On the phone, at a gas station, in our dreams
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In early April, just as the snow is finally melting and the sun’s making an appearance in the gray sky, I feel a thought buzzing around in my brain. I know what I’m about to do, and I shake my head in disbelief at my own powerlessness. Then I chuckle and walk calmly toward the computer.
It’s like a twitch that moves around my face: Once I’ve stopped wrinkling my nose, I realize I’m biting the inside of my mouth. After I get that under control, I can’t stop blinking and raising my eyebrows.
If it’s the evening, I say I’ll quit in the morning. And in the morning I think, Since I’m not going to do it anymore, maybe I’ll do it one last time. Then I try to write, but the work isn’t going well. I wonder if I am still a writer, and if I’m not a writer, what am I?
Anyway the rent is paid, and nothing’s due for a while. After a bit I think, Yeah, today’s a wash. Then I do that thing again that I’ve supposedly just done for the last time. The day leaks away like air from a slowly deflating tire. Sitting at the window, I notice the sky has changed from gray to the color of a bruise. The phone rings, but I don’t answer it; they can always call back later. If you’re missing often enough, people don’t think of you as missing anymore.
When my attention wanders to the digital clock at the corner of the computer screen, it’s 2 AM. I’ve barely moved all day. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
In Ukraine two tall, older girls make an awkward, smaller girl drink from a puddle. In Taipei, on a dirt plot between giant buildings lit as if on fire, a group of men and women make a scared girl take off all her clothes. In Vietnam a girl delivers a devastating kick to another girl’s face. In China five women beat and strip a woman in the middle of a busy street.
I first came across the videos while trying to find a sound effect for an autobiographical film I’d written and directed. The movie is about sexual abuse in state-run group homes like the ones where I used to live. I don’t remember the first video I found, but it led to another, and then another. Days passed. Then weeks.
There are two types of videos I watch: fighting and humiliation. The fight videos are mostly on YouTube, but YouTube deletes the worst ones and any that show nudity. The most vicious beatings are reposted on the dark web, which can’t be searched with a normal browser, but they’re as easy to find as a twenty-four-hour bodega in Manhattan. Those are the sites that host videos of beheadings, car crashes, suicides, murders, rapes.
I ’ve had four major depressions in my life: the first when I was fourteen, then when I was twenty-four, then again when I was thirty-eight, and now this one at forty-two. It’s scary to think they might be coming closer together, like contractions.
In one video a woman in Poland catches a friend sleeping with her husband. She slaps the mistress’s cheek and forces her to remove her clothes. The mistress begs for mercy. Some unseen person laughs behind the camera. The wife begins cutting the mistress’s hair. When it’s too short to cut anymore, the wife shaves the woman’s head with electric clippers, occasionally swinging her open hand into the mistress’s pretty face. Then she kicks the woman in the side of the head and the lower back. The mistress is dragged naked from the room, and the video cuts to her in the back of a car, wrapped in blankets, head unevenly shaven, eyes swollen and dark. The video was probably taken with a phone, a single shot except for that one cut near the end. The video is low quality and eight minutes long.
If I told my therapist about my fascination with this particular video, he might point out that when I was a teen, my father beat me and shaved my head twice, and afterward I tried to kill myself both times. The second attempt put me in the hospital and left those scars on my left wrist. I barely look at them anymore.
At times I felt something erotic while watching the violence. My mind seemed to go dark as three women attacked a girl’s mother and beat her to the ground while the girl watched. Soon it ceased being erotic; it was just dead time, like falling asleep during a staring contest.
I told a friend about the videos. As I was talking, I started to feel nauseous. She tried to remind me I hadn’t actually hurt anyone. People watch boxing and Ultimate Fighting, she said. People watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Saw II. And it wasn’t like I was downloading child pornography.
I hate it when someone tries to help you see yourself in a better light, but you know in your heart it’s false. I wondered: Was I manipulating her? Was there anything at all she could have said to help me make sense of what was happening? I tried to explain the different types of videos: maximum damage versus maximum shame.
“Which do you like more?” she asked.
“Humiliation,” I said, without even thinking about it.
I’d probably watched at least a thousand videos by that point. Was I upset because of what I was watching, or because of my inability to stop watching it? Did I resent being a moth, or did I resent the flame for drawing me to it?
My friend and I were seated in a courtyard behind a cafe, and there was a tree leaning toward us, its bark a foamy white mess, the backs of its leaves black as ink. This place has rotted, I thought. Then I went home and searched for more videos. I didn’t want to, but I did.
Sometimes when I watched guys fighting in the videos, I could actually feel one of them getting hit. But I was never especially drawn to those videos, even though I should have been able to relate.
One spring, when I was twelve or so, a boy got another boy down on the asphalt outside of the Quick Stop and kicked him for what seemed like twenty minutes.
When I was thirteen, I was beaten by a police officer.
My friend Paul was beaten outside of school, his arms held at his sides as two kids took swings at his face.
I once smacked a boy named Patrick so hard he fell on his back.
Like many cowards, I’m drawn to confrontation. I stood up to some threats but backed down from others. I was bullied, but I was also a bully. Once, my roommate in the group home stood over my bed, daring me to move. A boy named Jay chased me down California Avenue in the middle of the night until I retreated into a vestibule and he broke the glass window in the door. Ogie stole my drug money. Tom stole my drugs and kicked me down the stairs.
When I was twenty, I punched an Englishman outside a live sex show in Amsterdam. When I was twenty-two, I grabbed someone by the throat and threw him to the floor in a Florida nightclub, twice. The second time, he got up and punched me in the eye. Afterward I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, my face covered in blood.
The violence in my life seemed normal when I was younger. As I got older, it didn’t seem normal anymore, because I was hanging out with a different crowd. My new friends hadn’t gotten into fights or been beaten and humiliated by a parent. People told me I’d had an awful childhood.
In September my ex-girlfriend Toni flew in from Colorado to visit me in Brooklyn for two days. We’re both into sexual role-playing involving dominance and submission. I enjoy being a sissy — a man who dresses in women’s clothes and wants to be humiliated. Toni and I were supposed to go to a fetish party at a dungeon in Manhattan, but she wasn’t feeling well. I went without her, because I had to go into the city anyway for a friend’s birthday.
At the birthday party I met a civil-rights attorney who wore faux leather pants and told me about the inner workings of the immigration department. I told her about the fetish party I was going to later. I said I was planning to dress up in a negligee with nude stockings and pink heels. The stockings had stars on them.
“Let me see,” she said, and I pulled them from my backpack and showed her under the table.
The attorney and a friend of hers followed me upstairs to watch me change into my outfit. “Lift the negligee,” she said. “Spin around.” She spanked me a few times, not very hard, and then the three of us sat and talked. I felt embarrassed and vulnerable but also really comfortable.
I arrived at the fetish party in my slip and heels with coffee and a sandwich for a dominatrix I know. Like my ex, she was visiting from out of town. We hung out for a while, but she had a client who wanted a strap-on session, so she disappeared into a back room with her coffee and sandwich and dildo harness.
The place was packed. I wandered around and saw my friend Hito, another dominatrix. Her date was a little guy dressed like Robin Hood. She ordered me to stand up straight. Her nails were filed into points, like claws. She pressed one underneath my chin as if it were a knife and dug another into my chest until I thought she might break the skin.
“I’m with someone now, and I don’t want you to cause any trouble,” she said in my ear.
What kind of trouble would I cause? I thought. But of course she was right. I was more than capable of starting trouble.
When I got home, Toni was sitting on the floor near the door, right next to the computer where I spent most of my time. She was wrapped in a blanket and shivering slightly like a bird, her long black hair spilling over her shoulders. She wasn’t going to sleep in the bed with me, she said. She seemed to want to be as far away from me as possible. What happened to us? I thought.
A friend once told me you can never trust someone’s account of his or her own failed relationship. It’s like when two objects in space pass one another: you can’t tell which one is moving and which one is standing still.
The next night I was supposed to meet Hito at a club on the Lower East Side. I wore a peach-colored slip with my toenails painted to match, nude pantyhose with colorful squares printed on them, and the pink heels. But it wasn’t like the fetish party where Hito had held her nail under my chin. This was a goth party, and everyone was young and wearing black clothes and fishnets and eyeliner, even the boys. There were face tattoos and face piercings. The music was very loud. And of course Hito didn’t show. I’d expected as much, which might have been why I was there: on some level I was hoping to be humiliated and disappointed when she stood me up.
I thought about writers I knew who’d once seemed to be on a similar career trajectory to mine but were now more successful than I was. Some were writing television shows. One had written a children’s book and gotten rich. Another had two kids and a husband and a small but comfortable house in Portland, Oregon. I looked around at all the young goths, felt the smooth stockings against my legs, and thought: My peers are becoming more normal; I’m just getting weirder.
I was moving farther and farther away from everyone else. Was there a way back? I didn’t imagine so. Quite often recently I had thought about suicide — not in a serious way, but in a way that made me feel as if my time was limited. To change my life I’d have to go back and redo twenty years, I thought. And by then I’d be sixty-two. I’d never make it.
A young woman approached me. “You look like a sissy slut,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, but my voice was so quiet and the music was so loud that I don’t think she heard me.
She had an Afro and wore a corset and something like a black swimsuit. Her name was Leila. (The next day I would find her online profile and see that she was twenty-four, which wasn’t surprising. Young people are more forward these days, more open in their desires.) She pinched my nipples and pulled me to the bar and made me buy her a drink. Then I knelt and cleaned her boots with my tongue, and she hit me with a belt and tore my stockings and reached between my legs and squeezed hard. Later I laid my head in her lap.
It turned out she was one of the dancers in the show. We exchanged contact information, and I watched her climb onstage to perform. In my six-inch heels I could see over everybody else. She was a good dancer, but she was drunk. I was a good dancer, too, but I wasn’t really dressed for it in those shoes. I smiled at people occasionally.
So this is what it’s come to, I thought. I’m the old guy at the goth club in a pink dress.
My job was to write, but the minute I pulled up to the computer, I’d open a video instead, and weeks would pass. It was like some science-fiction movie where you go into a chamber and close your eyes and open them a month later.
I’d sold the movie rights to one of my books, and I had just enough money to live on for the next two years — maybe a little less. Most of my writer friends taught, which kept them in the world. They also had husbands and wives and kids. Even houses. I might be unfairly characterizing them. Everyone’s life is filled with strange hidden cabinets and unopened closets. Still, I was forty-two years old. (I’m forty-four as I finally finish this.) My friends, for the most part, were grown-ups.
Sometimes I would start writing in the morning, and it would go OK for a couple of hours. I’d take a pill for my mood and another to help me concentrate. Then the pills would wear off. I didn’t know what I wanted to write, so even if I got something on the page, it wasn’t worth much.
Often in the middle of the day, or occasionally closer to six, I’d start crying. I’d lie in bed and feel the water pooling in my eyes and then sliding down the sides of my face. The last time this had happened was about four years earlier: I’d cried every day for two months. I’d sought help then, and one of the doctors evaluating me had suggested I check myself into the hospital. “I can’t go to the hospital,” I said. “I have to go to Detroit.” I had just gotten an assignment for a magazine cover story, and I needed the money.
That crying spell had eventually passed, but this time it felt different. I didn’t think I was going to come out of it. And anyway, come out of it into what?
At first I thought the most violent videos were all from Eastern Europe and South America, but really people are terrible all over. Like in Philadelphia, where a woman knocks a pregnant woman unconscious, screaming, “You’re going to die today, bitch!” and continues to kick her in the head until she’s pulled away. Or where one girl takes another into the bathroom at knifepoint and pees on her.
A gang invades a girl’s house while her parents are away. A drunk woman crawls along the floor, but no one will let her leave. A scared high-school girl, naked and surrounded in the locker-room shower, proceeds to hit herself in the face while everyone laughs. It’s like she’s saying, There’s nothing you can do to me that’s worse than what I’ll do to myself. But even the viewer can see it isn’t true. The worst is always yet to come.
It was closing in on Halloween, and the weather was getting colder. I kept thinking about suicide, but I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I had a therapist. He was still in training and was therefore affordable, though I never actually paid him — at least, I hadn’t in a while. And I had some friends, but I didn’t see them very often, and it didn’t seem appropriate to burden them. What I wanted was a conversation, so I could consider the options, just talk it out:
“So the thing is, yesterday the sadness came on big, like a breeze becoming a squall, and I cried for two hours and started looking up methods of suicide.”
This is the part you’re afraid to talk about.
“Yes. This is where it gets real: when the depressed person starts figuring out how to do it. I was on Wikipedia, researching the different ways. You know, in the U.S. the most common way to kill yourself is with a gun, but in Hong Kong people jump from the tops of buildings. Very few people jump from bridges, even though it seems romantic. Almost every way of killing yourself is either very painful or you risk surviving with a serious impairment. And, as you know, I don’t have a life that would work very well with serious impairment. No one would take care of me.”
The loneliness is part of your justification.
“Yes, but it’s also true.”
“There is this one method: It’s called a suicide bag. It’s just a bag with a velcro strap and a helium container or something. Basically the gas knocks you out, and you suffocate. It’s what right-to-die groups use when helping the terminally ill end their lives. This is clearly the right way to do it, but where do you get one of these bags?”
That would be the next step. Finding the bag.
“Yeah. And a canister of helium.”
The body is a heavy thing. When I think about suicide, I think about the tagline from the Coen brothers’ first film, Blood Simple: “It is very difficult, very painful, and it takes a very, very long time to kill someone.”
I called my old friend Chellis, who had been rock climbing for five days in Yosemite with her fiancé. She lived in California, south of San Jose and not far from the coast. (I joke sometimes that she lives in the California perineum.)
Sometimes talking to people on the phone can make you even lonelier. It’s like being hungry and smelling a steak.
Chellis asked who I was hanging out with these days, and I realized I hadn’t been hanging out with anybody, and I almost started crying again.
She said, “You sound sad. Are you sad?”
And I said, “A little, but not right now. Earlier, maybe.” Earlier, of course, was when I was writing about killing myself.
After thinking about suicide all day, I went out to a club. I put on cartoon-colored tights under my jeans and bicycled into the city with my heels and slip in my backpack. I was supposed to meet Leila at a bar where she was dancing.
Winter had arrived, and the air was crisp. I went over the Williamsburg Bridge, which is peaceful after ten on a weeknight, and I sliced through the traffic on the Lower East Side. I sent Leila a text saying that I was nearby, and she told me not to arrive until 11:15, and to bring her a Red Bull energy drink.
I went into a convenience store and bought a Red Bull, and at exactly 11:15 I entered the club. Leila was wearing boots and knee-high black stockings and high-waisted, lacy underwear. We stood there awkwardly, my fingers occasionally brushing against her leg or ass cheek. The place was empty and dark with a cement floor. The event organizer was walking around in white face paint, black lipstick, and a black sweater. I had my girlie clothes in my bag, but I didn’t see any point in putting them on. Leila said she wished she had her equipment — a flogger or a cane. I said, “Why don’t you just use your hands? It’s the same thing, really.”
She introduced me to her boyfriend, and we chatted for a while about the actor James Franco, who was producing a documentary about Kink.com. I’d introduced Franco to Kink.com, I said; he was also playing me in a movie based on my memoir. This was all true, but I immediately wished I hadn’t said it. Leila’s boyfriend didn’t seem to care. He just walked away. I felt like a comedian doing a set while the audience eats dinner. Leila asked me how old I was, and I told her forty-two, her age inverted. She said I looked good. She said I was so handsome, which was amazing to hear, and I leaned my head on her shoulder. She smelled like flowers. I was sure she was on some kind of drug, and I hoped it wouldn’t wear off too soon. Then she walked away and climbed the small stage and started dancing.
While she danced, I stuffed five dollars into her underwear. She smiled.
I’d been in this situation before. Sometimes it was just a matter of waiting someone out — in this case, her boyfriend. He was so pretty in his torn clothes: tall and skinny with a flap of blond hair covering his eyes. She was obviously in love with him. It was hard to tell if he cared about her at all. It wasn’t going to end well for them, I thought, but I was doing fine and happy to be out of the house.
I got distracted, and when I looked up, Leila was gone. After maybe twenty minutes I texted her, and she said she was outside; she had to take a phone call from a director.
But I’m a director, I thought, and I’m right here.
Finally she came back. She stumbled slightly, leaning in close to me, and the five dollars I’d stuffed into her underwear fell out. I bent down and picked it up. She didn’t notice. “Hold on,” she said, and went to get herself another whiskey. She stayed gone so long that I put the five dollars in my pocket.
Leila came back and sat down next to me. I put my hand on her knee, and we talked about sex. I told her I didn’t like sex. She asked if I was a submissive asexual. Yes, I said, but I’m full of desire. It must be hard, she said, to be male and submissive. I shrugged. The real question, if there was one, was: Why am I alone? But I didn’t know that she cared. I’m certain she didn’t remember our conversation the next morning.
At 12:50 I told Leila I was leaving. Her boyfriend was already gone. She hugged me, and I handed her the Red Bull. “It’s too late to be drinking Red Bull,” I said, and she laughed.
I bicycled home along Second Avenue, past the all-Asian dungeon, and took the Manhattan Bridge instead of the Williamsburg. It was completely empty on the cycling path, and the whoosh of cars and trains felt meditative. In Brooklyn I found they’d put up a fence to stop cyclists from cutting down the hill through the grass near the offramp, something I always did. There was a police officer directing traffic, and I thought, What’s he doing directing traffic at one in the morning on a Monday night when the stoplights are working? He waved his orange stick for me to go, and I biked the rest of the way home. The weather was perfect.
In my apartment I thought about masturbating, but I didn’t. I thought about writing down everything that had just happened. I was certain there was meaning in the five dollars I’d given Leila that had come back to me. It was funny but poignant. It also felt a little bit like theft. Leila didn’t have any money. She was just a kid in her twenties getting high and dancing and enjoying life in the city. She had big plans for herself. She drank too much, but then, everybody has a different tolerance. Maybe she drank just the right amount.
I woke in the morning and started writing. I kept circling around the meaning of the five dollars, coming back to it again and again. In the end maybe there wasn’t any meaning.
Having no one to talk to, I went on talking to myself:
“Yesterday I thought, I’m not sad anymore.”
How’d that come about?
“It had been almost a week since I’d felt really sad. Five days, I guess. I thought, I’m not clinically sad, but objectively I don’t know that my life is worth living. Like, on Tuesday I felt better. And on Wednesday I woke with this headache, but it was OK. I get headaches sometimes. People say they’re migraines, but I think they might be sinus related. I’ve been getting them for years. But then today it was Monday again, and I thought about suicide. It’s always like this: first the thought, then the sadness. Am I making myself sad, or am I realizing that I was already sad? That’s an important distinction.”
Do you think this is related to the videos you’ve been watching? An overexposure to violence?
“I think it might have started there, but I’m not doing that as much anymore. I’m starting to think the videos are just a wall I am trying to maintain against these other thoughts. It’s like being in a city under siege: There’s Genghis Khan and his army outside the city, and there you are holed up inside, slowly starving to death as the seasons change. Eventually you just want to open the gates to the Mongol hordes and let them slaughter everybody. It’s going to happen eventually.”
So you’re saying addiction is like a wall surrounding a great city?
“I don’t know what addiction is, but I know that what lies beyond it is unspeakable.”
Maybe you should go to an NA or AA meeting.
“Yesterday I thought about my housemate when I was in graduate school. I was shooting heroin in that house, and I overdosed, and the firemen came and carried me down three flights of stairs. When they asked for my parents’ contact information, I had just enough presence of mind not to tell them how to reach my father. An accidental overdose would only have confirmed everything he wanted to believe about me. He could have told everyone about his rotten junkie son.”
You were talking about your housemate.
“Yeah, the guy across the hall: I remember only one conversation I had with him. It was about a cheap sushi place on Clark Street. We both wondered how they served such good sushi so inexpensively. We decided it was because they were doing a high-volume business. I never saw him talk to anyone else. He studied all the time. He was from China, I think. He lived an austere, lonely life. Or maybe none of that is true. Maybe it’s just a story I’ve created about him. But even if it isn’t true of him, there are people who are lonelier than I am — or just as lonely. People whose lives are harder. What’s so special about my sadness?”
Why is it so important that your sadness be special?
My father was my age when he quit writing. He went into real estate and did pretty well.
“Writing is hard,” he said to me once. “Any idiot can make a million dollars in real estate.”
I wanted to talk to him now about his decision to stop writing, but our situations weren’t the same: My father never had any success as a writer, even though he was a professional for years. My father wasn’t walking away from anything. Still, he had some knowledge of the struggle. He’d lost hope, and then he’d made a change. Which isn’t to say he wasn’t a miserable person. He had a violent temper, and he would weep like rain. But our parents know something. I’m sure of it.
My father and I hadn’t talked in years. The last time I’d seen him, we’d discussed real estate. I didn’t want to talk about real estate. I wanted to talk about suicide.
“Yesterday I met Angela, and we went to see Kill the Messenger, starring Jeremy Renner, about the journalist who uncovered how the CIA smuggled cocaine in order to fund a war in Nicaragua in the 1980s. The whole situation was terrible.”
Ronald Reagan was a fucking asshole.
“The worst. After the reporter broke the story, the CIA started a smear campaign against him. He was discredited and had trouble finding work as a journalist. In 2004 he committed suicide, though by then evidence had been released essentially proving that all of his articles were true. But the movie itself isn’t that good. His character is the only real person in it. There’s mention of an ex-girlfriend who committed suicide, but nobody else has an interior life, except as it relates to him.”
What did you do after the movie?
“Angela and I walked down Metropolitan to the water, in front of the new buildings, and we looked across to Manhattan as the sun dipped below the horizon. It was the golden hour and very beautiful. The river might as well have been a painting. The breeze wasn’t strong, but it was sharp. I told Angela that I’d been sad. ‘Don’t be sad,’ she said, as if it were a choice. She pointed out all of my achievements, which sound better than they are: Like, I’ve made two movies, but they didn’t do very well, and I doubt I could raise money for another. And I’ve written seven books, but I don’t feel capable of an eighth. And, honestly, where are all my friends?”
“You’re a figment. You’re not even a single person. You represent a variety of people I wish I could talk to. In truth, you’re not even that. You’re just a stand-in for an antagonist, except real antagonists have their own wants and things they’re willing to do to get them.”
You’re reading too much into everything, treating every molecule of oxygen like a fortune cookie.
“Anyway, Angela and I walked along the water, and then she had to go home. Every Sunday she has dinner with her family. I took my bicycle on the train and went over to a friend’s to watch the Giants-Eagles game. They’d made salad and chili and cornbread. It was fine. I stayed until eleven at night and then headed home. I thought I was feeling OK, but on the way I started to cry, just a tiny bit. I thought about the suicide bags.”
I can’t keep having this conversation.
In December I told my therapist I was thinking about suicide.
“How much?” he asked.
“Quite a bit,” I said. “But not seriously.”
He gave me his cellphone number and told me to use it only in an emergency. Then he asked me to sign a document and list a friend I could talk to. “Have you thought about how you would do it?”
“I’d use an exit bag. But I don’t know how to get one.”
“So you’ve looked into it.”
Yes, I said, but just out of curiosity. The bags weren’t readily available. There was one company selling an obvious scam version that wouldn’t work.
“Maybe you should go to the hospital,” he said.
“No,” I said, “I’m feeling better.” I’d read about the strain it puts on a therapist when a client becomes suicidal, and I apologized to him for that. Of course he said I didn’t have to apologize.
I was hoping he wouldn’t have me hospitalized. I felt pretty sure he wouldn’t.
And in the days after that, I began to feel much better.
I told my friend Alex I had listed her name on the document my therapist had asked me to sign. She knew right away what that meant; she studies psychology.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I just wanted to let you know.”
Alex is a good friend but not my closest friend. The others, though, I couldn’t use. Ben and Kay and Nick have been through this with me before. And though they all would have said without hesitation that they were willing to go through it again, I didn’t think that was quite true. Would anyone ever come out and say, I’m weak from carrying you all these years?
Over the next couple of months I wrote a television pilot about the early days of fetish porn on the Internet. It wasn’t particularly good, but it wasn’t terrible either. At least I was writing again.
I attended a party in Boerum Hill with a friend who had created a television series that was now in its third season. He’d liked my pilot script and had forwarded it to his manager. I was also there with an editor of a literary magazine. When I told her about the publisher that wanted to bring out my essay collection, she said what a great press they were. Then I told her how much money they’d offered me.
“You can’t sell your work for that little,” she said.
I didn’t want to talk to her after that. When she decided to leave early, I didn’t try to convince her to stay. I stayed at the party and talked to people who were young and ambitious and familiar with the website I’d launched more than five years before.
I had been doing pretty well, but I still felt fragile, like a glass that has been dropped but doesn’t appear to be broken.
I ’ve heard that a goal without a plan is just a wish.
Since I started this essay, I have found a relationship of sorts and taken a job with a magazine that some friends started. The difference between a happy ending and an unhappy ending is simply the place you decide to stop telling your story.
When you come out of a depression, it’s hard to recognize yourself. You go to sleep one person and wake up someone else. Where did the depression come from? When will it be back?
For almost a year I’d been unable to write much of anything. I’d barely left my apartment. I’d often gone a week at a time without any human contact other than by phone. When I did write, I could only document the misery. But there’s some value in what I produced, simply because it was written while I was inside the tunnel. Anybody who has been through that tunnel knows it’s very hard to take a picture in the darkness.
I’ve since edited my essay in a nondepressed state, trying to make sense of the nonsense.
It’s the end of winter now. Spring is the best season, no matter where you are.
When you’re so depressed you want to die, it’s hard to muster the energy to kill yourself. Then, when you start to feel better, you have the energy, but you no longer have the desire. Maybe this is a survival mechanism. Who knows? All I know is I feel better now. I feel quite a bit better.
I wonder how many readers will cancel their subscriptions after reading Stephen Elliott’s “Sometimes I Think about Suicide,” with its talk of cross-dressing, suicidal ideation, masturbation, heroin overdose, sexual abuse, violence, and fetish porn.
I appreciate his willingness to provide a glimpse inside the mind of a creative person driven by self-destructive demons. His essay might be of great assistance to others with similar challenges. But I wonder if this view of his netherworld was more self-serving exploitation than forthright confession. Reading it left me wondering why The Sun would publish it.
I understand that Stephen Elliott is a tormented soul, but I question your judgment in printing “Sometimes I Think about Suicide.” I read it hoping it was fiction and some wrinkle at the end would help me understand it all. When I checked the Contents page and saw it was nonfiction, I stopped reading. It’s the only piece you’ve ever published that I didn’t finish.
I get that people are appallingly damaged in life. I just do not want to encounter all the lewd and ugly details in a publication I read to fortify my belief in the human race.
Stephen Elliott’s essay “Sometimes I Think about Suicide” [November 2016] caused me to ask: Why would you print this? The explicitness is over the line even for The Sun.
Then I remembered Jeanne Supin’s interview with Bruce Perry in the same issue, and I thought, This magazine is here to give voice to it all. I guess this is part of my education as a human.
I’m glad my essay elicited strong responses. The letter writers raise interesting and valid points. I think art that appeals to everyone has no value and I appreciate The Sun taking the risk and publishing my essay.
When I started reading Stephen Elliott’s “Sometimes I Think about Suicide,” I put it down. I didn’t want to participate in the extreme sadness he describes. But something drew me back. It is a good portrayal of depression. I’m glad Elliott discussed his misery and thoughts of suicide with a therapist and is on the road to recovery.