Whenever a beloved celebrity like Robin Williams or Philip Seymour Hoffman takes their own life, invariably some dumbass like Jared Padalecki or Todd Bridges will take to Twitter and call the act “stupid” or “selfish” or even “cowardly.” Then the rest of humanity rightfully jumps down their throats for being idiots who don’t understand a goddamn thing about depression.
My take, however, is slightly different, and it is this: While it may be a “selfish” act, Todd Bridges and Jared Padalecki have no fucking right to say so.
You know who does? Zelda Williams.
It’s not that she came right out and said that in her incredibly touching letter acknowledging the passing of her father, but that’s what I read into this line:
“While Ill never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay, theres minor comfort in knowing our grief and loss, in some small way, is shared with millions.”
I read that subtext into the line probably because that’s how I felt when my own father took his life, when I was a few years younger than Zelda Williams is now. I’ve been thinking about that a lot in the wake of Williams’ death. In fact, for the last couple of days, Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate will look over and ask, “Are you OK? Is this triggering something for you?” because my lovely wife is under the strange assumption that I’m one celebrity death away succumbing to all the emotional traumas of my first 25 years of life and going into some sort of catatonic stupor.
In reality, I’m sad for the same reason that everyone else is sad, but when it’s a suicide committed by a celebrity who is also a father, I admit that I dwell on it a little longer. I would never, ever call what Robin Williams did an act of cowardice, and I would never, ever suggest that it was selfish, because that’s not my place. But it’s exactly what I thought in the days after my own father took his life. That f**king asshole took the easy way out, I thought. That f**king asshole left us with his goddamn mess to clean up. That f**king asshole decided, instead of battling his addiction demons, instead of dealing with his hopelessness, instead of rebuilding his life again, that he’d just end it, instead.
It felt awfully f**king selfish to me.
There’s a brilliant quote from David Foster Wallace — who also took his own life a few years ago — floating around on Facebook this week, and though I don’t nor have I ever suffered from depression, it explains the severity of the condition in a way that I can comprehend.
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
That quote puts everything in context, doesn’t it? It provides me with a picture of depression that I can understand, and knowing that, I see Williams’ act as a sad, terrible tragedy, a choice of the slightly lesser between two terrible, terrible evils.
But when it comes to my own Dad, I still think: That motherfucker should’ve stood in those flames for me and my siblings. We should’ve been worth it. F*k that selfish bastard for not suffering through an intolerable darkness for his kids.
I was thinking about that this morning after I read Zelda Williams’ letter, when I suddenly remembered a conversation I had with my father on one of my last trips home before he died, a conversation I’d completely blocked out until today.
He was living in some shitty freeway motel when I went to visit him to tell him that I’d been accepted into law school, and he’d claimed to me that he’d cleaned up, which was a lie, I’d later learn. But he always did feel ashamed to admit his addictions and his financial failures around me, mostly because I was the asshole son who called him out on them. But I was also always ready to believe him when he said he was clean and sober.
He was in great spirits, too, despite living in a motel, and I remember telling him how relieved I was that he’d gotten through a very dark period in his life. And I remember saying to him, “I just kept waiting to get that call. And I don’t mean this in a bad way, Dad, but ‘that call’ might have been a relief because you were so very sad, and it would’ve been easier on us than hearing about another relapse. It would’ve been a relief for you, I think.” I felt weirdly comfortable saying that because my Dad was clean, and he was on his way back to rebuilding his life, and I was just being honest!
And now I wonder if he thought about that before he took his own life. I wonder if he’d been hanging on as long as he had, waiting for someone to give him permission. I wonder if he thought what I had given him was permission to be selfish.