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.