Where are you?!

Where are you?

On this, the twenty-third anniversary of the day you committed suicide, I ask, where are you?

You are missed by many (me!) beyond words, beyond the reach of creativity, beyond the reach of thought and emotion. It is your being, you, that we miss. You were and are loved, more than you knew, because, as you said, you did not believe anyone loved you. You were as mistaken and as flatly wrong in that believe as those who believed, with every honorable fiber of their being, that the world was flat.

I have slept a great deal today. When awake I find myself remembering the day you left this world, and I am immobilized. I remember being on the phone with someone and hearing my poor sister – your daughter! – in the background, wailing in agony. My little sister shattered. I could not rescue her.  And, God forgive me, I could not rescue you.

In our hours and hours of magical conversation those last ten years I told you once that the day you died would be one of the biggest blows of my life. You were utterly baffled. “Why?” you asked.  And in that moment I knew that you really didn’t understand, believe, how much I loved you and how much my sister and her children and my daughter loved you. How much your brother’s wife and children loved you. How much so many people loved you. Love for you was a foreign language you’d never learned. It was, I believe, your undoing.

Your son and daughter are doing better than anyone expected. You would be deeply proud of your daughter. I am. And we both know you loved us. And while I can’t speak for my sister, I think it safe to say we both wished you’d been able to not just believe, but fully know, that no son and daughter ever loved their mother more than we loved you – and still love you.

I miss you, Mommy.

Where are you?

A Sober August

For me, August is a month of right-sizing, clarity-producing memories, some glorious, some not.

My daughter, Jennifer, was born this day in 1977. The day she was born, the moment I saw her for the first time, well, life doesn’t give us any moments more glorious. 

Tomorrow, August 11, marks three years to the day that Charley came into my life. Non-animal lovers, the poor sods, won’t get this, but animals are family too and Charley is wonderful, and often wide awake given his inexplicable love for eating coffee beans.

And then there are the other memories: my mother’s suicide on August 12, 1992, my father’s death on August 16, 1969, and the day I was shot on August 24, 1984.

Before I got sober the latter three dates drove me into the ground every August. They don’t do that any more. There is no doubt that August 12 and August 16 mark perhaps the worst days of my life. I’d go through the shooting a dozen times if doing so would turn back the clock and spare my parents their end.

In sobriety the days that mark their death and the one that marks the shooting bring me to a place of quiet, gentle, pensiveness. I know they are near me, I can feel them. I am proud to be their son, and I am unflinchingly grateful for the time we had together. And, I know, that while death takes the person from the world, it never takes them from our hearts.


On Suicide

I cannot hear or read about suicide without internally flinching. It is sad that life can be so painful, ending it seems the only way out.

High levels of suicides among veterans, the recently reported suicide of Alexander McQueen, the 40—year-old fashion designer, are reminders that  life happens to us whether we like it or not and sometimes the pain we experience stops us from seeing the hope that is there. The savagery of some marketing and media campaigns that wrongfully say wealth and fame is the way to happiness has misled many of us.

The phrase, the best things in life are free, the title of  a  song written by B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson for the 1927 musical "Good News", still holds true. My heart sings with joy at the call of a Red Tail Hawk, the feather touch of clouds on mountain range, or waking up in the morning. That’s right, waking up in the morning! What a gift! Another day!

Like many others, I’ve been touched by suicide. My birth-father committed suicide with a handgun before I got the chance to meet him; at age 23 my brother put a 22 caliber rifle to his head and pulled the trigger; at age 68, my mother, Virginia, surrounded herself with family pictures and with a mixture of drugs and alcohol, ended her life. Three of my childhood friends’ mothers committed suicide. While I will not name them, I can tell you I still love my three friends and I still love their mothers.

I would be disingenuous if I told you the idea of suicide never crossed my mind. When I was homeless many years ago the option briefly came to the surface. I remember walking on MacDonald Avenue in Brooklyn one brutal bone-chilling cold night with, once again, nowhere to go. I stopped walking and out loud said, “I give up.” I just stood there and again said, “I give up.” I wondered what exactly giving up meant? I mean when you are standing on a cold street with nowhere to go and you say I give up there are not a lot of options. Die, or keep walking. I kept walking.

Here are some things I can, in gentle tones, tell you:

  • Feeling hopeless does not mean there is no hope, it means you are having a hard time finding it; but it’s there.
  • Feeling like you have no options does not mean you have no options. They are there, and you have a right to know about them.
  • Feeling worthless does not mean you are worthless, it means you are having a hard time experiencing your worth. It’s there. Promise.

In other words, I beg of you, don’t give up.

Not giving up has given me many gifts in life. Including the gift of being able to write these words to you.


Just ‘Round the Bend

It’s been many years since I’ve had a good relationship with August. We just don’t get along. I never wronged August, least I can’t remember if I did, but I must’ve. After all, August contains some of the biggest wounds of this man’s life. Shot on August 24th, mother commits suicide on August 12, and the biggest wound of all, my father dies on August 16 when he is 55 and I’m 15.

Now don’t be whipping out any sympathy violins for me, that’s not the point here. I am alive and well and happy and testimony that things can be survived and grown from and while wounds leave their marks and shapes, they don’t mean to stop your life, ‘less you hand’m more control then they deserve. Life happens to us whether we like it our not, it’s how we manage it that makes the difference, our living breathing relationship with it – that’s the point.

Suicide’s anything but fuckin’ painless and the same goes for getting shot and your father dyin’ when you’re fifteen’ll fuck your world up too. But you know what? Sunsets are beautiful and the same goes for sunrises. Friendships and family are precious and Springsteen songs make my heart soar and the sound of children laughing will lighten the heaviest heart and have you seen the flowers blooming lately?

Old wounds don’t stop life. Old pains don’t slam doors. Old scars don’t close your eyes or shut your ears. Open wide your soul and breathe. Lift your hearts up by the fuckin’ bootstraps if you have to. Open your eyes and ears, love people, love life. There’s life gifts in front of you and there’s life gifts ‘round the bend. You might not see’m now, but they’re just ‘round the bend. I know it’s scary, but don’t let it frighten you.

We all got our Augusts. You got yours and I got mine. You keep living now – and I’ll be seein’ you ‘round the bend.

Writing My Mother’s Suicide

Writing about my mother’s suicide in the memoir is, as you might imagine, a deeply emotional task. I can’t say it’s an unwanted to task because at least when I write the sentences I have some control over their content, and suicide, if you’ve had the misfortune to encounter it in life, is a remarkable and merciless reminder that we control very little. Even with our best efforts, we can’t stop someone from ending their life if that is what they want to do.

My mother commited suicide with a well-researched mix of drugs and alcohol on August 12, 1992. I will say nothing more about that in this essay for it is not the salient point of the essay. The salient point is this; my mother, Virginia Kahrmann, was a complete human being who does not deserve to be defined by that admittedly singular moment. Nor does she deserve to be defined by some of her rather harsh and emotionally brutal treatment of me when I grew up. Very few of us, if any, are all one thing. We are amalgams of life experience. My mother was no exception.

Her suicide was the culmination of a life that, for a variety of reasons, some I know, some I don’t, robbed her of her ability to love herself and thus her ability to believe anyone loved her. How do I know this to be true? She told me.

I once told her that her death (no matter how it came about) would be one of the biggest blows I would ever endure in life. She was completely and utterly baffled by this. “Really, Peter? Why?” I was speechless, a rare state for me.

As cruel as she could be to me at times – days after my father died when I was 15 she told me if I hadn’t been such a bastard he might have had enough strength to live – she inflicted far more damage on herself.

Yet, she was far more than the aforementioned. She was brilliant and the best conversationalist I’ve ever known. In the last 10 years of her life we became very close. I’d go to visit her in her Pearl River, New York home mid-morning, and we would talk straight through into the evening, our talks being accompanied by coffee, crackers and cheese, and going out to dinner.

We conferred regularly as we both threw all we had into fighting for the Brady Bill – a bill requiring states to have a waiting period to purchase a handgun until they had an instant check system in place – or when we fought against the death penalty, or the rights of immigrants. She countless volunteer hours to the GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) a group she referred to as the best run non-profit in the country, and worked tirelessly to help refugees from Laos find homes.

Her demons killed her love for herself and ultimately guided her into ending her own life. I am asking, hoping, that readers will not allow those demons to blind them to the beautiful person she in so many ways was, and in my heart, still is. If they do, then the demons win again, and winning again is the last thing they deserve.