…Around this time, I started getting into trouble at my job — for what must be obvious reasons. Vast swaths of my hair were magically going missing. I was more or less “secretly” drunk all the time, as a way of managing the stress of my life. In fact, I had begun secretly sleeping in a sleeping bag in my office, because I couldn’t bear leaving the place. I couldn’t bear the trauma of other people seeing me. In my current travail. I didn’t want anyone else to see me. Which is pretty much how I decided to kill myself.
I’d been having a bad day. And then this poem got stuck in my head. This is the other other thing that happens — you hear a voice in your head. This voice is not the voice of a stranger, nor of a foreigner — it is your own. Lie down and sleep, your voice says. Or, Kill yourself, you’ll be sorry if you don’t. And then this poem got stuck in my head. The voice said:
We ar but dust,
And dy we must.
It is generall
To be mortall:
I haue well espyde
No man may hym hyde
From Deth holow eyed…
Then it started to cycle and repeat.
No man may hym hyde
From Deth holow eyed…
No man may hym… hyde…
From Deth… holow eyed…
I couldn’t help but feel a little pleased. “Only you,” I said to myself, “would have a nervous breakdown while recalling an obscure early 15th century English poem.” I said this to myself, recognizing the self-congratulation behind the thought, and the self-congratulation behind the thought behind the thought. But as the poem was cycling in my head, I heard the sound of a distant foghorn. Our office was on the bay; the foghorn made a low desperate sound: …Whaaaa-whoooooh. Keening like a dying whale. It was the saddest thing that I had ever heard. And I couldn’t ever remember hearing anything that had ever made me feel more alone. So then I decided to kill myself. Which was a good news/bad news sort of thing. The bad news was, I had decided to kill myself. The good news was, deciding this meant I could stop the weeks of agonizing over whether to kill myself or not. The other good news was, my Trichotilliomania saved me; it actually stepped in and stopped me from killing myself.
But first, I actually tried to kill myself. Who, what, when, where, how, I thought. …What occurred to me then was to go out and buy a gun. And then I was like, “Fuck, a gun?!” I’m a liberal Democrat. I’d never even seen a gun. Except once. At a party, once, where drugs were being consumed, a guy, a guy with a turned-around baseball hat and a neck chain — the putative host of the party — popped out of nowhere, and said in a voice that was much too close to my ear: “HEY YOU GUYS WANNA SEE MY GUN?” “No!” I screamed. And that was the closest that I ever got to seeing a gun in real life. And since I was never going to find that party, or that guy on drugs again, that meant that I would have to go to Wal-Mart to get the gun, as far as I could tell. But then, sh-t, I’d be standing in line with fat people and redneck people and their crying babies. When I’m already depressed; depressed unto death. What could be worse? And then, sh-t, you just know that I’m going to forget my driver’s license or my passport or whatever. And then I’d have to drive back, depressed, and then drive back to Wal-Mart, depressed again. And then I’ll still have to wait two weeks to get the gun, and, ugh, forget it…
But this was just a diversionary ploy. This was just mere diversionary tactics on the part of my brain. The sad fact was, the Wal-Mart sh-t didn’t matter, because I couldn’t leave my office in the first place. My office, which was currently serving as my house. I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t bear people seeing me in my ugly-hair state. And I quickly realized that all of the ways of killing myself pretty much involved leaving the house at some point. Even if only for supplies. Rope; nope, you’ve got to go out and get that. Knife, ditto. Poison, ditto, ditto. Jumping off a bridge, throwing yourself under a car; you have to leave for all of these.
I put my head in my hands and wept. There at the end of the world, by the sea with its boats and foghorns, off of Exit 81, at the ass-end of Florida. I wept for everything. I couldn’t go anywhere. I had failed. I had failed even at being able to kill myself. And my hair… my terrible horrible no-good hair day, my terrible horrible no-good hair life — this was actually the thing that saved me. Because I couldn’t leave; I couldn’t leave.
I quit my job a few days later. The whole time that I lived in Florida, in addition to all my other problems, I had felt subliminally sort of upside-down. It was weird. I’m from the North. In South Florida, there are no real seasons, no real trees — just palm trees. There are no real people, only the very young and the very old. With no real trees to block out the sun and sky, and the sea a reverse mirror of the sky, I felt disoriented, lost. Without bearings but more than that — upside-down, like I said; like I had entered a room where the tables and chairs were nailed to the ceiling. I can’t totally explain it.
And so, I remember a lot of things, but mostly I remember the day that I left. Riding in my convertible with the top pinned down, with my horrible scarred hair fluttering in the wind. A lot of bad things happened while I was in Florida, but I learned something, also. Here’s what I learned, if you like… The artist; the writer — if that’s what I now am — seeks to refine his own image, to perfect it. While the insane person — which is what I was — merely strips himself away, until he is nothing. …That’s the difference. Imagine a hillbilly whittling away at a stick, designing it, crafting it. If you whittle the right amount away, you get art. If you whittle too much away, you get nothing. You don’t even have a stick left, even. That’s the only difference.
I did a lot of bad things after I left Florida. After I left, I got crazier; I got worse before I got better. I did bad things. I threw chairs, started fights, broke windows, screamed, crashed cars. But what I remember most is that moment, on the highway, driving north in my convertible. I was driving north of Jacksonville, which is when real trees started reappearing, and I was so happy. I remember that moment, and I forgive myself for everything else that I did. I remember that moment — the palm trees shading into real trees — and I was so happy, because I was leaving.
—— FINIS ——