I was casually reading some Facebook posts several months ago, something I don’t do very often because I’m not really into Facebook that much, and I came across a post that my younger brother Kenton posted there which made my head tilt. Now, Kenton has a rather long history of making either stupid posts or saying things he (or anyone for that matter) wouldn’t dare say in public. In fact, most of the time that I see his posts, he says something like, “Going to do my regular routine of lifting shit up and putting it down.” He’s referring to his daily weight lifting at the gym. That’s a typical post from him. Another typical post would say something like, “Ugh. I need a beer. Getting one now.” You can sense the maturity level here. However, this one post struck a nerve within me.
It was in regards to singer Chester Bennington of Linken Park, who committed suicide by hanging himself. Kenton’s post read something like this: “How could that sonofabitch do this? What a fucking idiot. He had fame and fortune and he throws it all away by killing himself? I’m so pissed about this! I just can’t believe it!” Now to put it in context, he is a big fan of Linken Park and he’s also not exactly living a very successful life himself, so there might be a bit more personal reasons for him talking this way. But my reaction to this led me to say to myself, “Maybe the guy had depression issues” or “Maybe he was really unhappy with being famous and rich” or “Maybe he had a terminal illness or something.” Just because someone’s rich and famous doesn’t mean they don’t have something else going on that we aren’t seeing.
But what really struck me is that both Kenton and I have dealt with this issue of suicide before, and this brought me down to lots of memories I thought I buried years ago.
I had a half-brother named Paul who committed suicide back when I was about seven years old. Despite being so young, I remembered the day I found out about it vividly. My Dad approached Kenton and me in tears and told us the sad news. He didn’t say how Paul died, but it was very clear how devestated my dad was. I never seen him like that before, so it was a particularly disturbing moment of my life, which goes without say really. It’s the years that followed which really made for some rather bumpy roads.
Paul came from my Dad’s first marriage. Kenton, my older sister Jen, and me came from his second marriage. Now he’s married to my stepmom Cindy, who he’s been with for twenty eight years or so. He’s had a pretty hard life as it is, but with what happened to Paul, this affects a parent in ways I can’t begin to fathom.
In one such way, years after Paul’s death when I was in High School, I came home one day and Jen is home as well, but so was my Dad. He was acting very erratically, hugging us tightly and going on and on about how much he loves us. What really scared the holy hell out of me however is when he had a small collection of loaded guns lying on his bed, organizing them and saying crazy things like he needs to protect us from the terrorist. I didn’t even know he had a gun, let alone an arsenal. Clearly he’s having some kind of nervous breakdown, but it was a truly horrifying experience because I started wondering if he might be suicidal.
Years earlier, shortly after Paul died, I asked my mom what had happened. The first thing she told me is that he died from Crohn’s Disease, which is indeed a nasty disease that affects the lower intestines, creating inflammatory issues in the digestive tracks. I won’t go into the icky details, but needless to say it isn’t pleasant. While he did have this disease, it wasn’t the cause of his death. So my Mom lied to me.
But isn’t that what parents do? They lie to their children. Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, where babies come from (at least initially), and so on. All lies! Granted, we kids forgive our parents for some of these things (though I’m still getting over the Santa issue) because it’s understandable why they tell us these things. So I am not at all mad at my mom for telling me that particular lie about Paul.
I didn’t find out the suicide until years later. But once again, my dad and Cindy lied to me in regards to the real reason he did it. They said that Paul killed himself because he had this disease. Now that’s pretty believable, given what I know now about the disease. But that wasn’t the truth at all. A few months after my dad’s nervous breakdown, my siblings and I were told the full truth, which is that Paul had serious depression issues stemming back to his physical abuse from his mother.
Another Episode of Crazy Dad:
About two months after the breakdown, Kenton went home and found our dad burning his artwork in the stove, which is never a good sign for an artist to do so. My dad did drawings and paintings on his free time, so to see him doing this, especially since Kenton is an artist too, was very disturbing. He also cut himself from a broken bottle of some liquor he’d been drinking which I can’t recall, getting blood all over the floor and on the walls. I came home to see the ladder half of this episode much to my disturbance. Cindy came home and tried to get him to go with her to the emergency room. He began swearing up a storm at her when she got home, claiming he still loved our mom which was a bit of a headscratcher to us.
Since as long as I can remember, my mom and dad have this bitter hatred towards each other that always made me wonder how they ever got together in the first place. My dad didn’t express it nearly as much as mom did, but it was clear how little there is between them anymore. So to hear him say these things is extremely alarming.
Eventually Cindy did convince him to go with her to the emergency room. About a week later, after his recovery, he came back to us like nothing had ever happened. I learned that he was highly medicated and I began to wonder if he’s always been that way. Does he need that medication to stay grounded? Drugs are what controls him apparently, which always makes me wonder what people did back before these drugs and treatment existed? Does that mean that my dad would’ve ended up in a mental institution? But Cindy assured us he simply suffers from depression and to not think about it too much. Paul was deeply depressed too. It seems to run in the family.
It always irritated me how Cindy and dad pretended that his episodes never happened. To this day, they’ve never mentioned it. Not even in passing. I guess burying things is easier than dealing with them. That’s what our society tends to do. Maybe that’s part of the reason why there is such an issue with depression and suicide in our culture.
That Final Step:
Families and friends all across the globe are affected by this notion of suicide. It’s not gender specific nor race specific. It can happen to anyone at any time. There are a number of risk factors which include depression, mental health issues, substance abuse, family violence/abuse, having guns in the home, being exposed to other suicidal people, medical illness, and a bunch of others. All of these items really do fall under what I’ve experienced from this situation, but one point I didn’t mention which I want to underline is that family history of suicide can in itself lead to suicide too.
This is rather disturbing to me because it once led me to question whether I was susceptible to this. The simple truth is most definitely.
The Three Paul’s:
Did I not mention that my dad’s name is Paul too? Well guess what? My middle name is Paul too. What makes me write this point is that I’ve once struggled with the notion of suicide a while back. In fact, I was in a deep state of depression for nearly eleven years, which includes my High School years into my early adulthood life.
On many occasions, I was so unhappy with myself, beating myself up into submission and feeling that I was nothing but a piece of shit. It’s probably a major reason why I failed in getting into a relationship so many times. But it also resulted in me having few friends which even to this day I’m still paying for those actions. I began to see so many commonalities between me, my dad, and Paul, which was quite disturbing to me yet also kind of eye opening.
Are we a bi-product of our family’s genetics? Are we doomed to make the same mistakes as those that came before us? I thought about suicide many times in my High School years, but I never went down that road. The simple truth is I couldn’t do it. I started thinking I was a coward for not doing it. I mean, it takes a lot to make that kind of permanent action doesn’t it? People naturally cling to life, so to take that step into the afterlife must be really brave, isn’t it?
Breaking the Bad:
My dad looks eerily like Brian Cranston did in the hit TV show Breaking Bad. He has that same mustache, the same hair color (which he’s now growing bald), and some similar expressions. I bring this up because for those who’ve seen the show, they know that Walter White turned to cooking meth after learning he has lung cancer and can’t afford to pay for the treatments on his salary. A bit extreme, I know. But he also made that life choice. He chose to be that kind of person who eventually became so corrupt, he did pretty unspeakable things.
My dad’s not like that at all, but he made choices too. He chose to be an accountant. He chose to remarry three times (though he didn’t choose to get divorced), he chose not to pursue his dreams as an artist, and he chose all the things that came after, just like Paul chose to kill himself. Other people’s choices don’t define the choices that we end up making. I chose not to kill myself in High School because I didn’t want my dad to suffer another horrible tragedy like that. I have always made decisions like that where I thought of others before I thought of myself. That’s just the kind of person I am.
As to that question about bravery in taking your own life, I find that to actually be the coward’s way out. Life has a methodical way of being cruel to people on a regular bases. We have to go through hardships all the time. I think about killing myself and the thoughts that run through my head are, “I won’t have to pay bills anymore. I won’t need to get my degree. I won’t need to go to work every day. I won’t have to put up with difficult people anymore. I won’t have to worry about skin rashes, colds, acne, diseases, or pain of any kind. I’ll be free!” Looking at it like that, it actually takes a lot of bravery not to take your life. To live through this existence is the real heroes act, the true test of one’s soul. To prematurely end that just so you can be free of it has no honor at all as far as I’m concerned. I know that some cultures think the contrary of this, but I don’t care because this makes more sense to me. I also know that it’s not always that cut and dry. People suffer from serious depression which leads to suicide. Still, I stand by my statement. So I guess I can agree with what Kenton said about Chester Bennington.
This essay brought up a lot of things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. When I finished the first draft, I had a very sinking feeling inside of me which didn’t go away right away. However , it’s something I’ve wanted to write for a long time and there are things here I wanted to express. The main thing is that I want to make it clear to my readers that we are not biproducts of our parents or their parents. We make decisions for ourselves and we become the people we choose to be. This essay may seem like it’s about suicide, but it’s not. It’s about choice. I make that clear on the last paragraph. This essay does have a far less humorous take when compared to my previous essays, obviously. But I kept the sections style because I wanted to maintain that similarity so that they are linked.