thoughts on a death

It was a small scale local tragedy, a body pulled from the sea within view of my house, the last drowning of the year, the quiet, sad death of a quiet, sad man alone on a beach, hopeless, nowhere left to go. It’s not entirely uncommon round here – we have cliffs to jump off and a sea to drown in. The only thing that made this incident stand out was the fact that I knew the man. I’d worked with him, I’d talked with him, I’d sat on the grass drinking a beer and watched him play cricket with my son last summer. I would have called him a friend, despite not knowing him very well. My experience of him was that he was quiet, thoughtful, gentle, maybe a little shy. I thought one time I glimpsed the tell tale scars on his wrists and wondered if I’d maybe imagined them. I wondered if he’d noticed mine. He was very well loved and highly thought of among those who were close to him. There was a sadness about him – the sadness of a man whose destiny is to carry a weight that he knows will one day grow heavy enough to crush him, but which he cannot lay down. I’d not seen him for a few months – heard that he was in a bad place. Despite my own experiences, I didn’t reach out to him, I didn’t offer help. I didn’t offer to share the knowledge that I’d gained through my own journey through the shadows. I didn’t know him well enough, I figured. He might think it was weird. He was too far removed from my own daily, head down trudge upon the treadmill to feature much in my thoughts. A few photos from last summer, a few words among mutual friends. Then his picture in the paper. The people he was close to are devastated. I feel…very sad. I feel in my own small way that I failed. Many years ago, in a particularly hopeless moment, I waded out into the sea here. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was playing some desperate, miserable game with myself. I walked in til the water was just above my waist and then I sloshed back to the beach and sat there crying with my pockets full of wet tobacco for a while and then hauled my way back up the cliff and carried on with my life. So I have some tiny sliver of understanding of how it feels to turn your back on the land and all it holds. I wish I’d bumped into him a few days ago. I must have missed him by minutes on the streets around my house that day – I’d been walking around for hours. If I’d seen him, taken him for a drink, spoken to him…would that have made a difference? Possibly. Maybe only a brief one. It might have made a few hour’s difference, a day or two at most. It wouldn’t have made any difference to the weight he had to carry. I didn’t know him well enough to say that I’ll miss him – he never featured in my life to that significant a degree. But he’ll be thought of often, spoken of lovingly among those who knew him, and everyone from the centre out will carry some piece of undeserved guilt with them for the rest of their lives. Everyone will wish that they had done…more. But sometimes there’s no more to be done. Sometimes there is – but we’re all of us flawed and we’re all of us fucked up and sometimes that’s all there is to it. I’ll be heading down to the beach at some quiet moment over the next few days and I’ll raise a doobie and a beer to you, man – because that’s all I can do. Rest easy, dude.


    1. It’s something of a presumption on my part to try to imagine his pain – but I think every suicide shows someone breaking beneath a weight that they’ve carried most of their lives in one way or another.


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