I’m writing you today to talk about a very serious, and very mature topic, suicide. I warn you, in this article I delve into a story of an event that happened to me, and it’s pretty graphic, so if that’s not your cup of tea, then don’t read this particular post. In this post I hope I can convince you to pay just a little bit of attention to yourself, and your friends and family, and help us stop needless suicide.
I have a story to tell, because it’s been bothering me for a little while now. No, I’m not suicidal, I’ve reached the conclusion that I could never commit suicide. I love me too much.
Some of you may know that I was in the military until very recently. I deployed to Iraq for a year, and saw combat, but there’s one event in particular that stays with me to this day, and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. What’s weirder is that it had nothing to do with my deployment to Iraq, it happened here in the United States.
I was stationed at Fort Lewis, but as a married man, I lived just off post in a civilian owned apartment complex with my wife. We shared a yard with several apartment buildings in rows. There was one row, which our apartment was in, and another row facing us on the opposite side of the yard about 20 yards away. We were sitting there one day, and I heard a group of people across the yard arguing fairly loudly. It got quiet for a few minutes, and then I heard a gunshot, a single, muffled gunshot. At the time, I didn’t know what exactly had happened, so I assumed the worst (active shooter), grabbed my pistol from beside my chair, chambered a round, ran into the bedroom and placed my wife and child on the floor between the bed and the wall, and ran to the scene to render any aid and stop the assailant. My logic was this. He’d already shot one person, the walls are paper thin, and my wife and child are within range; I didn’t need him spraying bullets at new targets and hitting me or my family.
As I stepped outside my sliding door, I could hear a young woman screaming at the top of her lungs, “No John no! Please don’t go John! Please God no!” over and over and over. A young man about my age came stumbling through the bushes between the two buildings across the small yard across from my patio with blood from his chin down to his groin on a white t-shirt, crying and calling to me, “Help man! He shot himself, I can’t fucking believe it he shot himself!” I pulled out my cell phone with my left hand, pistol still ready in the right hand just in case, and dialed 911 to report the incident to police as I made my way to the scene.
By the time I got there, one neighbor, who was also a soldier and a medic, was already rendering aid, and another ex-soldier, also one of my neighbors, had already entered the apartment. There laid a young man, early 20s, with the top of his skull blown out, and brain matter all over the pistol he had used to kill himself. The medic was on his knees, holding a towel against this young man’s skull in a futile attempt to “help”. He was dead, although his body was still making an attempt to breath and live. I left the premises and walked outside, and so did my other neighbor the ex-soldier, the gun in hand, brain matter still stuck to the side of the weapon. Throughout this entire event, his wife was still screaming for him to come back. As I walked past this young man’s parking spot, I noticed his pickup truck still had a “Just Married” sticker on the back windshield, and one of his other neighbors informed me that he had just returned from Afghanistan.
Police arrived, and an officer with an AR-15 entered the premises, a standard precaution to ensure that there wasn’t an “active shooter”, just as I had initially assumed when I heard the shot. Medics immediately followed after he gave the all clear and they removed the screaming wife of the young man from the apartment while they took pictures, analyzed the scene, and removed the body.
I stood there beside my neighbors, somewhat in awe at what had just taken place. In the span of about 10 minutes I had gone from relaxing at home playing World of Warcraft, to standing in the parking lot, barefooted, with a gun in my hand while a police detective explained the best way to wash blood off our bodies.
It’s one thing when you’re deployed, you expect violence, and you go through so much training that refers to your enemy as “insurgents”, that you forget that they’re real human beings. They’re an enemy, a guy who doesn’t even know you and decided the best way to deal with your presence in his country was to try to kill you. You spend 24 hours a day with a weapon in your hand and even if you’re on a FOB (Forward Operating Base), you have a loaded 30 round magazine either in the well or in a mag pouch on the butt-stock, and you rotate in and out of tower guard watching for enemies near the base and responding accordingly. You’re there to serve a combat mission, so when fighting happens, it’s just part of your job. But when you’re sitting in your shorts at home in the states, relaxing and listening to the wind in the trees, and the sounds of kids playing down the street; it’s different, at least it was for me. When it’s one of your own, a young man, no older than me with a brand new wife, it hits home, hard. This man took his own life, for reasons I don’t know nor care to know, but after all he went through, the shit he saw and did in Afghanistan, it was life at home that he couldn’t deal with. I wasn’t friends with him. I may have spoken to him a couple of times to say hello or waved as we walked past each other in the parking lot, but I don’t even know what the guy’s name was, where he was from or anything, but for some reason, his death haunts me to this day. I can still hear his wife screaming, just like I’m still standing there. I can still feel that cold, hard blacktop on the soles of my bare feet, and the texture of the handgrip of my pistol in my right hand as I rounded the building scanning for a threat. I can see the face of his friend who met me in the yard with blood all over his shirt, and tears in his eyes, screaming and asking god why it had to happen.
To those of you who think life is hard, and life sucks, get over it. I’m speaking from experience here, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and it affects people in ways you don’t even understand. Once it’s done, it’s DONE, D.O.N.E, there is no coming back from death. If I am haunted by this young man’s suicide, how do you think his wife is faring? Was it fair to her for her husband, the man she sword to love and to cherish, to kill himself? I’m bothered that this young man felt suicide was his only answer, but I’m angry with him at the same time. Everybody from his wife to the apartment manager had to deal with his stunt. Cleaning crews had to quarantine the apartment while they scraped his brain matter off the wall, police and medics had to respond to the scene and about 5 minutes later, had to inform his wife that the breathing had stopped and that he was dead. All of these people had to see his body, had to witness this gruesome, selfish act. Suicide is a very selfish act. I had managed to kind of block it out, I had honestly forgotten it, my mind hadn’t erased it, but it had buried it so I could be myself, so I could be a father and husband to my family without changing my personality or my attitude toward life in general. But I was having a conversation with my dad the other day about police and gun ownership, and for some reason, although I didn’t say anything at the time, I flashed back to standing in that parking lot, watching an officer chamber a round in his AR-15 as he approached the apartment where that young man lay, and for the past couple of days it’s been bothering me. I guess that’s why I wrote this, to get it out on paper, and maybe help bury it again.
If you guys take one thing away from reading this, then take this. Keep your eyes open for suicidal thoughts or tendencies in yourself, your friends and your family. There were probably signs that, if somebody had thought about it, or been trained in how to spot them, would have been obvious indicators that this young man needed help. If you think yourself, or somebody you know is even entertaining the possibility of committing suicide, then get them some help. It’s not a bad thing to ask them outright either, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” In the Army we had the “ACE” program, which stood for “Ask, Care, Escort”. Ask if your loved one is thinking of killing themselves, if they say yes, or even if they say no and you suspect otherwise, then see that their immediate needs are met, and get them help ASAP! I would rather be that guy that loses a friend because they get mad at you for reporting them, than be that guy who has to sit there feeling guilty, thinking about all the signs and opportunities you passed up to prevent their death, because you were afraid of offending them.
If you’re reading this right now and you are thinking of killing yourself, or if somebody you know is thinking of killing themselves, then stop reading right now and call “Lifeline” at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can visit their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
To you emo shitheads who talk about death and suicide, but actually have no intent of ever following through, and just want some attention? (I’m not talking about people who happen to like dark clothing, or who may “actually” be clinically depressed) Fuck you, fuck all of you. Suicide is very real, and affects a lot of people, it’s not something to joke about, or to casually slip into a conversation just so you can get some attention. I lost a friend because she made the comment to me via text message that she was thinking of killing herself, so I called the cops. I tried calling several suicide hotlines in her area (We were thousands of miles apart, so intervening myself wasn’t an option) and got the run-around, so I called the city police and gave them her description and approximate location. She went ballistic, removed me from her social networking accounts, and threatened to tell all sorts of things to my wife to attempt to break up my marriage, all because, as a soldier, I took her threats of suicide seriously and did what I thought was the right thing. The fact that she reacted the way she did is fucked up, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to speak to her again, because she used something that I take very seriously, and tried to use it to get attention and sympathy.
Don’t kill yourself people, it’s not worth it, it’s really not.