This is a story I wrote a few years ago, but I dusted off for the day that’s in it. Sadly, it’s based on a real event.
A Rising Tide
I don’t stop at the chapel, but drive on as far as the pier. The ritual of funeral mass would be unbearable. Having been more of an ethnic catholic than a religious one, he had despised the church and the hypocrisy of its priests and do-gooders.
I sit with my passengers in subdued silence and watch the swell hit the sea wall before it can break into waves. Like my grief; unable to free itself from the turmoil of bewilderment and anger, guilt and sorrow.
‘I didn’t see it coming,’ I say tentatively, ‘but it makes sense, with hindsight.’
One of my friends nods reluctantly. They had grown up together, neighbours in the same street.
‘He tried it before,’ he says, his voice cracked and weak. ‘I went into the house about a year ago and he had his head in the oven with the gas on full. I took him out to the back garden. We talked. I begged him to get help. He went to the doctor and was given anti-depressants. He promised me it had just been a moment of madness. He asked me not to tell anyone as his family wouldn’t understand. I agreed. I wish I hadn’t.’
My stomach churns as I remember arriving at the house one day and noticing a strong smell of gas.
‘Jesus, man, you must have left the cooker on. Can you not smell it? Turn it off and get out!’
He had given me a bashful look as he came to the kitchen door. I thought I’d embarrassed him, made him feel foolish. I think I even apologised for shouting.
‘He was in my house one day,’ says another. ‘We were listening to Nick Cave. … I go shuffling out of life just to hide in death a while… He said that was the best line ever written. Then he went outside. I went after him and found him face down in the river. I got him out but it was hard bloody work. He fought it every inch of the way, nearly drowning both of us. Later he said it was because of the whiskey and asked me not to tell anyone. I kept an eye on him but I thought he was fine after he went off the drink.’
We slip into a cocooned silence and ponder what has been revealed. Were these intentional cries for help that we had all failed to answer? Or had he been testing the water, trying to see how far he would go, or was it merely luck that had thwarted these previous attempts?
One thing has become clear. He was adept at keeping a distance between each aspect of his life, each friend and colleague, so that no-one could know the extent of his addiction or the depth of his depression. I wonder how many more stories there are, how many more people thinking ‘I should have seen it coming’.
This time, though, had been different.
He had locked all the doors so there could be no last minute rescue. The chosen location was the workshop behind the house, a treasure trove of old-fashioned tools from generations of builders and carpenters.
In a family of proud tradesmen, he was the only electrician – no one to live up to, he had joked. The heartfelt meaning of the comment passed me by at the time.
He used a rope, had made a noose, as though deciding this time it was real and would be done in accordance with tradition.
And he left a note.
‘What did he write in the note?’ I ask.
‘The family aren’t saying,’ someone replies bitterly. ‘They’ll probably never mention his name again. They certainly won’t be discussing his suicide with you or me.’
I am stunned, but those from the small village know his people well and agree.
The tide reaches the sea wall and splashes over it, spraying the wheels.
I drive back to the chapel. The burial is in progress. I get out of the car, but the others remain seated. I sense their anger at the family for not sharing the information that would explain what had driven him to this ultimate act of self-destruction.
My grief rises, and this time it bursts forth. Uncontrollable tears sting my eyes in the harsh sea air.
‘The funniest person I ever met’ or ‘the life and soul of the party’, people used to say.
While his wit and warmth radiated like the beacon of a lighthouse, darkness was consuming him.
The darkness had prevailed.
I can only hope it brought peace.
© Siobhán McNamara/2009