Starkly away

I'd fully intended for to stay silent until my return. Life rarely works out the way I planned it, though.

How simple, how easy, it would be. Like falling, and letting gravity do the work. A town named for my family, a road named for my great-grandfather, a community center named after my grandfather, and several generations of children (and adults) who had my mother for a teacher…Here, by dint of birth and breeding, I would never—could never—be a stranger. Part of the community whether I asked for it or not, unlike our days in Huntsville where we freely admit to recruiting geeks into our ragamuffin alternate family.

- "road unshared" - July 19, 2003

I'd raced to my cell phone yesterday afternoon, and was delighted to see that it was Jeff calling. Our custom is to call each other when we reach the endpoint of a trip. Just a routine call, I thought, but not the routine message I expected: "Your sister called."

My mind nearly shut off right then. My sister and I are not close; a phone call from her implies death or destruction. She doesn't make social calls. Not to me, anyway.

"Do the names Wanda and Ron mean anything to you?"

"Yeah. They live just down the road from Mom, and they've been good friends with us for years. Their daughter's a couple of years older than me. We played together a lot when we were kids."

"Wanda's father shot himself this morning."

I felt my voice rising, that awful horrid squeak of untenable news creeping into my voice. "He what?"

"He shot himself this…"

…and I thought, No, no, it's not that I didn't hear you, it's that I don't understand.

* * * * *

"It was needless—but then again, is there such a thing as a needful suicide?"

- "memoriam.", January 13, 2001

We've been through this before, you see.

When I called my mother back, the sadness in her voice was all too familiar. It's the same depth of sadness and lack of comprehension that creeps into her voice when she speaks of the brother she lost.

"Wanda and Ron were so good to us. They've been there for everything…when Keith died, when your grandfather died, when your father died…they were always there for us."

My memory matches hers. Wanda and Ron were the type of family that springs up unbidden around you in a small community like Tull: even though they were one of the few families in Tull we weren't directly related to, by dint of years of life together, they just counted. Weddings, funerals, births of children and grandchildren: for all of these and a thousand occasions more mundane, they were part of our family in the ways that count.

My heart aches for them. Noah was ninety-three, and a widower; the only explanation we have is that he was beginning to slow down, and was afraid that he would have to move into a nursing home.

Early Sunday morning, he made his choice. Wanda and Ron found him a few hours later.

* * * * *

My grandmother is devastated. Noah was one of the few of 'her' generation remaining. She has buried her parents, her husband, several siblings, a son, and a son-in-law–and yet, she still stands, mid-eighties, with every death leaving yet another appreciable hole in her life that grandchildren and great-grandchildren seem unable to fill.

I sat out on Brian & Suzan's back porch last night, listening to the storm roll in, wondering if we're ever meant to understand events such as these. What really drives a person to suicide? Is it possible that there are some situations that are simply unbearable by the human psyche? Is there a point in which death becomes the preferable course? Does our intent not to hurt those we love ever become eclipsed by the need to make our own pain stop?

Is there ever a time in which such a final and selfish act is actually an acceptable course of action? If so, how do we move past grief and anger to acceptance?

I hope Noah Smith found the peace he sought.

I hope that–someday–Wanda and Ron will find theirs.