On Amy and J
July 24, 2011 in Deeper Than Down
“Sad…but not surprising.”
Oh and here’s one employing sarcasm, “Gee, that was unexpected. I had always thought she’d die in a train wreck!”
How do people get like this? Who are these people? A young, young woman died. A young woman who was immensely talented, and if you heard any of her music, she was someone who probably made your life a little more interesting, by adding to it art and beauty, and a voice so deep with soul, you’d think it had been around for eons, not just shy of three decades.
Do people find solace in blaming this woman who (though we haven’t heard the exact cause of her death), may have died afraid and alone?
Do people really need that kind of comfort…to express a self satisfied “I told you so,” because they’re afraid of…what? That if they felt sorrow over this, they’d be somehow culpable? Better to blame, better to find cause and effect in it, better to say, “That would never happen to me, because I’m not reckless with my life.”
I had a friend, J, when I was eighteen, at a writer’s retreat in the Adirondack Mountains. We would hike, a whole group of us, out to this lake about a mile from our dorms, flip-flopped and mosquito bitten and drunk with freedom in the dark, and when we got there we’d strip off our clothes and wade into the water, shivering, half hiding our naked parts, taking in each other and the moon with equal reverence.
One night J and I swam out to a not so near dock, racing, both of us breathing hard once we’d made it, pulling ourselves up and onto the damp wood. He told me something I’ll never forget, and I’m sure that there was conversation preceding it, but I have no idea what it could have been.
He said, “I wish I could just be hooked up to machines or something. In a coma.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s just so hard.”
“J, what do you mean, in a coma?” my voice rose in confusion bordering on panic. We were lying on the dock on our backs, staring into the dizzying, countless stars.
I don’t remember if J explained further, but I do remember that later that week he was sent home, because he’d borrowed a steak knife from the dining hall and his dorm mate had woken to see him huddled in the far corner of their room, carving up his arms.
He was a good writer, too. He wrote a play about Emmet Till on one of his first days on campus, and we performed it at the end of the week, in his absence.
There were rumors later that they’d found all kinds of drugs in his bag before he was sent off.
And there was this other guy there that year, too. His name was Sean. Sean was All American, muscular and square jawed. Us girls, we’d all had a crush on him. He’d break out a football anytime we set foot on a patch of grass. He was the class clown, never not smiling.
Sean’s mom had died earlier that same year, it was what he’d written about in his application to the retreat. He read it to a group of us one night out in the woods. But Sean was okay, really, mostly. You could tell. He wasn’t faking his smiles.
So what made Sean the way Sean was, all the energy in his body arching into a long toss of a football, and what made J the way J was, taking blood out of his arms onto a dorm room floor in the middle of the night, dreaming of the sanctuary and stillness of life support machines?
All I know is that J didn’t choose his impulses toward self destruction, and he didn’t deserve to have to leave campus that morning, escorted onto a bus bound for Brooklyn, and back into a life whose circumstances we could only guess about. It just happened. Some people are not as equipped for this world as others.
I’m somewhere in the middle, as I’d guess a lot of us are. Not a constant class clown, and not willfully carving scars into my body. Still, I can step far enough away from my default setting to see where they’re both coming from.
But who are these people saying, “I told you so?”
Those are the ones I can’t quite believe inhabit this same earth.