A tragic turn…

Things have been stressful here for the past couple of days; a less than pleasant ending to my winter vacation.
First of, as many of you have no doubt noticed, my images haven’t been displaying. This seems to be due to the fact that my web host has either a) had a catastrophic server failure or b) gone out of business without bothering to inform me. My website is completely dead, I don’t have FTP access to any of my files, and even a visit to the webhost’s own URL results in an error. The server has been down for more than two days now, with no indication of when (or if) it will come back online. I have moved a few images on this post to a temporary back up host, and I’m hoping my original server will come back online soon.

However, all of these things pale in comparison to the most unfortunate news that has darkened my life lately.

I was elated to receive a phone call from a friend in Taiwan whom I had not spoken to in a long time. My initial exhuberance and excitement at catching up quickly turned to sadness, however, when he informed me that a college friend and former roommate of ours had just committed suicide.
I wasn’t sure how to take it. One of the dangers of being abroad, especially in a surreal country like Japan, is that occasionally it all seems “like a dream” – a vague sense in the back of one’s mind that all of this is only temporary, and that someday we will return “to the real world” – a world which, despite the truth, we often assume will be unchanged from how we last left it when we return.
I went for a walk to clear my head…
So news of J’s (let’s call him J to protect his privacy) suicide was hard for me to grasp – it was less than 6 months since I’d seen him last, outside a convenience store in Madison. I was buying some masking tape, trying to pack my last few boxes in preparation for my imminent move to Japan, he was with some friends buying potato chips and soda – they were quite high, as I recall.
We exchanged a few “whaddup”s, made a bit of small talk. My mind preoccupied only with how much more stuff I could cram into my luggages without going over the weight limit, I didn’t really pay that much attention to him – he asked if I would like to go to the bar and have a few “going away” drinks on him before I left, and as I recall, I gave him a sort of non-committal – “sure, i’ll give you a call”.
a weathered wooden tori solemnly greets the morning dawn.
Of course I never gave him a call, and the last memory I have of J is him holding a half-opened bag of doritos, his face bathed in the pale white fluorescent convenience store lights, his unkempt hair blowing about slightly in the warm summer night wind, his left shoe untied, shifting his weight slightly from one foot to the other as he stepped off the sidewalk onto the parking lot, waving his hand at me and saying:
“Well, if I don’t see you, have a great time in Japan!”
And with that, his boys yelled at him to get in the car, I waved back, and we went our separate ways.
J was always “kind of blue” as Yu Jia so aptly put it – no matter how happy he seemed, always, underneath it all, he had a hidden undercurrent of melancholy – although it really wasn’t that hidden. I think we all know at least one person like that – one minute they’re having fun partying with everyone else, but the next, even when nothing’s wrong, they prefer to hole up in their room. Or how no matter how easy they are to get along with, and no matter how many friends they have, there always seems to be a tiny bit of ‘eager to please’ desperation behind their efforts.
Things only intensified when his girlfriend of a two years announced plans to study abroad in Trinidad. J had struggled with school ever since I met him in the dorm way back in freshman year. He lasted only that first year in Madison, struck out on his own for a bit, moved in with his girlfriend, enrolled in a nearby technical college, then dropped out to start working. After much persuasion from his girlfriend and his friends, he finally re-enrolled in the technical college, where he continued with solidly average grades.
A single lantern hangs outside a building in the geisha district…
Thus, given his current academic situation, there was no way he could join his girlfriend in Trinidad – a fact which hit their relationship hard. They often say that while women have extensive support networks in their friends, etc., men tend to rely exclusively on one or two very deep friendships to help them through the difficult times, often a wife or a girlfriend. What this means is that when that solitary source of support is taken from them, they have nothing to fall back on; an explanation for why men tend to take loss or heartache much more severely than women.
I know that’s true for me, and I’m certain it was true for J. His girlfriend leaving for Trinidad was, in retrospect, perhaps the beginning of the end for him, if I may take the liberty of so blithely assessing his life’s trajectory. (I’m not saying she was the cause, mind you, just that it’s a useful line of demarcation). They decided they would “just be friends” while she was in Trinidad, and then “see what happens aftewards” a solution that he was clearly not comfortable with, despite his attempts at pretending otherwise.
I’m certain that a large part of this was his girlfriend’s wishes – while he struggled with classes at a technical college and a low paying job at a local bank, she excelled in all of her classes at Madison, receiving excellent marks, scholarships and intriguing internship offers. In many ways, I feel this is a manifestation of the tragic results of a discriminatory anti-male philosophy in the american educational system which pushes young women to exceed while dismissing their underprivileged male counterparts. (but this is an analysis for another time) Over time, given the diverging paths their lives were taking, it seemed only natural for them to separate.
Soon after they stopped dating, J dropped out of college again. He began to turn quite heavily (for him) to drugs, which stood in contrast to his occasional recreational usage before. As we all entered our senior years in Madison, many of us became preoccupied with the rigorous demands of our final core major classes; this, along with planning for what came next (Scott getting married, my moving to Japan, Doyle’s biotech job, etc.) meant that we had relatively little time to hang out with each other in the last year before graduation, and even less time to spend with J, who, if I may be so presumptious as to hazard a guess at his emotions, must have been feeling more than a little left out; the rest of us were graduating/getting married/moving abroad, etc. while he remained stuck in Madison with little aim in life. In many ways, I’m certain that the unwitting distance that sometimes existed between us had something to do with the increasing depression he was feeling – at least speaking for myself, I know I didn’t spend nearly as much time with him as I should have – being so wrapped up in my own life at the moment. And thus maybe we all failed to notice just what was going on in his life until it was too late.
Slatted windows filtered sunlight through as I passed…
Except, we didn’t really even notice, even once it was too late – we all moved on straightaway after college, on to different cities, countries, jobs, places in life, etc. For myself, I always sort of dismissed any concerns about J as “it’s just a phase, he’ll be alright” – even when I learned that he had lost his job. Or like that night when I saw him at the convenience store, high as all hell; rather than being concerned, rather than saying something like “you know, you’ve been hitting that shit a little too hard lately, maybe you ought to step back for a bit and try and get yourself sorted” I just kind of blew him off, figuring “he’s a big boy, he can take care of himself”.
Despite popular propoganda to the contrary, suicide is far more of a concern for men than women. While women may attempt suicide more often than men, the actual rate of successful suicides is more than four times higher amongst males than females (in addition, while suicide rates have decreased amongst women in the period from 1980-1996, they have actually increased dramatically amongst men). In fact, a recent study found that as of 1996, white males comprise fully 73% of all suicides in the United States. [sources: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, US Census, article: "Men over 50: an endangered species" S. Roose, MD]
Part of the reasons suggested for the dramatic skewing of suicide figures is that:
a) suicidal males are less likely to talk about their intentions than females
b) people are more likely to dismiss suicidal behavior amongst men as “boys being boys”
c) people are less likely to be “concerned” by problems faced by young men as opposed to young women
An alley hides the utilitarian framework underlying the beautiful wooden facades
In particular, I think that part (c) is very accurate. I know that at least speaking for myself, had it been J’s girlfriend, for instance, demonstrating the above symptoms (depression, excessive drug use, frequent withdrawl from society, dropping out of school, losing her job) I, and 95% of her friends, would have been beating down her door to see what was wrong and not stopping until we were certain she was “back on the right track”. On the other hand, it is shocking to see how blithely even I, an individual who tends to consider himself aware of “mens’ issues” dismissed this very same behavior in J as “boys being boys”. Almost as if the same behavior that is grounds enough for a full scale intervention effort in a young woman is considered “par for the course” when found in a young man – as if we expect that it is normal for young men to do drugs, drop out of college, lose their jobs, etc.
And so it went – abandoning the at-times overly protectionist attitude we might have adopted had this been one of our female friends, we instead played it with the air “masculinity” that dictated that J could “take care of himself”; an assertion that I now am coming uncomfortably to understand, allowed us to sidestep our obligations as friends; a slacking of responsibilities that allowed us to continue to be wrapped up in our own lives while someone who needed our help suffered.
I know the old adage – “there’s nothing anyone could have done”. I don’t know if I believe that or not – it seems markedly fatalist and deterministic to me and a panacea designed to absolve us of our lack of responsibility. I don’t really have a point here, only that its shocking and tragic when someone so young is cut down in the prime of their life. And while it’s true that J and I might not have been the tightest friends in the whole world, nevertheless, his tragic death will weigh heavily on my mind from now on.
While I’m not sure what, if anything I should say in his memory, I guess I shall just say that I’ll miss my friend…
6:40 am

One Reaction

  1. Imported xanga comments

    oh wow!! @_@!! I am terribley sorry for your loss. That so sad– It really makes you think. You know, make you think about taking things for granted or think about life more.. i don’t know. I just know when I first found out my friend was going to commit suicide I was shocked and thought it over.. all those signs. like you, i brushed them off. usually i dont do that to my friends but she wasn’t really someone close to me at the time. but later i talked to her all the time and just let her vent out her things to me.. and end of the year she told me thanks and that she wouldn’t be here if it wasnt for me. i thought that was giving me too much credit. but it just made me realize some things.
    thanks for the insight on turning 18. ahaha really i just think of it as a really big number. i didn’t realize i was turning 18 x.x; im scared cause i don’t know what i will be doing by then. i dont want to stay here in alaska anylonger but i dont know if i will make it outside of this house. bleh.
    oh, i changed the layout x.x; because of some difficulities involving some other’s person’s layout. if you read the comments under that entry about ‘eating a soda’ lols. ~.~ i dislike having the same layout.. and someone happen to have the same background and things.. and everyone even said it looked like mine. and im just a layout obessesor so i needed to change it quick! ^_^ and thats the story.
    vatttt.. you don’t like miyavisan? ^^; do you listen to j-rock? aha now i must head off and get ready for school =[ didn’t get one bit of sleep. zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 9:01 am by chiriyuku
    That was a lovely story about J. I am sorry it ended that way. But you keep chuggin on, you are “hardcore,” for there is no way I could deal with the mere smell of cows, let alone their creepy eyes.
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 9:15 am by Mr_Mephisto
    kewl pics…+)
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 9:23 am by JohnnyCake8
    Im really sorry to hear about your friend reminds me of when I found out one of my best friends had committed suicide *back in college* i guess we’ll never really know their reasons why theyve done something like this to themselves…
    glad u found my site kawaii! thanks for sharing the pix– ^_^
    ja ne!
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 9:42 am by anjuliet
    I am so sorry to hear about your friend. May his soul rest in peace in the hands of our Lord.
    ともかく、頑張ろう. Yours is life to make. Waste not the short time for it never does come back.
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 9:57 am by hors_d_oeuvre
    when someone passes away it reminds me how ephemeral we all are….
    life goes…get up and make up for things you missed with the living ones
    hugs from a friend
    when u get back to my xanga youll find the story about my sink
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 10:23 am by costoso
    also you’ve said it well so dont worry. i even started to ponder again
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 10:39 am by costoso
    emm…wow. you are very articulate.
    ….and you used the word ‘panacea.’ niiiice.
    ….and your final comment reminded me of that line towards the end of The Shawshank Redemption after Andy escapes.
    i’m sorry for you had to go through losing your friend. best of luck in the future.
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 11:27 am by imthedriver
    *hug* Im sorry sweetie. I hope you still keep your panda head high and smile.
    I didnt get your email… So.. I cant send you ramen.. And I have another surprise to send you. NEEEHEHEHEHe… ^___^ email email email… RAWR.
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 1:51 pm by BiteSizeThis
    Sorry to hear about your friend. My sympathies.
    About the FOMA. No, I didn’t had a FOMA phone. I had a regular J-Phone account with a Toshiba phone. My friend had a FOMA phone. I’ve played with the phone for a while. It’s impressive technology! Dual camera so that you are actually able to do ‘netmeeting’ on the move. The phone itself is a bit bulky, but good quality. I say… take a FOMA phone if your friends/colleagues are using one too, so that you can use the video conference. Or wait till I made my move to Japan ;)
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 4:55 pm by Kittos
    A similar thing happened to one of my old friends this year. Your probably right about the double standard between men and women in today’s society. Things like “take your daughter to work day” just don’t exist for guys. Anyway, your entry was very well written and Im sorry for your loss.
    Posted 1/5/2004 at 4:58 pm by ddsb2000
    mm.. sorry to hear that.. its never sth someone should experience..
    thanx for the link btw.. i did take a look.. and i came across another site.. http://www.kawaiigifts.com yes i was bored. hehe.
    Posted 1/6/2004 at 4:18 am by schapagurl
    It’s natural to feel as if you could have done more, and that may or may not be true, but it’s one thing to want to help someone and actually being able to.
    Even though you couldn’t save him, you were a positive influence in his life. And in this day and age, when that kind of thing is a rarity for even the most stable of people, that kind of thing is a greater gift than you realise.
    On the topic of web/image hosting, I can host some stuff for you for a while until you set everything back up again. Drop me a line if you need it
    Posted 1/6/2004 at 6:22 am by Paracetamol
    I’m glad you were able to feel that Buddha Vibe… It’s my pleasure haha. Man you have nice pictures everytime I come here… No Buddha Pictures?? haha
    Posted 1/6/2004 at 12:27 pm by Tadafumi
    My condolenses Mike. *hug*
    Posted 1/8/2004 at 2:16 am by laughterhere