In the wake of Robin William’s suicide, I’ve resisted to weigh in with my thoughts because, really, who cares what I think. I often feel that the need to express such thoughts are little more than creeping on the grief of others anyway. No offense. The tragedy did, however, call to my mind a passage near the end of my first novel, SO SHELLY, which I thought I might share here.
I ask you to remember that this is a work of fiction. The conversation that takes place fit the characters and the context. It does not necessarily reflect my personal thoughts on the subject, but it does present a more unorthodox and controversial perspective on the issue of suicide. At the time of the novel’s publication, I thought I’d receive some blow back for this scene, but I never really did.
The scene occurs near the end of the novel when Keats and Gordon are near to fulfilling their promise to their shared best friend, Shelly, to spread her ashes at a place beloved by her.
“You know, I didn’t think she had the balls to go through with it,” Gordon said as he commenced blazing the trail.
“Go through with what?” I asked, sincerely clueless.
“This!” He stopped and nodded toward the urn upraised in his hands, then spun slowly around, indicating the entire island.
“What do you mean?” I asked, as a really bad feeling began to gurgle up from the well of my ignored gut feelings.
“You mean . . . I thought you said . . .?”
“Yeah, I knew about it. She told me her plan.”
“Wait . . . What? ‘Killing herself?’ You knew about it? And, you didn’t do anything to stop her!” I was incredulous. I was an accomplice. I was the one who passed on Shelly’s message of needing to speak with him. This was the result.
“What’d you want me to do, Keats? Sit with her 24/7?”
“Gee, I don’t know, talk her out of it, maybe?! Christ, at least tell somebody!”
“She made me promise not to. Her father would have put her in a nuthouse, which would have killed her anyway. Besides, I didn’t think she was serious. You know how she was.”
“Oh, that explains it. She made you promise not to. What? Did you pinkie swear?”
“Look. It’s what she wanted. Who was I to tell her what to do with her life anyway? If she was so unhappy that dying seemed a relief, then why should I deny her that? We have no choice in when or to what asshole parents we come into this world. At least, shouldn’t we be able to decide for ourselves when to leave it?”
“You were supposed to be her friend, you selfish prick!” I shouted as I gave him the most ineffectual shove in the history of chivalry.
“I’m selfish?” He’d grabbed my arm at the wrist and twisted until I was bent over again and, this time, in excruciating pain. “You think I should have convinced her to go on living miserably so that your feelings wouldn’t be hurt? Don’t give me that bullshit about the selfishness of suicide. What’s selfish is insisting that she continue in her misery so you won’t have to feel sad or guilty.”
“Guilty? Why should I feel guilty?”
“She told me about the poetry books, dude. What’d you think she was doing? Organizing for a garage sale?”
He released me from the submission hold and sent me reeling, as if on drunken legs, until I stumbled off the path and onto the razor sharp leaves of the now pissed-off plant growing in the sandy soil. The boom box catapulted from my hand.
“I . . . I didn’t think . . .” I said, still planted on from my ass.
“Yeah, that’s right. You didn’t think. Because, just maybe, deep down you knew what she was doing too, and you didn’t want to interfere either because in that deep down place you understood that it was what she wanted. So keep your self-righteous bullshit to yourself. I don’t need it.”