The Noose

The beginning of this week started off decently well but was abruptly filled with chaos and upheaval beginning on Tuesday. An ongoing family altercation had me continuously stressed and after leaving from their home rather distraught, I was just ready for the weekend to get started. I quit my caregiving duties because I no longer felt comfortable or welcome with the family members that are home during that time on Wednesday​. 

By Friday my husband was calling to make therapy appointments for himself due to his boss requesting he do so. I overslept for my therapy appointment and I promised my grandma I would bring her the money I owed her for not working my last two days I had been paid for, get her items from the store, and let my kids visit with their grandparents. Things were fine until I got ready to get them to leave.

After getting my grandma settled and the kids mess picked up I was hoitily asked if I had told my grandma that I quit my job. I replied had had attempted to three times and was interrupted with a reply shot icily across the room, “That wasn’t an  answer to the question, did you or did you not?” I glared in silence for a moment before I rounded up my children to head home. They stood at the windows in the dining room in an intimidating fashion as we loaded up in the car. I knew at that point my decision was the correct one.

My emotions were high as I headed towards my home but I had agreed to meet with my father there the following day to discuss the family rift in person. I was almost to my mother’s home in Prairie Grove to check on it when my husband got a text from a mutal friend. She had been attempting to reach me but my phone battery died and it was urgent. She had received a cryptic message from another mutual friend and was worried. As she does not have a vehicle, she wanted us to check on him. 

We kept in touch and made our way to his home after a series of messages to others allowed us to find him. As we neared his street we got texts from him telling us to turn around and not to come. I knew from a previous visit to this residence about a month prior when his then wife took about half a bottle of her medicine​ that he knew I was a mandated reporter. My husband stayed in the car with our children and I made my way to the apartment. I approached and knocked lightly on the door. 

My friend opened it slightly but immediately shut it upon seeing my face. I knocked lightly again and began to write down the address to call 911. He must have read my mind because he immediately opened the door and let me inside. He pleaded for me not to call anyone and I told him I would talk with him before I did anything. He asked for a hug, so I hugged him as long as he wanted. When we separated he sat on his couch and I took a spot on the floor. We discussed how being alone can be so dangerous for a severely depressed person and how I had self medicated for so many years simply to numb the roaring thoughts in my own head.

I invited him to our home several times but he declined saying he didn’t want to be a burden and that we had the kids with us. I finally decided to ask him what was keeping him at home. He sighed and rose from the couch extending his arm to me and stated he wanted to show me something. I got up and followed him through his bedroom and into the bathroom. He fumbled to get the light switch on and stumbled into the counter. 

When I peeked around the corner of his closet I could see a Dremel battery charger sitting on the toilet and inside the shower was a noose made from climbing ropes. I’m sure the horror on my face that I could not contain hit him and he began crying. I immediately remember the pain and agony I had felt so many times before when I felt unloved and alone. He snatched the noose from the shower head, we grabbed some of his belongings, and we made our way to the car.

He grabbed a notebook he called the ugly green notebook and stated it had some things written in it but he never really offered for anyone to read  it. He placed it in our kitchen where it remained and poured himself a growler of dark beer he had brought from home. He eventually told my husband that he had tried to hang himself and there were light red marks around his neck as well as both of his eyes blackened. I told my husband about the noose in the shower. We alerted his other friends he was with us and safe for the moment and commenced to attempting to enjoy our evening.

We decided since everyone had such a shitty week that we would celebrate Saturday instead of being miserable. I was nervous as I waited on my dad to  arrive and texted with a friend who surprised me with a video chat and served as a minor destraction for a few moments as he always makes me laugh. After dad’s visit we bought taco, queso, and cake supplies and our birthday celebration began. We sipped on drinks as we took turns preparing our dishes in the kitchen and enjoyed our meal together. I finally got our cake baked, iced, and just after midnight we celebrated our friends forty-second birthday instead of finding him dead in his shower.

I was reminded how precious life is and that the quietest people often have the loudest minds. I had been checking on his estranged wife for weeks but had neglected to check on him, and I felt pretty shitty about it. I have been in his place before and still struggle to keep my brain from going there occasionally still to this day. I know what it feels like to be a burden to everyone around you, that the thoughts in your own head are so consuming it feels as if the pain will never go away. It’s a pain that isn’t even easy to explain, but I know he felt it because when I tried to describe it he knew exactly what I was talking about.

It’s the pain of heartbreak and despair, the feeling that you will never love the way you loved before again. In a way, it’s right. Pain changes you, it makes you isolate, gaurd yourself more, trust less. I know what it feels like to sit back and watch the person you love not be able to love you back; to leave and move on while you’re still screaming for them to come home. In fact sitting alone after a loved one left our dwelling was the first time I contemplated taking my own life. I felt so stupid for overlooking the obvious but I also had been distracted by my own family problems.

We closed our night down watching a comedy show on Netflix and tucked ourselves into our respectful beds. We agreed to take our friend home that morning and everyone got ready accordingly. We talked about Jurassic Park with our kids on our way and as we parked, I left my husband with the kids to walk our friend home; I had to take the noose down.

He seemed confused as I walked up the sidewalk to his apartment and I told him I had to take care of something; he forgot it was still in the bathroom. That black cord hadn’t left my vision since Friday night however and I could not leave him at home with a ready made noose. I made my way to the bathroom and grabbed the noose. I began to untie it and wrap it back up in the bundle it was still neatly wrapped in. Although I was able to untie it, I had to work momentarily in several spots to get it loose and it was knotted correctly; I hoped this was his first attempt but began to doubt it.

I reached for the Dremel charger and noticed a bottle in the shower when I grabbed the noose. I had to step into the shower to retrieve the alcohol bottle and I saw the Dremel with a screw head attachment sitting next to the bottle. I’m not sure why it was in the shower, and I honestly do not know if I want to know why it was in the shower. My arms got chills as I continued to clean up the bathroom, that feeling of desperation to just make the pain stop flooded me. 

I returned his tools to his closet and was contemplating taking the rope with me. I knew that he could simply go buy another the moment I left, so instead I asked him if it would be used again anytime soon. He assured me it would not be and stuffed it underneath his couch. We hugged again and he laid down on his sofa ensuring me a long nap was in order. I felt relieved as I left his apartment and glad to have celebrated life with him this weekend rather than death. 

I felt more confident in my abilities to be there and hold space for someone even when I am battling my own demons and still have feelings of shame for having neglacted checking on my friend. Most importantly​ I was again reminded why counseling found me even though I have never been paid to be one, and I will continue to work towards opening my non-profit so there is a place for those that feel alone to go. The image of the noose and Dremel are still fresh in my mind, and likely will be for some time. I was able to untie it as an instrument of death this time, but it further tied me to my commitment and refuled my passion to make mental health availability a top priority.

The Day the World Changed

My decision to join the Navy was not a very complicated one; I simply loved the ocean and everything about it. I had vactioned in Pensacola Beach, usually semi-annualy because it is my absolute favorite place on earth thus far in my life, and I fell in love with the life of the sailors I met each time I went. I contemplated going in right after graduation from high school, but my mother convinced me to use my state funded scholarship for at least a year first, and if I was still unhappy, I could revist the option. I did follow her wishes, and used my scholarship at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, but I had some bad experiences while enrolled and choose to go to school the following semester at a community college in Mississippi that my mom was working at.

My semester there was going fairly smoothly, I was taking eighteen hours and making good grades, working side jobs, and spending time with my friends in Little Rock. As spring break approached, my mother found out I had been sneaking around with my then banned first boyfriend and my best girl friend and really freaked out. We had a huge argument as I was leaving the house with my father for Florida. I spent the week in Pensacola Beach really contemplating my life and where it was going. I knew what I needed to do for myself, but I was scared. I met a few sailors, including females during that trip, and became more intrigued in entering the military. I returned from Florida still confused, hurt, and very lonely.

A few days after my return from Florida and school for the week I was laying on the couch in the back den of my parents home. The phone rang and it was a Navy recruiter; he wanted to know if I still wanted to join. I quickly stated I was interested and within a week I was a pledged memeber of the delayed entry program, as an Aviation Electronics Technician. I finished up my semester in Mississippi and spent as much time with my friends and family as possible. I went to boot camp and finished my requirements to perform in pass and review, and was shipped out to Pensacola for A-school. We arrived to Pensacola late in August of 2001. I had no idea the day I joined the military that my first official Navy watch would be the morning of September 11, 2001 or that the world as I knew it was about to completely change.

We spent the first few weeks of A-school waiting to class up and we were basically cleaning or standing watches during the day. My first scheduled watch was the morning of September 11. I was supposed to ask everyone entering to show id, grant them permission to come aboard, etc. A first class petty officer came whirling through the front door of the barracks about thirty minutes into our watch. He was carrying a television and did not saulte the flag or ask permission to come aboard. Fearing I would be in trouble for not standing a proper watch, I hastily asked him for his ID. “Shut the Fuck up,” he screamed at me. I was shocked so I shrunk back behind the podium in horror that I was going to be punished. He ignored me and plugged in the TV.

All we could see were that one of the twin towers had been hit by a plane. As we watched with intensity, a second aircraft came into view and slammed into the other tower. Cursing and frantic screaming began to take place. Our base was quickly locked down as we heard reports of bombings at the Pentagon, parents were calling the phone lines with such intensity they never stopped ringing. I finally got to talk to one of my parents that afternoon on a payphone as I did not have a room phone. He wanted to know how I was and that I was safe, but he had other news to share as well.

On September 10, 2001 my cousin, Brooke and her son Dylan were involved in a fatal car accident. Brooke died on the sceen and Dylan died earlier in the morning on September 11. My heart felt like it was exploding as I talked to my Nana on the other end. Her sobs are a sound I will never forget. My first thoughts were, I have to go home. I have to hug my Nana. I have to tell my cousin goodbye. As I made my way back to my room to figure out my next move, I had no idea it was already figured out for me. We classed up the very next morning; they were pushing us through school and getting us out to the fleet to prepare for war.

As we lined up for class that morning and began to make our introductions and  I was informed that I would not be able to take any leave until after my time in school was over. That was day I learned for the first time that the government owned my body, my freedom, and everything about my life. As I walked around base with my ID card above my head in the prescribed uniform of the day as to not get shot by the marines gaurding the sidewalks I thought what is the outside world like now? We were locked down for two weeks, and the only people coming and going from base were our instructors.

Things finally started to calm down a bit as parents realized their kids had to finish their A-schools before they were going anywhere near the fleet and the military realized our nation was no longer at great threat to be under attack. We began to get some freedoms, but I still was not allowed to come and go as I pleased. There were so many rules, and so many ways to get into trouble. I began to drink to cope with my depression of being physcially separated from my family during our time of trauma and attempted to cover it the best I could by pretending everything was ok.

My friends began to get disillusioned with the military and had began to be counted as UA from school and the barracks. Because I often signed out with them, the command constantly harrassed me to tell them my friends’ whereabouts, but I did not even know where they were staying at the time, purpousfully, so that I had no information to give to the those questioning me. As Christmas time came near, I met with my friends one night before they were going to be processed out. We were with some civillians, but I was also spending time with some military friends on the other side of the hotel.

As per the norm, a sailor got out of hand in a room, and the Escambia County Sherrif’s Department were called to the scene. Upon the end of their investigation, they knocked on the door my friends were staying in. There were two UA military members, civillians over and under 21, and they had alcohol and drugs in the room. My bag was still in there, although I was visiting sailors on the other side of the hotel. They began searching for me and as I was walking back towards my friends room to see what was going on, they grabbed me and started questioning me and my other sailor friends.

They blamed us for having drugs and drinking underage and called the military police. We were scared out of our minds, but knew we had done nothing wrong. They loaded us in the Paddy Wagon and escorted us back to base; and let all of the civillians and my UA friends go. We were given breathalyzers and drug tests and placed on legal hold. I freaked, mostly because I had just been told school would be shut down for two weeks and we could take leave if we wanted to and had the days on the books. I wanted more than anything to go home and being on legal hold meant I could not put in my leave chit without special permission.

I told my story to our chief and he aggreed I was not a flight risk and allowed me to go home. Once I made it to my house, I was so relieved to be away from base. I got to hug my Nana for the first time since Brooke and Dylan died, and I got to participate in family tradtitions I had always taken for granted. I knew my decision to join the military would impact my life, but I had no idea how drastically the nature of the military and the climate of our country would change overnight. I knew then at 19 I was preparing to head to war, and that was something I never thought I would have to face.

People tried to tell me, Bush was going to be our president and we would be going to war most likely. They all begged me not to join the military, but of course I thought, what do you know? The Vietnam Veteran catfisher pleaded with me not to go, but not even he could talk me out of it. I was a true patriot back then, as far as following the constitution. I felt that my decision to join the Navy was something that I was supposed to do, and I planned on fullfilling my contract, but for the first time in my life I really felt as if I had absolutely no control and I didn’t. I thought I had little freedom living with my parents, I had no idea how little freedom I truly had in my life until I joined the military and it frightened me beyond belief.

sailors-cry

Vera’s Sunset

Last Friday I lost a friend I had been preparing to lose as I knew he had been placed in hospice care. It happened to be the exact nine month mark of sobriety for our mutual best friend, my first boyfriend, and a particular time of turmoil and distress in our great nation, which is something Matt never would have wanted to live through anyhow. I find it eerily amusing that he left on Trump’s inauguration day, I can almost hear him say, “Fuck this, I’m out, I cannot live in this world any more.” In every single picture the friends and family members post of Matt, he almost always is flashing his signature peace sign. Peace, love, unity, respect; were all values Matt lived for. At times I know he may have forgotten who he was to substances and addictions just like we all do, but at the core Matt was always a dreamer with his eye far above the horizon.

I first was introduced to him by way of his mother and mine. She went to the local athletic supply store to pick up something for one of my brothers sports teams, and always got into at least a thirty or forty minute conversation with Mrs. Lisa, Matt’s mom. I knew him from school, but we never really spent much time around one another. That day, Mrs. Lisa told my mom that Matt had a gigantic crush on me but was too shy to talk to me.  My mom told me and I was far to embarrassed to talk to him then. Eventually we had classes together throughout the years and mutual friends. I eventually got a crush on him, and we sort of flirted around with each other but never started a relationship. In a way, it worked out great because we learned to love and respect one another as great friends, like brother and sister as the years passed.

We discovered Pink Floyd together, we watched the stars and moon for hours during the summer months while he would fight with our dear friend Sara over random craziness, we would play football and his little brothers would tackle me and tease me about liking Matt. We would ride around town, go swimming in little secret holes he knew about, always in his red jeep he loved as much as being outdoors. It was a wonderful friendship and those are times I will always cherish. Eventually he began to get very upset and depressed about his physical health, and a chronic lung condition that had plagued him since infancy. He had began to turn to other sources to cope with his reality and we fought about it often. His behavior was different and his attitude. He was like a stranger, but occasionally bright spots would still shine. He used to sing Vera at the top of his lungs when he was booted for acting on a dare in our experimental honors chemistry class. If I was in the halls I would usually answer back, comforted that for the moment my Matt was back.

He and Zach both began to spiral out of control as they stopped participating in course work and classes. They both were held back eventually because of it and it always broke my heart when they did not walk with our graduating class our senior year. I watched drugs take the two people that had the most influence on my development from middle school to high school start to go under, and my first boyfriend was going down with them, but he always kept his grades up, paychecks steady, and record clean. I finally wrote Mrs. Lisa an anonymous letter I typed on my computer, but Matt knew me well enough and that I was the author. She sent him to rehab, but he was furious with me for many years. He did finally tell me thank you, right before his son, Tyce, was born, and we rekindled our friendship from there.

By the time I left to go to the Navy Zach, Matt, and my first boyfriend were all using pretty heavily and part of the reason I left was because I was afraid I would end up like them. Sadly, as I have learned over the years, unless one gets away from Crossett, that seems to be how it ultimately ends for many. I wanted more to my life, and I knew I would not get better staying there. When I came back to visit he and Zach were the ones I went to find. It was never hard, if you found one, the other was never too far away. If there were ever a live example of soul mates, the relationship those guys had would be proof. The last time I was with Matt, Zach, and my first boyfriend was no different. We sat in Zach’s yard and visited while Matt made a recliner out of the boat seat; and we sang and goofed off. At the time I never realized the significance of that day, but the summer of 2007 was the last time we all saw each other alive.

It is now a memory I will always cherish. The next time we were together was at Zach’s funeral. April 8, 2008 was the day he left us, and Matt and my first boyfriend were with him the night before he died; with intentions to throw an intervention of sorts fearing his death was immenent. They got the call the next day, and were in his front yard when I found out from a sherrif deputy we went to school with that did not want me to hear it on social media. I screamed, “he overdosed didn’t he?” My friend said an autopsy would have to be performed and I just kept screaming he overdosed. I knew, he had called me about the time he died on my birthday and told me he was going to die and I had to be there to see him April 7, 2008 and was adamant about it, but had woken up to take pain pills for his dislocated shoulder and was out of his mind.

I knew the guys blamed themselves for his death but I never knew why until recently. I also knew with Zach’s death my relationship with the guys would be completely different. At the time I was not allowed to speak to my first boyfriend per his current girlfriend and Matt disappeared for awhile. We put our best friend in the ground and went our separate ways for a bit. My first boyfriend ditched his lady and started over with a empathetic and caring person I’ve grown to love, although I’ve known her since childhood. Matt went back to school and got his degree, a double major. He became a teacher at our alma mater and was loving life, it seemed he had fulfilled the dreams he and Zach had planned before his death.

I have no idea if he was still using at that point in life or not, but I know he was happy. His lungs began to really start to shut down and he became too sick to teach. His air capacity was lowering daily and he needed a double lung transplant if he was going to survive. Fundraiser after fundraiser was held to ensure that his transplant would happen if the lungs became available, and one day they finally came. He made an excellent recovery and lived life to the fullest for about a year or so. About sixth months after the transplant signs of rejection started to appear and his demons slowly started to creep back into his life. I was so angry at him for what I perceived as him giving up the fight after he was given a second chance. I didn’t realize how selfish my thoughts were until I went to his funeral. All I could feel was hurt, and anger for giving away his new life.

When I heard Matt was gone rage set in. How could he leave us, his family, his son this way. He was such a bright and brilliant light in a world clouded with gloom. I began to make arrangements to get down to Crossett for the funeral because as mad as I was, I was more hurt and afraid to tell him goodbye. Since we began talking on the phone for hours at a time as kids he told me he would die before he was forty. “No!” “They are going to fix you and cure you,” I would cry back. He was afraid to fall in love or get married because he knew his life would be cut short. Just as Zach knew he was going to die, I just didn’t want to listen to them; I wanted them to be wrong. We had kids, marriages, careers, trips, a whole life ahead of us we had to live. Now almost ten years later when I just started healing from Zach, Matt had to go, too.

I made my way home to say my farewell but I was still so mad. I knew he was in pain and he struggled his entire life just to breathe, but I wanted him here. When I walked into the funeral home, I actually used to attend as a church when our Catholic Church had burned in the seventh grade, and walked to the casket I felt differently. I hadn’t cried yet, I was too pissed and I didn’t cry when I saw him; I smiled. I had not seen him look so at peace and like himself in years, and then I knew how wrong I had been. How I had loved the man he was and always had been far before drugs came into our lives. I slipped a bag of pennies in his casket representative of our births and the dates of the years we last physically saw each other. I smiled again and whispered, “I love you!”

I found other friends, and visited and exchanged stories that made us laugh. I got to hug Mrs. Lisa and she assured me that he loved me as I loved him. She reminded me of memories I had forgotten about, which made me laugh even more. As the procession started I found a seat next to a classmate and began focusing on the video playing a collection of photos from Matt’s life. Baby photos, sports photos, school pictures, Tyce’s birth, formals, graduations, weddings, hospital stays in Dallas, camping, playing guitar, etc. So many memories ran through my head as the photos flashed through his memorial video and songs belted that we spent hours analyzing under the bright starlit sky, I finally felt all of my anger diminish.

I went to Zach’s grave that afternoon, and that night I finally went out in my backyard by the big tree we spent so many nights underneath and broke down. I cried because I wanted my friend, I wanted him here, but for the first time realizing he fought for his entire life and perhaps he was tired of living in pain and misery from a body that was failing him continuously. I felt like the shittiest friend for not seeing him once since Zach’s death and for being angry. After my cry I went inside and laid in the big chair, the one me and Zach always shared, and went through Matt’s Facebook page. As I scrolled through the months and years of posts I realized that we spoke at a minimum of two to four times a month through social media about all of the topics we had conversed about as children and into adulthood. We were still very much a part of one another’s lives and still connected as recently as a week before his death, and I followed along intently until he took his last breath. I realized that I finally remembered my friend and the love that I lost instead of the addict that I believed let himself die by giving up hope for a better life.