8.30.2018

more than we can handle

My last words to him were, "I love you." He had returned the favor. Though the expanse of the Atlantic separated us, I felt close to him. He said he'd be coming back to Maine in a few weeks as part of a workshop to learn how to turn wooden spoons, and that he'd like to stay with us for a few days. Several times in the past he'd stayed with us for weeks on end. That conversation, along with a second, shorter one, happened just three weeks ago.

He began by expressing some concern having just read one of my darker posts, patience thins. We spoke of my periodic despair over Calvin's troubles, of his own recurring loss of faith in the world and in himself. He gushed about what he saw as extraordinary grace and resiliency in the face of caring for a non-verbal, incontinent, legally blind, cognitively disabled, chronically ill child, saying that he didn't know anyone who could do what Michael and I do. I reassured him that humans are remarkably adaptable creatures, and that most parents would rise to the occassion, adding wryly, "Good thing Calvin's cute." Sensing his own aguish—the months of silence, the rare back-to-back phone calls, the abundant accolades regarding my ability to handle misfortune—I wondered, then asked, if he'd ever thought about taking his own life.

"Yes, of course," he replied matter-of-factly and, after thanking me for my frank concern, noting that few others had ever broached the subject with him, went on to say, "but I'm not in that space right now." I urged him to please call us anytime, day or night, if those dark thoughts ever crept back again. That was the last time we spoke.

Tuesday morning we woke to learn that our dear and longtime friend had died by suicide. I've heard about life flashing before the eyes of those who are about to die. When Michael cried out after receiving the devastating news in an email, scenes of time spent with our friend flashed before my eyes.

I thought about the time when, in line for a matinee, he embraced me as I sobbed having gotten a call from the nurse announcing one of Calvin's grand mals. I remembered the mornings he'd arrive with large paper bags brimming with fancy pastries and breads—croissants, chocolate crinkle cookies, sticky buns, asiago fougasse, gingerbread, baguettes. I recalled the thin slate disc arranged with hunks and cakes of aged artisanal cheeses he hand-carried—just for us—on a flight from New York City. I remembered the Thanksgiving he spent here, when he tried his first taste of bourbon, and how on subsequent Thanksgivings he arranged, from afar, for a brown-bagged bottle of bourbon to be mysteriously delivered to our doorstep as if by a ghost. I realized we had watched him grow from a skinny, bespectacled seventeen-year-old—young enough to be our son—into a handsome, strapping man in his mid thirties. We watched him passionately delve into the making of art, wine, bread, coffee, custom bicycles and furniture. I became happily familiar with his taste in fine yet understated apparel. I admired the elegant, blue-black cursive-script tattoo—a quote or prose, which I regret forgetting—emblazoned across his broad chest. I got accustomed to his sensible shoes, his sharp wit, keen sense of humor, characteristic laugh, strong embrace, world curiosity, ingenuity, attentiveness and genius with notions, words, paint, wood, steel. And though—like so many others—he didn't seem confident in knowing how best to engage with Calvin, his compassion and love for us as a family was palpable.

Our friend had studied painting and photography. One of his paintings was a rough-hewn self-portrait, camera in hand. In large, broad-stroke red letters he included the words, I SUCK AT LIFE SO I WILL DO AS I'M TOLD. I marveled and applauded its irony and irreverence, had wanted to feature the painting inside my cubicle at the toxic employer I felt increasing contempt for. I wondered about the quote's basis; I wish I had asked him then.

In thinking of the tragic loss of our friend these past several days, I considered again the flabby platitude that folks have so thoughtlessly offered to me when they hear about Calvin's challenges—God doesn't give us more than we can handle. My response—calling bullshit—usually silences them: "Then why do people kill themselves?"

Eighteen months ago, Michael went to visit our friend at his home, a former Berlin hospital converted into spacious apartments. The two of them had a grand time exploring the city by day, wining and dining until the wee hours of the next morning eating from a buffet of various walnuts and fine cheese, drinking too much ridiculously delicious wine. No doubt they joked, laughed and reminisced, talked art and politics, and maybe even waxed philosophical. I had hoped to make the trip myself sometime soon.

We love you, man. You are and will be sorely missed. You're truly one in a billion-trillion. Next star I see has your name on it, brother. Rest in peace. No more anguish, no more pain.

Maine's Androscoggin River, photo by Michelle Lisi D'alauro

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