Monday, 13 April 2009

Heavier Than Heaven

So I've been contemplating suicide recently....

Nobody panic. It's not like that, not for myself. I would never do away with myself. I've got too much interest in what happens next. Plus I've seen first-hand the crushing emotional backlash the people left behind have to deal with. Couldn't do it, so don't worry.

Won't say I haven't thought about it though. I think everyone born in my generation has considered it once or twice at least. Probably they think of it in every generation, but I haven't really discussed it with anyone born earlier than 1970.

Anyhow, what I should say is that I have been contemplating the idea of suicide in general lately, but of course my opening sentence has a much nicer kick to it, don't you think? There are actually several reasons the subject has been on my mind. The first is that I just recently finished reading a biography of Kurt Cobain entitled "Heavier Than Heaven." Great book, very interesting read. I haven't researched it much to see if it is completely accurate but whether it is or not, it is definitely worth reading.

Now, Kurt Cobain killed himself. Man, that screwed up a lot of people. I remember living through all the angst-ridden teenagers depressed about his suicide. I actually didn't even care at the time. Wasn't a big Nirvana fan when Kurt was actually alive. Sure, I had a few albums I'd dubbed off of my friend's CDs, but I wasn't huge into it. Later on, maybe 3 or 4 years after the fact, suddenly I started listening to Nirvana constantly, and they became one of my favourite bands for years. I know, I missed the boat on that one...

The main thing I remember about the night Kurt blew his head off is that I got into a huge fight with my dad. I was 17 at the time and was at my girlfriend's house with several friends. We'd rented some movies and were just hanging out drinking a bit when we started watching the MuchMusic news and heard about the suicide. Saw Courtney reading the suicide note. All very interesting with a lovely "morbid fascination" vibe that we all got off on. None of us were crying buckets about his death, though. In the middle of this, the phone rings and shockingly, it is my dad calling. I take the phone into my girlfriend's bedroom and my father and I proceed to get into a huge shouting match on the phone. Apparently I was to come straight home because Kurt Cobain had shot himself and I owned some of his albums so now I might also commit myself to an early grave. As if. I was so mad about this call that I was literally yelling into the phone, but of course, in the end, being a still-dutiful son (for a few more months, but we'll get into that another time) I returned home to bum away my night in my room being depressed. Honestly, just the effect my parents were worried about..instead of having fun with my friends I moped about by myself. A self fulfilling prophecy on their part.

Interesting side note on this story....My girlfriend's brother walked by her bedroom while I was on the phone and pretty much figured that we were in the middle of a messy break-up, due to all of the yelling. Imagine his surprise when he walked into the living room and saw her sitting there still. Who was Mike shouting at? It apparently blew his mind a bit.

So getting back to the book, "Heavier Than Heaven" was an excellent read because finally you get to learn something more about the man and maybe glimpse why he did what he did. It was hard to know Kurt through his music and interviews and such...he was a larger than life figure and lied about a lot of things to the press. And of course his lyrics were purposely vague and muddled....very artistically written but hard to garner much information from without knowing some back story. Perhaps that is what made them so universal and beloved. Who can say?

My favourite part about the whole story was the love between Kurt and Courtney. Granted, very untraditional, but there was a real relationship there and some ideas that I'd love to implement in any future relationships I might one day have. For example, the two of them took turns reading each other to sleep at nights...I would LOVE this. They also both seemed completely enchanted with their daughter. Both would give anything for her and it seems like Kurt really gave his life for her in the end. A life-long self-loathing and self-abusing person, with deep abandonment issues, poor Kurt decided that his life was wretched due to his increasingly bad stomach pains and his junkie ways, and that his daughter would be better off without him. A stupid, stupid conclusion, but I think that's why he did it. Trying to make the world a better place for his daughter by removing himself from it. Sigh.

Well, read the book if you get a chance. You'll learn a lot. I laughed, I cried, I got far less sleep than I should. I was even inspired to borrow some of Kurt's writing technique for my most recent effort.

Kurt's death isn't the only factor in my recent contemplation of suicide. A few days after I finished reading the book, I discovered that a co-worker of mine had hit a 17 year old boy with a subway train. The kid had a suicide note in his pocket and had decided that death by subway train was preferable to living in a world where his girlfriend had broken up with him, apparently. Sad. At 17, to give it all up like that? Wow. It shook me as well since the subway driver was a guy I worked with for at least 12 weeks and I could just as easily have been driving that train. People don't think about who they might affect when they jump in front of a train like that....but then I guess by the time you are committed to suicide you are in such a selfish place that you wouldn't care any more. Still, it's not a good time. I don't want to see your head turn into hamburger in front of my eyes....go kill yourself somewhere private, asshole. Or better yet, grow some balls and live!

Anyway, that didn't really truly get to me either. It simply made me stop and go "hmmmmmm." The thing that really drove me into deep thought about this topic happened yesterday afternoon. I was driving my train over the Bloor Viaduct (for you non-Torontonians that's a big bridge over a valley). Just minding my own business, going about my day as per usual. Suddenly, about 150m in front of me right in the middle of the bridge I see a person.

"I don't remember seeing a blue light for track patrol on the bridge," I thought to myself.

I slowed the train and blew the horn and waited for the appropriate flashlight or flag signals from the person at track level to tell me to proceed. These signals did not come. Instead, the person started walking towards me. Having not received the appropriate signals I brought the train to a stop and waited, opening my driver's window to look out at this guy. He was quite close to me when I realized that he did not have any of the appropriate gear and that his hoodie was only half pulled on, leaving one arm hanging at a strange angle. Clearly, this was not an employee, but rather an "unauthorized person at track level."

I watched the man approach through my window, looking at details so I could make a description. White guy, average height, skinny, glasses, right arm not in his hoodie and hanging oddly, black baseball cap, left hand cut and bleeding. I stuck my head out the window and strangely I thought for a second that I knew this man. There was a strange feeling of kinship here. I spoke to him, but I didn't yell or use my "Driver Authority Voice" as I normally would. I just looked at this person and asked, "Hey what are you doing down here?" as calmly as I might ask a friend I wasn't expecting to see.

He looked up at me with one of the most haunted gazes I have seen in my life. Glassy eyes, tears that have yet to fall. A look that seemed alien but one that I could relate to as all-too-human and all-too-familiar. I guess it's a look that is hiding somewhere inside all of us. This is why I felt I knew him. In a way it was like gazing in a mirror.

"I couldn't do it." was all he said. I was held in his gaze and couldn't respond until he looked away and walked past my window. There was no doubt to what he meant.

"Well, that's good," I replied. But I was quiet and I doubt he heard me. He had already passed, receding off the bridge and into the darkness of the tunnel, vanishing from sight.

I of course called transit control and they shut down power and made sure an ambulance was there when the man emerged into Castle Frank subway station. I guess I saved him from being electrocuted or hit by a train at least. He had dislocated his shoulder and the ambulance people dealt with that as well. I wish I could have done more.

"I couldn't do it."

I'm glad, sir. Somehow I doubt you'll ever read this, but if you do....I feel for you. I hope you get the help you need and deserve. I'm sure you have your reasons for almost doing it, but just know, you're not alone.

So that is why I have been contemplating suicide lately. "Heavier than heaven" indeed.....


  1. You really seem to get to experience things most people never do. Quite the different adventure from the man who sits at a desk and stares at a wall all day.

    Anyway, I hope you made a difference in that guy's life. I just don't know what I would say or do in that situation.

  2. yeah we can hope...

    and hell's an interesting life :D Although I have a whole lot of tedium too....

  3. yikes Mike!! unreal just after what happened with your coworker...well so glad he didnt do it..and im sure you as well as the rest of us will be hoping and praying he doesnt change his mind! Sure makes one ponder the choices in life doesnt it...and how there is really only one choice to make that will bring us the strength,peace,and even the joy we all seek in our lives. I Pray that man and others who are so desparate will choose to have Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

  4. Mike,

    So glad you enjoyed the book, as I did!! i think i might read it again even.

    "Grow some balls and live." What can be said except, I love it!!
    So true!!

    I enjoyed this piece and even teared up a little, haha yeah, your writings tend to have that effect on me!

    Your words touch me and others, and I hope you never stop having such a huge heart!

  5. a heart so huge it might explode
    i never know
    but i can't stop it anyway

    all I can be is who I am.....


    Thanks Dee, glad you liked it :) And if I can get an emotional response, then I managed to succeed! Yay team :D