Monthly Archives: March 2010

Things fall apart

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I’m writing this for two reasons: to help me get my thoughts in order, and to set forth my account of events. It is easier to quell rumors when there is a written record to refer to. Not all of this is in the papers yet, but there’s nothing here the police don’t already know.

This past Thursday morning, my ex-boyfriend Bobby tried to kill himself.

It was not the first time. In December, while I was still dating him, he overdosed on prescription meds. His mental health had improved considerably since then, however. He was seeing a psychiatrist and a counselor, and the prescriptions they gave him seemed to be working. Even after I broke up with him on February 21, he seemed to be doing okay. (I would never have broken up with a suicidally depressed person; if nothing else, I would not have cared to live with the guilt afterward).

So Bobby was doing better. He and I were settling into an agreeable friendship. But then he got word that he was about to go back to jail, and so he decided to die. He had told me on several occasions that he would rather kill himself than be locked up again.

I did not know at the time that he had gotten in trouble with the law again. That came to light later.

On Thursday morning I woke to the sound of sirens—ambulance, police, more firetrucks than I could count, and the ominous white van. I don’t know what its exact purpose is, but it only shows up for very serious situations.

Normally I do not gawk, but considering the number of emergency vehicles present, I decided to see what was going on. When I stepped outside, I found Bobby’s suicide note affixed to my door.
Going down the stairs, I saw a person being carried on a stretcher. It was Bobby, still alive.
The other events I learned about somewhat out of sequence; for the purpose of this story, I’ll relate them in chronological order.

Bobby endeavored to kill himself with something explosive. He has a passing knowledge of chemicals, and he chose as his location the storage room of the next apartment building over, which houses flammable substances. Whatever concoction he came up with, it was strong enough to rattle the whole neighborhood. (I slept through it, all unawares.)

Bobby sustained severe flash burns, but did not die. The explosion did penetrate into the first floor and started a fire. A family of three was injured, the father seriously, with third-degree burns. Last I heard he was in stable condition.

The property damage was extensive. The residents and pets of two whole apartments have had to be evacuated until such time as the structures can be declared safe.

My initial response was sorrow for all of the victims and all of the suffering. My heart was breaking for Bobby. He had sought to free himself from his problems, but the plan backfired. On top of everything else he was suffering, he now had to bear the guilt of accidentally causing harm to all those people. I do believe it was accidental. Bobby has many faults, but even at his worst I cannot see him deliberately hurting innocent people, and he has a soft spot for children and animals. If he had anticipated the devastating result of his act, he would never have done it. Either something went wrong with his chemicals, or he was so irrational and distraught that he forget to consider that something might go horribly wrong. Whatever the case, he would now have to live with the responsibility of his actions.

I cannot begin to comprehend what he is enduring. He is my friend. He loves me, and I shared a relationship with him, and though I ended the romantic component of the relationship, I still care for him and love him in my own way. Of course I do: he was very good to me, and he has many sterling attributes. I would not have dated him for half a year, otherwise. Because a man I care for is suffering, I am heartbroken. I’m coping with a major dose of empathy, for Bobby, for the people he hurt, and for Bobby’s family.

But I, my kitties, and my apartment are fine. From Thursday morning through Saturday afternoon, my sorrow stemmed strictly from compassion. The only personal anguish I was suffering was in grieving for my friend.

Things have taken on a new dimension this afternoon, thanks to a long chat with Bobby’s brother. Unbeknownst to me, Bobby had recently reverted to his old ways, lying and stealing. On top of this, I discovered that Bobby had lied to me during our relationship.

I entered that relationship knowing full well that Bobby had a criminal past.  I was on my guard to detect deceit, but not once did he set off alarm bells. His behavior was occasionally immature and irresponsible, and in fact, that’s why I broke up with him: after the second time he violated his parole, I told him I was leaving the relationship. My hope was that he would see the consequences of his irresponsible behavior, to wit, smoking marijuana (which I do not object to, unless one is facing a drug test) and driving with an open beer in his vehicle. After that second strike I ended it. I regret that his parole officer acted with more leniency than I showed.

As I was saying, I was aware that I was dating someone with an ugly past who sometimes showed very poor judgment. But though I watched for it vigilantly, I never detected a single instance of his abusing me in thought, word, or deed. Bobby loved me completely, this much I’m sure of.

But he did lie to me about his past and his present, as I discovered this afternoon. His lies were designed to paint a more sympathetic portrait of himself. I tried to be watch for them, but Bobby’s a professional-grade liar. His lies were not meant to hurt me, but they were lies nonetheless. He deceived me.

It hurts, now, to discover this betrayal. And his actions of late smack of betrayal, too. He was so close to turning things around. He was devoted to his sick father, acting as a fulltime caregiver—in my book, that nearly qualifies him for sainthood. Even in the giddy opening days of our relationship, I always took a backseat to his dad. And he was doing honest work, and cutting back on his alcohol, and seeking help for his depression. But then (though he hid it from me) he started drinking more and started stealing again.

I don’t know whether to be angry at Bobby per se, or angry at the demons he has endured his entire life. It is patently clear that Bobby is mentally unwell. He is suicidally depressed, obviously, but I think his mental problems are much deeper and uglier than I can comprehend.

To what extent should I hold him accountable? It is not possible for me to know.

So I am enduring two conflicting emotions toward Bobby, anger and compassion, and on top of that I am feeling hurt and betrayed. I am having to reconsider the tender feelings I had toward a man who was a good and decent friend to me. This is the guy who loved my cats and could kick my ass at scrabble, who repaired stuff around my place gratis and who, just last Monday, rescued me from a bug in my apartment. This is also the man who lied, deceived, and stole, and whose actions led to serious violence, destruction, and injury.

As I understand it, Bobby has been released from intensive care into custody. It is almost certain that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. I predict that he will find a way to kill himself, once he goes off suicide watch. Regardless of how much he contributed to his own problems, the fact remains that he is in tremendous pain—and if there is a bright future in store for him, then it will take someone more perceptive than myself to see it.

It is a sad story on every count. I grieve for the victims, for Bobby’s family, and for Bobby himself. I am disconsolate at the loss of my own friend; I am equally disconsolate at my own loss of innocence about the nature of that friendship.

Please, if you are a praying sort of person, send out a prayer for the folks affected by this story. If prayer is not your cup of tea, I’ll take good thoughts instead.

Hallucination station

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Lately I’ve been experiencing a rash of bad dreams, the character of which may be displayed on a continuum with “Unsettling” on one end and “Horrific” on the other. In last night’s dream, for instance, I caught a glimpse of a guy standing atop a five-story building. He was a white male, slender, with shoulder-length dark hair, and he was striding toward the edge. I recognized that he was about to jump, and instead of doing the decent thing—yelling “No, it’s not worth it!” or somesuch—I worried that five stories might not do the trick (you wanna kill yourself, you need to do it from seven stories or higher, otherwise you risk turning into a vegetable), and then I averted my eyes. A few minutes later, when medical personnel started rushing toward the scene, I did my best to look surprised.

I’m not sure exactly what this says about me, but I’m pretty sure it’s unpleasant, whatever it is.

The dreams have been bad enough the past few nights that they’ve woken me. Each time it’s something different and something very disturbing—people being butchered, murderers stalking me, people dying, hospitals turning away the desperately ill. All told I’m glad I’m forgetting the details.

(courtesy of www.xkcd.com, the funniest web comic going)

Another popular dream topic lately has been my grandfather, who shows up now and again to admonish me that this might be the last time I see him alive. Seeing as he died last year, he is rather tardy in delivering this message. It is in keeping with his character, however: I think the verb “admonish” describes the bulk of his communications toward me during his life and, apparently, in his afterlife.

During my waking hours, I am happy to report, I have lately witnessed no suicides, no murders, and no ghosts. I have however witnessed some irritating behaviors, and so, with the aim of educating and improving the world, I present a partial list of things that bug me:

  • People who throw recyclables in the trash even though the recyling bin is two feet away
  • People who doubt the reality of global warming. I know it snowed a lot this past year, but for decades the trend has been toward increased temperatures. The ice caps are melting. Global warming is real.
  • People who are unsure whether humankind is responsible for global warming, and who therefore use this doubt as an excuse for their own irresponsible behavior. Even if the world would be slowly roasting itself without humanity’s actions (which, by the way, is not bloody likely), we are all stewards of the environment and we ought to treat it with a little decency, i.e., you need to start recycling. (Please see the first entry on this list.)
  • People who let their underage daughters dress like tramps. Though no woman is ever responsible for being raped, every woman is responsible for understanding that dressing provocatively carries a risk. Young girls are not responsible for understanding this; their parents are. Every time I see a young girl dressed in a slut outfit, I want to throttle her parents for exposing their daughter to that risk. She can decide for herself how she wants to dress when she is of age, but until then, it is her parents’ duty to minimize the chance that she will become the victim of sexual violence.
  • Corn meal. Someone who is new learning her way around the kitchen might inadvertently purchase this rather than corn starch, as she had intended, and then she would be stuck with an item that is not at all easy to use as compared to, say, Bisquick, a product that involves two actions: 1. Adding milk and 2. Stirring. Corn meal, in contrast, requires actions such as “frying” and “battering,” none of which are in the working vocabulary of a kitchen novice.
  • Grandfathers who nag you even after they’ve died.
  • People with loud voices who live in my apartment complex. To the dude who lives in the next building: please stop conducting your lengthy cellphone conversations outside. I can hear every word. To the woman with the pedantic, annoying voice who lives downstairs somewhere: please stop loitering outside on the off chance that you will encounter my ex-boyfriend, because every time you loiter, you feel compelled to strike up a chat with every passerby, and these chats are tedious beyond belief. Also, it is painfully apparent to everyone that you are loitering expressly for the purpose of encountering my ex. This sort of behavior is appropriate only if you are in junior high. You are in your forties.
  • People who complain about being way far down on the hold list for James Patterson. If you want the book right away, you can buy it. If you want to take advantage of the free service offered by the library, you can wait your turn. That’s what sharing means. I might take this opportunity to mention that there are thousands and thousands of other books in the library, more books than you could read in a lifetime, practically all of which are better than that James Patterson book which, by the way, he didn’t actually write.

There. I hope the world is better now. Observant readers will also appreciate that this works as a birthday anti-wish list: as you finish up your shopping for the presents for my birthday in a few weeks, you can steer clear of items such as James Petterson books, corn meal, nagging dead people, and “Sex goddess” t-shirts for ten-year-olds.

A slice of pi

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Today should have been cause for celebration. March 14 is Pi Day. Get it? 3.14? If I’d really been on the ball I would have cracked open the champagne at 1:59, but I don’t actually have any champagne, and keeping track of time today has been a chore. The time change is the reason I can’t really bring myself to celebrate: in addition to my losing precious sleep, I had to suffer an extra hour of daylight.

Other people like sunshine. I am pleased for them. I happen to prefer nighttime or, for variety, a nice gloomy twilight that sticks around just long enough to say hi before ceding back to nighttime.

Tomorrow is another under-celebrated holiday, the Ides of March. It’s a bummer if it’s your fate to be assassinated that day, but for the rest of us it’s a good excuse to re-read Julius Ceasar. (“Ceasar? I don’t even know her!”)

Hmm. Ceasar and c-zar. Betcha there’s a link there.

Mom came out for a few days this last week, leaving poor Dad at home to mind the cats. The day after she left he developed a kidney stone, which just goes to show that you shouldn’t leave Dad unattended.

I myself developed an ailment, also as a result of Mom’s actions, though all things considered I think I got the better end of the deal: Dad had a kidney stone, which I’ve heard is very painful, whereas I merely developed a blister, which is only mildly irritating. The reason I developed a blister is because Mom has lately become an exercise freak, and so she insisted on walking everywhere. I like to take a nap following a seven-hour drive; Mom likes to walk for seven miles, towing her innocent daughter with her. As a passing aside, I might mention that it rained a lot these past few days. Oh well, it wasn’t unexpected: any time two or more Zellers gather for a vacation, it will rain. It’s one of those immutable laws of nature, like how you’ll definitely spill spaghetti sauce on yourself if you’re wearing white.

Because Mom has a pedometer, we were able to determine the exact distance between my apartment and the downtown library, 2.1 miles. Occasionally I walk this 4.2-mile round trip to and from work, if the weather isn’t too bad and if I can drag myself out of bed in time and if it’s not going to be dark for the journey home. (I prefer the dark, yes, but not for the purpose of walking alone in a city with sporadic lighting and intermittent sidewalks. I’m rather lax about personal safety, but that’s just begging for trouble.)

My route to work has suffered a slight modification this year, because during the past winter somebody decided to put a house smack dab in the middle of my path, complete with a big imposing fence. I’ve adjusted to this insult by sneaking through the backyard of a neighboring house. I figure if it bothers the owner I can claim to be a tourist, though it seems doubtful that I’d be able to use that excuse more than once. If necessary I will come up with a disguise. (“Pardon me for trespassing on your property, but I am a tourist!… No, no, not the same tourist from yesterday, don’t you see this convincing fake mustache?”)

…Because I’ve been starting at the screen now for fifteen minutes, I think we can reliably assume that I’ve run out of things to say. Well—that’s not true, I can always prattle on about something, but I’ve run out of things to say that might conceivably be of interest to anyone. Besides, I need to go stuff my nose in a book: I’ve got to come up with five reviews for the library’s book blog, and unfortunately nothing I’ve read recently lends itself to good reviewing. I’m enjoying Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, but I’m not sure I could describe it well. (“Say! This book is worth reading!” is probably inadequate.)

Nor do I want to write about the two books that I recently finished. Making Rounds with Oscar, David Dosa’s account of this cat who can sense when death is imminent, was not actually very good, though it was just interesting enough that I read the whole thing. And Elif Batuman’s book The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them sounds like it was written specifically to make me the happiest reader on earth, but it was on the whole disappointing; the only reason I made it all the way through was because I kept hoping the next chapter would get better. It’s not that it was a bad book, if you’re into memoirs written by scholars of literary criticism and linguistics, but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Also, the author confessed that she comes down on the Tolstoy side of the Tolstoy/Dostoevsky divide. There’s just no accounting for taste.