Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
I close my eyes and try and remember the day I committed suicide. What was once fresh and easily distinguishable has blurred to another random sentence in the book that is my life. How can one person be both the victim and victimizer? How tight are the bonds that hold humanity together? For my simple act made me the aggressor towards others who deemed my life forfeit for their own comfort.
Though there are as my types and reasons for suicide as there are the multitudes on the earth. This but the silent majority, the ones that shock us when their story ends in ash, have a narrative that is as tragic in its ending as it is in its typicality.
Many years ago, before consciousness, something must have happened, something must have been done, or said. Maybe it was you, maybe your parents, or maybe even the world. But with such lessons, at such age, there is no recovery. Failed lessons become reinforced; and way leads onto way. Without realization you are forever marked. You are so young when you realize that something is wrong; that something is not functioning right within your body. You move forward unable to share this feeling with others because you can barely describe it yourself. By the time you are able to recognize that the buzzing noise that relentlessly drowns out every other feeling is pain, pain that threatens to drown you, it is too late. You immediately look up and out to all of those who pass by daily. For so long you just assumed it was natural, that it was normal to feel this way. Its when you choose to look for it in others that you become scared. All of the other children look back absent of the pain you wish you could share; and you just can’t understand why they do not feel the way you do. Their happiness seems to span the constant tic-tic-tic of the clock, and yours is only for the moment, lost as soon as it is found. How is this possible, what could possibly be wrong with you.
Deep unsettling despair descends upon you, and now instead of being suffocated you are drowning. Looking around you see no one else struggling and you go out of your way to hide it. And every night you pray to your gods and family that it will end tomorrow, that tomorrow will be the day that you wake up and your body works correctly; to be like everyone else. It is these early years that you dream of being normal, that you dream of being like those who seem to have it so easy. This is before the scarring, this is while you are still teaching yourself how to be strong in the face of all that is clearly wrong. Each night you convince yourself that it will be better. You can only lie to yourself for so long and then it changes, you convince yourself each night that you are strong enough to endure. Yes, right here is where the world fails to take notice. It is this moment, this change, that the outside worlds of influence, leadership, love and concern cease to be the defining factors in you life. Self motivation prevails, and with this self induced strength comes a pride. Though the pain only deepens, and the waters pull you under with more strength, you now accept it as a part of who you are, for as much as you want it to be different you demand the pain as a part of your very identity.
Somewhere in this struggle you will attempt to match the outside world with the one on the inside. Most will hurt themselves in a futile attempt to make what is felt rational. If I am hurt, then I should feel pain; but, the pain will stay and the hurt will go away. This mantra will be repeated again and again with similar ends. They will cut at themselves for the momentary relief, and the scars left will only serve to remind them of how much it still hurts. Others will commit to their most base objectives in an effort to relieve this pain even for a moment. Sexually, artistically, athletically, all will find something that will take the pain away for just a breath, and they will fight harder and harder to have it taken away time and time again. This internal motivation allows them to achieve so much, yet they can enjoy almost none of it. They are lost among the success and failures with no concept of how to determine right from wrong as their souls feel only torment. Every night, going to bed, fighting against the urge to make the pain go away. For now they know that it will never leave them. If they are lucky, the pain is shed, gone, like a frustrating cold that just up and disappears one day. But, for the rest, it never leaves. They deaden themselves towards the rest of the world and step boldly forward, knowing only defeat in the arms of victories.
These mortals are little swayed by encouragement or retort at this point in their lives. They have survived so much more than any of us could imagine, and are not afraid to balance that against your tiny words, your lifeless hugs. Neither then should you make the mistake as to believe that you can encourage them to this end. No amount of conversation, or lack thereof, will push or pull these individuals to their desired ends. You can only at this point set the stage for the final execution of a lifelong dream. These men and women who have done great things end up leaving this earth in a heart shattering event that leaves them condemned by their religions, stripped of their accomplishments by their peers, and a forever sense of shamed by their own blood. In what world do you think you have the ability to change what they know to be true when they decide that they have had enough. In what world do you think your condemnation, or threats of striping away their institutional awards, will change their choice that night as they sit alone.
At what point does their suffering outweigh our perceived obligations that they owe to the living? A selfish act you call it, I ask you why? Is it in consideration for others? What amount of pain must I endure before I can let loose those bonds of humanity. Why must they owe us such?
Know that not all men are created equally, nor are all daemons faced the same. The stories of childhood were never written to let us know that dragons lived, but rather to give us the hope that we can slay these beasts of our minds. As we award medals to those whom have served faithfully, and then demand their return when they take their life, are we not the damned. I ask no man to live his life for the sake of mine, I will not live my life for the sake of another; and therefore will not condemn a man that knows his own damnation. He wears those scars openly for us to bear witness to and leaves a shattering quake behind him as he lays open a truth that we are still afraid of what we do not understand. I do not condone the choice of suicide, but I will stand tall and honor the man that lived his life to the end of his choosing.
Rest in peace; Captain Fallensbee and all those like him who have met his fate. To name a few others that were living success for us while paying a price we could not understand and they could not bear; Ludwig Bolzmann, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, CSM Lewis, Sam Gillespie, Ernest Hemingway, Megan Meier, Sylvia Plath, Roy Raymond, Hunter S.Thompson… and the untold masses that have impacted our lives at the sake of their own.
The sun wakes me up; with a grumpy, groggy groan, I push my arms free of the sleep that has locked them into place. The cap goes to the ground and I scratch my head with both hands until the dirt of the last day is free from the shaggy blonde. I place a canteen of water on the embers and wait for it to boil as I wash my face and hands. I put the flask away and make coffee in the canteen. I am aware of where I am at, as well as where I want to be in the next few hours. The summit is close, as I knew it was last night. I am still not sure why I just didn’t go to the top, but then again I am sure that something distracted me. My thoughts run through the marathon of what transpired inside my own head from the night before. No shit, a map helps, no shit, that compasses will point north (for the most part) and no shit, I will make the summit in less than a few hours.
Where I am at, and where I am going, or am I where it thought I would be, are interesting diversions from a few much more simpler questions. Namely, am I where I should be? The simple answer to that question is, yes, I am exactly where I should be. With ease and grace, I go thought the motions of being in the wood line, of living off of nothing. There is confidence in my movements, and where there is none, I will fake it until I have earned it. I have done the same for my occupation for the last decade that it is natural to act with confidence before it has been earned by time and trials.
Where else could I be, well I dream daily of all of the places I could be. This morning and the cup of coffee in my hand are no different; I have visions of the oceans, of cities, of a life with more stability. And these dreams and visions are nice, I have reason to believe the grass is greener on the other side. I have the same reasons to believe this that others use to attend mass. So I keep dreaming, and imaging all of the other things that I could want. Yet when I am in a stack and the door is in front of me, and it is my voice that I hear in the head set “Breach, Breach, Breach,” followed by the concussion of the flex charge, I know. When my Team Sergeant turns and looks in my eyes and gives me a thumbs up, I know. When I am covered in dirt and sweat, and I have dropped my kit and am sitting at a computer typing out the reports and my Junior Charlie brings me a beer, I know. I know that I am exactly where I should be at this moment and time.
Maybe when I was ten, or fifteen or a freshman in college I might have thought that I would be somewhere else, that I would be in a power suit and married. That with my family is where I would spend my thirtieth birthday. That maybe I would be mature enough to have forgiven those whom have trespassed against me. That I would be stable, that I could be looked upon as a model citizen of this nation, a rule follower that left his personal revolution behind in his mid twenties. That, however is just not where I am at, and I would not trade any of those things for the life that I have lived. Regrets are as hot and as painful as the burning coals that burnt my hand pulling boiling water from the flames.
I have regrets and I still have dreams, I have those that I wish would apologize to me, and those that I should forgive. Yet a quirky mix of stubbornness, laziness, and anger have kept me from these things. I know this much and about this much only, I have moved past the point of being able to lay out a plan, or create a map, I cannot change who I am now today. Those choices are gone. I cannot wake up tomorrow and say today I will be a fireman and a husband, or a banker and a father. I must live with the reality that I am soldier, that I am a rule breaker, that I have faults, and that I am alone for most of my time.
I know as well that each day is mine to make, and though I belong where I find myself, I have the ability to change directions, to make a new course, that I can slowly move towards new ends. Though, the very nature of the person that I am, the values that I hold dear, will bind me toward certain ends. That the obligations of my past must and will direct the course of my immediate future. The path is before me and the pines keep me on course, the water will quench my thirst, and my legs will push me up the hill. All of this is possible and is happening, though I am not physically trapped upon the trail, the trail is taking me where I am headed. The path has been chosen over the course of a thousand moments. And I am here and in the now as I place my hands on the rocks, pulling me up towards the pinnacle.
As I stand upon the top of the peak, I look around and smile. As I have said, the ocean would be nice, the money of being a banker would be comfortable, the companionship of a woman would be soothing, yet here I am, exhilarated and exhausted. I am where I thought I would be just a few short days ago when I decided to climb this mountain. The pressure and stress, the exertion that I have placed into any moment must be so much as to clear my head and allow me to live in the sublime seconds. I am where I belong; more importantly, I am where I have paid the price to be. I am who I am, not who I wished that I would be, nor who I dreamt I would become, I am more, I am real. As I sit down on the rocks and pull my water from my bag, I know that I have become something that I am proud of, that I am where I am proud to be. It is these moments that alleviate all of the anguish and pain of my failings, of being alone late at night, of not being who and what I thought, of all my faults, and for a brief moment that I will chase after to find again, I am at peace.
The cool mountain air is refreshing, and the flask is bitter. The night time sky is an incredible maze of connected dots. I breathe deep the shallow air and bite down on the small opening of the flask. The fire burns low before me and i am reclined against my bag and a tree, a technique perfected in the army. I take the time to look around, to study where i am sitting and the land that i am currently surrounded by. I notice the pine trees, the large rock across from me, the roots reaching out of the dirt, and the sounds of the night, all surround me. I am taking stock of what i have, and where i am at. Shy of ten thousand feet, and miles away from the trail head, i am on a mountain in Colorado. As i close my eyes i know exactly where i am, it is easy with a compass, map and reference points. The peak to my west, the trail bends and the contour of the ridge line. These are the metrics used to find myself on a map, or the way to describe where i am at in a very basic physical sense.
Another pull of my flask and i am reminded that no matter how hard it was to determine where i thought i would be, it is even harder to describe where i am in life. I have no map, compass or a series of land marks to be able to accurately say where i am. The map of course that i am missing is the one that i so readily failed to draw in my youth. With no clear cut understanding of what success or failure is, with no clear goal such as the summit of the mountain, i not only find myself lost, but floating on the winds of irreverent wandering as well. As way leads on to way, and each choice will not come back i have continually been of the mindset to take the choice at hand, make the best decision possible and then push has hard as possible forward. Each of these choices sometimes seemed to be fresh mistakes but none the less, they have brought me to where i am today.
Another deep pull from the metal lip of the flask, this time the brown liquid burns all the way down. A harsh reminder of the truth and the nature of relativism. The stars dance around the shadows of the large pines and i for a moment do what comes naturally and i am lost in the vision of the ocean, screaming across waves with nothing but the pasty clouds of the milky way above me for direction. A noise in the woods brings me back to the fire and drink and my solitary adventure through my own life.
Physically i reside in a military town, in a townhome that is filled with the newest appliances. It is way too much room for just me. But the amenities and conformist nature of the two cars in my garage and the pictures on the wall, as well as the expensive furniture, all satisfy the background urge for stability. The toys fall into both categories of my conformist and non conformist contradictions, an old CJ7 and a thirty foot sail boat. My job again satisfies both aspects. As a special forces officer, i have promotions and a career, yet the nature of the job is unconventional and random at almost all times. The Army as a whole is not for me, yet the money is just good enough that i am afraid to leave. Thou not enough for me not to think about it daily. I have an education and a couple of degrees, and enjoy expressing my academic capability at every turn.
Mentally, i reside in a world of contradictions, with a strong desire to set out on my own with nothing, to the more immediate pressing urge for relationships and companionship. I am constantly in a state of struggle trying to determine what i want from the day at hand. The psychologists will tell you that i test off the charts as an introvert, yet display strong signs of extroversion, meaning that i should wear a sign that would let people know when i want to be left alone and when i am ready for everyone. The proof i guess is that i am on a mountain by myself, and wishing that someone was sitting across from me. Well, another pull from a flask that is damn near empty.
Emotionally, i am more mature for my age than i will ever let on, and struggle each day to prove that i am less mature than i am. Though this rarely works in my favor. I have lived times that others already are saying were best forgotten. I have smelled the crisp burning of flesh and held the dying in my arms, i am constantly amazed that i can comely look around the extravagance of my humble life style and not lose focus. I am grounded and take a realistic approach to most obstacles. I am unhindered by emotions and morality in the accomplishment of my daily tasks at hand. And, yet, i leave so much up to chance knowing that my control is mostly my self-made illusion.
The night sky closing in around me, and i know i am tired, way too tired to still be awake. I look around again at the fire, trees, rocks, and sky. I slide a little farther back into my recliner, and pull the brim of my hat down over my eyes. Tonight i will sleep peacefully, i hope. Everything is packed and put away and the stars that were dancing around the trees slow down, and fall silent.
The trail opens up before me, it had been tighter than expected for the last two miles and eight hundred feet in elevation. It opens up as the trees thin out; I am still below eleven thousand feet, though occasionally I can see the summit nearly five more miles away. I know that I will stop here, I am going to have to back track, the trail has lead me the wrong way. The ridgeline is headed south and the peak is still to my west. I know where I have gone wrong, yet at the same time, have I, the world I look at is as I want to be. The pines smell of the stickiness that are their needles and I breathe it in deeply. A long pull from my water, with the ever present urge to take a pull from the flask, I look at my compass and take stock of what is around me.
I was asked recently “am I where I thought I would be?” Clearly, the most immediate answer as I look along the ridgeline and then back over my shoulder to the summit is, no. No, I am not. Yet at the same time, I am on the mountain, I am moving with strength and ease. The strength of a body and mind prepared for hardships and duress that can be found at these elevations, and the ease of a man comfortable with his surroundings given that the knowledge to handle the problems come readily to him. So, I am exactly where I should be. Though, that is not the question at hand. To be able to answer this question I must first be able to come to grips with where I wanted to be. And for me that is a much harder statement than originally thought.
I have persistently daydreamed my days away. Never have I spent too much time in the here and now, the confines of the rings upon which I have entered have been the only places that have grounded me in the moment. Those rings have had boundaries, ropes, nightmares and even a desert. Within these confines, my adversary or task has taken all other options away from me, other than the here and now. The persistent dreams of the future have always clouded the reality of where I wanted to be. By this I mean, my dreams are without substance and push the limits of both time and space, they are the dreams of the young, of the romantic, of the renaissance. All of this to say that I dreamt that I would be on a slightly less than luxury yacht, sixty feet, huge sails pulling at the wind, and a beautiful traveling companion. This future has no location when it comes to age or money, or how I got there. These dreams can be closely compared to those of slaying dragons, and I have taken down many.
I have wrapped these dreams, as I aged, with glories of the battlefield, of dreams of love and romance, of all the things that a young man should dream of. And yet I sit here and still fail to answer the question at hand. Where did I expect to be? Dreams are never where you expect to be but rather what you wish to be possible. Well I dreamed away my expectations and wondered with ambiguity through choices, pushed by peer pressure, social desires, and need to be something other than what I was at the time. The persistent fight against fear itself. Without specifics, I moved forward from one challenge to the other imagining that with each accomplishment I would be taken farther from the place at hand, that with each success would bring me to new destinations. I continued along this path as I pushed through middle school and then to high school where I dreamed of the ocean and found the army. The path took me to many places that I knew were not for me no matter what potential I showed. Art school and my Olympic prospects where not far enough away for me, and the boyhood fantasy of the glories of war triumphed.
By high school I was unable to fathom a reality that I would find, though the expectation was that I would be at a Military School and on my way to graduation. Though is that a real answer, how far forward must I look for this to be a fair representation of where I thought I would be. One month, a year, three years, I can say that I have ended up exactly where I thought I would be three years ago, and can say with some certainty that I have been correct as long as the picture was within three years. So where did I think I would be. The ephemeral answer would be, successful, married, and happy. Have I been these things, maybe, never, and sometimes would be the associated answers. My success is at the middle levels of the army, those that have worked for me will tell you that I have done well, and those I have worked for will tell you the same, yet the harsher crowd of my peers may not. This crowd of peers has continualy diminished as I have pushed past one test after another leaving me in one of the more elite captain positions in the army. Marriage has been allusive as possible as I find myself struggling to just be happy with the women that I have found. I have come close to this woman, and yet I chose to walk away. I allowed this memory of what I made into perfection to ruin any chance of a successful relationship in the towns where it was possible. Happiness, well, the roller coaster of the cosmic play has been comedic tragedy for me, and I have found humor and happiness in moments, the dull ache of un-fulfillment of the majority and the occasional brief moments of happiness so ephemeral that I have raced around the world looking for it again.
The suns glow has diminished has I finish pulling tight the lines of the poncho that I have strung up between two trees. I look back at the smoldering start of the fire and add some more wood. The flask sits alone before me. The mountain has been no different than my life, my thoughts centered around the summit and never the trail…