When I was fourteen,
I curled in the darkness of the downstairs den
to watch hours of coverage over
the suicide of Kurt Cobain.
You know the story.
Shotgun to the head, metal in mouth,
eyes squeezed shut.
Lips chapped with theories.
They blamed at his wife,
his life, his notes, his moods,
his success, the drugs in his blood,
the lines of suicide note.
Hungry for justification.
Of course it was suicide.
Those of us licked by black feathers
under the skin understand.
We who have traveled
the dark waves of ebbing depression,
When Estrella took too many pills
last summer, the kids at school said it
was to get attention,
that she was a drama queen who
missed her cue.
Her act was selfish,
a little too much teen angst,
she didn’t deserve the tears,
the pity, the memorials.
But I knew her.
Have you ever stared at the kitchen knife in the sink,
wiped it clean of rinds and grease and imagined
how easy it would slip into your belly?
Have you counted the pills in the container,
letting them drop, one by one by one,
into the orange plastic just to see if there were enough?
Have you felt a tremble rush through your hands
as you held the weight of pistol, shotgun, revolver
the chill of the metal reminding you
just how simple, how quick?
Then you could accept this loss without question,
recognize a suffering embedded in the webbing
of circuitry and nervous habits.
We are silent soldiers,
comrades lined along the same front,
painting our face and donning our camouflage.
Every day we wade into battle
our enemy, unseen and indestructible,
all we can do is suspend the inevitable.
When I learned Tommy hung himself,
my reaction was closer to relief than surprise.
Elena was already brain dead by the time
they revived her, a beating heart cadaver they
harvested to save the lives of others.
The weeks after Nathaniel shot himself in the head
I thought of nothing but the white teeth of his smile.
Patrick left the needle hanging from his arm,
Greggory used his .45,
Amanda bled herself dry.
There is still a single .22 caliber bullet
rattling around in my stepfather’s skull.
It is not a whim,
more than a momentary loss of reason.
It is a lifetime of guilt, shame, and sadness
pressed into a tight ball in the gut.
If you’ve never felt this way it is easy
to negotiate conspiracy theories,
it is easy to doubt, to dismiss.
But for the rest of us,
all we can do is sit in silence,
knowing another comrade lost his war.
“Comrades” is previously published in #TrueStory 2015.