When someone decides to go for a motorcycle ride in the middle of the night after spending the last five years trying to drink himself to death, does it really qualify as an accident or is it just suicide by another name? And when you add various substances said motorcycle rider probably injested as well because he learned a long time ago that after alcohol doesn't really numb the pain of too many wounds on the soul, the question becomes more complicated.
It's that complicated thing I'm dealing with right now. I want to be angry at him. I want to be sad over him. I want him to still be alive but I also feel the truth of that stupid and trite saying "he's now at peace." I hate saying that. I hate feeling it because it really explains so little.
He told me suicide ran in his family a couple weeks after we scattered his sister's ashes in 1990. She was my friend and I tried to save her. I was young and foolish then. I really did believe people could be saved from themselves. Anna proved me wrong. She showed me that sometimes salvation is taking yourself out of the picture of human life. It took me a long time to forgive her but I finally did. I haven't changed my mind that suicide is the most stupid and selfish thing you can do to those who love you, but I forgave her. Mostly because her brother asked me to.
He had a kind soul. A very deep and vulnerable soul. He had the kind of openness that people zero in on and immediately find a way to take advantage of it. We had that in common and we exchanged many mournful and supportive emails over the years on how people needed to come up to our level and not force us to sink down to theirs. We wrote each other and said be strong, hang on to your principles, be a person of integrity and compassion, even if others are not, even if others use all that in your for their own purposes. We assured each other the occasional using was worth the good we could do in the world just by staying kind, compassionate, caring, and strong.
Ryan was a lot more optimistic about it than I was. Often he was the one who wrote me and begged me not to give up, not to isolate myself, not to run away from people who were mean and selfish, that I had to let them see the other side of life, even if it hurt and cost me a few pieces of skin. "Skin is ego," he was fond of saying, "and road rash is humility."
But in the end it was he who suffered over what the rest of the world did. He was not the type of person to stand back in silence when wrong was being done. He spent most of his considerable fortune helping others, mostly children in countries torn apart by war. He had a soft spot for the innocent victims in everything and he spent his life saving them.
But in the end, he simply felt too much. I read the downhill slide in his ever more infrequent emails. Where once there was hope and optimism there was far too often despair and depression. He took far too many drugs to cope with what he could no longer face. His nightmares took over his days. I often wondered how far it would go before he killed himself.
I always thought it would be by something clean and efficient, an overdose from the many bottles available. A staged and dramatic setting that wouldn't inconvenience anyone too much. He didn't want to leave a mess for someone else to clean up.
A couple weeks ago he wrote me a rambling email that covered much of his life. I remembered thinking it was the kind of thing one wrote after drinking all the alcohol in the house, swallowing the pills, and typing furiously before it all kicked in.
It was probably that way. But it was a beautiful night out. The moon was full. And the road called to him, the winding mountain road in a northern Italian setting. I imagine it was beautiful. I imagine there was a moment of elation, a moment of fear, of sadness, a thought of those like me who would be hurt. But his pain was too strong and the night too beautiful and he knew I would forgive him.
Right now I'm not sure. It's only been a week. I still think of him in present time. I still want to write and talk him out of it. I want to leap through time and take his keys away. But Anna taught me such things wouldn't change a thing and my only option was forgiveness.
Maybe that is the story of my life. Maybe that is what he left me with, that often in life the only option we are left with is forgiveness. I have to accept that for now.