And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass it’s just a moment
This time will pass
~ U2, Stuck in a Moment
Bono has been quoted as saying that he wrote the song Stuck in a Moment about an imaginary argument with his late friend Michael Hutchence, an argument in which Bono would have been trying to cajole him or “slap him around the head a bit,” to talk him out of committing suicide. I wonder how many people know how it feels to wish they had said or done something — or even known — about someone close to them contemplating the most final of actions.
I have never spoken about the suicide of my friend earlier this year. I was standing at baggage claim at DC’s Reagan National Airport texting back and forth with my very best friend of more than forty years, talking nonsense, really, interspersed with tidbits about my god-kids or when I would next be home to visit when out of the blue one of the texts popped up unceremoniously and like every other before it except that it said, “Oh my God, Wagner killed himself.” I didn’t skip a beat. I closed the text window and called my friend and said, “Why are you just now telling me this?” To which she replied, “I literally just found out the second I told you. I’m sorry. I’ll find out what I can and let you know. Are you coming home?”
No. I wasn’t going home.
In retrospect I suppose what I was experiencing was shock of some variant; I didn’t feel anything. I got into the Uber as I always did — almost every week in the same spot — and rode in silence to The Jefferson, was handed the key, made my way up to the suite to which I’d been upgraded — my favorite, they know — threw my things on the floor and went about my evening as though nothing had happened. Except that it had. I changed into my running clothes and left the hotel taking a right heading down toward the White House and the mall beyond. When I returned I retraced my footsteps back to my room, went directly into the bathroom, disrobed, stepped into the oversized shower and as soon as the water hit me, I came undone. I cried so convulsively I could not stand and instead ended up sitting on the floor of the shower for what seemed like an hour, but I had and have no concept of the time that passed. When the water began to run cold and the well of my tears had seemingly run dry, I stood, turned off the water, wrapped myself in a towel and then a robe, took my usual place on the large, stuffed-mattress bed, ordered my dinner and went back to work.
My emotional fallout from his death and from the utter wrongness of it by virtue of it having been choice remained in that shower, in that cube, washed down the drain with the sweat of my run and collective grunge of my travel as though it never happened.
I sent a large, but tasteful bouquet of flowers to the funeral with a note only to his sister, whom I adore; not a word to his mother who I will always blame for the unrealistic pressures she placed on him to be perfect or beyond that, some erstwhile modern-day prince sans the appropriate bloodline. His dad had passed only a few months prior, so though they had suffered enough, I knew too much to forgive her even in grief, unwilling to compromise or pretend even for the sake of manners. The service was held in a tiny Tennessee town which was not our own, but that of his grandparents, near the lake and cabin he so loved. In truth, I had, momentarily, during my contained acknowledgment of it all considered if I could make it there in time and back to DC for the next week’s meetings, but something would have to be canceled or moved, and I would not do it, not for this, but more so because I believed then as I still do now that I knew him better than those who ultimately gathered, wailing and crying, some for attention and others for the person they thought they knew. Just as I keep my spirituality to myself feeling that church is more of a display for the benefit of others than for your personal relationship with whatever god you worship, I believe true grieving happens after the fact; when you’re ready, in the world’s good time of allowance.
We had known each other forever, childhood sweethearts who managed the transition to college despite being at separate schools. We were the same, Wagner and I, in so many ways. Bright beyond our years in the ways of the world, but also determined to live every second, soak it all up, be the most alive in any room, the most fun at any party, the most outspoken on any passion. In the final analysis, I would say each of us managed about half of those goals, fairly yet unintentionally splitting them down the middle. Though somehow I ended up with the ones that better enabled survival of those born with our particular brand of sensitivity to life and all it entails.
“I wish I had known,” seems such a trite reprise in cases such as this, but I know no other truth. We’d been estranged for so many years, our paths had taken such different directions. Though I know in my heart that if he would’ve listened to anyone, it would have been me. This isn’t guilt or aggrandizement or any toxic marital recrimination thereof; it’s the truth. We were as alike as identical twins who had somewhere along the way been the subject of a Sliding Doors type life divergence, but who could have reconnected as though no time had passed in the briefest of re-encounter.
Suicide has been too much with us as of late: those of two famous musicians in the last several weeks; that of my son’s friend’s mom of which I have written here; that of my friend, of which I am now speaking, writing, acknowledging for the first time anywhere. It’s too common, too easy, too glorified and all, the quick simplicity of it too convenient of an answer for someone who might have for a long time felt lonely, or for someone who only momentarily feels alone.
I have never felt lonely; true introverts rarely do. We are motivated from within, driven by our own ideas, internal dialogues, self-determined goals and singular means of satisfaction. But I have felt alone; as though no one else in the world has the problems I do, faces the struggles I have, or wakes up some days to what seem to be insurmountable issues of varying life aspects to even more varied degrees. On those days I close myself off, do not speak to friends, do not go outside, do not engage at all. How silly that is, how selfish and myopic I am. Everyone has troubles, no one is immune, regardless of station in life or appearances to the contrary. And this, without fail, is what snaps me out of my funk and brings me back to the living, reascending to the light as quickly — if not more so — than I delved into the dark. I walk outside, I remind myself that I am not alone in this life, that these events which impact us all, the little storms which weather our individual rock, is simply the course of life itself.
How easy would it be — would it have been — to let Wagner know that though he may have been lonely, he wasn’t alone. How simple a thing is that to do for anyone, on any given day, when you see them struggling, hurting or even just ever so slightly slipping to the melancholic side of life. To let them know that you are vulnerable, too; that you’ve made mistakes, faced challenges, or felt alone. We’re all alone together, and that is the most sobering, and perhaps helpful, truth of all.
When the day is long and the night
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
~ Everybody Hurts, REM