Saturday, December 8, 2012

What Dave Taught Me- The Sunday Collage

Abandon all hope ye who enter here, lest ye learn something morbid today.

Today, I am gonna talk about suicide. My way.

A couple of days ago, I was listening to one of the satellite news channels on my way home from Reno. During the course of the broadcast, they talked about a nurse who had killed herself after two radio disc jockeys had pulled a prank involving her. She was not the target of the prank but apparently, she felt duped. The Australian disc jockeys had called a hospital in London pretending to be the queen mother and Prince Charles- and had actually conned a nurse into delivering the phone call to Kate Middleton who had been admitted for morning sickness.

It should have just been a stupid prank with little or no repercussions other than a boat load of teasing. Catch the wrong people at the wrong time and they do some outlandish things. Like kill themselves. Thus it was her turn- to pull a prank.

We should show suicide no mercy. No quarter. More on that in a bit.

I happen to know a little bit about suicide. My experience comes via my lifetime as a cop. I very rarely discuss that part of my life out of respect for those who read my blog. Some of my readers may even be related to those who I write about. So I practice some care. I don't own these stories, I was just an observer, and I sure as hell don't want to pitchfork the dead or their families.

So today, I am going to break that rule. Only because there is something to learn here and I should pass it along. Maybe, it will help somebody.

First my qualifiers. Other than my education in death investigations, I am going to estimate that I was directly involved in 75 suicide incidents over 24-25 years and probably helped with another 75. That is hardly a record and I am sure a big city cop working homicide attends that many suicides in a few years. So while I am certainly no suicide expert, I'd like to think I know a little bit more about suicide than most people.

A few years ago after I had retired- I took this job as an independent living trainer. The term, independent living trainer, was a misnomer. What I thought I'd be doing, helping kids just out of juvenile corrections and offering emotional solutions, was not what I was doing. Instead, I found myself working like a babysitter with a boss/owner who could care less about the kids- just so long as she made her fat paycheck from the state. That wouldn't have been entirely bad, had she not been one of those dominant controlling types wherein the world revolved around her. Anything employees had to say- simply didn't matter. She had the compassion of an executioner. We would have these these weekly staff meetings every Tuesday. Week after unmerciful week, she would publicly shame employees by talking about all of our mistakes each week. Or give us her armchair quarterback opinion of what we should have done. So maybe I should have been happy when she stopped the beheadings to "teach" us about suicide. (Note how I am sticking with the dead theme, pretty clever, huh?)

It's really hard to teach someone like me something about suicide. In fact, it's impossible. I couldn't take much of the executioner's teachings. She had downloaded some garbage about suicide from the internet and was passing it out. Like most people, she doesn't really give two shits about suicide. Unless of course, some fresh arrival from youth prison killed themselves in her business and exposed her to a catastrophic lawsuit. That's what she really cared about. So I had to listen to that suicide nonsense so that she could cover her insurance and state license bases. Training employees and documenting it, that's all she was doing. That's the world the lawyers and insurers have carved out for us.

I put up with some of her shit until I couldn't take it any longer. I don't know how to explain how I felt that day. It was like some fifth grade teacher who had never seen a day of combat trying to teach a Vietnam combat vet about the Vietnam War. I took it personally I guess. At any rate, I let the executioner know that maybe I knew a little something about suicide- and I didn't really like her demeaning style either. I have never been a good hostage. I shoot the hostage takers. It was all downhill from that day. I don't think I made it there, well maybe, another four weeks. Life is good when you don't need the money. Freedom.

As a cop...

I hadn't been on the job two weeks when I took my first suicide call in 1983. I wasn't really prepared to deal with the investigation, the mess, or the emotional sounds of human grief and anguish. They can't really teach you or prepare you for something like that. It is indescribable.  You have to actually live through it. Deliver the death message to the next of kin. Maybe 75 times. You have to see it, smell it, feel it. It would be years before I had accumulated enough suicide experience to really learn to hate it.

I could tell you about the guy who drove up to the mortuary's front door and killed himself during rush hour traffic on Main St. Delivered his own body in what I used to call "the dead guy drive up window." I could tell you about the old army vet who was a peeping tom and got an eviction notice from an apartment manager, so he in turn walked up to her desk and put a gun into his mouth and blew his brains out as she sat watching him. Or I could tell you about a cop friend of mine who baked me cookies, delivered them, and killed himself in a motel that night. Or another cop and a friend who was accused of a crime, a guy who walked up a hill with a bottle of tequila and a handgun and did not come back down.

I never liked tequila. Patron is tolerable.

The sounds of human anguish never really leave me. I think when most people mention suicide they think about it in a personal way or if they have no experience with it- in some simplistic way. Mention the word suicide to me and it's like a time machine. It conjures up a whole raft of memories. Preventable deaths, I thought. Especially the kids.

One guy changed my thoughts about suicide forever. 

Many years ago, I dealt with this kid named Dave. I will call him Dave because that in fact was his name. He was this weird kid who I was always busting for something. He was angry and depressed. I never looked for him- I just kept running into him. That was my history with Dave. He hated cops. He barely tolerated me. So he went into the army, got married, had kids. At least ten years went by. He had mental health issues, serious depression. He was drinking and drugging heavily. One night he was on the phone with his soon to be ex wife. In the middle of one of his drunken, threatening rants, he took out a shotgun and blew a hole in the ceiling while he was on the scared the shit out of his ex. She called the police. The cops went to Dave's house and removed 13 guns from his home. They screwed up a locked briefcase which I eventually had to pay for. So I arranged to talk with Dave about screwed up briefcases, calling wives, and blasting holes in your ceiling while on the phone. I called him the next day. I asked for a sit down and he agreed. I will never forget what he said to me after I asked if he was "current on his prescriptions." I remember staring at the hole in the ceiling as we talked.

Dave told me he was not taking his prescriptions. He was just drinking and smoking pot. He said that he didn't have any plans on taking his prescriptions either. Like I said, I had busted this guy many times. He was smart and experienced. He looked at me and said, "You can haul me in to protective custody but I'll get out. I'll tell the D.E. (designated examiner) that my life is wonderful because I know what to say." Then he told me that he was going to kill himself and that there wasn't a fucking thing I could do to stop it. Nothing. That was Dec of 2001, maybe Jan. of 2002.

He told me that the responding cops had taken his 13 guns and had missed a Colt .45 that he had kept in his car. He asked if I wanted to take it too. I told him no because he had suddenly changed my thinking about preventing these things.

On Jul. 2, of 2002, Dave had been drinking all day and got into a fight with a room mate. By then he had all thirteen of his guns back and oddly, the fight with his room mate was over a stolen gun. So when Dave's room mate came home, they argued about the gun some more, and Dave pulled out a 30-30 rifle. As the room mate fled out the front of the house, Dave shot him in the back and killed him. He then turned the gun on himself. We had a patrol car there within seconds. That cop is now a firefighter.

I was really angry that Dave had to take someone with him. Dave's journey here was an awful thing- and a day or two later I got to revisit the whole nightmare again. The parents of the young man he killed showed up. They wanted answers, closure. I don't think they got it from me. That was one of the worst hours of my life.

For years and years, I spent countless sleepless nights trying to figure out why all of this unnecessary death and destruction happens. Mostly I came to believe that the people who kill themselves are depressed. They have no spiritual solution for the problems they are facing. They do not believe a solution exists because they either practice contempt prior to investigation or they are unwilling to accept the possibility that someone else can help them. Many do not seek help. They seek to find a way to free themselves from their emotional pain and sometimes, when the booze and the dope quits working, or they do some act which is so inexcusable, the only way to escape that emotional pain, shame, guilt, or consequences- is to kill themselves. 

Dave killed himself because he was a man of his word. When he told me he was going to kill himself, I knew it was a matter of when, not if. Dave could not or would not see a spiritual solution. 

What do you say to somebody who says they are going to kill themselves? You see, I don't know. Depressed people all seem to have one other thing in common. Tell them what to do and they will buy 20 bucks worth of anything else.

You never think you will contemplate something as insane as suicide until you do. Life has a a way of bringing the sanctimonious to their knees. 

Five years later, I found myself similarly situated and as I contemplated the unthinkable, I had the benefit of 24 years worth of experience. Of people like Dave. 

You cannot stop a suicide. You may prevent and delay one, but simply stated, you don't have the kind of power it takes to stop these things. If someone like Dave is bent on killing themselves, they will. You are not God. These people are on some sort of journey of their own and they not you- must take responsibility. Do we shoulder the emotional burden of some homicidal maniac? No. So why in the hell do we feel obligated to shoulder the emotional burden for someone who commits suicide? Because we want to, that's why. They are close to us and we are frustrated that we could not stop it. Often we feel some bizarre need to punish ourselves. We feel culpable. We piece things together, over and over again. Why hadn't we seen it coming? What could we have done differently? Worse yet, did we cause it?

Of course not. People always have choices including the people who commit suicide. Sure it's tragic but what other people do ultimately...does not have anything to do with us. I can't take credit for their good decisions or their bad ones. All that is left for us- is to try and make sense of the non sensical.

The answer of course is that we cannot peer into some one's mind or see the future. The solution for us is simply acceptance and comforting those that we can. Today I can go from shock to acceptance within 24 hours. I have a spiritual solution. I do not beat myself up for failing to see the future in some fantasy crystal ball sort of way that does not exist.

I feel sorry for those DJ's. It was just a silly prank that went awry in the worst possible way. Oddly, I see them as the victims, and not the nurse.

In the end, I realize that I have always been powerless to stop these things. That life doesn't really care whether I make sense of it or not. That's what guys like Dave taught me.



Anonymous said...

Years ago, when I was young and stupid and married to an immature selfish bitch, and horribly depressed because of all the nasty shit I was going through because of her, the thought of offing myself occurred to me. I thought how easy it would be to jump in front of a big, fast moving vehicle and put an end to all the anguish I was going through. I really, seriously thought about it. Then, as I stood in the appropriate spot to commit such an act, a wave of horror swept over me. "My God", I said to myself, "what is wrong with me that I've reached a point where I'm really thinking about this?". It was then and there that I said "fuck her, I want to live". A few days later, I walked out on her, which was very hard for me to do, and I've moved on. Things haven't been easy for me since then, but I will never again give anyone or anything that kind of power over me again. Never. Now I live for me and if that makes me selfish, I don't care.

Brian said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Nobody should be miserable.I have never thought of happiness as a selfish thing and if it is, fuck it... lets all be selfish.