Jamie Mussack was a friend of mine.  He was older than me, and we attended the same high school and college.  Jamie was a great singer, a fine actor and an award winning drummer.

I met Jamie when I cast him in a cable television show about high school called — “The Westborough Crusaders” — I was writing, directing and producing as a high school freshman.

Here is episode four of the series:

Here is episode eight in the series:

Jamie was always funny, ready to help and he had a non-stop energy that wore out everyone around him.  Nobody had more dedication to purpose than Jamie Mussack.

The everlasting memory I have of Jamie is, for the few short years I knew him, he was always broken:  A wrist, a finger, an ankle.  Those injuries always kept him away from his joys.  He couldn’t drum with a broken arm, he couldn’t play the piano with a finger in a splint, and he couldn’t march the drumline with his ankle wrapped.

My strangest memory of Jamie is when he showed up at my house one hot summer.  His index finger was wrapped in gauze.  It had been a year since we wrapped production on the television show and I hadn’t seen him much.

He was in a new used car — a butterscotch Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme — and wanted to go for a quick ride.  I was shooting baskets in my backyard.  I was shoeless and shirtless but Jamie didn’t care.  He wanted me to go with him right then.  Right now!

I got into his car and he sped us down my street.  He was a little erratic in his driving and after some small talk, things grew quiet when he told me we were going to visit his grandfather in Fremont.

Fremont was an hour and a half car ride away.  By the time Jamie told me we weren’t going around the block, but to Fremont, we were already on the highway.  He laughed that he’d put one over on me and he gave me the strangest looks as if I were in on some secret he held.

He began to swerve the car back-and-forth on the highway.  I told him to slow down and stay in his lane and he laughed at me again.  I buckled my seatbelt and decided if things got out of hand, I would have to somehow reach over and turn off the car, take the keys, and try to prevent him from crashing us into a bridge barrier.

When we finally arrived in Fremont and pulled into his grandfather’s driveway, his grandfather was startled to see us.

Jamie introduced me — still shoeless and shirtless and holding a basketball — while he hugged his grandfather.

Then, as fast as we arrived, Jamie waved at his grandfather, shouted goodbye and we were back in his car racing back to Lincoln at high speed.

90 minutes later, Jamie silently dropped me off at my house and peeled away after I got out of the car.

The experience was strange and numbing.  I don’t know what Jamie really had planned for that day, but I knew it would be unwise to get into a car with him again.

Several years later, I was waiting for an early morning music class at the university to start and Jamie bounced into the auditorium room, his arm in a cast again, and sat right next to me.  I was happy to see him looking so good and he talked non-stop as he caught me up on his precocious life.

The bell rang and class started.  Jamie leapt from his seat and waved at me as he left the classroom auditorium and that final semiotic of him smiling at me and waving over his shoulder is the final moment I have of him.

A few months later Jamie Mussack was dead.  He’d irrevocably found his own end.

I heard he’d taken his life in his parent’s garage.  He turned on his Cutlass Supreme, hooked up a garden hose to his car exhaust, put the other end inside the car with him, and went to sleep forever.

When I learned of Jamie’s death, my first thought was of his terrific parents.  They were always kind and joyful and I know they provided for every whim Jamie ever wanted.  I knew they were heartbroken and crushed.

Then I thought of Jamie and our strange road trip.  I had worked with Jamie and I had spent time with him, but I never really knew him.  He seemed to be full of fun and yearning, but there was obviously more depth of darkness than I sensed and it was then I knew there was really no way for anyone to ever really know the suffering mind of another.

We all live in our secret terrors as we try to tame our inner demons.  Some of us try to find that end by chasing dragons while others lift their eyes to the heavens for salvation while others still try to achieve self-determination through honesty and the public revelation of sacred wants.

Some say suicide is the ultimate selfish act — but I tend to think differently, because once you make the move to darken your own hand with the ashes of your failures — suicide may be the only release available that doesn’t require ongoing pain and misery.  In the idea of the selfish, one becomes selfless and transformed by denying their demons a life beyond their overwhelming torments.

I’m quite certain Jamie Mussack’s family disagrees with me as his demons became their irrevocable and everlasting dismay.

23 Comments

  1. Committing suicide may be liberating to someone but it does put people around him/ her in tremendous misery…everyone starts blaming themselves for not understanding the person enough and not doing something about it…whereas in reality it might be a chemical disorder that is the real cause. If only one thinks for a moment about his near and dear ones before consciously taking a decision of ending life…

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  2. The World Trade Center destruction confirmed a lot of research about pain and people. When faced with a decision to burn alive or leap off a building — people will always choose to jump than to be burned alive. That concept was proven years before with rats who always chose to leap into the unknown rather than stay alive and suffer pain with no end.

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  3. When your mind is on fire, Anne, sometimes the only way to get away from the licking flames is to blindly leap. That’s why it is so important for the depressed and the despondent to try to reach out to others for help.

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  4. David,
    There were only two options in WTC – death and death, nothing else. If I have to pick a way of dying I will choose the lesser painful one, that’s obvious – that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to survive if the option is there. The option of living wasn’t there in WTC.

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  5. It is an incredibly sad story, David, especially in that he reached out to you so often for other things and not when he was at his lowest. There are so many what ifs that get into play but I’ve learned that it is futile to sit and wonder about the perhaps when the present keeps on pressing forward.

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  6. If your mind is in such a state that suicide is an option to living away from the pain, I would argue that person doesn’t know where the flames are coming from or if they will ever end or if there is a safe escape available — and so they take the only option they believe they have left: The Final Leap.

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  7. It was a curious relationship, Gordon. We worked together, though because of our age difference, we didn’t socialize at that young age. We never bumped into each other. He sought me out when he wanted to find me. It was definitely an odd thing. You’re right that we can never know why someone takes the leap. We just have to try to learn from their lives to warn us against our deaths.

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        1. I would think they would appreciate the nuances involved in his life story. Relating how he ‘invisibly’ reached out for help, yet never said anything, could possibly avert another situation such as this in another’s life. I’m sorry to hear that they didn’t appreciate your effort.

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          1. I was disappointed by the reaction, but I accept that his death is still an open wound in their family. Knowing Jamie, and our conversations about his life, the reaction from his family should not have been unexpected.

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          2. I am the relative that responded to David’s story of my brother Jamison. David’s article was fine, except for the use of creative license & false facts. If you are going to write about someone’s suicide 23 yrs ago, an individual that you barely knew – please use accurate information. My brother was & always will be an incredible soul and what I do appreciate are the portions of your article that honor this bigger than life individual.

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          3. Thank you for coming forward and publicly posting your comment, Lori.

            What, exactly, are the “false facts” you claim?

            Jamie and I spent time together and he shared a lot with me. We attended high school and college together. We spent time together outside of class. He starred in a television series I wrote and directed and produced over one long summer.

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  8. Jamie was one of my best friends throughout late Junior High and early high school. If I have the dates correct, Jamie took his own life the day after my wife and i got married. We were called on our honeymoon by Ray Sollenburger to tell us the news. Jamie’s death was something I never could figure out. Our youngest son – James, is named partially after Jamie (as well as another friend named James). To this day, as the years go by, I think of all the things in life that Jamie missed. I never knew what drove him to do what he did, just know that I wish he was still here…..

    Oddly enough, his house in Fremont on west 16th Street was up for sale a few weeks ago. I intended to go to the open house to see the house and see what memories it brought back, but it sold before the open house and I wasn’t able to see the house.

    As the Pink Floyd song says…. “Wish you were here….”

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    1. Hi Tim!

      Thank you for sharing your friendship and insight with us concerning Jamie Mussack. He was a talented, smart, and complicated person — and those of us he left behind are forever left to wonder about the whys of his decision.

      I’ve updated this article to include the Westborough Crusaders videos we shot during the Summer — so in those digital bits at least — Jamie has found eternal life, and I hope, some peace in his fine performances.

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