniform, my gear bag slung over my shoulder. We nodded and trudged up the stairs together, two soldiers preparing for battle.
Jim and I had known each other for years, growing up in the same part of the city and attending the same classes in high school. He wasn’t one of my closest friends, but we hung out occasionally, always having great chats about baseball and music. Inevitably, the discussion would always land on The Cult and their 1985 classic album Love. I was a big Cult fan too, but nowhere nearly as intense as he was.
One day in high school, Jim plopped down next to me on the school bus. He looked concerned.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I heard something kind of fucked up.”
“Ian? Ian Astbury?”
“Yeah, what about him?”
“I heard he might be gay.”
“Really? No shit?’
“You know what? I don’t care. He fucking rules.”
This was significant to me, because we went to an all boy’s Catholic high school, where jocks were placed on pedestals and phrases like “fag” and “gay” were recklessly and spitefully used to demean anything perceived to be different or, God forbid, weak. It would have been socially risky to embrace an openly gay artist in that environment at that time.
But Jim didn’t care. He knew who he was and he knew what he liked, and if his favorite vocalist turned out to be gay (which Ian Astbury is not), so be it. Jim loved the music and that’s all that mattered.
Jim was bad ass.
As we met on the cafeteria steps that spring morning, I saw that Jim’s hand was freshly bandaged.
For the second time in as many weeks, Jim’s frustration with our professional baseball franchise had taken on a physical manifestation, with Jim pitting his pitching arm against an inanimate object. Predictably, the conflict was brief, painful, and humbling.
I had witnessed the first incident about a week before, when I dropped by to see if he was up for a party. I heard The Cult’s “(Here Comes the) Rain,” halfway down the hallway and found him standing next to his stereo, breathing heavily and seething. The floor was covered with a gaggle of items that clearly belonged on his dresser, but which had recently been swept to the floor.
“Sox lose again?”
“Hey. You up for heading off campus?”
I left him to search for acceptance.
On this recent occasion, as we picked up trays and entered the kitchen (Jim holding his tray in his good hand), Jim explained that on the evening before, it was a window pane that received the brunt of his ire. It had been 70 years since Boston had won the World Series and it appeared that 1988 was not going to be the season to end the drought.
As we sat across each other in the cafeteria, Jim’s primary concern was how he would explain the consequences of his choice to his coach.
Jim was expected to pitch that day.
I don’t recall if I was playing at home or away that day. In fact, I don’t remember who we played or whether we won or lost. I just remember sitting across from Jim and shaking my head as I commiserated with his predicament.
A few days later, they found Jim’s body.
He had taken his own life in our dormitory.
Having just seen Jim only a few days before, seemingly fine, apart from his concerns with the Red Sox, I was at a loss for explaining what had happened.
I entered the Kübler-Ross grief cycle when my roommate found me in the library.
“Joe…” he began breathlessly.
“It’s Jim… He’s dead. They found him in the dorm…”
The kind of shock that blocks out all sound and sends the room spinning.
“No fucking way,” I protested.
“Yeah man, I just heard. It’s him. Some of the guys are in [another friend’s] room now if you want more info.”
The other friend was one of our buddies from high school. There were fifteen of us who went on to this small college, and we were all relatively close.
On the way over to my friend’s room, I skipped the bargaining stage and dabbled in anger.
“That selfish prick,” I thought, “what a gutless way to check out. Why didn’t he come talk to any of us?” I wondered.
Anger soon subsided and depression hit me like a rogue wave when I entered my buddy’s dorm room and walked into a circle of tear-stained faces. There was no testing stage at that point- just acceptance.
Jim was not the first suicide in college.
One year before, another guy from our high school, who was one year ahead of us, took his life while visiting his family for the weekend.
Mick was a year ahead of us in high school. Captain of the football team and coming from a long line of jocks, he was cocky, popular, and most beloved by the coaching staff and faculty.
Mick went on to the same college I eventually did, settling in as a smaller fish in a quite larger, co-ed pond. By the time my friends and I arrived on campus, Mick had toned down his swagger. He seemed more subdued and approachable. Certainly not morose. It felt more like he was simply feeling more comfortable in his own skin.
News of his suicide rocked my friends and me. Here was a kid who seemingly had it all- looks, popularity, grades- nothing but pure potential ahead of him. There were no signs- just the final sign off.
Mick’s funeral was packed. My friends and I sat in the back of the church, all breaking down as Mick’s older brother himself lost it, telling his brother’s coffin how much he had always enjoyed tossing around the football before Thanksgiving dinner.
It was an awakening- an unwanted and unforgettable lesson that you never know what someone is enduring at any given moment.
I was told that Jim left notes, though the contents were never fully revealed to me.
I know one was to his family, and another to his girlfriend, whom Jim had dated for some time and who was a classmate of ours. Most unsettling however, was the note that he left for Mick.
None of us could get our arms around that. To our knowledge, Jim had not been all that friendly with Mick. Certainly no more or less than any of us. Not to mention that Mick had been dead for nearly a year by the time Jim took his own life.
This detail unnerved me. It pushed farther away the possibility of understanding Jim’s mindset in those final days.
News of this note caused me to consider the possibility that Jim might have been mentally ill, which was not at all easy for me to stomach. Even to this day, the possibility sits like an unwelcome visitor in my mind. Yet one who has a right to be there.
I had always assumed that people who took their own lives were selfish and narcissistic, yet somehow clear minded and therefore responsible for their actions. Conveniently, this also made them responsible for my feelings.
As more sketchy revelations emerged, we all realized that we would never understand what had happened. Acceptance of this uncertainty was our closure.
On the afternoon of Jim’s death, I sat in the window of my first story dorm room, staring out at the plush green hill across from the building, doing my best to process what few feelings I could identify.
Then I saw a ghost.
From around the corner of the dorm came a kid with curly blond hair and the red baseball jacket of our high school. Same eyes, same nose- it was Jim.
It was either a bad dream or a horrible joke.
I looked closer as he walked up to me- it was Jim’s younger brother, still in high school. He was an eerie clone of his brother. Despair held his head down like a yoke. I wanted badly to leap out of the window and run over and hug him. Instead I sat there.
“Hey… I don’t know what to say… I’m so sorry about your brother…”
“Do you know why he did it?”
He was somewhere between depression and testing.
“I don’t. I have no idea. I’m sorry.”
He looked down at the ground and continued to walk, as if the answers to his questions had a physical location.
I swung my legs back into my room, put on Love and let the tears rain down my face.
I have many regrets from my college years. I should have been a Modern Languages major instead of Classics. I should have drank less and studied more. I should have visited home more on the weekends.
But one of my biggest regrets is that I don’t remember my final moments with Jim more clearly.
I don’t pretend to think there was anything I could have or should have noticed that morning- something that I might have used to prevent Jim’s death. It was clear, even at the time, that Jim’s fatal impulses were well-kept secrets held only by him. Jim had a plan and he wasn’t going to let anyone try to talk him out of it.
I just wish I recalled more about that breakfast. I wish I could remember more vividly remember Jim talking about his hand. What inning it was when the game went south. Which player’s mistake had been so costly. Who they were even playing.
I wish I could remember what we talked about, period. I just remember sitting across from him in the middle of an empty school cafeteria, looking at his hand. That’s it.
Yet at times I wonder if that final meeting was actually perfect. Two friends sitting across from each other in a near-empty dining hall early on an overcast spring morning, each in our purple and gray uniforms- two soldiers in the same army, heading off to different battles. A private moment that was exquisite because it was so ordinary.
Two buddies having breakfast.
The most important meal of the day.
Heartbreaking and beautifully written.
I have never had a friend kill himself,
so I cannot begin to understand the weight that is laying on your back.
But you wrote it so well.
You brought it all to share with us.
For that, I am grateful.
Perhaps I can learn something useful, should I ever find myself in such a box.
Such an escape-proof box,
having nothing but questions.
Thanks, Irene. It was so long ago, but it’s nice to be able to hold onto some good memories.
And it’s nice to have that connection between him and the music that we both enjoyed. The older I get, the more that I realize that the most unsatisfying resolution to a suicide would be if there were no questions.
As always, thanks for the read and the comments.
Rather than waiting until the end I’m just going to ask now:
Like, proper British rugby?
Indeed. My Irish cousins turned me onto it back when I was younger and as soon as I had the opportunity to play, I seized it. Played four years in college, then one season in Boston and one season for the Chicago Griffins before hanging it up. Three concussions, no pay, and a lifetime of liver damage was about all I could take.
You ever play?
I like to think of Rugby as American Football who hate their faces, the idea of protective clothing, and rules.
The 6 Nations just started last weekend. I’m more of a spectator than a player when it comes to rugby, and then it’s only international level.
I played a bit in school, but I was quite a short and feeble kid. In fact there were about 8 of us who really didn’t want to play full contact against kids who were almost a foot and a half taller than us and practically adult in size. We just had our pathetic games of tag rugby away from the ‘big boys.’
I’m probably still too feeble now. I’m ridiculously bad at most sports, which I consider a great injustice. Soccer and cricket are the only areas where I have any skill…
When I was deep into rugby, I found that I enjoyed American football so much less- the time between plays grew extraordinarily tough to endure. Of course, I decried the padding they wore, although I always understood that the American football players had honed their bodies so well that the padding became weapons, if anything.
I was back in Ireland last month and caught a couple Munster games on TV. I was blown away by how far the game has come since I played. The players are bigger, more muscular, faster, and some of the rules different. Seems to be just as exciting tho.
At least you can play soccer. When I’ve ever tried my hand at that, the results have been embarrassing. Ironically, I follow soccer pretty religiously now, but hardly watch rugby at all.
It annoys me when rugby fans have a go at American football players for wearing so much padding. Rugby players themselves tend to enjoy NFL. What most rugby fans fail to realize is that american football has players designed to be little more than a 6′ by 3′ slab of meat with no other purpose than crushing the opposition. The pads were meant to protect players, but ended up with everyone realizing they could smash each other five times harder without causing injury to anyone. And of course rugby has rules about tackling (has to be below the waist). American Football is cool with pretty much anything as long as it isn’t a facemask.
I’m rapidly losing interest in the EPL. It fills me with hate at the moment. The rich clubs are getting richer and leaving the rest of the league behind. Man City may well win the league just by having been rich enough to outbid every other team in the league for players, and offer ten times as much in wages. This annoys me, because when I started following Spurs about a decade and a half ago Spurs were shite and gradually I’ve seen them become a top side, but they just don’t have the money to make the necessary jump.
I don’t know how long you’ve been following soccer. It is technically better now, but it’s lost it’s Englishness. Most of the stadiums are identical super-stadia, and the half-decent and not so decent homegrown players miss out to cheap foreign imports. Also it’s much more full of hate than it ever used to be. There used to be rivalries, but now everyone seems to hate everyone else. And the players themselves to be increasingly annoying, egotistical wankers.
I prefer the lower leagues these days. It’s much more enjoyable to watch.
Not that I don’t still follow the EPL. It’s like a terminal disease I’ve had for 13 years.
The funny thing is that when American football began, it was a deadly sport. Literally. Teddy Roosevelt, a massive football fan himself, had the game outlawed until certain changes could be implemented to make the game safer. In one year alone, over 30 guys died playing football. So it’s somewhat ironic that the current version, with pads, steroids, and weight rooms, is arguably safer than it once was.
However, you need look no further than the annual NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony to see the toll the sport takes on their bodies. Fiftysomething men need assistance walking up a small flight of stairs. It’s long been established that the average life span of an NFL player is approximately 55, and arguably lower: http://www.nowpublic.com/sports/average-lifespan-football-player-52.
Would be interesting to see the respective studies on soccer and rugby. I’d wager both dwarf the NFL average.
You’re right about the EPL being made up of international pretty boys who seem to care more about their faux hawks than giving 100% to their teammates. Big money makes sports exciting, all the while desecrating the spirit of the game, no matter what shape the ball might be.
Everyone is down on Man City lately because of their bankroll. I tend to agree, holding a more naive/purist view that talent should be cultivated from within. Still, the reality is that they could never compete against Man U waiting for the perfect mix of talent to rise up through the ranks. Don’t you think? The EPL has crossed a line from which they can’t return- big money and feisty transfer markets are the way of the future.
Just one more reason to enjoy the rudimentary pleasures of the SPL. 🙂
The latest round of ECT has done nothing for my demenour it seems and I’m not dead because the landlady left paperwork on my kitchen bench and let herself in so suck shit pig. Remember how much fun you and your friends you to have making fun of me? I do.
Those stats are pretty shocking, although realtively unsurprising. Soccer players used to be highly prone to brain damage… the players that kept heading those big old heavy leather balls they used to use…
ON Man City… currently Spurs are two points behind Man City with a game in hand. Whilst I’m not going to pretend like Spurs are fesity underdogs beating the odds to challenge the top teams, they have earned their success and can’t really be accused of buying it. Over thirteen years or so the side has developed, and routinely lost their best players to bigger teams. Berbatov and Carrick both went to Man United, and after Robbie Keane joined Liverpool before returning he was never quite the same player.
At the back our keeper Gomez was fairly cheap— although in fairness to City they have the best young English keeper in the league, and they brought him through the ranks. But after that they don’t have a single starting player who’s played more than one season for them.
The Spurs defence at it’s best features Hutton, bought from Rangers. King, who came through the youth ranks in my second season supporting the club. Dawson was bought for less than £1m from a Championship side and was, last season, statiscally the best English centre back in the League.
Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale were both purchased from smaller clubs youth ranks, which isn’t quite the same as bringining them through yourself, but shows more foresight than Man City. Gareth Bale was worse than bad when he first started playing, and is now one of the best players in the world. Modric, Van Der Vaart and Wilson Palacios were all reasonably priced signings. Defoe cost about £8m and Crouch was a bit more— although he was a Tottenham youth player.
There isn’t a single player in our team that cost more than £20m, and most of them cost less than £10m. It is possible to slowly build a side capable of competing…. but no-one is prepared to wait or put the work in anymore. Success has to be instant these days.
And the thing with Man United… their success was founded by youth players. The United side that one the Treble in 1999 was made almost entirely of youth players. Neville, Beckham, Giggs, Scholes all came through the academy. Schmeichael was a cheap signing from Brondby, Roy Keane was less than £1m when he joined. Jaap Stam at the back and Dwight Yorke up front were the only players that cost more than £5m. Alex Ferguson remains one of the tightest managers in the League when it comes to spending.
Shrewd signings usually work out better than big money ones. Look at Liverpool and Chelsea. £50m for an incredibly out of form Torres is retarded. Dalglish used that money to sign two strikers, and already Liverpool are playing better than they have been all season.
For the ultimate example, outside of the EPL, most of the Barcelona side are youth players, or came through their academy. David Villa is pretty much their only big money purchase.
There are no classic sides that were built on big money signings.
I still enjoy watching Premiership football in spite of the money. I just watch the games and try to keep my eyes away from the headlines – it’s sickening just what money does to these people and how it fucks with the clubs. But on the field we’re seeing the best footballers in the world playing some fantastic football right now. I’ve figured out how to watch all the games from China, finally, and I’m really digging it. I love watching Man City. I hate them but they entertain me. I can’t figure out whether I want them to win or lose. All I know is that I want SWP to break both his legs, but that’s a different story.
I’ve always hated Tottenham, I’m afraid. Ever since watching them play Middlesbrough a couple of years ago and realising that their team was the most immature bunch of little cunts I’d ever witnessed playing sport. Now those players are pretty much all gone but I still find my hate lingering. It was Defoe that I really hated. Cunt.
“the rudimentary pleasures of the SPL.” Ha. I’ve been to at least 100 SPL games. I enjoy it… but it’s hard to explain why. I did manage to watch Barcelona sneak by Dundee Utd a couple of years back, with Ronaldinho and Henry & co all going for broke. Fantastic.
The thing I find annoying about Man City is that they rarely actually play well. They’re one of the worst teams when it comes to bitching about refereeing decisions as well. Y’know, because the league is just so unfair when you just have to rely on your billion pound squad.
Until Modric and Bale got injured Spurs were playing much, much better football. Although to be honest if I didn’t support them I’d probably hate them. I don’t much care for the chairman’s actions, especially over the Olympic Stadium. And we have Jermaine Jenas who is a fucking moron.
I honestly preferred supporting Spurs when they were shit, and filled with lovable losers. The only high points were David Ginola occasionally scoring a wonder goal, and we beat Man United a few times.
But that’s kind of my point. The League is technically better, but it’s no fun anymore.
Interesting points about the homegrown talent of Man U and Barcelona. Agree that money buys little more than egos and headaches for the manager. Berbatov can feck right off in my book, after his dive last month to earn a penalty shot for the win. I’m still old school I guess, but in my mind, if you have to fake being fouled to get a shot on goal, then you probably don’t want to go into the press the next day and act like faking it was no big deal.
I’m with you about the SPL, David- fun to watch. They’re a little sloppier, but they seem feistier too. Like they’re still concerned with winning over getting their hair messed up. At least there, the incentive is both to win at a team/league level, but to also compete for a shot at the EPL. So I think they play with more real passion. Just my observation- would you agree?
Funny but I was thinking of you when I was in Ireland last month. I had an eight game accumulator with Dundee as my final game that I needed to win. I forgot who they were playing, but thought it was a lock. I was already spending my money in my head when my buddy looked at my betting slip and said, “Hey, you know that’s Dundee, not Dundee Utd, right?”
Needless to say, I lost.
I like the SPL. It always seems to be quite high scoring.
And although either Rangers or Celtic have won the title every year since Aberdeen won it in 1984 it still gets quite close the top, and increasingly it’s becoming less of a guarantee.
I follow Hibs, because I prefer Edinburgh to Glasgow. It seems like they’ve lost every game they’ve played this season.
I’d say though that there’s much more passion in the smaller leagues where the prize is greater, and relegation could well lead to financial disaster.
Also there are less snoods.
Shit- I lost my reply about the Hibs. Poor Hibs. Fun to watch a team with modest/zero expectations.
No way I could support anyone but Celtic, due to the family connections. My friends mainly support them as well, with many of us considering them our primary team, with secondary teams in the EPL to follow. As mine was always West Ham, I’m obviously spending much more time on Celtic these days.
What’s a snood?
It is, in my opinion, much more fun to support a team who are expected to lose and sometimes win, than support a team expected to win. Because if the team win… woohoo, they’ve done what they’re supposed to. If they lose they all deserve to die that week.
I sway between Rangers and Celtic as only a man without religious convictions or affiliations can… If I had to pick one of them though it’d probably be Celtic. Hibs are essentially the Edinburgh Celtic, with Hearts taking the role of Rangers.
As a Spurs fan I’m supposed to hate West Ham, but I kind of like them. I don’t like when they get relegated. I saw them play Spurs once— they beat us 3-1. Ian Wright scored a hatrick, which was grating as he was an Arsenal legend. He also played for Celtic, I believe. Then again I don’t really dislike Arsenal; they play such good football, most of their players are simply shrewd signings, and they don’t have stand out arseholes like Jon Terry or Ashley Cole.
A snood is this weird winter clothing thing players have started to wear. I think its an undershirt as well, but mostly people hate it because it comes with a thick scarf attached that comes up and covers the whole neck. Most of the ex-pro pundits who played in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s find it hilarious. They don’t even have much time for players who wear gloves…
As long as we both agree to hate Dundee Utd., I think we’re in good shape.
Funny, but I have sort of a soft spot for Spurs as well, as my friend played with them back in the day. They’re one of those teams that seem to keep the top three or four teams honest- Spurs are one of those teams who always have the potential to win (or so I’ve seen). Great to see them in the Champions League.
Ah, I know what a snood is now. Too funny. Yeah, they look kind of silly. While I’d probably jump on the side of the ex-pros who might laugh at it, I have to admit, some of those games look positively arctic. I have no doubt I’d be wearing whatever kept me the warmest!
Celtic v. Rangers on Sunday. I’ll have the alarm set for 4:15, coffee ready by 4:25, and in front of the computer for the kickoff.
You mentioned your friend.
I missed the Champions League tonight because I was hosting a comedy night. I didn’t want to watch it, because I couldn’t see it going to well. Get back to find we’ve beaten the leaders of Serie A, Milan, in Milan.
There’s undersoil heating now, undershirts, players run much more than they used to… the old guys never wrapped up like they were Shackleton. They don’t do it in the lower leagues either, where the grounds are empty, and usually much more open to the wind. They just man up and get on.
Celtic and Rangers again, already? It hardly seems like a fortnight since last time…
Oh, man, this is so sad. Sometimes is so hard for people to see that things pass. By the time you reach your thirties, things that happened in college barely matter (except, things like this, of course).
Somehow this makes me think of those great videos that are being made for young gay kids, telling them that things will get better, time moves on, none of the petty stupid stuff of high school or college really matters once you’re grown. Should be videos like that for everyone.
Thanks, Jessica. It’s true that the perspective you get in your thirties is so vastly different. Maybe because the twenties bring so many first experiences that at the time, it all seems so vivid and permanent. Then life rolls on and you get a little older, more battle scarred, and a little wiser (hopefully).
So true about those videos. Part of me wonders though whether people who are truly suicidal, at their very core, could be influenced by such an appeal, let alone seek them out. I’d hope so, but the sad truth is that we often don’t know. I agree though that those videos should be made for everyone.
As always, thanks.
Joe Daly that was a sad but excellent story. Time to do a novel my friend…….
Thanks, Jan. Appreciate the read. Book in progress.
In the meantime, I hope you’re well.
Are you really?? Wheeeee!!
It takes a solid, steady hand to put a story like this down into words. I had a friend in high school. We’d grown apart from by college, when I received news of his death. But I spent a lot of time going over the last time I saw him and sometimes still do.
Thanks for sharing this, you manage to come to a conclusion with genuine uplift. And I hope the Sox eventual series win kept a fond memory alive.
Thanks, Nat. It seems like there’s almost a wistfulness that can arise when we hear about more casual acquaintances passing. Almost as if we ask ourselves if we should have made an effort to know them better. I think the reality is that it’s just hard to get these messages that time marches on, and things aren’t always going to be OK.
Funny, but I did think of him when the Sox broke the curse. Hopefully he enjoyed it as much as I did. 🙂
First of all, I totally didn’t see the suicide coming. I was all wrapped up in how much i love the Cult and reeling from the possibility of Americans playing rugby…
Secondly, although my Grandfather didn’t kill himself, I know what you mean about wanting to remember those last moments in more detail.
Thirdly, those last few lines or so were fucking beautiful.
Thanks, man. Yeah, the version of rugby that we play here, at least at the college level, is generally lower than the universities in the UK. Even at the national level, there’s a big difference. The UK teams are much more fluid, and universally better kickers. The Americans just want to hit and run, but the British and Irish teams have more finesse. First time I played against a UK side it was painful on so many levels…
That’s the melancholic thing about losing someone- you go back to that last time together and can’t help but wish it were more. But I think that in this case for me, it was probably exactly the way it should have been- a perfect reflection of a nice friendship.
One of the reasons I stick to international rugby is because it can be quite boring to watch if the teams just hit and run, or go for long grinding drives. On the other hand a good flowing passing and running move is one of my favourite things to watch in sport.
Kicking as well is much more important in the game, I think. A good kicker can rack up a shit load of points. Johnny Wilkinson had something like 1,000 points in his career a while ago, and most of those come from never missing a kick. But he practices to the point of insanity. Even Christmas day.
The last time I saw my Grandfather alive was a few months ago. I remember some of the important moments, which I think makes up for it. In the morning he just kind of left after breakfast. He usually said ‘good bye old chap’ whenever he left, but I wish I could remember whether he said it or not for sure. I do remember that he had a bit of urine spillage on his trousers though, bless him.
Kicking was the first and most obvious thing I noticed that separated the UK game from the US version. These guys from Trinity came over to play us, and they kicked the ever loving shit out of the ball. Whenever we pinned them deep, they booted it way back into our end, making us fight our way back.
The fact is that because rugby is more prevalent in the UK, the players there learn the fundamentals better and earlier. By the time they’re in college, they’re already playing at a higher level than most of their US counterparts. Wilkinson is amazing. Hated seeing him beat Munster in January, but an amazing player to watch. He practices that much? Wow. It shows.
Love hearing the little memories of your grandfather. Those are the ones that usually stand out the most, don’t they? The things you don’t even recall processing, yet after the fact, they’re as vivid as paintings on the wall.
Are you watching the 6 Nations at all?
I took a break from editing a script at lunch and got sucked into watching England batter Italy 48-13.
Wilkinson scored a couple of penalties after coming on for a guy called Toby Flood. Flood has a face that looks ludicrously posh.
Oh heavens, Joe! Between you and Duke, TNB has featured some powerful valedictories this week.
And to think that when I read your first line I thought it was an encore of the Bostonian paramedics and had already started chuckling.
“There were no signs- just the final sign off.”
There is some real terror in that. As you so aptly say, “an unwanted and unforgettable lesson that you never know what someone is enduring at any given moment.”
Wishing peace on earth is not enough. The prayer should extend to peace within the hearts of those who walk the earth.
Thanks for the comments. Funny but when I read Duke’s piece , I was on the final revision of this one and thought how prescient Simon was when he wrote about the collective subconscious of the TNB authors. I really think there’s something to that.
You’re so right in the terror of finality. Funny how we are so often struck by the inevitable. Personal tragedies shock, but in the larger fabric, they are unfortunate characteristics of our species. It’s like we block them out until they happen in our world.
I love the final line of your comment. Gorgeous, man.
Sweet merciful crap. That story did not go where I thought it would at all. Poor Jim. Sounds like he just had more inner turmoil than he quite knew what to do with.
Even if it wasn’t perfect, here’s hoping that final meeting at least gave him a bit of joy before he made his final choice.
Thanks, Matt. I like they way you phrased the last line. I’d like to think that our final breakfast was, if nothing, a pleasant distraction for both of us before heading off to our respective games. You’ve given me a nice new perspective with this comment- thanks.
I really like the tone you chose to tell this story, Joe. Very straightforward, let the reader decide where the emotional resonance lies instead of trying to provide it. And the detail of the suicide note left for Mick really stuck with me. It didn’t need an interpretation as to what was going on in Jim’s mind, it spoke for itself. A really light touch with a difficult subject.
Thanks, man. It was hard to focus on the facts and not let my mind try to romanticize it into something it wasn’t. I almost omitted the bit about Mick’s suicide, thinking that it might lead the reader too far away from the issue at hand, but ultimately it made sense to provide some additional context, confusing though it might have been.
As always, appreciate the read and feedback.
Seconding Sean Beaudoin’s comment – the tone here is really perfect. Any sense of sleight of hand re: where this story was to go felt 100% earned by its telling.
Thanks so much, Abigail. It’s funny how sometimes the simpler stories seem to require the most thought, from an organizational perspective.
I agree with Sean’s comment above, Mr. Daly, and it’s something this piece has in common with Duke’s. Eschewing sentimentality and telling the story in a straightforward way makes it more real and painful. At least to me. With subject matter like this, there’s no real need to amplify it.
As for you and your friends, and Jim’s family, I’m terribly sorry this happened. For those left behind, suicide is so much more difficult to comprehend and digest because you have the feeling it was unnecessary and preventable. And you can’t help but assume blame.
The detail about the note to Mick, though. That’s chilling. And as you pointed out, it make the idea of significant mental illness more likely, but then again I tend to think of most suicides as mental illness by definition, the mind rebelling against itself. But I’m no mental health expert.
Wonderfully-written and terribly sad. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you, sir. I agree with your thought that by definition, suicide is a symptom of mental illness. The mind rebelling against itself is a powerful way of describing that final act. Which is why I tend to think that emotional appeal and reason can’t be terribly effective against such a mindset- the mind cannot solve a problem when the problem is itself. Just my opinion.
So true too that so many people seem to beat themselves up about suicides being preventable. I’ve often heard the generalization that those who talk about killing themselves often don’t because suicide is not really what they want. On the other hand, those who do kill themselves, like Jim and Mike, often leave no clues, for fear that their escape will be thwarted.
A curious and sobering aspect of the human condition.
beautiful job, dude
Great piece, Joe — as everybody else has said. I didn’t see what was coming, either. I was already thinking of rugby responses.
I’ve had a few casual acquaintances who were suicides, but I never had any idea why they did it. Two of them were men in the tribal society where I worked. One was a leader, well-known and well-liked, and the other was a buffoon. Both were at least in their 70s at the time.
About rugby — back in the 60s I watched the Stanford rugby club (mostly football players) play the NZ All-Blacks. Slaughter, but seeing the huge disparity in skill was really interesting. The Americans simply could not do what the Kiwis did — it wasn’t like doing the same thing, only not so well. It was as though two different games were being played out there.
It was said that the Americans won the party, though.
Thanks, Don. Interesting that in your experiences knowing people who have committed suicide, the people came from seemingly opposite ends of the social spectrum. And in their 70s, no less? That almost raises more questions- such as, how and why would they endure so much and live so long, only to end their journey so abruptly? Like leaving the race before reaching the finish.
Your description of that rugby game sums up the distinction so vividly- like two different games. At the most, two dialects of the same game. I can’t imagine seeing a college side play the Kiwis. That’s like putting a grade school up against the Lakers. Wholesale carnage, huh? Back then, the Kiwis were hungry for matches because they weren’t allowed to play South Africa, at least not officially.
Tribal society? Have you written about that before? Do tell.
The letter. Things don’t have to be reasonable or logical to make perfect sense.
Get a clue you stupid slag. The man wrote of his friend as being mentally ill because he didn’t understand jack about what he was going through. Why don’t you just relax and cunt fart your way through a yoga class?
Fortunately, my circle has been untouched by death – more fortunately still, suicide hasn’t been a presence in my life at all. I’m sorry for your losses, and sorry for the families and friends touched by them.
It’s a valuable lesson, that you can never quite know.
So true that you never know. Amazing, and pretty wonderful that you’ve escaped this sort of tragedy. As recently as a few years ago, a neighbor of mine took his life in a particularly violent and public way, leaving behind a wife and a daughter whom I saw him laughing and playing with not a day before. I wonder if Americans have a higher incidence of this compared to other nationalities.
Anyway amigo, thanks for the comment. And welcome home!
I’ve known a few people who committed suicide, but I was never close to any of them. I know, though, that suicide is contagious, so to speak, which is why it makes sense, in a weird way, that Jim would’ve written a note to Mick.
“A private moment that was exquisite because it was so ordinary” — yes, so many moments are that way, and it’s often only in retrospect that we recognize it. When I wish myself into the past, it’s not the big events that I’d like to live again; it’s the small, everyday ones. I’d like to look around at all the details I overlooked and commit them forever to memory.
Duke, so true about the contagion of suicide. I forgot about that bizarre condition until I recalled Mick’s note, and then I remember someone saying that it was unfortunately common for one suicide to kick off one or more subsequent ones. Still, a frightening revelation.
Yeah, it’s the small things that tell the story so much better than the big events. Maybe it’s because the big events are, practically by definition, so outside of the norm that they don’t tell the real story. They might explain an important moment or mark a turning point in our stories, but who we are is perfectly told in the day to day- our morning routines, the music we were listening to, the places we walked past, t-shirts we wore, etc.
“It was an awakening- an unwanted and unforgettable lesson that you never know what someone is enduring at any given moment.”
This is such an important lesson. The sooner we figure this out, the more compassionate we can be to everyone with whom we interact.
The other thought I could relate to in this piece was the realization that people who commit suicide are not trying to be selfish or cowardly. This is often the first thing about which we, the people left behind without answers to the worst question ever, immediately feel anger. But anyone capable of taking their own life is mentally ill, and deserves our empathy, even if it understandably takes us awhile to reach that point emotionally.
I really like the way you worded part of this emotional process here:
“I had always assumed that people who took their own lives were selfish and narcissistic, yet somehow clear minded and therefore responsible for their actions. Conveniently, this also made them responsible for my feelings.”
Thanks for sharing this sad story with us, Joe. I’m sorry you lost your buddy. xoxo.
Thanks a bunch. I do agree that the people who take their own lives are not being cowardly- it’s so much more than just that one emotion. It’s got to be the painful summation of so many fears and so much despair that the mind is contorted into believing there’s only the one solution.
I remember as a boy hearing about a funeral at my church where they wheeled the casket outside of the church and the priest came out and blessed it, before they put it back in the hearse and went on to the cemetery. At the time, the Catholic church would not give funeral rites to suicide victims. How’s that for a lack of empathy? I’m happy to say that that Barbarian practice is no more. Still, it’s a somber reflection that after thousands of years of people taking their own lives, it’s only in the past few decades that we are learning to replace judgment with empathy.
This was graceful
& the tone was right
& you did your friend
When you read a piece
& then you sigh
& you have to wait awhile
& you feel sadder but truer
& determined to spend
the day seeing things a
little different – that’s
what a story should do.
New perspectives are
what it’s all about.
Thanks for your
What a piece. You write fantastically well.
I remember reading one of Duke’s pieces about suicide and understanding from that, that suicide is not necessarily a desire to die – rather a desire to escape the unbearable pain of that exact moment. In any case, it’s tragic and awful and leaves those behind with terrible questions and scars. I’m sorry for your loss.
On a lighter note, How about them All Blacks? Oh, Rugby. Sometimes it’s just sublime.
Thanks, Pookie. Your feedback always gives me something new to consider, which I very much appreciate.
Great observation, by way of Duke, that suicide might not be about permanence- just momentary escape. But the mind is always in survival mode, and for so many it looks for the short term solution.
Yeah, those All Blacks are something. 🙂 When I started playing in the mid-80s, they were legendary even over here. Perhaps because we all understood that not only did they play the highest level of rugby known to man, but that in NZ, people actually knew what rugby was. Here most people still would be hard pressed to explain the fundamentals of the sport. Next time you’re in the US, let’s get the TNB posse together for a rugby breakfast!
I lost a very close friend in high school and I can’t remember my last moments with her, either. Always bothers me. I can only remember our last phone conversation where I was telling her to go to the sweet sixteen without me. It wasn’t my thing, and I’d be too busy getting high. She was going to call me the next morning. Instead I got a call that she was killed by a drunk driver. It’s weird how some things seem like they happened yesterday and others feel like it was only just a dream.
Thanks, Ashley- what a tragic story of your own. Just as sudden, too. Although we tend to beat ourselves up in the aftermath over things we think we might have done better, I think it’s really hard to constantly live each moment as if it’s the last. But if we can treat more moments like that in our day to day, the quality of our overall human experience can’t help but improve.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Man, that story hit hard. A punch in the gut. Well written, very touching, and insightful. We do indeed live our lives oblivious to most of the suffering of others, and then when something like this happens… A horrible shock.
Thanks, David. It does suck that it so often takes something like this to wake us up, but hopefully we live, we learn, and we move forward.
You told this story as it should be told. It’s a hard one for me to comment on right now, but I just want you to know that it got inside and grabbed hold of a few adrenal glands. Nicely done. I’m so sad that you had to deal with this, then and now.
Thanks, Erika. Sounds like you might be able to relate on some level. I appreciate your thoughts and support. Then it was hard to deal with for so many of us. Processing it now feels healthier. Writing seems to do that for people like us. 🙂 Thx again for the read and your comments.
Your best piece, Joe.
I like that you intimate, but never suggest, that the dual homophobia of the Church and athletics — not to mention high school — may have played a part. It is our national shame that the suicide rate among gay teens is what it is. I also like that, like you that morning, I didn’t see the end coming.
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how suicide is contagious. Knowing this, his letter to Mick — maybe the saddest part of the whole piece — makes sense.
Overall, this reads like a short story. Certainly has short story potential.
Thanks for sharing — this was really well done.
Thanks so much, Greg.
You’re so right to point out the dual homophobia of that environment (religion plus adolescence). While I don’t think Jim himself questioned his sexuality, I think it took tremendous courage in that environment to speak out and support someone who might have been gay, right or wrong. Back in those days, kids could get bullied and abused for far less, and I always thought it was a tribute to Jim’s character that he could look beyond labels at an age when so many of us were trying to figure out which of the many labels on us might be right.
Thanks for the Gladwell reference. Have heard his name so often, but never read any of his books. Sounds like “The Tipping Point” might be worth a read?
Interesting suggestion about the short story potential. Certainly something to consider- thanks for that and as always, thanks for your thoughts and feedback.
Great piece. Timing is ironic. Just this Friday night my 20 year old nephew Brendan’s college roommate took his own life. This roommate was also his first cousin (on his otherside), best friend and brother that he never had. So true and well said- “It was an awakening- an unwanted and unforgettable lesson that you never know what someone is enduring at any given moment.” I needed to hear that.
Tomorrow will be a terrific day. Can’t wait to meet the new baby girl. She certainly will brighten the world. Good night, Joe.
So sorry to hear about Brendan’s roommate. It’s a pulverizing blow even for those on the periphery- the tragedy of a young kid, surrounded by friends and campus full of people, yet feeling so alone and isolated. Here’s wishing the best to Brendan and the extended family.
You’re right- tomorrow is a new and auspicious day. Can’t wait. Take good care and thanks for your comments.
Joe, you evoked the confusion of youth touched by tragedy so effortlessly in this piece. From my own experience, the aftermath of suicide is the worst for those left behind — the days following you function because you have to, it’s only later, when the world seems like a series of funhouse mirrors, that you struggle to make sense.
You honored the memory, and you did it so well.
Thanks so much for the feedback, Robin. You hit the nail on the head- it’s the eerie process of plugging back in to the day to day that can be most jarring. For those first few days, everyone is on high alert, support is readily available, and there are safe places to experience your emotions with others. It’s the return to normal that can definitely be the greater challenge. Thanks again for such thoughtful comments.
It always surprises me how many people have had similar experiences. I have a couple like yours and the aftermath is a soup of the weirdest, most disjointed thinking one can have. A friend of mine who killed himself recently still exists as an unreachable number in my phone. Your piece is lovely, thoughtful, a testament that while life is often inexplicable, death is more often so, especially the willing self-death. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the comment. You’re so right that we are often so blown away by the impact of these experiences that we tend to be surprised to learn that others have gone through ones that are shocking in their similarity.
Your image of the friend’s number still in your phone is haunting, simple, and beautiful. The choice to maintain your connection to him in such a visual, accessible way speaks to the depth of emotion he left behind in you. Thanks so much for sharing that and for your feedback.
I tend to ruminate a lot, perhaps too much, about death, but nothing, really nothing at all, gives life its molasses and joy as being fully aware that we all share a certain outcome and must make the best of our brief time above hard ground.
The first piece I wrote for TNB explores a friendship, a death, that affected me to the core, as, I think, only the death of a friend, someone who’s become part of your blood can affect you.
There’s a reason why so much film and literature and music is death-centric — more than a few people are concerned with the hows and whys of something so inherently not first-person understandable.
Thanks for the heads up on your piece. I’m off to give it a read.
Yeah, the way we, as a species, reflect our views of death is fascinating, to say the least. Even those who have had near-death experiences shed little light on the experience, beyond the final moments of consciousness. I wonder if death would be as intimidating if we diverted our attentions from understanding death to understanding living.
Understanding living. I agree it’s an admirable goal. As a writer, that is something I have tried, often vainly, to do since I can remember when I first put pen to paper. I have a quote hanging above my desk from Anais Nin – “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.” That’s how I try to understand living.
“A private moment that was exquisite because it was so ordinary.”
What a wonderful thought. Beautifully written throughout, the ending really resonates and gives comfort.
The first time suicide touched me I was only 12 or 13. It remains one of the toughest things for me to talk about. Many decades later when a colleague took his life and I had to read the note (repeatedly) because of the many details contained therein regarding his estate and the distribution of assets for his two teenage sons, it still felt like the most baffling thing in the world.
And I remember each of these men and the last time I saw them. They were so very different. Different appearances, different personalities, maybe even diametrically opposed, and yet same outcome.
P.S. You just get better and better.
12-13 is an awfully young age to be confronted with the reality of suicide. Can’t imagine what it must have been like trying to process it at that age. When you’re still so young, death is still an abstract concept for most, so trying to get one’s little arms around self-inflicted death must have been particularly stressful.
To this day, I have never had to read a suicide note, and for that I’m thankful. Must have been an intensely moving experience to read those words. Did you feel intimately connected to them, or intrusive? What an experience.
Thank you, as always, for everything. Love you back.
I wondered how fuzzy my memory of Tim’s death was, turns out I was really 14. I absolutely adored him. And so did his younger brother. S was 2 years younger than me, and they’d lost their father to a massive heart attack a few years prior, so his hero worship to his big brother was understandable. The last time I saw Tim was about 2 or 3 weeks before his death. I was on my way to a babysitting job and even though it was just around the corner, he stopped and offered me a lift. We talked about whatever song was on the radio (no clue) and his job offer in Colorado and recent engagement. We talked briefly about how exciting it was for him –getting married and moving west. I remember kind of skipping when I got out of his truck because he always made me feel better about myself. What 21 year old gorgeous guy gives the pudgy neighbor kid a ride and a chat like that?
And what kind of 21 year old with the world by the tail, kills himself (with a shotgun) in the basement knowing that his 12 year old brother is right upstairs and would find him? There was no note.
All those years later B’s suicide note was shakily written and pure desperation. It didn’t make any sense to any of us, but he really felt that he was no longer useful in society. The note is 7 pages and extremely thorough. Ultimately if felt intimate and intrusive. We’d watched him spiraling into depression and his best friend and ex-wife had tried to get him the help he needed, but in the end he was unwilling to be hospitalized. The last time I saw him though he was handing me a set of keys, sweating and shaking and just looking entirely unwell. He told a dirty joke, which was his norm. Ha.
When he took his life, he also used a shotgun in his home. Thankfully, his teenage boys were with their mom.
I hadn’t thought about T in quite a while and several sweet memories have surfaced since I read your piece, so thanks so much for sharing.
Amazing and sad that someone so seemingly together and selfless would turn a shotgun on himself. You never know, do you? It makes it all the more frustrating when you come across the odd person who has no real intention of doing themselves in, but who make grand gestures of despair, laced with phrases like, “maybe I should just end it all…” It really seems like the people who talk about it often don’t, while the ones who do take their own lives often do so seemingly out of the blue.
The second suicide is unsettling on a few levels. Poor guy- just sounds like he was a physical and emotional wreck. Still, the fact that he was so deliberate in protecting his loved ones, even in death, makes it seem like he had a good heart- maybe it was just a little faith that he needed? In what, who knows? But that’s got to come into it.
Thank you for sharing these stories.
There’s something really upsetting about suicide of youth. And you really got that in here. Well done. The mystery of his letter to Mick is absolutely confounding to me.
After playing sports in high school, I grew tired of competition, and vying for rides and the like, and split for a school that had no sports teams and no fraternities, but every spring we al, ended out on the big expansive field behind the art building playing highly drunken competitive intramural softball.
I don’t know why I’m telling this to you, probably because your piece got me thinking of it.
I totally relate to your exodus from sports. I was active in sports all the way through college, and by the time rugby was over, I was burnt out. Years later, I picked up competitive running, and found myself in the exact same state of mind- tired of always having some training hanging over my head, tired of people gunning for me at practices, and tired of my inability to enjoy running because I felt too competitive to let up. Then, like you, I found my way into competitive softball, which earned me a dislocated ankle. Guys like us just can’t shake that bug, I guess.
I appreciate the feedback. Thanks for the read.
This article is truly ironic as Kerry said (I’m her niece). It never is going to happen to you, it’s always going to happen to other people, but not in your own life, never mind your in your own family. Yes, I know it’s very naive to think like that, but isn’t it how we all think in these circumstances. It doesn’t seem right for me to think of my cousin as selfish, he was the least selfish person I knew. Why would I start to think of him as selfish now? He was always the go happy go lucky biggest smile on his face type of guy. Always having a good joke to share, make you laugh when you just wanted to scream. It’s unreal that he’s gone. It’s not fair I will say that, but he wasn’t selfish. I do wish he knew how many people loved and cared about him, but the fact of the matter is, that wouldn’t have mattered. I know that he was in a state of mind that didn’t allow for him to see who would be affect by him not being here. He was in his state of mind, a state of mind we will never know. We will never have an answer and I know that, it’s just hard to understand.
I don’t know if I should say thank you for this article. I never had that feeling of “you selfish prick”. I just wish he knew we loved him very much, but I do know he is watching down on us with his big goofy smile.
I am so sorry to hear about your cousin. By all accounts he was a wonderful, upbeat guy. You’re so right that you never think it’s going to happen to you, which makes these feelings so raw. It’s like we get cheated out of these relationships- we get no say in the matter.
Of course we don’t really think of our loved ones as selfish, or in such harsh terms- even as I found myself experiencing those feelings, they weren’t real- I was so upset that I had lost my friend, that my mind immediately wanted to blame someone for the loss. And so I found myself resenting my beautiful friend for taking himself out of the equation. But it was all because of love and loss, and as I mentioned in the story, I quickly lost those feelings as the effect of the tragedy hit home. I hasten to underscore that those were my feelings from 25 years ago, and I take some comfort in the awareness that from that loss, I grew to deeper understandings about many things.
I have no doubt that as you navigate through these days and weeks, you’re going to experience a range of emotions and thankfully I know you’ve got a great, loving, supportive network around you. If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to take advantage of that- talk to your family and friends a lot. You might well never know what was going on in his mind during the final days, but I guarantee you will never forget his smile.
Take good care, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Man, Joe, this is so heartbreaking and so well-done. “… continued to walk, as if the answers to his questions had a physical location” — such a weighty description among many. I’ll be thinking about this piece for awhile.
On a much lighter note, I was just listening to Sonic Temple today. Love The Cult.
Thanks so much for your feedback. And I’m super stoked to hear that you were listening to Sonic Temple. Love that album as well. You have excellent taste in both movies and music!
So, so late to the conversation. I’ll agree with everyone: the tone is spot on and it is so heartbreaking. But it’s also super conversational – which is what i love about your writing. It’s like sitting in a room with you, drinking a beer.
I’m really sorry about your friend.
Thanks, Gloria. I always appreciate your feedback, and thanks for the great sentiments. Just thinking about you yesterday when I fired up the CB mix. Hope all’s well.
I’m so super-stoked that you love that album. For me, it is matched only by “Appetite for Destruction” in its ability to consistently – every time – put me in a great, rockin’ mood when I put it on.
I’m okay. Hope you’re well.
You just can’t beat “Appetite,” can you. Put that one on recently as well. Read a great article in Hammer magazine recently that gave the pros and cons of GNR (in its current Axl Rose form) persevering. The “con” argument was far more compelling.
All’s well. You take care!
Dude, this was kind of heavy. I read it on the way to my old stomping grounds which dug up some feelings (ew) and I did not comment. But I wanted to stop back by and let you know that I read it and enjoyed the sentiment and your reflection of the loss of your friend.
Thanks, Lorna. Yeah, this was a bit outside of my usual themes, but you know how it is- when something gets in your mind, writing about it is a great way to find a little peace and clarity. Sorry to hear you had to drudge through some unwanted feelings, so let’s hope you cleared them out and are enjoying a good week.
As always, thanks for your feedback and support.
You want me to be dead, you fucking pig. But I’m not. Bully any lone women lately cunt?
A refreshingly candid memoir Joe, I appreciate the sincerity you convey in reliving that painful experience, for the benefit of your reader. For a moment I thought I was right there watching the whole episode unfold. In a sense, the effect of Jim’s suicide has now expanded to include an audience he never could have imagined, people more than 20 years later, who are wondering now for a moment, who he was, and why he didn’t want to be here anymore.
Thanks so much for the comments. You raise a wonderful point that has shown me an entirely new perspective on the whole issue- that 20 years later, even for a moment, he is still being remembered. Your comment alone has made this whole piece worthwhile for me. Thanks for helping me to see that.
Your welcome, and Thank you Joe for sharing this, I really appreciate it. Your a good friend too you know, still trying to figure out all these years later what happened to him. It’s like your a detective, trying to solve a cold case, that everyone else has seemingly forgot. A case where both the victim and the perpetrator are the same. It seems like the ultimate paradox.
On a lighter note, I caught my first rugby match on TV, I love it! Nonstop action, the giant ball that looks like a balloon the way the toss it around. USA vs S.Africa, with us down 20-0 at the half,didn’t look good. Never saw the finale score though. Do you still play?
Wow. This is poignant and moving. At the beginning I was just enjoying the New England vibe, and thinking how cozy and quaint that part of the country is, how in New England, people actually play Rugby. It’s so classic. You were a Classics Major. The seasons change and time goes and there is history and tradition and dudes in uniforms eating breakfast on a quiet Saturday morning. I was enjoying that feeling of knowing what to expect.
So, when the story takes its turn, it’s effectively shocking and sad and confusing…
And there you are. Nostalgic about dudes in uniforms eating breakfast on a quiet Saturday morning.
Beautifully rendered, Joe.
As always, thanks for the feedback. I never really thought about the heavy New England vibe going on, but from my little corner of Southern California right now, I see how different that whole vibe is. Definitely reminds me of some of the things I’ll always love and miss about that part of the world and that time of my life.
Hope to see you this week!
Thank you, Joe, for laying this tragic episode out for us, helping us get our heads around the impossible, guiding us to achieve some measure of understanding from looking back with you.
It seems that all people wrestle mightily with anguish, and the young have fewer defenses against its toll—–most particularly because they have fewer experiences of an *entire* cycle, that is, of anguish followed by a positive resolution.
I can, for example, look back at hundreds of times that I felt hopeless, trapped, defeated, unwanted, impotent, unworthy—–and in every single instance I came through to find those feelings overturned completely. I found hope, strength, worthiness, effectiveness and love. These cycles at their beginning were what people call depression. The common “cure” for it was drugs, the conventional outlook on it was that it stalked a person, that the person had no control over its sudden appearance and its ending.
Some 5 years ago, thanks to my working through the exercises of David Burns’ *Ten Days to Self-Esteem* I discovered that people DO have control over depression. Rather miraculously, within a couple days of working those exercises, my depressed state lifted remarkably and kept lifting. Anyone needing help while their mind is at war with their mind (as some here have put it), would do well to get Burns’ book and write out responses to the exercises. With the wisdom gained from that workbook, as well as my own every-morning prayer about what I want for myself and others, I no longer give over to thoughts of unworthiness, impotence, hopelessness and defeat. The prayer leaps to mind several times during a day of difficulty, setting me straight on my path, reorganising my priorities and aims. I thank God for those blessings!
Another thought that your piece brought to my mind is that males seem to have a deeply-held belief that they must meet certain high standards for performing well, for meeting obligations to their families, their buddies, their workmates, their girlfriends, their siblings, their teachers, their coaches and their churches. Females feel obligations, as well, but I think it’s not quite the same as with males. For example, males seem to feel that they are responsible for, must take care of and protect, others. If they fall down in any way on those scores, then they’ve failed in THE most important way—-both themselves and others.
It still surprises me, for a local and immediate example, that sometimes when I tell dear Rodent I feel bad—-no matter the cause—–he will feel as if he has failed!!!!! I tell him that my feeling bad has nothing to do with him, that he is no way the cause of it……but he still feels as if he should have been able to prevent my feeling bad, that he should’ve DONE something to alleviate my pain. It seems a bit insane to me, especially since he had no idea I felt bad at the moment. Yet to him it is a real obligation to which he has a real emotional response of failure.
I believe that we all can do something, as we feel led to do it, to help young people, and especially male young people, to discover the hope, power, strength and worthiness within them. You have begun it with this piece you wrote about your friends. Brad Listi has done it with his wonderful book *Attention. Deficit. Disorder.* Others give their friends hugs and tell them that they love them, appreciate them, are in their “corner” when the chips are down and all seems hopeless. Still others may stop for a while and ask some questions as they come from the heart, may tell of a time that they themselves had the darkest of outlooks and how they came out of it.
Life is intended to be lived as fully, joyfully, meaningfully and lovingly as possible. It is not intended to be aborted, to be suffered continuously, to be frighteningly painful for extended periods of time. We are here to LIVE, LOVE, and LEARN joyfully. We have the capacity, the strength and the wisdom for it.
Thank you for starting a cycle of hope that will resonate for a long time in many people’s minds and hearts, Joe.
Judy- meant to nest my reply to you beneath your comment. See below, and thanks again!
Thanks for the thoughtful and thought provoking response. So much to consider.
First, you bring up such a great point about youths who feel such a strong desperation because they often haven’t seen the other side yet- the other half of the cycle where depression/fear morph into acceptance/hope. Of course, you could never tell someone that, as usually their feelings are so deep and they are identifying so personally to the sense of isolation that they’d just think you couldn’t possibly relate.
Also interesting about the pressure on males. I think there’s a general pressure on kids in the high school/college years to succeed on one or more levels. Often we forget that while the academic course they take will have some long lasting social and professional repercussions, the importance of social and emotional growth is perhaps more important and certainly more lasting. Add to that the general pressure on males to be masculine, jockish, leaders, etc., and it can become a heady cup for a young guy just trying to figure out who he is. I have to believe there are just as compelling pressures on girls though, just different pressures from different sources.
Great tip on the Burns book. I’d never heard of that. Sounds like it could benefit a lot of people. Sometimes all we need is a little action to life us out of isolating thoughts.
Thanks a million for weighing in and sharing so much valuable insight. You, my dear, rock.
Thank you, Joe, for your considered further thoughts.
You’ve led me to another notion as to why young males may be more susceptible to all the claims on them to be “masculine” (how could they be otherwise?!), strong, protective-of-others, successful, jocks, macho, and so on. My notion’s a well-known one: Females tend to “vent” to friends and family far more than males do. In fact, if males do say what they are feeling, it will most often be to a female, not a male. I wonder if it’s different in other cultures.
Joe, I think your term, “isolating thoughts,” is brilliant.
That’s precisely what self-condemning thoughts are: “isolating thoughts.” And thoughts always initiate feelings, not the reverse.
For example, if I *think* I am a failure, then I *feel* sad, defeated, depressed, hopeless, frustrated, angry. Offering oneself an alternative to that thought of being a failure is key.
One can ask oneself: “Have I always been a failure?” “Is there one time when I was not a failure?” “What did I do then that was not a failure?” “Has anyone ever told me that something I did was successful?” “Is it possible that I can do something in the future that will be successful?” “What have I done in the past that I was good at, that I felt good doing, that made me feel successful?”
In short, like a wise friend to yourself, you can ask yourself questions that focus on reality, replacing fallacies about yourself with logical thinking about yourself. Rather than all-or-nothing negative thoughts, you can find many instances of positive thoughts. It may save your life.
I’m incredibly grateful that I gave myself the opportunity to try the questioning/responding process. It has made all the difference in the world to me, has held me upright and relatively balanced for going on 6 years now.
Joe, This was beautifully executed. I give thanks that you flex your creative muscles in the written word. As always, the TNB commentary is amazing, diverse, and so very supportive. It is a narrative in and of itself. Loss…it is a powerful thing. Suicide layers the mysterious on top of the devastating. I think we grow through the harrowing experiences associated with losing someone we know…or love. I think you did a beautiful job is framing the story and provoking reflection in a fantastically seamless fashion. Bravo.
Your piece above is raw & honest! Thank you for sharing! Jim
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