Moving to Mexico: Chapter 22

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to Live

Yesterday was at the same time warm and cold, enlightening and confusing.

The day started in the usual way: woke up, kissed wife, hugged son as our house became filled with voices, motion, and the smells of breakfast. I looked at my family and smiled.  Life was good.

Later that morning, we were going to drive to Copperopolis to visit the maternal side of my family at a park where we often had family gatherings.  We were able to use the park clubhouse for our event as one of my aunt’s lives in the area. For some reason, the event was named the “Generation Celebration.”  I did not understand the name, but in any case, we were honoring my grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary.

My family is complicated.  

Most of my family lives in the Tuolumne County area, a part of the California Gold Rush foothills where cowboys, lumberjacks, and bikers keep the politics conservative and the demographics pale.  I have managed to avoid becoming mired in the squabbles of familiarity by remaining distant, both geographically and personally. It’s about a two-hour drive so I see this part of my family once a year at best.  While this does not allow us to be particularly close, it maintains a minor “guest star” status for me and forces us to make the best of the small bit of time we have together.

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to Live“We need to see you more.”  Some of them say.

“Agreed.”  I nod and smile.  And then none of us make any effort to change things.  We appear to be fine with our arrangement. It has worked for decades so why “fix” it?

“Tell us more about Mexico.”  Some of them say. And I show them photos of our house, the beach and the local sights.  

“Wow!  That is beautiful.”  Some of them say. “But, is it safe?”  They ask.

“So far, so good.”  I say, tired of defending Mexico.  I always invite them to visit but none of them ever will.  We lived in the Bahamas for three years and exactly none of them visited.  

My grandfather and uncle visited us in Belize once, but that was because my uncle had terminal cancer and Belize was on his bucket list.  I sent a limousine to take them to the airport and purchased first class airfare for both of them. I paid for everything, food, golf carts, excursions, etc.  Everything. Heck, who would not have taken that trip?

We had to leave a week before they did, so I hired a full-time maid to cook, clean and shop for the two older men for another week.

“I just have one thing to say.”  My grandfather said to me after the trip was over.  “That maid could have done a better job.”

Wow.  Many thousands of dollars spent, intricate detailed arrangements, all that planning and that was the response.  It felt like a kick to the groin. No good deed goes unpunished.

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to LiveI can write this because I do so in secrecy.  No one in my family (except for my sister) even knows of this blog.  None of them have ever met Tom Collins, so I am free to be honest without fear of repercussions.  *If you have never created an alias, I would highly suggest you do. It’s like a personal S1 Corporation that shields you from attack.

The drive up to the foothills was a good one.  I drove, and my son navigated while playing 80s song requests from his mother and me.  

“I know this song.”  He said. “It’s on the Grand Theft Auto 5 soundtrack.”  

Odd that he would hear the Pet Shop Boys “West End Girls” in that way, but he heard it playing a video game and he liked it.  That was the first song I heard by what would become one of my favorite bands, back in 1985 in Austin, Texas. I was barely older than my son when I heard that song and now he liked it, having heard it in a much different way, but still on his own, as I had.  There was some odd “circle of life” thing happening here. It was a lot of fun having our son appreciate our music and playing it for us as we drove.

I love these two people more than life itself.

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to LiveMy sister was supposed to ride up with us, but she was deeply tangled in a two-year-old feud with a female cousin she was so close to, she considered her a sister.  They had a disagreement about a wedding date, not being able to attend or something stupid like that, and the relationship was shattered, each locked in a stalemate of pride and ego.  Her son was supposed to ride up with us, but a friend had a video game and a birthday that outweighed the family trip. Both of them would probably regret their decision. Actually, my sister regretted her decision even as she made it.

“I know that if our mother was still here, she would disapprove of my decision.”  She said. ‘But I have to protect myself.”

“I have a similar situation, believe me.  But I have to go. Our grandparents are in their nineties.  I may not get too many chances to see them again. And our son wants to see his cousins.  I have to put them before my situation.” I answered her, hoping she would bend, but knowing she would not.  

“Good for you.”  She said, condescendingly.  She spoke to me that way sometimes and never even knew she was doing it.  She has a huge heart but is blinded sometimes. We all are.

My situation was with my brother.  He and I had a falling out a couple of years ago and have not spoken.  He called me a year ago to gloat over a misfortune of mine, pretending to be concerned, but truly calling to let me know he was aware of my struggles, not offering to assist.  I could see a grin on his face as he heard the news. His own struggles tower above mine so the quick chuckle he had about my situation paled as compared to the canyon of regrets and mistakes he is currently wrestling.  I wish him nothing but luck and health. I’m at peace with the détente’ in which we dwell. It’s hard to miss someone you hardly ever saw anyway.

The family gathering was typical:  fattening food, light decorations, some singing performed by two of my aunts and cousins and a few dances, one with my grandmother.

“Dance with me, Tom”, she said.  

“I can’t say no to you.”  I replied and joined her for a very awkward hand-hold and shoulder-rocking waltzy kind of thing.  I was happy to be with her in this way, but our chemistry on the dance floor was clumsy as we chatted about family, our history and the day.  As we danced, my wife took some photos of us I’m sure I’ll cherish someday.

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to LiveI saw my brother and he ignored me completely.  I suppose that was better than a fistfight. At one point near the entrance as more people came in, he was forced to be within two feet of me.  I naturally extended my hand and pulled him in for a “bro-bump”.

“Long time.”  I said. He never met my gaze or said a word.  He walked away in silence. I probably will not see him again for at least a year, if he lives that long.  He did not look good. He looked old and in pain, like a mountain of mistakes was pushing his shoulders down.  I wished him well but was glad to be through with that brief encounter. I offered my hand in peace and he refused me.  His choice. I was sad, but I tried. A part of me always looks at him like a small boy, the little brother I remember being responsible for as a young boy myself.  I knew I was not responsible for his current state, yet it saddened me. I always prayed he would do well, treat himself kindly. He rarely did either.

The rest of the day was fun.  My brother avoided me, so I didn’t have to deal with any, “I think we need to talk” situation; an invitation I would have declined.  Time and place. Risk vs. reward. It was not worth it.

I watched the horseshoe competition along with three Chinese foreign exchange students that someone in the family was hosting.  I watched their faces as the rednecks ate, sang and played. They must have felt like they were on the moon. I understood, because I had felt that way so many times around my family in the hills.  I loved them dearly, but we were from different planets. Perhaps I was a foreign exchange student who just never went home, or maybe I was adopted. Not sure, but either way, I have always been different.

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to LiveThe drive home was a little tense.  We took the levy roads on Highway 4 and our son drove.  These roads are usually two-lane, unlit and perilous because on one side you have a ditch and on the other side is water.  Facing huge 18-wheelers on these roads leaves little room for error and our son was feeling every bit of this challenge. We guided him home safely.  Lesson learned.

On the way, I reached out to a close friend.  It was only about 8 PM so we had our son drop us off at his house and then he headed home.

“I’ll get some In and Out.”  He said. No big surprise there.  He loved that food.

“OK, we’ll Uber home.  Love you.” I said as we exited the SUV and headed up the stairs to our friend’s huge house.

Inside, the air was celebratory.  Their home feels like home to me. I remember when they had it built and the old house that was there before.  I have been friends with these folks a long time. As luck would have it, they had another couple over that we have a long history with and the conversation began to flow.  After several beers and more 80s music, at the height of the fun, the lady of the house (for some reason) decided to inform my wife and me that an old friend of ours had committed suicide, leaving his wife and daughter behind to wonder why.

Pause.  WTF did she do that?

My wife began to tear up.  We had history with this couple.  Our wives were pregnant together. When our son was an infant, their daughter was almost exactly the same age.  We celebrated our births together, had dinners, drinks and took many photos of the whole process together. They were very close to use for a while before work relocated them to another state and the wives became Facebook friends.

And now he was dead.  

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to LiveThat couple was so in love.  They did everything together, just like we did.  They worked hard and raised their one child together, just like we did.  They were best friends, just like we have been for years. And now, the wife and her seventeen-year-old daughter are facing a life without him and the ache that is not knowing why he chose this.  And why he did not choose them.

I went to visit my family full of angst.  I did not want to see my brother. The last thing I wanted was a big row in front of the family.  Time and place. However, I chose to put others in front of me, again. As a father, this is the normal course of events.  I tend to come last. I chose this, so I don’t complain, too much anyway.

My sister’s choice was the wrong one.  She knows that. Mine was a difficult one, but it enriched our lives and spread a little love.  I even attempted to put a wet blanket on the smoldering resentment from my brother. I failed, but time will tell.  It’s his ball now. I’m not going to break my arm patting myself on the back here, but sometimes the simple truths are just that simple.  Do what you know is right. Listen to that little voice. It’s your real you, or perhaps it’s your mother still talking to you from beyond, or maybe it’s God.  

If a happy, successful man like that can choose the Great Unknown over the Here and Now, ultimate silence over the laughter of his child and permanent separation from his nearest and dearest, there are some things at work in the world I will never understand.

I respect my sister and her decision.  I’m sure it was not easy, but it was the easy way out.  I can deal with my brother ignoring me. He’s a bit of a blowhard and takes up a lot of room.  It’s actually a relief, though I do miss the way he could make me laugh; like no other person on the planet.  That kid could make me howl. I guess that is gone for now. He will work his life out and maybe he will include me again.  I hope so. But if he doesn’t it will be a shame. Life is short and valuable, time being our currency, so little of it to spend.  

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to LiveWhat I cannot understand is the decision of my now deceased friend.  He didn’t just decide to avoid a tough situation and he damn sure didn’t suck it up and deal with it or get help.  He checked out without warning or clue. He hurt his wife and daughter permanently, inflicting a pain he would never allow another man to cause. So odd that we hurt the ones we love the most.

There is no love like Daddy’s love to a girl.  And there is no way she’ll ever fill the hole that he left.  I can’t understand that. My mother died, and my father disappeared.  There is not much I would not give to have either one of them back with me, healthy and normal.  It’s impossible. They are both gone for good.

As a father and a man, there is no other way.  Too many people are depending on me. I have to keep moving forward.  I have to keep living, be healthy and do what is necessary for my family, even when it is painful, difficult or uncomfortable.  

We have big changes coming soon.  Our son graduates high school and goes off to college.  We will most likely sell our home of almost 18 years and move on to our next adventure in Mexico.  

I saw some Mexican men working on a driveway recently.  They had broken up the concrete and were using a wheelbarrow and a narrow two by twelve board to roll the concrete up and into the back of a very large dump truck.  One chubby worker flexed the board hard as he ran his load up to the back of the truck. I was sure it would break, or perhaps he might just fall off the side of their makeshift ramp and break his leg.  

“The work I do is not hard.”  I thought.

As I write this, my home state of California is reeling from gun violence and wildfires, again.  It seems that we go from one set of bad news to the next: the president pissed off the governor, the high-speed bullet train is a farce, election ballots are lost and miscounted, fires to the north and south.  We are constantly pelted with bad news, disasters and tragedy. Our state is rich and broke, intelligent and stupid, kind and merciless. And yet, we are still doing so much better than most of the world.

“We still have little to gripe about.”  I decided.Consumer Resource Guide

My old friend is gone and it’s hard to imagine the wave of despair he left in his wake.  I cannot imagine what situation would make a sane, wonderful man make that decision. I knew him to be a sober, hardworking and successful father.  His family was the most important thing in his life. He was in love with his wife and cherished his daughter. And yet, he took his life. I cannot understand the pain he must have been in to choose that path.

“My problems are not difficult.”  I thought.

I am again, reminded to live.  If this morning was to be my last, would I be upset if coffee spilled on my pants? Would I gripe at my wife for leaving the lights on all the time? Would I chastise my son for blowing a test?  

I’m sure I’ll get back to the petty, day-to-day attitude that we all share when our days seem endless.  Today, I’m counting my blessings, hugging my family and holding them close. Today, I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to send our son to college, to own a beautiful home in Mexico and that we will soon be able to enjoy a life that many never will.  I hope to be able to help others achieve the same. I will help anyone who asks.

A Friend Killed Himself and it Reminded Me to LiveToday, I am blessed, and I am thankful.

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