Yesterday I found out my cousin Erin took her own life at 35 years old. Erin and I didn't see each other or talk much but we had a certain connection and fondness for each other. The primary connection was an affection and reverence for our uncle Misha. Misha was a great, loving, honest caring guy. Perfectly an uncle to me in that my father wasn't there and Misha had no kids and genuinely liked my brother and myself. As a dysfunctionally raised, insecure kid, I wasn't sure anyone except my grandmother and Misha liked me. Misha was that ONE adult in a position of influence who didn't say "you should do this or that" (actually he did say I should go to business school after helping him sell antique jewelry at flea markets on the weekends, but I didn't take that too seriously since I was like 8 or 9 years old, but I digress) or "don't do this or that." He asked "what do YOU want to do?" From a very real conversation I answered "I want to be a drummer, play drums." He inquired quite matter-of-factly "are you any good?" I replied "people tell me I'm really good. I think I am." He asked "then what do you need." I said "drums." He said "how much do they cost." I said "about $1000 bucks." He said "how much do you have?" I said "about $280." He said "meet me at Manny's at lunch time and we'll see what we can find. So we did and I got my 1st real kit, sacrificing decent cymbals to get a $350 maple snare that is pitted and rusty but sounds as good today as the day we got it, about 28 years ago. I played those drums all over the country in snow and rain and I still have them. They are a major part of my journey.
Misha was gay and could never ever come out of the closet. The stigma to him was just too great and yet when I think back, like most families of gay men, most of us knew. This kept him very lonely and despite his good nature and outward happiness, living a lie caused him great pain. He died in one of the early years of "the virus" when it was still mostly a "gay men's" disease in NYC. I say he pulled a "Freddie Mercury" in that he didn't tell almost anyone until just a few weeks before he died. Not enough time to really say goodbye.
So how does this relate to the Facebooky Tweety culture in my pinball machine of a brain? I found out about Erin's passing on Facebook. That medium bothered some but didn't really bother me. Her folks are isolated in Vegas and likely had no more practical manner to reach out to their own friends far away and particularly to Erin's friends who they likely didn't know. Besides being in abject pain, they also were worn out from trying for years to love her through her troubles and save her. Erin suffered from depression. My family has a history of mental illness on both sides...maybe all three sides when parts of my wife's family are included, but then, I think it's in every family...overlooked, ignored, misdiagnosed, mistreated, over or under medicated. In my history, it was ignored, squashed, buried, internalized....like a cancer left to grow in the dark. "We are as sick as our secrets" is a common 12 step slogan, and "our secrets grow in the dark and die in the light of exposure."
We often see people as we want to see them and I always thought Erin was so together. Beautiful, smart, sensitive. A fantasy cousin/sister I was thrilled to have. From the side of the family most whacked out and yet most influential. We were the Sons of Misha. I could include Erin's aunts and my cousins Shari and Marilyn who were cut from similar cloth except possibly still of the previous generation and were the silk that sort of connected us and held us all tenuously together, even at great distances and time apart.
But that's just it. This FB thing is a ruse. We connect and reconnect with friends, family and strangers near and far, but it's very superficial. Communications coming down to 2 lines of congratulations, or "cool picture" or "I love that song." Lots and lots of "miss yous" and "we need to all get togethers" but it's easier to skip those phone calls when you just sent a 1 line comment. Easy to never write a letter because...well who the hell writes letters anymore?!
I never knew or dreamed or imagined Erin had a depression/substance abuse problem. I thought cigarettes were her biggest vice. Man am I an idiot. Being the poster boy in my family and my generation's representative of messed up'edness, least likely to succeedism, rock star burnout fantasy cum recovery and ultimately stable family happy ending guy, about 4 years ago I got a call from Shari telling me about Erin being in the hospital or an inpatient rehab (I can't recall but believe it was a near OD or maybe indirect suicide attempt) and asking if I could talk to her. I was floored. I had no clue. I asked Shari for her number and said I will call her or she can reach out to me , knowing the latter would be unlikely due to stigma and shame (been there done that). 12th step calls are like unplanned pregnancy. They just show up unannounced. I called her from a Disney pool in Orlando that night. We talked for 2 hours and I laid it all out for her. My journey, some stuff (what little I knew) about our history (brilliant musical savant and full blown schizophrenic grandma Eda, Misha stories, my dad the pathological anti-realist, liar and screwup, my Mom and Stepdad the 12 step warriors and recovery professionals, whatever). I tried to persuade her to go to meetings, stay in rehab, surrender, give herself a break. All that jazz. I believe in it. I do. I am Mr. Together now, but there were times I crawled with tears in my eyes into meetings in foreign cities because I was mentally and spiritually lost. Sometimes those foreign cities were my home group, local, comfortable and yet I was still lost. They propped me up. Gave me a chance to heal. To believe this too shall pass. And everything does. One way or another.
After that Erin was doing better (I believed). I know she put some time clean together (over a year). I didn't have the slightest clue about her level of depression. And this is where it gets me. All of our communications over the last 2 years were one line comments on Facebook. Comments on my son's soccer picture or an old pic of me with one of a thousand punk hairdoos. She had gotten a new job, I thought she found a guy she liked, stuff like that. Always every 3rd or 4th message with a "we need to see each other soon." Always. This too has passed.
Social media is great. It is a remarkable tool to connect and reconnect. It does not and cannot replace a phone call or a visit. It just can't. The realization that it sort of prolongs the procrastination and feeds the illusion that we are "in touch" just causes me great pain today. It's not a call or a letter, it's barely even a post card. It's a passing wave in the hallway or a hello standing at the next urinal. It's bullshit. Great authors and artists have great books of letters to each other. Historic letters. The letters, on their own read as literature today. They are portraits of time and emotion and life and love and pain. In 100 years will someone reading back over our FB comments and Tweets find us as human? Will our Tweets reflect any soul or depth?
Sure, I'm just venting because I'm angry that depression took another soul. One I love and care about and deserved better. And again, I didn't get to say goodbye. My selfish self wants a hug. I want her back. I can fix this shit. If only..........
Reach out to someone you love and are worried about today. Make it longer than a Tweet. Please.