WARNING: Description of an extreme suicidal gesture.
In Highschool, I longed for a girlfriend. I had awkward dates and dashed hopes. I tried to be more attractive by being cool. The girls who liked me, liked me as I was. They were turned off by my attempts to be cool. The more I tried, the worse it got.
My luck completely changed in college. I finally meet someone. She is cute with curly blonde hair and blue eyes. She was fun. She fit right in with my friends. I’ll call her Maggie.
We couldn’t have been seeing each other more than a week when another woman starts chasing me. Today, we’d call it stalking. I’ll call her Charli.
Now I have two women on my hands. This doesn’t happen to guys like me. What should I do?
This new woman is smarter and we discuss interesting ideas. She’s prettier. Just gazing at her face is a pleasure. So we had a deep abiding love for music in common. She sings well and plays several musical instruments. How could I not break up with Maggie for Charli? But I am with Maggie. Don’t I have an obligation to her? I just couldn’t do that to her.
I explained to Charli that I am with Maggie and I must remain faithful to her. Desperate, Charli gives me a speech that at the time I mistook for heartfelt. She tells me how great I am and how it was worth taking a chance on me. She told me how empty her life was until she met me. When she had finished, I had switched my allegiance and had to break up with Maggie.
So what kind of person was Charli? My friends hated her. Although we only dated a few months, she frequently brought up marriage. Her biggest flaw was her need for drama. Although, she regularly picked fights with me, the make up sex was so good that it seemed worth it.
One day during a fight, I committed an act she considered unforgivable; I walked out on her. As retaliation, she started ignoring me and hanging out with some tough guys. I kept trying to win her back. One day, I surprised her with a rose in the day room at school. That won me round of applause from the other students, but only scorn from her.
She shamed me for making her new boyfriend jealous. She said this made him want to beat me up. I took what she said to heart and worried about it for days.
I finally approached him and apologized. He said,”I don’t know what you are talking about, but don’t worry about it.” That bitch! She made the whole thing up as payback for me walking out on her.
Around that time, a buddy of mine came down for a visit. We went camping in Crabtree Falls, Virginia. We camped below a mountain called The Priest.
The next morning, we decide to hike to the top of The Priest, but first we had a little mind alteration to attend to. He had brought magic mushrooms. I ate three and a half grams of the dry, intensely moldy tasting fungus.
At first, it was fun. If I stopped hiking, the mountains in the distance appeared to be retreating. This is a common experience for me when on hallucinogens.
This experience has a certain logic to it.Since the mountains are very large and far away, they don’t seem like they are getting any closer as I walk towards them. The tripping mind interprets this as the mountains as walking away from me at the same rate I am walking towards them. When I stop walking they continue to move away from me.
At the peak of the mountain, I became talkative. Bill became annoyed. I shut up and went into my head. I began my first bad trip. My mind used all of my twenty year old’s half-baked understanding of R. D. Laing, Alan Watts, Ram Dass and Castaneda to torment me, “You have said we are all God. Now experience being God.” I felt I was commanding the wind, but I didn’t want to. I just wanted to be Steve, the young engineering student who is fighting to keep his girlfriend.
I was nauseated. I heard my parents say, “We let you skip class to go camping and this is what you do?” I am making promises in my mind to Charli, much like people make promises to God in hope that he will save them from a crisis. Sweetie, I will learn to like disco and roller skating. I will go with you to see the movie Fame and keep an open mind. I won’t fight with you anymore. I will marry you. Anything. Just make it stop.
Tormented by the way she had been treating me filtered through a the bad mushroom trip, I became suicidal. I thought about throwing myself off of the mountain. However, I could barely sit up. So much for that idea.
I must take control of my thoughts. I am responsible for my experience. I try to tune into the “cosmic joke”. What this meant to me was a mystic when gaining insight into the absurdity of life is freed through a deep belly laugh and a recognition not to take it all too seriously.Whether this is actually true, I do not know, but it became my vehicle for liberation in that moment.
“Come on Bill. We are going down the mountain. I started singing, “Onward Christian soldiers..” I am not soldier for Christ, but the song had a uplifting quality that the moment so desperately needed.
Neither of us knows how to get back to our camp. I just start running downhill. When I spot our camp site, it is surrounded by people. I tell Bill that we must leave before they see us. Bill tells me that I am mistaking the stones around the firepit for people. Drugs will do that.
At the campsite, I lie in the grass. Insects crawl on me. It feels like they are eating me. I sit up and the insects stop. I start to feel nauseated again and must lay down. The insects start on me again.
Bill is reading High Technology magazine. I muse, “Technology separates up from the insects so they can’t eat us.” I could really use suburban life with its technology and lack of insects right now. “Bill, keep reminding me that I am on a drug.”
The chronology gets fuzzy at this point, but when I finally accept the fact that I lost her, I become desperate. Between the histrionics of a twenty-something and the emotional magnification of my illness, I become certain that I want to end my life.
I was at home alone. My parents were going to be away for several hours. I went into my dad’s walk-in closet, open his top dresser drawer and remove a 0.22 caliber bullet. I walk into the den and remove his 0.22 caliber rifle from the gun rack.
My dad often went into lectures about how unsafe it was to have guns in the house. This kind of hypocrisy and double-message was typical of him. It was very confusing to grow up with. He was about to learn first hand about the dangers of guns in the house. He knew that I had depression and that I was suicidal, yet it never occurred to him to get rid of the guns.
Sitting on the sofa, I put the bullet in the chamber, put the barrel in my mouth, I set the safety to allow firing and placed my finger on the trigger.
I had lengthy mental debates over whether to do it or not. I thought about how miserable I was and how I could end that misery. I thought about the grief my family would go through. I thought about how all the religions I could think of looked down on suicide. Then I thought about my pain again.
After my thoughts circled this way for about two hours, it happened. I can only call it grace, because I did not consciously direct this experience. I started hearing in my mind my favorite piece of music.
The celli and the doublebasses play a drone when the horns enter with a simple 5 note modal figure. It is answered by the violins. There is a beautiful, serene hollowness to the sound. As if they weren’t sure they were heard, the horns repeat themselves. Like they are reassuring them, the celli and the doublebasses answer before the violins respond. The music intensifies as it continues.
Tears are streaming down my cheeks. “I will live for this music.” What was this music that made me want to live? It was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5.
I engaged the safety on the rifle and removed the barrel from my mouth. I removed the bullet from the chamber, put the rifle on the rack and put the bullet back in the ammo box in my dad’s drawer. I left no evidence of what might have happened during my family’s absence.
I found a therapist and started therapy again. Although I would make other suicidal gestures in the future, none have been as dramatic as this one.
If you would like to hear the music that saved my life, here it is: Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5
©2017 Stephen L. Martin
Photo: Ralph Vaughan Williams and his favorite cat Foxy