Certainly not this. As a boy I had a dark sense of humor. I remember there was some art period at school, and they handed me a little dittoed prompt sheet, four squares. There was “draw yourself” whose contents are lost to memory. Probably a stick figure. “Draw your house”, where I am sure I crudely interpreted my childhood home on Toledo St. “Draw your family”, whose contents are a little hazy. Mom, dad, maybe a dog I have no real memories of called Popeye. It is unlikely my sister appears due to acute lack of conception at time of portrait. And the final panel, “draw yourself at 30” in which I drew a tombstone.
I don’t know if the very young boy who drew that tombstone really understood suicidal depression. I don’t think he did, but I don’t remember much about being him. I don’t remember the dog. Maybe 8 year old Aaron already did. Maybe he woke up at 7am, climbed up on top of the fridge to get cereal and poured it in his bowl, and while he walks from the kitchen, through the dining room to get to the TV to watch cartoons, all he can think is “I wish I were dead.”. I can clearly remember 15 year old me acting out this scene (right down to the cereal _and_ cartoon brand for that matter), but the evidence exists — wee bitty Jarvitron had a pretty dark streak to him already.
Lets talk about 15 year old Aaron for a minute. I was having a hard time fitting in with kids who were doing normal things. I did not understand how to modulate my emotions or separate/elevate my needs and my poor socialization had made me an easy target for bullies. Actually it was the bullied who came for me. If you needed to “throw down” to make sure the rest of the students didn’t think you were a pussy, there was always Walker, big and kinda fat and perpetually scared. Anyhow, I had this fun thing around this time where I’d hit myself. 15 was probably the peak. I figured it out around maybe fourth grade, fifth, if you’re in class and you can’t stop wanting to cry or do something other than just stare laser focused at your book, you just ask if you can go to the bathroom and you make sure you go to one where nobody else is in because they will be able to hear you and then you hit yourself in the face just hard and fast, there is a technique to it because you don’t want to accidentally hit your nose and give yourself a black eye because people notice those and you don’t really want to hit your temples too hard because it makes it really hard to hear but you hit yourself and you hit yourself and sometimes you hit your head on the wall not too many times because people notice but it is a good, hard feeling, with an edge of danger and you SCREAM it in your head you scream I WISH I WERE DEAD I WISH THAT SOMEBODY WOULD COME IN HERE AND STAB ME AND THEN CRACK MY SKULL OPEN AND THEN SET ME ON FIRE AND I WISH I WERE DEAD AND THE PAIN COULD GO ON FOREVER AS LONG AS I WERE DEAD AND IT WERE JUST THAT IF I COULD LEAVE ALL THE REST AND JUST DIE AND HAVE PAIN then everything is pretty much good and red-tinged and then you go into a stall in case anybody comes in because now you’ve got that fucking warrior face on and people don’t like that, they can tell and you don’t want to be disturbed so you sit down on the toilet and wait as the adrenaline just rooocks in. It’s not pleasant and I’m not really sure I’ve ever talked about it to anyone ever. Certainly not in depth. You can sub out a shed in the back yard for the home version. And then for the rest of the day, it’s books books books. Math math math. Anything where there’s rules, simple rules that build to bigger better rules.
Fast forward to college. College was real hard and I wanted to die in earnest all the time. I’d learned in High School that people were awful, and my hopes that College would be some kind of different beast altogether were dashed in the first 72 hours on campus. I didn’t want to go back after the first semester break. I cried a lot and went to great lengths to make sure that nobody ever saw that shit. I still hit myself, at a greatly reduced rate, and I went to great lengths to make sure nobody saw that shit either but I definitely remember headbutting the wall by the Sun Terrace Apartment payphone a few times. Cinderblock is definitely not the preferred surface for such a thing. I wonder if I could get a gun. My roommate at this time had one in his room, had I gone snooping. He’d probably have handed it to me had I asked. I had given a lot of thought to methods of suicide, and I believed (and still do) that a gun is the only way I could do it. Anyhow, when I’m busy I’m fine. When the work is overwhelming, that’s fine. When I get bored, I feel like I want to die.Whenever I cry or think about dying, I think about my mother and what it’d do to her. What she’d look like at the funeral. What it’d do to my sister. So I do my rageface thing and then back to some math. But the god damned thing about college is the free time, they give you so much of it and you’re supposed to find people and make relationships and all I wanted to do was get away. Anywhere else. Sometimes I called that place death. I could only even conceptualize sex when I was obliterated drunk, and when I did get there it was always awkward, terrified. Sooner or later I found drugs. And drugs have rules. Simple rules that build to bigger better rules.
Fast forward to 2007. I’m trying to buy a video card from somebody off Craigslist. My roommate has unexpectedly taken my car, so I am making the trip on Portland’s better-than-average-but-still-just-public-transit. I’m running about 20 minutes late, and I’ve also unexpectedly had to take a visitor from out of town (a friend of my roommates) with me to show around. We’re walking from some weird bus stop toward my house in St. Johns, along a greenway I’m not sure I could ever find again. My phone rings, and lo it is my roommate, whose friend I’m showing around. He’s calling from somewhere very very far away many clicks of my car’s odometer. Miles of tree lined Oregon road. Maybe he saw a waterfall. All I see when he talks is a gas gauge pegged on E, a hate-vision fringed with crimson and dazzling sparks. Wait what was going on here oh. He’s bartering some computer hardware I’ve upgraded away from for some industrial size bin of electronic garbage to store. And while he describes the trade in earnest, our shared family plan minutes smoldering, I see the room full of old computer stuff in my house, imagine it packed fuller. It is already a drift of carcinogenic obsolete shit, a frozen tsunami of old wires and reclaimed computer racks. And finally here is where it happens. I hang up my phone, and the Craigslist person is calling me, and I look up at this tree (which is what I do in situations where devout people might “look to heaven”) and I think, “I wish I were dead.”. I pretend I don’t hear my phone and keep heading back to the house.
That’s it. That is where it changed for me. Not then, but in the remembering of that moment. It is so fucking ridiculous. SAD. It’s… it’s asinine. Pathetic. Every synonym of every word that has ever implied someone who is as irrational as they are immature. It wasn’t long after that, that I broke down what was happening. I had bent and bowed and “helped” and “done what I could”, and my relationship (and business entity) was still a never ending hole into which money and time and effort were pumped… from my real job, which at the time needed 60+ hours of my week. I want to be dead, Mr. Tree. Something snapped and the tree talked back. It said, You want to be dead? Because you have a shitty roommate?! Because you don’t wanna be “the bad guy” and stop supporting some other person’s half baked dream? What happened to all those other times dipshit, you wanted to die, and you felt so strongly about it you were just prepared to but you needed to find the gun, tomorrow you’d go get a gun, and you never did. By morning, that feeling was completely gone, and tomorrow morning this’ll be completely gone too. In fact it’ll probably be gone as soon as you eat a piece of fruit or take a shit. So stop tellin’ trees your sad sack bullshit and go fucking buy that video card after you EAT A MEAL. And after that THUNDERCLAP of thought… I finally felt my stomach growling. I thought about how long it had been since I’d eaten anything.
It didn’t end that day. Neither my shitty roommate situation; nor my brain’s flagrant, flippant insistence on the suicide option being tabled in all brainstorming sessions for every scale and variety of problem in my day to day life. But that’s when it started. I was able to get outside of my head, for just a moment, and see how childish that thought was when looked at realistically. I definitely don’t remember the exact words, but I do remember, as a child, saying “I wish you were dead, for a MILLION YEARS.” And while my adult ears twigged to how immature an understanding _that_ emphasis belied, for some reason it took until I was 27 years old for me to hear “I WISH I WERE DEAD” in that same babyish tone. I WISH I WERE DEAD as a replacement for I WISH I WEREN’T IN THE LINE AT A CARL’S JR., as a stand in for NOBODY KNOWS HOW TO MERGE FROM THE LEFT LANE.
And finally it is wrong of me to try to put some kind of pleasant cap on this. Like I’m dusting my hands of it. Far from it. This is a reminder, that the brain is a tricksy thing. That there will be thoughts that get stuck in the rotation, that don’t really have anything to do with what is going on. And the old tricks are always the best tricks, and for me, and for a lot of people I think, the brain’s first best trick is pretending death is a painless alternative to every passing discomfort. I hope that my last best trick is pretending enduring discomfort is the only alternative to the painful permanence of death.