Did you ever try to end your life?
Do you know someone who tried to commit suicide?
What stopped you from finding death?
What saved your friend from meeting success?
I’ll go first… Several years ago after purchasing a handgun I was overwhelmed with melancholia.
As I look back now from the future I can’t see any reason for feeling so down back then but being in a dark moment can have unplanned consequences and close proximity to an instrument of killing is the primary key to unlocking success.
A gun is a cleaner kill for the dying than a knife or a noose. As if in a trance, I pulled the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum from its locked box, jammed in some hollow-point ammo and aimed the barrel into my mouth.
Teeth slid on oily metal.
Lips pursed around the front sight. Tongue poked in the barrel as a final, cowardly, attempt to prevent science and nature from persevering through the back of my head. Thumb twitched as the trigger was tensed. Eyelids fell like curtains. Then. The phone rang.
I was sounded out of my trance. I removed the gun from my mouth and answered the phone to stop its ringing. My friend and mentor, Marshall Jamison, was on the other end calling from Fort Myers, Florida.
We spoke every week or so but I was surprised to hear from Marshall because he was in the bloom of retirement and money was tight for him and I was in the blossom of my writing career and I didn’t mind paying for our long-distance bull sessions.
I answered the phone in a voice that was not my own and Marshall asked if it was me. With the back of my hand I wiped the gun oil off my lips and coldly confirmed it was me. He asked if I was okay.
I ran my tongue along my sleeve to get the taste of metal out of my mouth.
“Are you there?” He asked.
“I’m here.” I said with a dry tongue.
Marshall sensed the darkness in my pause and said, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
I hesitated. How did he know? Caught, I didn’t know what to say. I looked over my shoulder to see if he was standing behind me. I only saw the .357 Magnum waiting for me on the bed.
Marshall asked me again, in a louder, commanding voice that shook the phone receiver against my ear, “David, are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
I answered him in a voice that was already dead, “I.. think I am.” “Don’t you do it, David, don’t you do it!” I was struck by his urgency and his anger and I was overwhelmed with guilt and sorrow as I remembered Marshall’s firstborn son and namesake
— Marshall Jamison, Jr. — killed himself several years earlier.
Marshall, Jr. connected a hose to a car tailpipe with duct tape and taped the other end over an open car window. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning sitting in the driver’s seat. His parents found him dead in their garage after returning from the grocery store.
“Don’t you do it!” Marshall yelled and pushed me from his past back into our moment.
“I… I won’t…” I stammered into the phone. “Promise me you won’t do it! C’mon, now. Promise me! Say it!”
“I promise, Marshall. I promise you.” My hand was shaking.
The rest of the conversation blended into a kind of white noise but I remember Marshall kept me on the phone for two hours and we talked about all kinds of things but not his son Marshall, Jr. — that wasn’t his style — and not the details of what led me to what I was planning to commit.
For the next two days Marshall called me every hour to see how I was feeling. We didn’t talk about why he was calling — that wasn’t his style, either — but we both knew the unspoken reason and my dark trance eventually lifted. I have been lucky to have never had thoughts of a final commission cross my mind again.
I was grateful something inside Marshall pushed him to pick up the phone that day and call me. He saved me in a way I know he wished he’d been able to save his son.
There isn’t one reason for the kind of decision that leads one to put a gun in a mouth — there are a thousand reasons and when all those reasons pile up and align just right and the guns and the ammo are right there — convenience and bad thoughts too easily converge with deadly consequence.
The next day we handed over our handguns to the NYPD. Having handguns in the house only confirmed our terror in the opportunity to tempt living. There is no human shame in sharing a failed suicide story because we all need reminders how tenuous and precious life is and the only cowardice isn’t in the attempt but in the success.
I wager it is only the wholly healthy mind that contemplates the means of attempting the end while the incomplete and broken mind never wanders beyond the solitary living self. Here are some hard facts to help give voice to the unspoken suicide problem in America.
- Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all U.S. men (Anderson and Smith 2003).
- Males are four times more likely to die from suicide than females (CDC 2004).
- Suicide rates are highest among Whites and second highest among American Indian and Native Alaskan men (CDC).
- Of the 24,672 suicide deaths reported among men in 2001, 60% involved the use of a firearm (Anderson and Smith 2003).
- Women report attempting suicide during their lifetime about three times as often as men (Krug et al. 2002)
- The National Institute of Mental Health Reports:
- In 2000, suicide was the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds — 10.4 of every 100,000 persons in this age group — following unintentional injuries and homicide.
- Suicide was also the 3rd leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14, with a rate of 1.5 per 100,000 children in this age group.
- The suicide rate for adolescents ages 15 to 19 was 8.2 deaths per 100,000 teenagers, including five times as many males as females.
- Among people 20 to 24 years of age, the suicide rate was 12.8 per 100,000 young adults, with seven times as many deaths among men as among women.Contemplating suicide is a natural human wonder of an intelligent mind. To find curiosity in living demands the same introspection into dying just as the meaning of goodness has no context without the framing presence of evil.The difference between thinking about suicide and actually carrying it out rides on the thin impulse of the moment and on the thick irrevocable decision you have lived enough.The problem with carrying out that decision is the logic of a melancholic mind cannot always clearly see a way out of the fog except by choosing to fall down forever into darkness and that is where the light of dialogue and the force of intervention can salvage the wages of wondering from death.