This…. song. Sigh.
This track deluges me with so many complex emotions. It possesses such an incredibly romantic undercurrent buried somewhere in the sweeping, melancholic rifts. I am particularly enamored with the way he intonates many of the lines. It’s gentle but so evocative at the same time. At times haunting. But still so beautiful.
I found myself listening to it this morning in a near trance-like state, slow dancing alone in the dim light of the kitchen. I was letting the music guide my body. Swaying my hips to the beat and gently expressing how taken I felt by the melodies with meandering hands. I did slow motion pirouettes and harmonized with the chorus.
Somewhere in this spell it occurred to me that I needed to tell my friend Shawn about this song. This type of gorgeous, shoe-gaze sound was always his absolute favorite. He was a musical prodigy himself and I knew he would find this track to be masterful. We were always sharing music with one another and discussing different nuances and elements that we found meaningful.
For a half of a second in my head I was calculating how early it would be in California so texting the song and some thoughts wouldn’t wake him.
And then I remembered he wouldn’t be awake at this hour. Because he wouldn’t be waking up ever again. Not in this life, at least.
Shawn took his own life two years ago. He was the second of my close friends to commit suicide – both by hanging. In fact, he and I had lost touch for a few years and had reconnected solely because he was having a hard time in his personal life and had seen a post of mine grieving the loss of my friend Craig. They didn’t know one another but Shawn made a point to reach out to me and express his condolences. He said we could be a support to one another. I told him I was struggling to understand. He told me that grief was brutal. To give myself time.
If I’d only known then how prophetic those words were.
Shawn left this world only a short few months later, on Craig’s birthday. He didn’t realize what date it was or how already impossible that day was going to be for me. But even if he had, he was too far gone at that point to delay his end. His marriage was falling apart in such an ugly and painful way. He felt knocked completely off his axis. Blindsided. He was a perfectionist with trust issues to begin with. So he simply couldn’t grasp how someone he loved so much had changed seemingly overnight and his whole world started unraveling. He was struggling to cope with the separation and very few people understood how it effected his sense of emotional and mental safety. He felt deeply betrayed. Confused. Desperate. Hopeless.
The final nail in the proverbial (and literal) coffin was a careless prescribing by some bullshit therapist. The medication wasn’t necessary and sent him into a full blown mania. I will be haunted for the remainder of my life by those last few weeks. I was across the country with a 3 year old under foot but I could hear in his voice something was shifting. He was heading into dangerous territory. I’d heard that voice before.
I would spend hours on the phone listening, comforting, urging him to stop the medication as soon as possible. I told him I would never leave him alone. He could call me any time, day or night. We would get through this, together. Together.
The very same words I last spoke to Craig.
Shawn wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t eating. He was drinking and pacing the floors. He began asking me questions about suicide. My thoughts on it, after losing my friend. Did I think it was selfish. Did I hate him for it. Was it normal to have those types of thoughts. I was immediately alarmed but I also didn’t want him to feel judged or insecure confiding in me. I told him that everyone has those thoughts, including me, from time to time, but a thought and an urge are two very different beasts. I asked him to tell me if what he was feeling was an urge. I told him it was okay to tell me if he was, it wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but I needed to know so we could get him some help.
He assured me it wasn’t an urge.
I wanted to believe him but couldn’t take any chances. I contacted other friends, his family. We began coordinating an immediate crisis strategy.
Just like I did with Craig.
His mother booked the next flight out to Los Angeles. To offer emotional support and ensure he was eating and sleeping. She was going on contact the psychiatrist and give him a piece of her mind. Her flight was the next morning. We just had to make it to morning. We could do it. Together.
I kept telling him he needed to close his eyes, even if for a few minutes. I offered to stay on the phone while he slept. I would stay awake and listen to him breathe. I didn’t mind as long as he was safe. I wanted him to know I was there. He politely declined, I think he thought it might make him seem weak.
I wish I’d insisted.
I stayed awake half the night in the chance he might wake up in another panic. Or need to talk. Or cry. Or laugh.
Around 4 my eyes got heavy. I thought the quiet was such a good sign. Thank God he is finally getting some rest, I thought. This will help him immensely. Nothing can be solved when you’re sleep deprived. With that notion in mind, I closed my eyes.
I wish I hadn’t.
He was gone by 6 am. Around the time his Mom was boarding her east coast flight. She would find out several hours later on her layover. Just…. Absolutely horrific.
None of us knew yet. I woke up and found it odd he’d texted me, “awake?” at 4:39. I wrote back immediately. I am now! Did you get some rest? What time does your Mom land? Shawn you okay? I love you. I am here. I’m here….
No answer. I waited. Texted again. I tried not to worry by thinking perhaps he had finally fallen into a much needed deep sleep.
I wish that he hadn’t.
A local friend couldn’t reach him either and stopped by the house to check. He was suspended in the open car port. Visible from the street.
I got the news later that afternoon from a mutual friend and just… started screaming. Wailing, really.
Not again. Not today. Not Craig’s birthday. Not Shawn. Not Shawn. NOT SHAWN. How can he be gone he just texted me. We just spoke last night. I told him we only had to make it to morning. He knew I was here for him. Why didn’t he call me. How could I miss that text. No, not Shawn. This can’t be happening. Call an ambulance, somebody resuscitate him. Immediately. Somebody save him. Please.
Why couldn’t I save you!!!?
Please….. Come back.
Don’t leave me….
Please… Don’t leave….
But they were gone and I was left to inherit their pain.
So I screamed at the sky. I screamed at the floor. I screamed and so many tears fell. So much anger. So much sadness. So much disbelief.
I have, mercifully, found some degree of inner peace with their deaths over the last few years. But I’m not sure one can ever be completely at peace when you lose someone to suicide.
I came to understand they were both hurting so much. They simply acted out of misplaced desperation. And I did everything humanly possible to support them in their time of need. It will always bother me that it wasn’t enough. That my love wasn’t enough… to heal them.
Or maybe it was enough and fate simply had different plans. I won’t know until it’s my time and what a glorious day that will be.
The parallel of their deaths, my failed attempts of rescuing them, the methods and the dates will always be surreal. I didn’t realize until posting this that the lyrics for this song are also so… eerily apropos.
So as I danced in that kitchen, all alone… I wrapped myself in this song. I wrapped myself in them. As it felt like they were in there, somehow. And the tears fell, once more. But I also smiled…. sensing them slow dancing with me.
The hazy water will never pull them back
You found the pieces washed up in the bay
You said you saw a colored light through the grey
The hounds are restless, you can hear them sing
The water rises, trembling as it breathes
You said you felt a quick shift in the breeze
With the color red surrounding your throat
They were in their bedrooms, eyes were closed
When the siren sounded, they woke
In the night they’ll find you all alone
With the color red surrounding your throat
‘A Sailing Ship on a High Sea by Moonlight’ by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky