I stood outside in the numbing cold. The wind at 3am is always colder, picking up steam as it roars across Lake Erie and tumbled into Cleveland Heights. The sky was mostly clear but the stars seemed very far away. I remember because I looked up many times that night.
I smoked a cigarette, for then I smoked. I felt the cold but it didn't matter. I felt the burning fire gurgle in my lungs each time I inhaled but it didn't matter. I felt loss, but I didn't understand it yet. I felt surprise, but I was too shocked to realize it. The shoes on my feet were too big and made me walk like a clown, schlop schlop down the mostly empty hallways.
The hospital - I hadn't even known it was so close, although it wasn't close enough tonight - was beige. Everything was beige. The color of skin, neutral, not inciting anger or rage like REAL skin on skin. There was a chaplain there. Is he there, night after night, waiting on people at their most vulnerable so he can try to comfort them? I wondered. Did he volunteer for this shift or was it his duty before moving on to a more normal one? A normal job, not pacifying grief stricken people who have just been told that that night their lives would be changed forever.
Fifteen years ago today, the most important person in my life committed suicide.
Our apartment complex sloped down the back. The few lucky enough to get an inside parking space had to drive down a narrow, steep driveway that they managed to keep free from ice all winter, to a sharp left turn that only smaller cars could navigate. The building next to us had a small parking garage, two floors, behind their building that touched ours. The land behind the building wasn't big but my buddy Pierre and I spent a lot of time leaning up against the two big trees, one that grew right outside our picture window. Me, waiting while he did his business, and him sniffing whatever messages are there for dogs to sniff, both of us waiting for that jumble of bundled energy and limbs to come hurrying home. To us.
For the most part the domestic game we played was peaceful. Our biggest stressors at that age were figuring out what we wanted to really do with our lives and money. Whose aren't at that age? But there was a darker monster lurking under the surface. I'd see it, always there, sometimes further away, sometimes closer, but always there, breathing and waiting and watching.
I like to think that at the time I didn't know enough. That I didn't understand. I knew nothing of these words "enabler" and the consequences of what it would take to both unleash the monster or contain it. Neither seemed like an option - or ones I refused to face. I see now that I just didn't want to see. I forgave myself a long time ago, but the regret of waste is always a metallic taste on my tongue. A wasted life. A broken family.
Kevin was only 23.
Somewhere in Cleveland today a family is grieving. They may be gathered at the little plot that's on a nice hill (covered in snow today?). Tucked in with his family, waiting for others to join. I wonder if they think of me, and if they do, if those fifteen years have mellowed their blame and anger. Fifteen years is a long time to hold on to bitterness, but I, more than anyone, know it can be done. I wonder about his little brother and his sisters. His parents, or more specifically, HER. Thinking of her - I can't really picture her face any more - but still today thinking of HER puts a tiny knot of anxiety in my chest that I want to dig out with a spoon and hurl into the Pacific Ocean. I've moved 2,000 miles away and it's not far enough to fling off that anger and resentment, although it's contained in a tiny spot now, whereas at one time it was so big and uncontrollable the world wasn't big enough to contain it - no, it had to reach the heavens and those cold, unbliking stars.
That night I stood and stared at the sky. Thoughts jumbled but they didn't make sense. A new life, one forced on me that I didn't ask for, was beginning. That night. That very night, I was becoming the one people whispered about, the one they pitied, the one they were afraid to talk to because what does one say? To some, I became the one they questioned, perhaps even blamed. Friends drifted away. I drifted away, at first to another country where I stumbled through a new language and a new set of emotions to keep the "old country" ones at bay (thank you Barbara Wilsch and Markus Kopf, for keeping me sane).
It was just one night among many. Feb 2nd. Tomorrow it will be gone, for what did 1 date matter? A life snuffed out, a personality evaporated, a troubled young man paying what he felt was the ultimate sacrifice to a deity only he saw in his blurry vision? That monster that had patiently lurked for so long - this was its night! - crept quietly out of its watery, dark, dank place and placed Kevin violently in its jaws and carried him away. Away from us, away from life, away from his pain.
Kevin Michael Kilbane Oct 2, 1972 - Feb 2, 1995