Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Eulogy

"I never thought I'd die alone
Another six months I'll be unknown
Give all my things to all my friends
You'll never set foot in my room again"

Adam's Song (1999) by Blink-182

Have you ever thought of killing yourself? Like seriously consider it, get torn up inside about it and weigh it against your life on a scale of depressive bias? I believe that everyone has, at some point of their lives. I have. I was staring at a pit of pitch black nothing so vast, so deep it doesn't even echo. That's a figure of speech. What I really stared at was this hook in the ceiling of my room in Manipal that's just there for some reason. Something heavy used to hang from it, I think - possibly a ceiling fan. I know it was sturdy enough for all intents and most purposes. It's cold, unfeeling and metallic. It's dependable, and won't give way at the very last beat. I know because I tested it. I looped my belt from it and lifted myself up with my arms, holding as long as I could. It gave no chance of turning back, no chance of reprieve.

The first thing I'll have you know about standing at the edge of that pit is that it is frightening beyond all reason. Have you stood there? Have you stood there, stared as far down as you could, and told yourself that that's where you are going? If you have, you'd know just how scary it was. It's scarier if you don't believe in an afterlife - if you don't buy into the whole heaven and hell deal - because what you're staring at is utter oblivion. You know you can't come back from there. You know that you're never ever going to feel anything anymore. Curtains. The End. But that's why you want to go there in the first place, isn't it? To not feel anything anymore. It's only when you think that life is at its nadir, when living comes in only one bitter flavour, that you'd even think of walking out of it. It might be your a last desperate claw at dignity. It might be you want to lash out at everyone who backed you into that corner, to crush them with the weight of the guilt they have yet to realise - a big fuck you to the world before you take the plunge.

Or maybe, you just want everyone to know that they love you after all. Throw that last question to the wind,

"Will you cry if I'm gone?"

And leave without knowing the answer.

The first thing I'll have you know about standing at the edge of that pit is that it is frightening beyond all reason. I remember standing at the edge with finality screaming in my ears, staring at that pit of pitch black nothing - and it stared me down. My nerve died in a heartbeat. My resolve crumbled like a flimsy sandcastle back into the sand as if it had never existed at all. My knees went weak and I dropped onto the floor, and I scrambled frantically from the edge back into the sunlight, blubbering like a pansy. It's only in the face of death that you find out what you're made of. I realised that I didn't want to die, that there is so many things I want to live for. There is so many books I still want to read, so many places I still want to see. I've never eaten foie gras or fugu, or Thai bamboo worms, for that matter. I want my house in the countryside and a beautiful library with a sofa set, a chaise lounge and a bean bag in its middle. And I want to write that novel I always wanted to. I want life. I want all of it - the happiness, the possibilities, and even the frustration, the anger, the pain of sorrow in life. I want them all more than I want that pit I can never come back from.

I chose and I think everyone can agree that I chose right, but that doesn't change that one simple truth; I was afraid of dying. I was a coward. They always say that Death is easy and that Life is hard. They say it to comfort themselves when they chickened out from dying. They say it to convince other people from doing themselves in. Death is easy. Life is hard. Suicide is the easy way out. Bullshit aphorisms.

Dying is hard. It's ineffable, irreversible, and stretches endlessly in all directions. I remember when my sister was much younger, a kindergartener still sleeping with my parents on their bed. She suddenly woke up from sleep one night, sobbing uncontrollably and repeating "I don't want to die! I don't want to die!" over and over again. That's what death is. It's an eldritch horror. It's. Fucking. Scary.

And I don't want to die before I'm ready.

"I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend"

Jumper (1997) by Third Eye Blind

An old friend of mine killed himself last week, and unlike everyone else, I can't say I'm surprised. It's not like I expected it but, for some reason, I felt that I ought to know. The last time I talked to him was two years ago, before I went to India. It was difficult to get him to come out and have lunch with me, but I managed eventually. I can't really recall what we talked about that afternoon now, but what I do remember is that I kept asking him, "Why are you acting so strange? Why are you acting so different?"

And I was not asking about why he became reclusive after the fifth form, after the SPM. I was not asking why he never tried to meet up with the rest of us old High School boys, or bothered to keep in contact either. I was merely wondering at his behaviour, the way he talked, the way he moved, the way he smiled. Know a guy for five years in secondary school and you'd know a lot about that person. But he laughed it off, assuring me that nothing's changed, that I was imagining things. It really struck me how hollow, how joyless, how fake his laugh was then.

I sat beside him in class in the Second and Third Form, and in that two old years, he was my best friend - and I was his, for what it's worth. I realise now that he never really shared his mind with me. I found out that he went on a date with a girl I knew years after it happened, and I had to learn it from a friend of that girl he dated. He hoarded every thought, every feeling to himself - and behind that joking, laughing goofball front he put up for me, for everyone else, there's probably a lot of hidden things we never suspected or bothered to ask about.

The last time I saw my friend was a few days before the Incident, and that probably made me the last person from the old crowd to see him alive. I saw him exiting his house and getting into his father's car as I drove by. In fact, I pass his house, which is about a minute's walk from mine, everyday on my way to college. Everytime I did, I found myself wondering if I should call him out for lunch again someday. I could have done that last weekend, in fact. I would have too, since I was having a bit of a holiday from school for Christmas. Heck, why did I have to wait till then? I could have done it anytime since early September when I've came back from India for good. Maybe if I did, the last time I talked to him wouldn't be two fucking gone years ago.

I learnt about it on Sunday morning, from my next door neighbour, who didn't knew my friend that well either - but knew him from an English tuition class and from living in the same neighbourhood. I have since talked to many more old friends about this. There's a few half-assed conjectures being thrown around, theories pieced together from odds and ends of rumours and fish-talk. I will not repeat them here because I don't want to mar the memory of his passing by misconstrueing his purpose for passing. But that's what everyone wants to know. The Why - and not, it gladdens me to say, the How. When someone off himself, there's that macabre interest everyone shows in knowing every grotesque detail of his method, like it fucking matters. Say one thing; say it takes a true friend to want to know your reasons above everything else.

Yesterday, I went alone to the Buddhist temple where my friend's ashes was put to rest. It was strange seeing his urn with his picture (smiling there) and name on it on a shelf stuck behind a pane of glass, surrounded by dusty old people. There were several pairs of crescent shaped pieces of wood lying about - you know, the ones which are flat on one side and convex on the other. You ask the dead a question and drop a pair. If they land the same way up - both concave or flat - it means "No". If one is concave side up and the other's flat, it means "Yes". Or at least, that's what my great grandmother taught me.

"Hey, don't you wish we could have gone out one last time?" I asked his urn and dropped the bits.


I don't believe we can talk to the dead. I don't believe there's an afterlife they can talk to us from. But it felt good anyway.

I wish I know what his last thoughts are, in that room where he did himself in. I want to know if he was afraid like I did - and why he didn't step back from that damn pit. Maybe he just couldn't see the reasons I saw for living anymore. Maybe he's simply not a coward. Perhaps, if I have seen him in his last days or in his last hours, I could have asked him out that one last time. We could go for lunch and a drink in this cafe by the river I have heard good things about and always wanted to check out, but couldn't find anyone to go with. After that, we could take in a movie, throw stones at the sea or go crash visit one of our old classmates. Along the day, we can even make plans for a proper reunion with the old crowd - we hadn't have one in ages. Then maybe, just maybe, it needn't be the last time I asked him out after all.

I am not conceited enough to think that I could have made much of a difference, though I'd like a chance to try anyway. At least he would have went knowing that, yes, I cared, and everyone cared. Sometimes, that might just be reason enough to live, reason enough to be afraid of dying.

The first thing I'll have you know is that standing at the edge of that pit is frightening beyond all reason.

The last thing I'll have you know is, my friend was the bravest person I ever knew.

"Everyone's got to face down the demons
Maybe today,
You could put the past away"

Jumper (1997) by Third Eye Blind

k0k s3n w4i


Zzzyun said...

im sorry to hear abt ur friend.

regarding the topic of death, i used to be very scared of it when i was young. especially when night falls. it was my worse nightmare and the worse thing, there was no escaping it. because i was scared of becoming 'nothing' after death.

i guess death is one of the reasons why ppl come up with religions and afterlife afterall. to alleviate the fear of the unknown.

Betsy said...

I wrote a really long-winded comment but the pc suddenly auto shut down. Anyway, one of my close friend is the sister to your friend. I'm sure your friend will be deeply missed. Cause his sister cried her heart out when she found out. And, I'm really lost on what to say or do to comfort my friend. *sigh*

... and suicide is definitely the last thing on my mind. So, 'I don't want to die' sounded like something I'll say although I have no remembrance of it at all...

senorita.. said...

sorry this happened. hope ur friend is in a better place now.

senorita.. said...

it's never easy to have to digest death news. let alone news about friends, young people of our age. and yes, ur fren was brave. i couldnt kill myself when i wanted to. it seriously takes lots of guts to do it. may ur fren rest in peace.

bevE said...

death is a sparkly place with shining crystals and stalagmites and the other ones. it's the place where lollipops grow from the ground and candy canes hang upside down from ceilings, and where the tooth fairies drop the prettiest whitest teeth.

it is the prettiest place among all the lands.


(disneyland JAPAN)

- yuhhui - said...

i'm sorry to hear about it. As we grow older, we hear more stories about friends dying huh. It's scary!

I agree that dying is hard. I don't think I would ever have the guts to even attempt suicide. Yet again, situations push people to their limits. To really want to die... that calls for desperation for a way out, to end it all and not suffer. And yes, your friend is indeed rather brave. I hope he's in a happier place now. May he rest in peace.

MichelleG said...

i felt sad too.. i guess ur rite, may be he was just projecting the 'goofy image' to hide his real self. altho i dont really know him well but i did know him and i was looking at ur 4sc1 magazine, it's just unbelievable and sad that something like that could happen to someone that we know.

sigh. hope he's in a better place now...

Dr.Vishaal Bhat said...

Wish he had chosen to carry on... But then again after staring at the pit for so long maybe he found light there... May he rest in peace.

sinye said...

tuition mate..used to sit right behind me..

may him rest in peace..

AP said...

for someone who seeks it death would be less scary if there weren't the thought of a possible afterlife i would want none of it if i were ever on that ledge. figuratively speaking i was there- i imagined how that decision would ruin the lives of my family and how they would suffer the memory of me... in that thought death is a continuance, if just for a mere few decades but as long as i held onto that notion i have my excuse for living

nissy said...

i'm sorry to hear that.
but i do think majority of ppl would condemn suicide as a choice.
he could be saved if intervention was done earlier.
well, if u were going suicidal when u were my roommate at that moment; i think i wasn't really aware of it until shaki explained what really happened to u.
now that i've read about depression, you seem to have a period of poor speech and increase in sleep.
good thing u got over it. or else i might just open the door next day, and see u hanging on the wall. :|

k0k s3n w4i said...

Zzzyun: I wasn't really afraid of death when I was younger. I was more afraid thinking how pointless human life is.

Betsy: You were too young to remember anyway, and it happened in the middle of the night and caused a bit of a ruckus.

senorita: Or maybe he is in no place at all. Or reincarnated, even. I kinda imagined that a lot of people have considered offing themselves at some point or other of their lives. We seem to get a lot of news of deaths about people born in our year. We are frightfully mortal.

bevE: I thought you didn't want to comment. Why are you describing LSD overdose death? (Disneyland Hong Kong!)

yuhhui: I wonder how is it like, being our grandparents' age and hearing news about the death of the people we know all the time. Makes me feel that no matter how old we get, we still won't get used to life. I always used to think that by the time we're adults, we'd receive all the answers - or a handbook, at least. Sigh, looks like life is one big ad lib after all.

MichelleG: It must be harder even for his family. I think I've lost my copy of my class magazine, but there really wasn't a lot about him in there, unfortunately.

Dr.Vishaal Bhat: That's a nice way of putting it. Well, he had his reasons - and it's not my place to say that they aren't good enough.

sinye: I think I might have heard him mention you before. Death sure changes the way you remember someone, eh?

AP: I really don't know which is scarier; the prospect of living forever under the watch of a tyrannical God who does not understand the first thing about human lives, or the big blackout. Maybe, it's just the finality of it - how both are completely out of our controls. Because of that, I'm not going to squander life, the first and last thing which we do have some power over. Stay away from that pit, man.

nissy: I wasn't depressed while I was still your roommate. I wasn't at all depressed in the first year. Also, I don't believe in talking about the ethics of suicide or about timely interventions at this point of time because it is very pointless to do so. That's why words in the memory of the deceased are called eulogies - we praise. We can talk about how a person's life has been, but not how it could have been. This is what our psychiatry textbooks don't teach us.

Betsy said...

... oh, mum has a copy of your class mag.

senorita.. said...

news on those born in year '86, yes.. very sad.

sinye said...

ya..totally changed the way of remembering him..
everytime i pass by the pondok now, i'll think of the days when me, boon ping and him playing guitar together..