Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Death Lends a New Perspective

You’re watching yourself
But you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up
But if I could only make you care
Oh, no love, you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone.
—David Bowie, “Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide”

We were sitting in Tracy Lea’s bedroom, going over some song ideas for Castration Squad, when her phone rang.

“No…no…no….” she repeated into the phone. I could tell immediately that something was very wrong, but I tried not to listen to her conversation. “How did it happen?” she continued. She was pacing now, which made it extra hard for me to ignore her, since I was sitting on the floor. She stopped in front of me. “Darby’s dead,” she said, covering the mouthpiece. Her eyes were tearing up and she was visibly upset. I stopped plucking my bass and looked off into my vanishing surroundings. Images of my old friend Bobby Pyn were projected on my mental screen, and a terrible sadness crept up from the pit of my stomach to my throat and spread out to my limbs like a blooming plant. Then the images began to change. It was me and Darby arguing; Darby, trying to burn my wrist with his cigarette; me punching Darby on the stairs of the Canterbury; Darby outside the Hong Kong Cafe with his new British accent after returning from a brief European vacation; Darby falling down drunk and drugged. My sadness was replaced by anger.

Tracy hung up the phone. “It was a suicide,” she informed me. Darby and one of his girlfriends had made a suicide pact and had ingested massive doses of heroin. The girl had survived, Darby had not. Tracy was crying and I put my arms around her, trying to comfort her. My own feelings were a jumble of competing emotions, pushing each other out of the way as each tried to monopolize my mood. There was the sadness of losing a once-close friend and confidante, the anger that it had been a suicide, a feeling of guilt and helplessness about whether I or anyone else could have prevented it, and general confusion about what would make Darby want to take his own life. After trying to provide the strong shoulder to cry on, I finally spoke up.

“I’m sorry Tracy, I need to go home.”

“That’s okay, I understand,” she said, probably thinking that I wanted to cry in private, but it wasn’t that at all.

On the drive home, I thought about how badly things had ended between Darby and me, how we’d stopped speaking to each other. I’d always held onto the hope that one day we’d come back and talk things through; that we’d laugh at our youthful mistakes as we got older and wiser. Now our unfinished conversations would remain unfinished forever. An unspoken apology would wither on my lips, we’d never have the opportunity to revisit our beliefs, to see how time and experience would color and change our views. We’d never again talk for hours on the phone, laugh at stupid jokes, discuss philosophy or share a bottle of booze. It was all over. Darby was really gone for good. Instead of making me cry, my grief and lack of answers made my temper flare. I was angry not only at Darby but at myself, and at those around him who had allowed it to happen.

I’m the kind of person who squeezes the last bit of toothpaste from the tube, who uses the last teaspoon of mustard in the jar and won’t throw out the jar before it’s all gone, even if it takes room in the fridge, but that’s me. I’m that way about life, too. I’d seen too much poverty, misery and wasted opportunity as a kid, and I want to extract as much knowledge, adventure, excitement and love from this life as I can, for as long as I can. I wondered if Darby’s life didn’t still have a few surprises in store for him. I think it did. I have to remind myself that it was his choice to make, not mine. But I can’t seem to stop myself from second-guessing him, just like he second-guessed me when he thought I was wrong. That’s part of what friends do, isn’t it? They tell you when you’re wrong. I wondered if other people were thinking the same things I was thinking. I wondered if others wished they’d been around to argue the wisdom of suicide with him.

I suppose I just don’t understand suicide. I understand euthanasia, I understand wanting to end suffering if you’re ill. I understand dying for a cause, fighting to defend your loved ones, defending a principle or fasting for peace or freedom. I just didn’t feel that I understood the cause behind Darby’s death. Why did he die? What did he die for? I knew that he believed that dying young was the key to becoming a legend, but the idea that he would kill himself because he thought it would bring him fame made me sick to my stomach. I knew he wasn’t shallow, and I couldn’t imagine he’d want fame without wanting to accomplish something with it, or at least be around to enjoy its rewards. I pushed the idea away; another question that wouldn’t be answered. I almost preferred to believe that he was depressed and that we had all failed in helping him overcome his depression. Once again, I had to stand back and tell myself that only he knew for sure. I would never know the answers to these questions.

The guilt, the anger, the sadness grabbed me by the throat and threatened to pull me down. I fought back, just like I had been fighting back all my life. I would always fight and rage against the dying of the light. I dug my fingernails into the soft rubber of the steering wheel. My throat tightened, my eyes watered and the road in front of me blurred as I muttered, “You fucking asshole!”

-From "Violence Girl, From East LA Rage to Hollywood Stage - A Chicana Punk Story" by Alice Bag


Daniel LeVesque said...

Beautifully written. Looking forward to your reading this evening, and hope SF is treating you well!

Robbie Fields said...

!Oye, Alice!

Nothing to do with Darby ... you mentioned on your other blog that you were looking for Karla Maddog.

She posted 11 years ago on my guestbook using the following email addresses :

I always found her to be an exceptionally sweet person.

Zero Renton said...

Well written. I am enjoying reading the book