October 26, 2009
I have had a few letters from my reader friends asking me where I've been lately and why I missed my usual postings. My absence was due in large part to the recent passing of a dear friend who tragically took his own life and the whole affair really knocked the wind out of my sails.
Over the past weeks, I alternated between anger at him for choosing such a path, and a mixture of sadness with panic at the realization that he was gone forever...I would never be able to call, write or see him again. I also could not shake questions such as: Could I have been a better friend? Were there signs or clues I missed? If I had been more observant could I have changed anything?
Who was Brian to me?
Brian was a fantastic musician and guitar player. We had a mutual admiration in regards to our different talents - he was a technically brilliant guitarist while my strength was in arrangement. Whenever we got together to play, I always walked away having learned something. We also connected over our common musical interests, both having a secret love for old country music and other Americana long before it was retro-hip. I remember learning pieces that only he would appreciate when he heard them. Impressing him meant something to me. He was one of the only people I know, besides myself, who would just as likely listen to Sonic Youth as Hank Williams.
The guy loved to fish and approached it from a Zen-like perspective. Fishing was a way for him to achieve a temporary sense of peace. Some of my favorite memories are the times we went fishing together - although we probably said less than a dozen words to each other once we got to the water.
He was not really political, yet he was one of my most supportive friends when I decided to direct my attention towards things political. That might surprise people - as it surprised me. Perhaps he just saw a friend who was pursuing a passion and could appreciate that. I really treasure his encouragement now and probably should have thanked him more for it. I often complained to him about his cynicism and his typical "artist's disconnect" from the world. His response was to ask me to go fishing sometime with him... I wish I had taken him up on that more often.
Brian was always soft-spoken and I can't recall a time I ever heard him really raise his voice. He could be very funny in a quiet, dry way. His prank phone calls were legendary and he had actual jokes with punchlines. But even with the joking there was a perpetual aura of melancholy around him. Sometimes it seemed as though the time he spent with you was a short break from his real occupation of carrying around some invisible burden. It was as if he was setting down an psychic sack of heavy rocks to make you smile with a joke or a song, share a cigarette, and then he'd move on.
There are those who would probably not want me to write about the troubles in life Brian had. The people left behind want to put a halo on their loved ones. But if anyone knew him at all, they would know he didn't really hide his struggles. He was as complex as anyone else in his situation. There was the good, the bad and the tragic in Brian's life.
Too often I was a partner in crime in what was both of our more self-destructive periods. For better or worse we bonded over this too. All I wish to say about this is that Brian understood that he was probably self-medicating. He wanted to just feel alright for a short time. I doubt it worked.
Brian was a diagnosed manic-depressive. That in itself was nothing shocking. I would run out of fingers (and toes) if I tried to count the people I know with Bi-polar disorder. He liked to refer to himself as simply being "crazy". In truth there are other people who know his "mental" history better than I do. I had only heard second hand about suicide attempts in his past.
Brian liked to act - in front of me at least - as though he had it under control and carrying that invisible burden was all part of being "Brian" (I wish he hadn't). So the plain truth is that I never took it that serious (I wish I had). I know it was not an easy disorder to have but that's how it is for millions of people. And certainly the last thing I would have imagined was that at his age he had not come to some kind of terms with it and could actually do what he did on that awful day. But as an old friend reminded me after the fact, I was not looking at things through the bi-polar mind's eye.
I had noticed that this last year he looked very tired. When he smiled, his expression had to compete with deep cut worry lines on his face. The worry seemed to be winning out. He appeared to be aging faster than the rest of us. When he sang, I noticed his voice had developed a certain shaky authenticity as if he had really been digging deep in his soul. I thought that he had finally figured out how to be comfortable in his own skin. I could not have been more wrong it would seem.
I can only speculate, but now I think he was just plain tired of life. He was tired of carrying that heavy load. He was tired of being on a roller coaster and not friends or fishing or music or loved ones could offer a real respite from the crushing weight.
Still, I could not reconcile one thing: his total loss of hope. Hope was the life raft (with faith) that pulled me back from the edge so many times. It is the conviction that there is an equal chance that something good will happen as something bad happening ...It is my conviction that things will turn around and without hope it is quite possible I would not be here today.
Brian himself had always given me hope in a way...If he could make it through this world with what he had been through and dealt with - then we all could make it.
I could only think of one thing that could ever make me lose hope... that God forbid something happened to my child. I have to wonder what could have been Brian's equivalent to this?
Where did his hope go?
I will never know the answer to this question and I pray I never experience the death of Hope.
Now, my hope for Brian is that at least his soul can finally shed that weight he carried around for so many years. Perhaps now he can really find the peace this world would not give him...
Labels: brian steed patterson