Holding out; holding on

Until I had children, one of my goals was to be a suicide. I wasn’t in despair all the time, but I didn’t feel in control of much of anything and I figured I could at least control my death, and that knowledge was a comfort to me.

I can see now that that was goofy in several ways, one of which is because it fits snugly into the pattern of other goofy ideas I entertained as a teenager and middle-ager and right up through this morning.

Within a few years after graduation, a couple of the kids I’d gone to high school with committed sideways—that’s how we tried to laugh at it—and the word on both Jerome and Carmen was that mostly they didn’t think anyone cared about them or ever would.

For years, if life looked too bleak, I’d ask, “Should I kill myself now?” How bad are things? Should I just kill myself and let my mother collect the insurance? No, not yet, but maybe some time I would.

In the autumn of ’82 in Chicago, I promised myself that if I hadn’t achieved something or other—probably a job—by my birthday, I’d kill myself. I was broke and lovelorn, a deadly combination. I spent most of my time on my bicycle until the snow came, and then I’d sit and read or listen to the radio in my aunt’s cold basement. On the floor above, my mother, in whose tiny apartment I slept, kept the game-show volume up where it belonged—she could play her television any way she wanted to in her own living room. She was right, of course, so death looked pretty good to me.

I know I wasn’t in a war zone or prison or Texas, but despair is an inside job like the other important things, and I was ready to end my life. I just wanted not to feel bad, and it didn’t matter how that happened. With a job, I could’ve been a coke addict.

I’d been sitting down there for hours at my drafting table reading J. D. Salinger, reviewing my suicide note, and copyediting my involved instructions designed to avoid having my mother or aunt discover my corpse. When I didn’t have much luck thinking of a reason I should not blow my brains out, for what seemed like the first time ever, I took a chance and deliberately gave myself a break, a do-over. I knew I hadn’t achieved my stated goal and had no excuse, yes. And, of course, I was once more proving my essential worthlessness—yes, indeed I was. And I unloaded the gun anyway.

That was a while back, and now I’ve got these dependents, see, so I’m prepared to stick it out, especially since my life insurance was cancelled.