Merriam-Webster defines a shaggy-dog story as a long story or joke with an ending that is disappointing or that makes no sense. My life is a long shaggy-dog story, Shakespeare might say “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” … which is a bummer because this is an autobiography.
My aunt Adele was a young Mexican woman in her early twenties. She was a slender, dark-haired beauty. Her skin was flawless and pale. Her lips were full, her brown eyes were large and expressive, and her hair was long and straight, typical of the way women wore it in the early seventies. She liked mini-skirts and Go-go boots, and could have been a model. She had many suitors and was the type of girl, the very pretty kind, that never gave a guy a second chance. If you didn’t call her within the first three days of getting her number, that was it, she was through with you.
I didn’t know it at the time but she was often very sad, and I, being three or four, was too young to understand what major depression is, or how some self-medicate destructively with alcohol.
My aunt, in other words, was an alcoholic with clinical depression. She worked with my mom for a while cleaning up hotels, particularly one that was frequented by pilots. They had mini-fridges stocked with little alcohol bottles and she would get tipsy on them, if not take them home and get totally smashed there.
The thing about the suicidal brain is that there is a critical drop in neurotransmitter levels around the prefrontal cortex which adversely affects the executive functions of the brain. This largely affects your ability to foresee the consequences of your actions, and to control your impulses and inhibitions. Alcohol is a depressant, and works by suppressing the prefrontal cortex. You lose impulse control and inhibitions and also can’t see, or care about, the consequences of your actions. That’s why so many murders and suicides are alcohol related. Take clinical depression and alcohol and the mix is often fatal.
At the time I could already walk, but was still small enough to be carried in her arms. I doted around Adele, and all I know is that she liked me for that. The last time I would ever see her she picked me up at home, but this time it was just me. It was near dusk She took my hand, walked me out the door, and I remember looking up at her as we made our way to a nearby park. She looked down at me and smiled. She made me feel like her favorite.
We stood at a crosswalk, waiting for the signal. She gripped my hand firmly and grew serious for a moment.
“Always have an adult with you when crossing the street, ok? Especially here. This street is very busy and dangerous.”
I didn’t listen to many other adults, as I was a rambunctious and carefree child, but Adele I would always listen to. I never wanted to disappoint her.
We made our way to the bus stop and headed to the park.
As I was playing with her at the park, before heading to the swing set we stood by a tree, and she lifted me to reach the lower branch so I could talk to her face to face.
She laughed and smiled, running her fingers through my hair and cupping her hand on my cheek, the sunlight shining through her dark hair. She was happy that day. She was happy every time I saw her, but I didn’t see her every day.
My mom relayed the news about a month after that visit to the park. Adele was gone. When I was told of her death I heard the adults whisper about suicide without knowing what it was, but my mom just said she was “in heaven.” What my mom did not say was how she died.
Adele checked herself into a Tijuana motel room and took rat poison. She was found later by motel staff. The people in the next room heard her screaming in agony as the poison dissolved her inside out and had called for help. The poison had an anticoagulant and another ingredient that destroyed her blood vessels, so she bled to death internally. She died at the hospital, delirious with pain, crying for her mother to forgive her for what she had done. It was only then, after the prior attempts that came so close, that she must have realized she was really going to die. We never had the slightest clue as to why she did it, but my guess is that she didn’t need a reason. She never left a note.
Some believe that if she knew how many people really and truly loved her it could have made a difference. If she was born in my time, as meds and the brain became much better understood, perhaps she could have made it. Then again, simply knowing people love you and want you around is not enough if the pain is bad enough.
In my own case, I did not know the particulars about her suicide until recently, but I made a somewhat similar attempt in a rundown motel and events came to pass where people in an adjacent room would be cast in the play.
After months of staggering depression I finally saw no way out. I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at an early age, but found no effective medication for it. The manias, as wild as they were, those I could handle but not the depression. It was like the reversal of the survival instinct, where instead of looking for any and all means to survive, you look for any and all means to die. It is the definition of insanity, I think.
When I was 25 I had spent almost a year in a bedridden, isolated depression. There was no specific reason or trigger for that misery, no girlfriend or job I lost, there doesn’t have to be a reason.
So I was driving myself out of town until I finally checked myself into a cheap motel, the Pineview Lodge. It was late afternoon, about 3:00 p.m. There was an Indian couple at the counter, middle aged, the woman portly and in traditional garb; a Saree, this one brown with gold trim. I imagine the fabric was about nine yards long and four feet wide. It was wrapped around her waist and draped over her shoulder. She was about 60, her hair was gray, as she did not dye her hair. The Bindi, or Hindu red dot on her forehead was sweaty as the day was very hot. The old ceiling fan wasn’t enough, so to her side was another fan, and I prayed the rooms were air conditioned like the sign advertised. Her husband was very thin, bald, about the same age. Bespectacled, his nose was large and aquiline. His short-sleeved shirt was light green.
They seemed a bit angry with each other, having an argument in Hindi I couldn’t understand. She spoke sharply and loud to him, and he matched her ferocity. As such, they were both curt with me. Both had very heavy accents and I could barely make out their English. They had a look on their face as if smiling for their customers was completely alien to them.
“I’d like to stay for one night please. Single.”
“$45.00,” the woman said. ”Your ID?”
I gave her my drivers license and tried to pay with my debit card.
“Cash,” she said brusquely, pointing at a sign on the desk.
I was lucky enough to have $60.00 on me so I paid. The credit card machine read “Out of Order.”
“Sign in,” she said.
I signed in. She looked behind her at the keys on the wall and picked Room 37, then she slid the keys towards me disdainfully. Why the attitude? Had I done something wrong? I wondered.
“Check out time 11:00 a.m.”
She gave me a mean and suspicious look.
“Please be gone by then.”
I thought it was an ironic thing to say, a lie, because I had no plans on checking out. Not checking out was the whole point of being there.
“Of course,” I nodded. A roach scurried across the floor, which I noticed caught both our attention. For a moment I felt as if I were in a Roach Motel commercial; where roaches check in, but they don’t check out.
She continued arguing with him about who knows what, but it sounded bad.
The room was a depressing avocado green. My eyes fixed on a tacky sunburst clock, then I sat on the bed in a room with decades old sixties decor and thought for about an hour.
I made a mental checklist of things I had to take care of before I died. I had to cancel my phone service so I did that then and there, calling from the landline in the room. My car would probably be towed away and it didn’t occur to me to give it to anyone. At the time I had no friends. Who could I give it to? Who cares?
Although I already had a vague plan, I wondered what was the fastest way to die? I suppose it would have been faster with a gun or jumping off a building, but I couldn’t be bothered with getting one. And jumping off a building, well, I didn’t hate my parents enough to force a closed casket funeral. I looked around the room, saw the drapes and wondered if the drawstrings would be useful. No, they wouldn’t. I got my car keys out, getting ready to buy a rope at the hardware store.
“No,” I thought. “I know what else would work.”
I decided to use my belt and the pills I brought with me, and hang myself from a coat rack after taking an overdose. Removing my belt, I put it on the desk. There was a small complementary notepad and pen there, so after giving it a little thought I decided to write a suicide note.
“Dear mom and dad,
Please don’t blame yourselves for this. Know that I love you very much. I just want the pain to stop. I live in fear now. Every night I fear the next day, of waking up to another day of loneliness, misery, and hopelessness.
I am not able to experience pleasure in the things I used to. I can’t listen to music, I can’t watch movies, I can’t read books, everything seems pointless. I can’t remember the last time I smiled or laughed. Before me there is an endless black tunnel, my regrets and fears chasing me deeper into the abyss.
I was diagnosed with this as a child, and it is not something that can be cured. That’s not how manic depression is. And sometimes, meds don’t always work, as they do not work with me now. The episodes of depression are longer now, the manias shorter. I cannot think clearly or leave my bed, I am literally rotting inside out.
All I can see is more of the same.
I don’t know if you can possibly understand that. Please give my guitar to Ken. It is my most prized possession.
Please forgive me. I am sorry I let you down. This will be better for everyone.”
There was a sudden thud, and then another that broke my train of thought. Across the room towards the wall I made out a strange intermittent pounding, and then loud voices with the cries of a woman. I recognized the voice. In the room next door, what I heard was the Indian couple from the lobby.
“Fuck me harder! Yes, yes, in the ass!” I heard the woman scream in ecstasy. “Yes, yes, you motherfucker!” Or, to put it more phonetically in keeping with the deep accent, “Yes, yes! In dee ass you mudderfucker!”
“You like that baby? You like that, don’t you bitch?”
Then I heard him slapping her in the ass. The walls were truly paper thin, painfully thin. What a strange time to have a quickie, I thought, so soon after arguing so viciously in the lobby, and in the room next to mine!
Putting my pen down, I reluctantly broke into a faint smile, coughed loudly, and I cursed them halfheartedly. The gravitas of the moment seemed in question, much to my displeasure.
The sounds continued unabated. The faint smile became a grin, and that began to win out as the distraction next door set in.
“Give me all of your big cock! Pound this pussy hard baby!”
They also said a lot of things in Hindi, too, so I’m just writing down the things they said in English. Like many first generation immigrants, which I assume they were, they spoke in a mixture of their native tongue and English.
“You like that bitch?”
Soon I couldn’t stop laughing at hearing the old couple screw dirtier and louder than I ever had in my life. My sides were aching and the louder they got the harder I laughed, especially when she cried “eat my pussy!” and started groaning in what I presumed was more dirty talk in Hindi.
The old man had stamina, and this mini-marathon went on for almost an hour. I heard the old man pause, his voice with a trace of annoyance.
“I’m out of lube!” he said mournfully. Then he continued nonetheless.
After I heard her scream “Cum on my titties!” there was a brief moment of silence. I could imagine the couple spooning after such a loving and tender expression of affection. I could faintly hear them turn the television on. Finally it was relatively quiet. I couldn’t imagine them even liking each other, but liking each other so passionately it was almost as if they wanted their guests to know it, that struck me funny. Don’t get me wrong, I know all married couples have sex, but a vast majority, I’m sure, are never that loud. One would expect modest groans and whimpers of rapture, not a 150 decibel ice cream truck of love that instead of playing a “Mr. Softee” jingle, was blaring cries of “I’M COMING! I’M COMING SO HARD!”
They ruined the moment. The pathos was gone. All that was left was the surreal and absurd. I couldn’t kill myself that day, and especially not in there. I could not unhear them fucking, and to this day I can’t. I just wasn’t going out that way; hanging myself to the sound of… well, to the sound of THAT. Sure it would be suicide, but I did not want that to be the last thing I ever heard.
I could still laugh, I thought. That old couple saved my life that day because the old lady wanted it in the ass and her husband, more than obliging, was about to pound their headboard through the wall and knock my bed across the room.
For some, before they are about to do it there is a window of opportunity where there is enough despair and energy to end their life. But you can’t be suicidal and dying with side-splitting laughter at the same time. They not only closed that window of opportunity for me that day, they boarded it shut.
When it was safe to do so without getting too close to the sound source, I laid my head down and decided what to do next. I stared up at the stucco ceiling. It was, I realized, the first time I laughed in almost a year.
The next morning, I had nothing to pack since I brought in no luggage, so in the morning, just before I left, I sat on the edge of the bed and assessed the situation.
“One more try,” I said to myself. “Give it one more try, another month, and maybe by then you’ll be fine again.”
I stood up, looked around me. The suicide note was still on the dresser. I looked at it, smiled, and tore it to bits.
“Not this time. Not this time.”
I made an early morning departure, barely able to make eye contact with the couple. I was afraid I would burst into laughter at the thought of their make-up sex the prior evening.
Looking back, that was perhaps the most curious and inadvertent suicide intervention I ever had in my life. If I ever met them again I would thank them, because if they had been the quiet type, I do believe I wouldn’t be here today.