If you have just arrived at The Library in Purgatory, the first chapter is here.


"I never found the girl, I never got rich. Follow me."

~Leonard Cohen

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Chapter II.3


Colleen


The hardest years, the darkest years

The roarin’ years, the fallen years

These should not be forgotten years

The hardest years the wildest years

The desperate and divided years

We will remember

These should not be forgotten years

-Forgotten Years

Midnight Oil

2/23/92

“I don’t know where this came from, I was just counting tickets when Colleen’s funeral popped into my head.


It strikes me how festive it seemed, like a class picnic, especially the potluck in the church afterwards— everyone standing around in little groups talking, eating. Did they know, did they realize what had happened? I don’t think so. Some did, you could see it in their eyes. They had that long look about them, long and dark, haggard.


It was sunny that day and fairly warm for October. The church was a seventies puke-greenish. Tacky, it reeked tacky. Outside it was warm-cool, lazy, Indian Summer; it was a warm fuzzy, take-a-nap-in-a-patch-of-sunlight day. I can feel it, taste it, but why now?


I don’t know, I lost it now.”




10/15/91

“Dear Anfortas,


Now that some time has passed, I wanted to drop you a note to let you know how sorry I was to hear about the tragic incident that occurred with Colleen.


A death is never easy to accept and when it is an apparent suicide the situation becomes that much more difficult. I was very impressed with how you handled yourself in such an agonizing circumstance. Your mature and professional conduct helped to ease the pain that existed for so many. It may be of little consolation, but I am impressed and hold a lot of respect for you and the way you assisted. I know it’s not easy to do what you did.


I sincerely hope that the semester provides to be much more pleasurable and gratifying for you, and if I can be of assistance, please let me know.”


Sincerely,


Linda K.

Assistant Director

Residence Hall Life



3/3/92

Dear Linda K.


My apologies. Due to the Herald’s unheard of efficiency and expediency in handling postal matters I received your letter of OCT 15 about two weeks ago.


I have been caught up in a fearfully loathsome web of events regarding the very meaning of life itself, or at least my own.


Indeed we live in strange and twisted times. Let it suffice to say that, if at all possible, your letter meant a great deal to me, possibly more than I can convey, as you were the only one out of this hastily assembled cast to even mention that my role in this whole unfortunate affair has had any effect on anyone whatsoever; and for that I thank you.


This in itself is a bitter pill to swallow and is expounded by the fact that with each passing day these people are farther and farther removed from the whole thing, like waking from an excitingly bad dream. But not me, I remember. The line between dreams and reality is a fine one that is oft indistinguishable as one affects us as much as the other.


Thank you again for your letter and concern.


Sincerely,


Anfortas



3/3/92

“All these months and I haven’t known; it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.


Nose pressed against the window. It’s raining. Trying to see, can’t, the rain and breath fogging up the window. I must see, it’s imperative. Just gray, wet. What the hell is it I’m supposed to see? What? Who or what got left behind? How do I stop for it to catch up? It’s lonely, scared, young, crying— a small child? It knows something. Trying to tell me. Have to hear. Have to see.


One king-hell of a tsunami is coming. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run to. Can just stand and hope for the best.


This something coming after me, I’m afraid of what it might mean or say. Of course that means the only thing I can do is throw myself into the heart of it.


3/10/92

The call came between 7:30 and 8:00 Saturday night. Mark answered the phone and held it out to me,


“It’s Kim. She’s either laughing or crying.”


I took the phone from him wondering what was up. She was crying.


“It’s Colleen, she’s hung herself. Colleen’s dead.” Kim was crying so hard I could hardly understand. She wanted me to come over, would call me when I could; the police weren’t letting anyone in yet.


For the next hour and a half Mark, Sandor, Beth, Chris, and I sat around and talked about death, suicide, whatever. There was an air of unreality about the whole thing. We talked like we were discussing what we should have for dinner or where to go. No one cried, we might have even laughed.


I wanted to leave. I didn’t want to go see Kim. I knew she was counting on me and that scared me more than Colleen killing herself.


Nine months before, Kim had gotten really drunk when she broke up with her old boyfriend; she spent three hours in the bathroom with the dry-heaves. I sat with her the whole time. She cried all the way through, even asking me to kill her.


I didn’t know how to handle this. I knew that I could; I don’t believe in “can’t” but what would the price be?


Things started moving very fast. Kim was much better than I had expected her to be. I was proud.


Shortly after I got there Kim’s sister and next-door neighbor arrived to take her home; her parents had been out to dinner and no one had been able to get hold of them. When they did call I was the one who talked to them, filled them in on all the details, what to expect, and how proud of their daughter I was. I was in charge. They asked me to come up to their place to be with Kim. I said no problem.


From there on out it was heads-down, no-time-to-feel-or-even-think acting. Where the body went, the mind numbly followed: talking to Kim’s dad again, hastily throwing clothes into a backpack, driving north with Chris. The air of unreality still pervaded everything. Maybe it was shock.


Chris left Kim’s the next morning, he had to work. I stayed on for two more days.


It tore me apart, watching Kim try to cope with the picture in her head of her friend dangling from her loft. At least I think it did, I can’t say for sure, I was in charge— no time to feel. I don’t see how it couldn’t have though.


There were times when I just wanted to curl up and cry for hours on end till there was nothing left but emptiness. I didn’t let myself, crying is not an option when you’re the leader, when people are looking up to you, counting on you. I told myself, “Another day…twelve more hours…three more hours…you’ll be home, then you can cry.” But when I did finally get home I found that I couldn’t.


More often than both though, the panic was replaced by a twisted sense of sheer exhilaration. I was in the eye of the hurricane, an insider, involved but detached, steady, dependable, a critical eye, needed; strange and twisted times that called for a strange and twisted hero.


I was the one Kim looked to for support. In the smallest amount I was there for her more than her parents were who fell over themselves and each other to try to even understand their own daughter. At the funeral I was the one constantly next to Kim, a protective, supportive arm around her. No one even got close to her unless she gave me the OK and I stepped aside; always next to her, the devoted bodyguard and shoulder, refuge, sanctuary.


But the times that give rise to heroes also fade, leaving a changed but ordinary person behind. I’m not saying that I would wish for any circumstances like this, I’ve seen how they twist and tear at people, but that sense of action, importance, the rush…


The funeral was on a Wednesday. It was sunny, lazy-warm, curl-up-in-a-patch-of-sun, Indian summer day; deep blue skies with small white clouds soloing around it like toy boats. The bus left at 6:00 AM, the school had provided it for all those on the floor of the dorm who wanted to go, there were a good thirty.


The mood on the bus was very festive, a class picnic. People were laughing, talking, throwing things. It was like that at the potluck after the funeral too, little clusters of people standing around talking and eating. I should’ve gotten drunk.


There were children across the street— a school— laughing and running. I don’t know if I sat on the steps of the church and watched them or not but I can hear them today: squeals and shouts, and laughing; running feet, the bounce of a ball on the black tarmac, the creak and squeak of swings and a merry-go-round.


I wondered if the people who came really understood, realized what happened, what was going on. Some did, you could tell, the ones with the long, dark, quiet look— haggard, like they had been thinking too much and drinking too little.


I slept on the way home; everyone was quiet. When we got back I took a nap on the floor, Chris and Jeff sprawled on the sofas. For the life of me I can’t remember what we did that night. I wish I did, somehow it seems important now.


3/11/92


Colleen has come back to haunt me. I should have known better than to think I could escape unscathed.


Part of me didn’t get what it needed; part of me got left behind. I want to get that part back, fill the need; but cemeteries are lonely places to be alone in for four months. I’m afraid of what feelings this is going to unleash. Maybe I shouldn’t be but I don’t see how it could be any other way.


What happened was horrible, a nightmare, grotesque. I am right to be afraid, not of what is to come but of what happened. What happened was scary: Colleen hung herself. My friends were afraid, they cried, had nightmares maybe.


I stood tall in the midst of it all, but not really there, detached. I didn’t have time to feel, only comfort.


Now I must go back to claim myself and the horror that I experienced, but is not mine. I must feel the horror, the helplessness, taste it, become one with it.


I am going back, not to win, conquer, or defeat but to make peace, to heal.


3/18/92

The day they buried Colleen they left me behind.


The people who understood were connected by a common bond, their grief, and a smaller sub-group of the same were further connected by the horror of what they had seen and been through. They were a closed group that could only be joined by having been there. Outside of this group were the rest of the people who were farther removed from the suicide but nonetheless tied by their shock, grief, and loss.


And on the outside of all this, or maybe more aptly, on the inside, was where I stood— able to reach out, transcending all circles but belonging to none. I was the protector, the catcher in the rye.


I was connected to Colleen and the suicide most closely by Kim, who found her and cut her down. It if hadn’t been for Kim, I don’t think I would’ve been involved at all. If I had been close friends with Colleen I could have been part of that small circle that were close friends.


But as it was, I wasn’t part of that group and was expected in part, and took it upon myself, to be Kim’s protector. I don’t think that I would ever change that but there was a cost— my ability to mourn the senseless death of a human being that, in a small way, I knew. And so, the day they buried Colleen they left me behind.


It was like a graduation in a way, someone else’s, not your own. You stand around with your friends who are graduating, get your picture taken with them, talk to their friends, but you are not really involved in any of it cause it’s not your graduation. The little nuances, personal jokes, hugs and tears, they all escape you ‘cause you weren’t there when they happened, they don’t carry a deeper meaning for you.


So I stood there, holding people, wiping away tears saying, “It’s OK,” because I knew it was. But holding people didn’t really allow me to share their pain with them. For every tear I caught a million more got by untouched. Every “OK” uttered in desperate urgency for people to believe with me was drowned out by the roar of grief and questions of why and meaning, things that shouldn’t have to be answered alone and in the dark.


I don’t think that I didn’t have an effect on people, that I wasn’t there for my friends, I know I was.


I remember a line from the movie SupermanLouise Lane has just fallen off a building when Superman catches her and says, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.”


Louise, trying to catch her breath says back, “You’ve got me but who’s got you?”


That’s how I feel. Who helped the Good Samaritan when he got the shit kicked out of him by thieves? Himself of course, he’s the Good Samaritan.


I’m not bitter. I am disappointed though. It would be nice if Kim could understand, or take the time to listen. But bitter? No.


I’m helping myself through this. It’s not the most fun thing to do— most of the time I’m scared shitless. But I’ll be OK. Writing this stuff has been important to me, it’s given me a chance to tell my story, to start with a small tangled threat, get a direction and sort the whole mess out.


Tomorrow I’m going to find the cemetery where Colleen was buried, to say goodbye, and make peace with the part of me that got left behind. I will be OK.



7/24/92

The day finally happened in March. I went with Bernie, who I thought would be the right person to bring along on this savage and twisted road trip. We were looking for Colleen’s grave.


Colleen killed herself in October; she was my girlfriend’s suite-mate. Kim found her hanging from her loft in her room. She called me because I was her boyfriend at the time, her support. It’s sad to say, but I understood Kim better than her parents.


Needless to say, I got caught up in the role of being the good protector for Kim and my friends; it was a role I was good at and enjoyed.


The drink has been flowing freely tonight and now the music is soft as my friends try to sleep. This story is one that I’ve been carrying around for nine months. I’ve made several attempts to get it out but the time has never been right. I think it is now though and I’m glad because this is a story that has hurt.


There was a cost associated with being the protector though, and around February it began to catch up with me. It seems that while I had been so busy protecting that somehow I missed out on dealing with the whole thing myself.


So with Bernie as my co-pilot I set out to find Colleen’s grave and say my goodbyes. I was afraid of the feeling that this would unleash because there was a part of me that had spent the last four months alone in a cemetery. I was scared shitless.


We started out for Howell, which was her hometown, though neither of us knew exactly where she was buried. I knew that we would find it somehow though. About half way there we both dosed. This may have seemed like a stupid thing to do but wanted some sort of buffer between me and whatever was coming; I was willing to take my chances with the acid.


I guess I’m writing this now because It’s a story that I haven’t been able to find someone to listen to. I told Kim once, but aside from some tears, it didn’t mean anything to her; at least not so you could tell.


Keep on rocking in the free world.


We reached Howell safely and began looking for the cemetery. We drove all over town and looked at many a gas station city map, to no avail. Finally, after an hour and a half I said, “Fuck it, I’m going to go whatever damned way feels right to me.” I took lefts and rights at random, completely losing myself. And then, there it was, like the fog had been lifted.


We pulled up as the sun was starting to set and Big Country was singing “The Storm”. I couldn’t believe we were actually there, but it didn’t surprise me at all because I had seen myself there a long time ago.


Bernie and I climbed out of the car, he looked at the grave, rearranging the flowers and then meandered off into distance. I was glad that I had brought Bernie, he was good support but he didn’t muck things up like a closer friend might have; he gave me the space I needed.


I sat on top of the Anarchy-Mobile, my car, and stared at the grave; I didn’t know what to do. The sun was setting between two pines directly to the west and finally I took out my journal and lucky pen and began to write:


“Good god, I don’t believe we actually found it but we did. I’m not surprised really, I knew we would. I say myself coming back here a long time ago. It was all senseless. Why? I don’t know, it was. She didn’t even not not did it for no good reason. It was senseless, just fucking senseless. Because I say so.


Bernie’s done good. I’m glad I brought him along. He senses things.


I want so bad to write in the past tense now, to record this stuff, but I’m not going to; my memory will have to suffice.”


I sat there because I didn’t know what else to write. I didn’t know what to feel. Then I ripped out the last page of my journal and wrote:


“Anfortas
2806 Westbrook, G-23
In case you need someone to talk to.”

I left the note there with my lucky pen, next to her grave. I cried.


Later I found Bernie and we meandered our way home, but that is a different story. I haven’t heard from Colleen so I think that she is doing OK; and, I think I will be too.



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