Last week, my girlfriend’s brother killed himself in Lille, France, by cutting his hand off. He bled to death. His dog ate part of the body. My girlfriend’s dad had to clean the blood off the dog’s face. On FaceTime, my girlfriend showed me the dog. It looked like a scared ghost after the war.
I transfer patients to psych wards. It’s part of my job. I drive them to places that won’t help them. The patients have to do the work themselves. The employees at those places look just as lost as the dog.
In the military, a Brit Marine in the barracks across from mine drank himself to death. I remember the yellow caution tape, the way it served as a belt for the building, keeping its pants up. They said he drank over twenty beers, plus liquor. This was immediately after Desert Storm. This was on an island on the Indian Ocean, where chickens and cats roamed free and if you touched them you could be fined.
In Rota, a Marine put his gun in his mouth while on patrol around the building where I worked. The Marines would circle the building all night; everything looks like a graveyard in the dark.
A few people from my high school have gone on to kill themselves. I don’t know the stories. I didn’t want to hear them. I want to remember them as being shy and bullies and bullied and young.
On the day my girlfriend’s brother killed himself, I had a breakdown. I didn’t know what was going on in France at the time, didn’t know her brother had bought a tool that he thought could cut through bone. I smashed a plate in front of my mother; I realized I couldn’t afford the insurance at the ambulance company. I was stuck with having to go the V.A. where the workers look as tired as dust, where the doctor mixes me up with other patients, and the walls are made out of government.
When I’m in the back of the ambulance with those with suicidal ideation, I try to be as calm as a monk. I try to recollect all of the quotes of Thich Nhát Hanh I’ve heard. I try to look like a prayer. I don’t talk unless they ask me something. They’re going to a new place, a sort of strange rapture where they’re plummeted out of their old life and thrown into bureaucracy and science.
It’s ugly, this life.
I haven’t seen any suicides. I’ve worked with EMTs and medics who’ve told me stories. They’ve walked into rooms where guns have taken ownership of the house. They’ve heard the swinging of rope. They’ve told me of the smell of old blood. They’ve said that once you see a suicide, you’ll never want to kill yourself. They say there’s nothing uglier than those who have given up.
My girlfriend told me the dog has been following her father everywhere. It has lost its owner forever. It has to start over. There is an over to it. An above. You begin at a higher position, where you can look back at the hill or mountain you’ve created, acknowledging—or not—what is buried underneath.