We have finally reached that frenzied stage, the last week of the year in which everyone is really just marking time, at this point, waiting for the New Year. It’s sort of like the last week of school. There’s no real point in doing anything or expecting anyone to focus because, well, there’s a spirit of release in the air. The end is coming. Some undetermined period of freedom is about to arrive, and we’re just counting down the days.
At this time of year, I cannot help but think of the people who are not here with me to mark the changing over into the New Year. No, not the ones who are far away. Not the ones who are going somewhere else for the event. The ones who are not here because they cannot be here, because they are Somewhere Else in the sense that they are dead.
Perhaps we are a melancholy lot, but I have lost a distressingly high number of people I love to suicide over the years. The Dark Place has a powerful hold which can sometimes seem inescapable, and my friends have slipped into it in their living rooms, in remote and wild places, on the streets of cities and in places far from home.
I’ve also lost a lot of friends to drunk drivers over the years. It’s worth noting that I have yet to know a single person who died because ou was driving drunk. No, all of the people I know who have died as a result of intoxicated driving died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the not too distant future, people will be gearing up to attend New Year’s parties. They will be putting on fancy togs and silly glasses and going to spend a night with friends, and there will be drinking. Lots of drinking, probably, especially with heady things like champagne which are sneaky and deceptive because you don’t really realize how very drunk you are until you’ve already made the misstep which might prove fatal.
My friends have died on windy, remote roads, on four lane highways, icy bridges and perfectly sunny and innocent country lanes. They have died on impact, they have died after lying by the side of the road for hours waiting for help, they have died in hospitals. They have given organs, because they are the kind of people who would want something good to come out of something terrible.
There have been years when I don’t even have time to dry clean my funeral/memorial pants because I’m wearing them so often, between all of the terrible things that have happened to the people I love. When I leave my hair done up when I go to bed because I know that I’ll be getting up early in the morning to go to another memorial. When everyone I pass in the grocery store has just lost someone, when gatherings are filled with so many gaps where people used to be that we are all stunned into silence.
I know, you were expecting me to write about something else today. This is the happytime season for family and friends! Except that it’s honestly not that happy for me. It’s actually a very sad time, because all I see when I look around me at this time of year are ghosts of faces I will never see again because they were taken from me. The ghosts of suicides and drunk driving victims and bad luck.
We all have to live with the guilt of our own actions. I have to live with the guilt of knowing that I didn’t pick up the phone when I should have, didn’t say something when I should have, didn’t notice what I should have, and maybe you have to live with your own brand of guilt. I live with it every morning when I lie in bed and try to force myself to get up, as I list the reasons that I need to get up and wonder, would it really be so bad if I didn’t rise at all today, tomorrow, the next day. Maybe you don’t, maybe this time of year is a happy one for you, and I’m glad for you, but this year I’ve decided that I’m tired of prevaricating, because it doesn’t help anyone.
I think about all the people that will celebrate the New Year in the coming days by becoming grossly intoxicated, and I wonder how many of them will get behind the wheel of a car. And I shudder. I think about the innocent people who will be on the roads in the coming days, and I worry for them. The people who are just trying to go about their business, who just need to go from here to there. To go home after work. To pick up juice for the kids. To pick up a friend who is drunk and needs a ride home, perhaps.
I think about all of the people who need help, who make a passing comment to a friend about wanting to die, who scream with every fiber of their being without opening their mouths, and I worry for them. I worry that their friends won’t notice, or won’t do anything, because they are afraid. I worry that they will have “friends” like me.
It’s hard to stand up to people. It’s especially hard to stand up to close friends. But we need to do it because we need to set aside our own unease and think about the consequences, what will happen if we do not. Please, people. If you see people drinking, don’t let them drive. And if you see people whom you suspect are suicidal, please speak up. I don’t care if you feel foolish or silly or awkward or anything else. I know it’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do.
If you don’t want to approach someone directly, tell someone else. Tell the bartender or the waiter or parents or another friend. And the same holds true for anyone you see in danger, whether by ou own actions or the actions of someone else. Do not be silent.
Don’t just do it for your friend, or for the stranger in the bar who looks tipsy, the person crying on the bus who looks like ou is on the verge of something dangerous, the person who may or may not be aware that the propane is still on, the person who appears to be about to wander out into traffic, distracted. Do it for the people who might end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Do it so that someone else doesn’t have to wake up every day consumed with guilt. Do it so that you aren’t the person waking up every day, wishing that you had done the right thing.