“I don’t see the point.”
I’m unsure of how long ago it was, maybe a few months or maybe a year, but I was standing in a Starbucks one morning, looking at a copy of the San Jose Mercury. On the cover of the newspaper was an article title about the push to install suicide nets on the Golden Gate Bridge. Those five words were said to me by a man who, like me, was probably waiting for a coffee before heading on to some other place, work or home. I looked at him and blinked.
“I said I don’t see the point.” He nodded at the paper in my hand. “They put up that net and people will just find some other way to kill themselves. If a person really wants to die, they’ll find a way.”
I stood there in silence. I tried to think of some response but, for a moment, I couldn’t speak around the anger that was growing inside me at his casual, thoughtless indifference to other people temporarily choked me. I swallowed.
I looked into his eyes. “My friend jumped off the Bridge in 2005.” My voice was flat and cold the way it gets when I’m pissed. I lifted the paper a touch. “Her parents are partially behind this movement.”
He tried to stammer something, maybe some kind of apology, but at that point I was beyond caring what he had to say. I put the paper down, got my drink, and left, angry.
The topic of suicide has been on my mind lately because over on Facebook a link has been going around to a portion of a Superman comic that has to do with suicide and, for me, I find it a bit problematic for personal reasons.
Now, that’s not to say that there’s anything particularly wrong about this bit of strip. The art is well done and captures a good range of emotions from anger and pain, sadness, sympathy, hope. It ends on, well, not necessarily a happy note but a good one and is a pretty good example of why I think Superman is, at least on an emotional/human level, a great super hero.
But still, as I read this link and thought about it, I found it causing some turbulence in me. As always is the case when the topic of suicide comes up, I think of my friend J and of myself.
You see, and this will probably come as a surprise to some people (especially my family), while I’m not a suicide-attempt survivor, I did once consider it seriously enough to sit on my parents’ bed, holding my father’s handgun while thinking about putting it to my temple and pulling the trigger.
My experiences at school and my life at home during my early and mid-teenage years weren’t always the most positive. The lingering deaths of two of my grandparents within a month of each other, followed by some financial problems for our family a year or two later and issues with my siblings made home a sometimes unhealthy place to be. School wasn’t any better. In the years since I left middle and high school I’ve been discovering that I was more well liked than I thought at the time but when I was younger I felt very alone. I had very few people I would consider friends and most of those didn’t go to school with me. Church, despite my fervent belief at the time, wasn’t a safe place for a host of reasons.
I felt lost, lonely, and it hurt. The few bullies at school and church didn’t do anything to help the situation and after a while I thought about just ending it. Why stick around and be people’s punching bag, especially when there was no relief or peace at home? Talking to people didn’t help because it didn’t do anything to address the problems and confronting the bullies did nothing but embolden them as they saw they could get to me no matter how much I pretended at times they couldn’t. Time went on and it got to the point I mentioned, looking down at a .45 Colt Commander (I knew about it after I saw my father put it away after a trip to the gun range years before) and thinking that with one pull of a trigger it could be all over.
Obviously, I didn’t harm myself. In the end it wasn’t any kind of hope in the future or personal strength that caused me to not go through with it but was instead the fact that me killing myself would hurt my family deeply and I didn’t want to ever do that to them. I thought about my parents coming home to find me, having to clean up after me, and…I just couldn’t do it.
After that I never considered it again with any kind of seriousness and I took effort to start working to find happiness (a path that started with breakfast cereal but that’s a story for another time). There have been times when I have been deeply unhappy, even clinically depressed (such as a period of time in my life known as The Suck), but I’ve managed to keep away from such thoughts.
J wasn’t a person I knew for long, maybe five years or so, but, based on my interactions with her, she was a great person. She was giving, kind, and she always had a smile whenever she saw me. I was introduced to her when I started LARPing with her husband G and we hit it off right from the start. She seemed to have a way with people that made them feel appreciated and accepted and I know, from seeing it and hearing stories told about her at her wake, that she touched many of her friends’ lives in similar ways.
J killed herself in February 2005. J suffered from some pretty serious health issues, issues that she’d never get better from that negatively impacted every day of her life. As far as I know no note was ever found after the fact so I’m unsure as to why she did what she did. Maybe it was her health, maybe it was she ended up in a dark place and couldn’t get out, or maybe like Superman’s friend she just decided that she would never again have another happy day. At any rate, while her husband was away with a group of friends (that included me) LARPING in Washington, J drove to San Francisco while listening to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” album, parked her car on the bridge, and did what she did.
I spent some time during last week thinking about why that comic doesn’t sit quite right with me. I think, in part, the issue I have is that for all of the emotion the story conveys, it feels hollow to me in my heart because of the premise.
Let’s face it: despite what he said in the comic, there is no way in any reality that DC would allow Superman to simply watch a human take their own life and not step in. First, that would show permissiveness toward and an acceptance of suicide. By allowing her to take her own life, Superman would in essence be saying that doing so is a viable option, that there are times when suicide is ok to do and not even Superman, who is essentially a god, would step in the way. I really can’t see DC making that statement.
Secondly, considering the reverence that Superman has for human life, I can’t see him doing that. Maybe in the case of the friend he mentioned it’s ok, such as someone who has a terminal disease and simply won’t get better so it’s more like fast-forwarding to a conclusion that’s already set than ending something prematurely, but when it’s someone who is just emotionally upset? John Constantine, Death, Dream, I could see any of those characters standing by and letting someone have that agency but not Supes. He’d catch her at the last minute, say something emotional, see that she got checked into a counseling center or something.
So with those two things in mind the story feels empty and, after a fashion, cheap like the bargain Easter Bunnies that are just a shell of chocolate. And if there’s one thing that I don’t think should be cheapened, it’s the idea of someone ever reaching a point in their life where ending it seems like a good idea. In a way, for me, that cheapens the deaths of those people, it makes their deaths not tragedies but simply acts of weakness that they couldn’t find some kind of acceptance for the way life is or some sort of personal strength to see them through. I don’t think anyone can make those kinds of judgments about the people who go through with suicide.
It also bothers me because it seems to say that all a suicidal person needs is someone to hold out their hand and I don’t know if that’s true. I know that might be the case for many suicidal people, it’s certainly said that an expression of suicidal thoughts is a cry for help and I know that the police officers who watch the cameras on the bridge have managed to convince many people to not jump, but I don’t know if that’s true for J. J knew she was loved, that she had friends who would’ve done anything they could for her, that she wasn’t alone, but, really, there was nothing we could do for her no matter how much we might’ve wanted to, there was no way we could take her burden or ease her pain. No amount of hand-taking would’ve ever made it better for her so, in light of what this comic might be saying, what does that say about her? If I had any less love for my family or any more inconsideration I might not be here. What would that have said about me?
I think comics like this can be valuable in a sense by bringing the reality of suicide to people’s attention but I think there should be other ways to go about it that would make it seem more real, more serious, to give that situation respect; that’s not to say that I think this story handled the topic of suicide disrespectfully, only that I felt the set up of the situation, specifically of the involvement of Superman, made it so that there was only one outcome, the “happy” one.
Sometimes, as with the case of J, there is no happy ending. There’s just an end and there is no Superman to catch us when we fall.