A Day To Recall

Today was/is June 17, exactly one month to the day ten years ago that someone close to me passed away.  I won’t be here on the anniversary of July 17, so I’m going to say something now, in advance.   Another poet has lost someone dear and her pain and grief reminded me of my own ten years ago.  Just as she aches with the anguish now, in time it will transform her understanding of love, life and all it means to be on this planet.    You are never the same when you pass through this rite of passage, and for some it happens far too early.

I remember how I heard of his death.  A telephone call to a friend.  “I’m sorry about Dave.”  That was it.  Four innocuous yet heavy words that I’d been fearing and expecting for so long and yet the news was devastating.  I feel it has something to do with that human addiction to denial and hope within the most dire of circumstances.  It is the core of our ability to carry on but it can also be a stumbling block to healing.  I’m greatful I didn’t lose my way in that very treacherous territory of tears and loss.  For anyone reading this who is suffering this, I send you my heart.

A few months ago I wrote a post about a man named Dave.  I’m going to do something this one time that I’ve never done before and will never do again.  I’m going to repost it.  My reasons for doing so are purely emotional and I don’t feel I could have written it any better.  The words are as true now as then and will always be true if I live to one hundred.

David James Marks

October 30, 1960 – July 17, 1999

He drank gallons of water and he was known as the human water tank.  In fact, the first time we met he asked me, glass poised in his left hand, if I wanted a drink of water.   I said “no thanks,” as he sat beside me, undaunted by my apparent disinterest in him.  In the end, it was this particular trait  I found so endearing.  That, and his precise intelligence.  He had wanted to be an accountant and did calculous as a hobby the way other people do crossword puzzles.   He also enjoyed every card game imaginable, being unbeatable at Euchre.   I believe he must have played thousands of games of cards which under the circumstances of his life, kept him focused and solid.  Numbers absorbed him almost as much as his other love,  music.  For him, those two things were his anchors to this world.   He was  mysterious and elusive and he always wore black.  Dark Blue if he absolutely had to.  He said he liked to blend and not be noticed.  He didn’t like attention.  He was quiet and spoke in a husky whisper.   Despite the invisible persona he liked to project, he was a very intense and emotional man.

The first time I heard him play his guitar was shortly after our first date.  He was twenty two and I, twenty.  He asked me if I could swim and I said yes and so we began our  walk together.  A journey that spanned thirteen emotional years that still affect me deeply.  Looking back at our life together I see flashes, that when put together paint his portrait:   smoking cigarettes in copious amounts to ward off the demon of fear; playing and listening to  Pink Floyd until the wee hours with him telling me that comfortably numb is one of the best rock songs ever written;  his left foot tapping to keep time and fingers moving expertly on the fret  board so deftly as he tells me how great Jeff Beck is and if only Dave Gilmour would reunite with Roger Waters.  Afterward, while  eating pizza as he regales me with stories of working at a pizzaria after school when he was fifteen, before everything went wrong.  Before it all started, that bad year when he was seventeen.  Before Schizophrenia.

He said it began in class one day.  He’d been smoking a lot of pot on the weekend and  someone gave him some pcp.  He took it.  He never tried it again.  After class that day, he said he became convinced everyone was laughing at him and plotting.   He said this went on for some time until he went into a complete psychosis and was subsequently hospitalized.   He said it was the end of his life.    He had always been an overachiever who never had to study,  someone we all envied in highschool.  Hell bent on being a millionaire by the time he was thirty, he had his pick of universities.   He was on top of the world, with a pretty girlfriend from a good family and on the precipice of living his dreams.   He didn’t.  He spent the last half of his final year of highschool on the psychiatric ward, in a psychosis and finally receiving electro shock therapy.  A treatment which robbed him of his memory, concentration and ultimately killed his will to live.

We talked a lot during that summer of 1984.  We used to take the bus all over Toronto, just riding and alternating between manic chatting and comfortable silence.    I knew about his mental illness but it didn’t concern me.  The seriousness of his condition didn’t emerge until a year after we met and by that time it was too late.  We were living together and I loved him.  The years went by like the passing landscape on a road trip, dotted with his suicide attempts, depressions and paranoia.  Off and on,  our weeks,  months and years were laced with enough activity and laughter to make the down times bearable, until eventually they too were smothered beneath the rubble of his disease.    Add to that mix an unhealthy family who were the root cause of so much, the ghost of his mother  who had committed suicide when he was just three months old and you can see where we were heading.

One sad day in June I left.  His episodes became constant and he lost perspective.  He no longer had a grasp on how he was behaving and after his last suicide attempt he made it clear he didn’t care to live and that he didn’t care if I was there or not.   He went somewhere inside where I couldn’t go and I tried in vain to bring him back.    We hugged before I got in the car and drove away, with my heart in my throat  as I  looked back one final time at the stranger who had become my husband.   He managed to stay alive for three years after that day and on  July 17 1999 he closed his bedroom door, took the contents of three bottles of medication, lay down on his bed and died.  He was thirty eight years old.

The memories are still  raw after all these years and I know they will never truly leave. There were  times of sobbing and anguish as I held him to soothe his pain until he fell asleep.   I can still hear his pacing in the wee hours of the morning attempting to stave off the side effects of the anti psychotic meds he had to take. The day  I watched him die inside a little more was when the doctor told him we couldn’t have children because the drugs had destroyed his fertility.   The indelible memory of the shattered look on his face at the bank when he couldn’t remember his phone number or the evening with friends when he couldn’t recall a large chunk of his childhood when relating a family story.  The fact is, he simply couldn’t take it anymore.  I couldn’t save him.  No one could.  Looking back, I can see that he was dead before we met.  Dead in the most basic way.  Schizophrenia killed him.  He used to say, “Val, I have mind cancer.  Why is it okay for someone with incurable body cancer to kill themselves but it’s not okay for me? ” I didn’t have an answer. Perhaps someday someone will.

He will be forty nine years old on October 30th.    He was my friend and my husband.  He played the guitar and he was good at it,  a judicious player of his finely tuned ax.    His name was Dave and he mattered.  I will never forget him.

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Author: valo

I am a poet, writer and activist with a special interest in human rights for children and women as well as the elimination of poverty worldwide. If you read this today, feed someone locally for me will you? Drop off a non perishable food item at the food bank nearest you and consider yourself hugged. Thank you!

16 thoughts on “A Day To Recall”

  1. Dear Val, this is very emotional, and personal.
    I’m glad I took the time to read it. I had a best
    friend who pilled himself off last year. He was
    the most generous man I have ever met, a millionaire
    no less. Thanks for letting us in. It’s tough. Hugz!

    1. I’m a pretty open person about my life experiences. I feel it is important to be upfront with who you are, most especially if you are to be an artist. I’m sorry about your friend and I wish I didn’t understand this. It doesn’t matter what you have or who you are, if you are in that hole, all you see is black. I wish your friend had reached out for help. Thanks for reading this and taking something good from it. Life is precious and should be used for good. hugs

  2. Val, this is such a touching tribute…may we all be blessed with the purity and intensity of love you and Dave shared. Letting go is often the greatest gift we can give to someone we love so dearly..it can release them of the guilt of knowing they are causing us to worry or be in pain.

    There is so much yet to be learned about mental illness, and I hope that someday it does get the attention it so desperately needs. It is no less lethal than cancer, yet people can not always empathize..

    I’m a better person for having made your acquaintance and we’ve only just “met”… I can only imagine the impact that you have had on Dave’s life, and the lives of others who love you. Thank you for sharing this glimpse of your heart with us. (((HUG)))

    1. Thank you calliopespen for being touched in a positive way by Dave’s life and our relationship. In many ways I give him credit for helping me on my path to becoming a better person. He taught me everything I know about tolerance, patience and respect and this world is poorer for him not being here anymore. I have also been positively affected by meeting you and the care and respect you give other writers is beyond reproach. You already know I admire you skill with words and each time I read you blog I learn and that mon amis is priceless. HUGS

  3. Val, what can I say that would frame this post in the respect and awe it deserves? Your story is powerful, moving, intense, true, devestating, crushing, loving. Your writing is flawless and your voice is as clear as the portrait of Dave you’ve painted. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Bryan my sweet, for feeling that I did justice to Dave’s life and memory. As you and I both know, words and art are all we have and they can also be so limited when we are trying to convey something with as much breadth as love and life. HUGS to you mon amis.

  4. Val, What a touching post. You were undoubtedly the most constant and beautiful part of Dave’s life. Thank you for being there for him and for helping him through dark days. Being there for each other along on this journey called “life” to provide love, support and compassion is the definition of being human. Hugs to you, Debbie

  5. Oh Val, your words touched me, it takes a lot of courage to share pain and sorrow, so much more than it takes to share pleasure. Dave’s life was very hard, and how fortunate for him, that he had someone who loved him so much. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is leave…as you did.

    1. Lorraine, merci, for reading and for that last line. You completely understood the situation. Much love to you amis. Hugs

  6. Val,
    I am deeply sorry for your loss, I’m sure no lessened with time and distance. I’m grateful for your words here that put the experience, shared by so many, into such eloquent perspective. I am touched by your final paragraph. His name will always be Dave and he will always matter.
    Blessings and comfort,
    –Annmarie

    1. Thank you annmarie. Sometimes people see a mentally ill person on the street and have no idea they are someone else entirely trapped inside a nightmare. You have read this and so have others and in that way, he is leaving his own legacy by using my words. Hugs

  7. Val. I am grateful for the gift of this post, because you knew I needed it. Being the witness to someone’s suffering brings an intimacy no other experience can. Suffering someone’s suffering and then ruminating about it over and over and over and over, until you can’t remember anything else but all the suffering…As a witness, you can’t imagine the anguish you will feel during and after detha comes andd goes. You weren’t just a witness, you were the witness to his life and death and his heartache and struggle.

    “His name was Dave and he mattered.” This is crushing in its intensity and unbearable in its honesty. A name and a statment. A name and the most basic of utterances. A name and the most significant gift we can give someone who’s gone…a legacy. They had a name and they mattered.

    You are his legacy now and his story is now your story to tell. And you honor him well.

    Your legacy, at least to me, will be your words and your kindness. Thank you.

    1. That is the only legacy that matters really, for any of us. Thank you medicatedlady and yes it was for you I posted this again. You will get through this and your world will become right side up again, but you know that. I’m here rooting for you. Hugs

  8. I am sorry for you val, but just try to be greatfull for the good things you have with him, now that time has passed is easier.
    I had a similar experience, just similar no experience is the same, one day I will tell you.
    But be greatfull for what you had, and laugh at the funny moments you spent together
    Big hugh

    1. Hugs mariana and thank you. No experience is the same, but pain is pain and we all feel it and I’m honoured that one day you want to share with me.

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