I’ve been reading “The Stranger in the Mirror” by Marlene Steinberg and Maxine Schnall as part of my “trying to wrap my head around dissociative symptoms” summer. One of the clients she talks about is a woman named Jean who had been through more than any one person should ever have to handle. Saw her mom kill her dad, then molested by her brother and then her uncle. Started partying hard as a teenager. Kind of late into the chapter on Jean and her dissociative symptoms, not multiple personalities but amnesia, depersonalization, and derealization, we learn that when she was 18 she hit a man with her car and he died. By the time I got to that part, I was like, this poor woman was born under a bad sign or something, she’s not even 20 and she’s full up on the trauma. Her trauma hotel should have it’s “No Vacancies” sign lit up. And I thought, wow I am glad I never killed anyone.
Then I remembered that I sort of did one time. I put into motion a series of events that ended with a friend of mine killing himself. His name was Kevin.
I met Kevin in Chicago at a comedy mic. He was a tall, good-looking guy with a beard. His comedy was smart, but too wordy, like a lot of smart people’s comedy is for awhile. For some reason I did shots at this open mic, which was not my normal course of action. We went to his place together. We didn’t even kiss, much less hump each other. We went to sleep in his bed, and I woke up in the morning and threw up in his bathroom. Then we went to get Thai food and saw a movie.
We talked a lot. He was very serious about his writing. Kevin was a very, very good writer. He was really into Saul Bellow. We talked a lot about what it meant to be a good person. He talked a lot about a priest uncle he had who worked with gang members, and how much he admired him. We talked about growing up Catholic. We talked only a little bit about comedy. We talked about the writing process. He told me about his dad getting schizophrenia, and killing himself. He was worried he’d get it one day.
I don’t know why I didn’t date Kevin. I think I met him right before all that stuff went down with the Chicago comedy scene deciding I was awful and crazy for complaining to a reporter about all the rape jokes. We would email each other sporadically. He’d send me excerpts of things he was working on. I would tell him about my union organizing job. I got that job after all that comedy stuff went down to assure myself I was a good person. It didn’t work.
I knew him during a tumultuous two years of my life. The comedy stuff happened, the union organizing job was a blitz of stress and acting out for a year, then I went to work for a feminist sex toy store thinking I wanted to be a sex educator. All the while my depression was getting deeper and deeper. One of the last times I saw him I sent him an email saying I felt awful, like a failure, like a piece of crap, like I wanted to hurt myself, and he came right over. We cuddled in my bed. There was no kissing. I cried some. He hugged me.
Soon after that I would finally call a rape crisis line and say the words out loud, “I think I was raped in college” to a stranger. Kevin moved to San Francisco.
His emails got weird. During that comedy stuff there had been a podcast that had quite a large fan community whose hosts had said some terrible stuff about me. That I was unfuckable and crazy and bi because I couldn’t get fucked. I didn’t know they had said that for a long time, because I had withdrawn from the comedy scene. I only found out what they said because I read an article about that podcast that used what they said about me as the lead to establish how “controversial” and “edgy” the podcast was. Me and those podcast hosts had not had any real life interactions. I didn’t even know what they looked like. Kevin told me he had gotten in fights with their fans on the podcast’s messageboard.
When Kevin moved to San Francisco he sent me emails about the show’s fans harassing him. I didn’t think much about it- the show’s fans were mostly the kind of douchebags who would harass people. But then he started writing about being followed and watched.
It was late summer. I had made plans to move away from Chicago finally. Kevin sent me an email that was really over the top in it’s paranoia. About seeing people on the street and knowing they were following him. He sent me a link to a website about a man’s face supposedly a lot of people see in their dreams. I decided it was pretty clear some schizophrenia was kicking in and it was time to find his family. I tracked down his priest uncle and sent him an email. Then I emailed with his mom and dad. They drove up to San Francisco to collect him.
On a Wednesday (I think) I heard from his mom they were going to get him. I got a voicemail from her on Friday asking me to give her a call. I felt annoyed to still be a part of the process. I thought, there’s nothing more I need to know, this is your family’s business now.
But actually Kevin’s mom was calling me to let me know they had collected him and taken him to their home in southern California. Everyone went to bed. In the morning they found him dead.
I don’t know how he killed himself because I never asked. I called his mom back while I was at my feminist sex toy store job, and I remember her telling me they found him dead. I was standing by the door of this tiny little shop, too tiny to have a bathroom for employees, I had to go across the street to the Starbucks to pee. My friend had visited me at work because my shift was so slow. Kevin’s mom told me and I said, “oh, oh, oh, oh no, I’m so sorry. Thank you for letting me know.” My voice was rising and rising with every, “oh.”
I didn’t know how to feel or what to think. I still don’t. I learned in one of my classes when a person with schizophrenia has insight that they have schizophrenia that’s the most risky time as far as suicide.
I moved back home, away from Chicago. They had two memorial services, one in California for family, and one in Chicago for his Chicago friends. I took the Megabus to Chicago to go to that memorial service and then on the El on the way to the service I freaked out and turned around. I didn’t know Kevin’s friends. I had met one of his roommates- that was it. I called my mom and she started yelling at me for not getting to the service. I went to my friend’s apartment and got crazy high.
I know it’s a cliche that the good die young, but Kevin actually was that good and that is part of why he died. He was really gentle, and he had a lot of insight into people, and he cared about treating people right. There are some people whose brains are too good for this world, it drives them crazy. I know he had a disease. I think if he hadn’t been alone in San Francisco that episode of the disease wouldn’t have been that bad.
I wish I’d just called him instead of telling his family. I wish I had just been a better friend to him. I wish I had known that people getting insight about having schizophrenia is a really dangerous time.
I was thinking today that I wish I had just dated him. We wouldn’t have been in love but we would have been loving to each other. He was a loving, talented, sweet and funny guy. I wish I could go back and treat him like the treasure he was.
I cry about him every so often. But then a lot of times I kind of forget about him, when I try to tell the story of my life to people. My friends didn’t know him and I didn’t know his friends, so when he died it was almost like I had made him up.
I went to Dia de los Muertos in San Francisco when I lived there. There was a fence people were hanging notes to their dead on. I wrote him a note that said I was so sorry. And I still am so sorry. The world was better with him in it. We should still have him.
I think making your way in the world when you’re male, gifted in the ways he was gifted and a good person is very confusing. I think guys like that don’t really know what to do with themselves. He needed a tight little community where he could be his sensitive self, and people would check on him, and where it would be ok and not the end of the world if he had an episode of schizophrenia because he was stressed. There aren’t that many tight little communities anymore. We aren’t good at keeping people with schizophrenia alive. We aren’t good at understanding how valuable they are. Kevin was so valuable.
I wish I had kept him alive. I don’t think the dead leave us though. I think Kevin had put in his time on this weird plane of existence and was ready to get back home.
Once I wrote to him about the idea of composting life. We get these garbage experiences and we compost them into a rich soil to grow stuff with. He liked that a lot.
Kevin, I’m glad I got to hang out with you. I’m glad our paths crossed. I didn’t get who you were until you were gone. I do feel like we’re going to meet again. It is so weird to be alive when you aren’t.
(I’m turning off comments on this post because I just need to put this out there. I just need it to be part of my story.)