Celebrities Of Suicide

Eric Renderking Fisk - Friday, February 1st, 2008 Bookmark and Share

I'm not the focus of The Fedora Chronicles, we all are. This is a site where all Retro's from other sites and places in around the world share their thoughts and travels. The site is where we share what we think about current events as amateur (or professional) historians and enthusiasts of style from a bygone era.

I think it's also supposed to be a place where Retrocentrics can tackle heavy issues other sites won't touch. What's really going on in your life beyond the new vintage-esque item that arrived via UPS? What's going on under that fedora of yours? What's important to you is important to us here at The FC, we genuinely care and what to know how we can help get your thoughts, feelings and messages out. Nobody is just a Username and a post-count.

One of the issues that I hinted about in "Saturday Night Retro: Portsmouth, New Hampshire" is the concept of life and how fleeting youth is. The notion of being able to live forever is now little more than just a memory and what remains is my greatest fear that parts of my life are gone and that with in a few short decades my life will be over. I don't fear death, I fear not having really lived.

That's not really just my concern, it's the worry of every man on some level. Some men try to hang on to their youth by dressing the way they did when they were in their teens, or replace the hair they've lost, buy toys they couldn't afford like fast cars and big boats. Some of us listen ceaselessly to the music of our adolescence. The men who do the best job of over coming fleeting youth is do so by actually boldly living every day and do things with out a thought towards what other people think.

In 2007 I observed the 20th Anniversary of the day I left home searching for adventure which lead to both successes and hardships that were beyond my imagination when I was 17. Then I recently  got a message from people who I went to school with asking me if I would be interested in attending an informal 20th reunion. It's still up in the air if I'm going to go or not, and after those who invited me to that gathering read this, I wonder if I'll still be welcome.

The notion that many of the events that defined who I was or who I would eventually become all happened 20 years ago and if feels like it was only yesterday makes me realize again how painfully fast life is.

Life is so precious, but it seems to be even more so by people who have experienced loss or have faced it. Sadly, it takes the loss of someone else's life for some of us to appreciate what we have and who are in our lives.

20 years ago, I was miserable. I was also happy and full of potential. I was the kind of teenager adults loved to throttle, the ultimate under-achiever and good natured kid who often said inappropriate things because I didn't know better. I had folks watching my back but I didn't show gratitude, which is hard to do when you're so self-absorbed to know you should be grateful.

When you're in your teens, you're supposed to be a little selfish and self-absorbed with yourself to an extent. You're supposed to be taking the time to figure out who you are and what you want to be for the rest of your life and make choices that will move you in that direction. You make decisions about what classes to take in High School, which lead to the decisions you make when picking a college and declaring a major later on.

Because of some bogus information that I was given, I thought that those options weren't available to me. I had hopes, dreams and ideas of what I wanted to do but thought that those goals were unobtainable because I thought it was impossible to go to college, a trade school or a university after high school. I felt as if I was trapped in a cycle of bad, low-wage jobs for reasons that are a mystery to me. As a result, I made the worst choice - the decision not to make plans for myself.

They say that if you really want something, you'll find a way to get it. If you're not willing to work hard enough, then there's a part of you that believes it's not worth having. I wanted an excuse to cop out, and I found one, and I dwelled on it. It was the typical angst that comes from either being too smart or too stupid for my own good. I was both in every way imaginable.

Even thought I had these great bouts of depression because I though the die was cast and my future was already written, I had moments of great hope and optimism through my writing. I was spinning unrefined gold using a pen, paper and clipboard as I wrote about anything that came to mind. I wanted to be a writer, I was told that I COULD be a writer if I just applied myself. It wasn't until many years later when I eventually made it into college that my passion for writing would literally help me write my own ticket.

Imagine me, 20-something years younger weighting hardly 100 pounds with a size 32 waist with no body fat because I walked everywhere, wearing a grey fedora with a grey canvas jacket everywhere when weather permitted, and writing like maniac about anything while not knowing that doing what I loved was the answer for everything. People must have thought I was crazy, saying that a pen is magic. But if you can hold a pen and put it to use on an application form, you can get grants or apply for scholarships or loans. It's not as easy as I'm making it sound, but it's easier then what I was lead to believe. A youthful, pessimistic folly on my part is that I didn't try until much later.

Despite the fact that I was my own person and my own worst enemy. I had a passion. I dressed the way I wanted and had a small circle of friends and acquaintances that shared many of the same interests, I thought I should be miserable. Looking back on my life from where I am now to where I was then, I realize now that I had all the opportunities I wanted, all the help I could have needed, all I had to do was apply myself and do something more.

Instead, I thought everyone around me was having a better, fuller life. I assumed everyone else had brighter futures, were going places and I was being left behind. Nothing could have been further from the truth, we were all going in different directions. My obstinance wouldn't allow me to see other peoples problems or issues that we had in common. 

Where's my share? Where's "The Kit" that everyone gets when they become adults... you know, the kit with all the answers and that plaque that says "you've arrived." I wanted mine and I was grumpy because I thought someone was keeping me from it.

All of this self-deprecation leads to me to the point where I have to illustrate at how wrong I really was. "Everybody" didn't have it better then me, compared to some people, I had it very good.

Starting in Junior High and leading up to January of 1987, there was a fellow student that I had a lot in common with. We had the same interests in movies and the same immature sense of humor. Best way to describe him would be to imagine John Candy with Red Hair and 14 years old. Jeremy was perhaps one of the happiest people I had ever known.

I'm sitting here laughing thinking about the two of us in Social Studies and how he kept using the same answer for every question and those of us in the corner of the room couldn't help but keep cracking up. He kept saying "Abraham Lincoln" to every question, even when the question was not about a person. And he did it with such a straight face and with out cracking up, which made it harder for us to pay attention.

During the class field trip to Boston, we went to Jack's Joke Shop where he picked up this gag that to this day cracks me up. [Skip this part if you're squeamish...] It was this long, latex 'booger' - looking very much like the by-product of a kid who sneezes and lets it just hang there while waiting for mom to take care of it. Jeremy would pretend to hold his nose, sneeze and this long stringy thing would be release and hang out of his nose. Then he would ask if anyone had a tissue. When you're in the 7th Grade, this could be the funniest thing you've ever seen, funnier still when this kid was just letting it hang while the adults were talking to the group.

In the halls or in class, he and I would talk about the latest movie we saw or the books we were reading. He was just one of the smartest people I knew who was my age.

I want to promise that I'm remembering this right, his Home-Room was in the Band Practice area, while mine was in the AV. He would come by with some other friends and say hello and we would talk about stuff while I was hustling film projectors and copies for teachers.

It was 20 years ago, my memories have been colored by the passage of time, but I remember wishing that my life could be more like his. He was taking the SAT's, thinking about Colleges, and I really envied him while at the same I was happy for him. I struggled to pass my classes because it was hard for me to care when I thought my future was pretty bleak. If I couldn't be happy, I'm glad someone else that I knew, could.

There are those moments in life when something happens and it changes our view of the world and nothing is ever the same again. Sometimes those things are wonderful and happy, those memories help us cope when the bad events happen. If it weren't for the bright moments, what would we have to cling to during dark ones try to consume us?

Looking back on that period,  I can see that all the aspects of my life were being funneled towards that one particular moment. And I can see that everything else that happened after that was as a result of the reactions that funneled outwards from that moment. The pages of my journals for that day are empty because there was no words for what happened, there was no reason to write it down because the feelings were so raw and vivid. It was 21 years ago, it was just yesterday.

I didn't hear any announcement, I was about the last person to know. Everyone else that mattered knew. But I knew there was something wrong. There was something nightmarish about being in that school that day, imagine being in the building during a Saturday or Sunday and there's none of the usual activity, or being there on a holiday when you should be somewhere else.

I was in the Audio Visual room with a fellow student and a teacher had her back turned to us while she was making photo copies. I flippantly said: "What the hell is wrong with everyone in this building, it's like a morgue in here."

The teacher spun around: "How can you say that? How can you say something like that after Jeremy died." And that is how I knew. That's how I found out.

I have no idea what a heart attack feels like. I have no idea what it feels like to be struck by lightning or to be hit by a car. But I have some idea of what the emotional trauma of something like that must feel like. That moment, the world changed.

I felt rage, and anger and profound sadness. I'm not too much of a man to deny that I cried. The tears and the sobbing began, but I fought it off. I wouldn't cry like this. The teacher looked devastated. "Oh, my God. You didn't know?" Trying to be a man and not cry, I bit my thumb as I shook my head. She apologized, then walked out of the room crying.

I don't remember anything else after I sat down at one of the desks in the AV room and tried to convince myself that he wasn't gone. To tell you the truth, I remember going to one class and my history teacher letting us talk about our feelings, and that's how I heard that he had shot himself before heading off to school. There were other parts of the story that I heard, different locations of the gun shot, different reasons why. But in the end, it was a mystery: why did he do it?

Later on, someone told me that I walked out of the room and threw a chair against the wall. I have no idea how true that was. I do remember some erratic behavior the rest of the year.

I remember going home, sitting on the edge of my bed for hours. I hardly remember late afternoon becoming night. I remember hearing my mother coming home and being pissed off that none of the dishes were done. My sister yelled at my mother, saying that my mom could be a little more sensitive since my friend had committed suicide earlier that day. It was the first time I heard it said that way, my friend committed suicide. I repeated that phrase in my mind over and over again...

My friend committed suicide. And he didn't even tell me that something was wrong.

I remember crying so hard and feeling so raw in side. I remember this feeling of guilt and shame about being so wrapped up in my own nonsense and thinking everyone had it better then me, I couldn't even ask someone how they were doing.

I went into the bathroom and as I was washing my face my brother Adam asked me if I was OK. I cried even harder, I told him not to ever do something like that. And I said I was sorry for all the mean things I had done, the stuff brothers just do because that's part of the package.

I told him again to never do that to us, but what I meant to say was, 'Don't let me do that to you, leave you with doubts and questions about why." I wanted to reach out to someone, and have someone reach back for me.

During the next few days, I kept hearing the same phrase. Things will never be the same again.

The day of Jeremy's funeral, I went with some of the guys who used to drop by and hang out in The AV room with him. We shared memories, but there was a lot of quiet time, as well. There was the awkward silence again.

The service was a blur, I remember sitting in a pew wondering what he would have wanted, what he would have thought about this. I remember the brief service, not seeing anyone's faces and vaguely aware of who else was attending.

And I'm riding back with the people I went with, and the fellow student who was driving said, just out of nowhere said: "You know nothing will ever be the same again." I remember now that he was playing Jazz. I wanted to know what the name of the song was, but I didn't bother saying anything. I didn't say much of anything, and I hope I said thank-you at the end of the ride back to school.

I remember sitting in the AV room, still with my coat and fedora on as I sat on the stack of crates of paper in the corner. I remembered being called to The Principals office but never going. I remember sitting with the Guidance Counselors office and assuring her that I was alright.

Two weeks later I swallowed a handful of aspirin and a swig of scotch that I bought on the High School Black Market. I was sitting in the room I made for my self in the concrete basement of my mothers house, using the old shelves and a wardrobe for walls. I remember thinking that if I died, I would miss out on so much. And that some folks might accuse me of being a copy-cat. I didn't want that. I couldn't do that, I couldn't leave that mystery left unsolved. And I relived my friends death again that night.

I remember picking fights trying to get people to beat me to death, walking home in the rain or the snow with out a coat. There were afternoons I tried to get lost out in the woods. I have no idea why I did what I did the months afterwards.

My aunt called me up one night and asked me how I was doing, then asked me what was wrong with kids these days. I tried to give her an explanation. There was this long silence and she said: "You know, Eric... if anything happened to you, we would all be pretty devastated. OK?" It was the first time she called me by my 'adult' name. I think she started to save my life that night, and my uncle finished that job when he sat me down and gave me the "Dope's do dope" lecture that I've shared a few times elsewhere...

A couple of days later, I'm at the apartment of one of my other buddy's girlfriends house. It was one of those "Parent/Teacher" conference days and we all had off. She and I were going to go out to lunch and she was changing in the other room. We were talking about how this had affected everyone while I avoided talking about myself.

As she was changing in the other room, she said: "Nothings going to be the same again." I looked out the window and watched the snow start to come down. "I know," I replied.

After a long silence, I added: "It's OK, you know. The world will never be the same for us, and for a while we'll try to figure out what happened and what this means. I just can't see how adults can go on not knowing what happened. How can they not know? How can they not go crazy?" I was watching the rest of the world go by from that apartment window that over-looked Western Avenue.

Soon after, my bouts of trying to commit accidental suicide ended.

A few months later another class-mate of ours died. This time it was a hunting accident. Tim was in many of my classes, and I knew him just as well as Jeremy. Tim's death left me numb and I was angry that it didn't affect me the same way. I remember being angry, that's all.

That June, I was gone. I left my mother, sister and brother to visit my dad for what was supposed to be a day trip into Boston. I didn't go back to that place in Vermont that I used to call my home town for years.

I sit here, now, 20 years later alone in the middle of the night confronting feelings that I've buried down deep in side. As I do so, I'm unable to contain the few tears that are welling up inside and the choked up sense that's building up deep in my chest and into my throat. I'm overwhelmed with the continued sense of loss that remains, the dark mystery that was never solved, how could one of the happiest people I've ever known die like that? How could someone who gave me some of the biggest laughs do such a thing that left me with this huge emptiness in side?

21 years ago, and you think I would be over it by now, right? But, there are times that I think about what he missed out on, the things that I've experienced that he never did. There are things that will trigger memories of that event, sometimes a song on the radio, or news stories about another senseless death that makes headlines.

Totally unrelated, maybe, but on Friday Nights on The Fox Movie Channel they have  Chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment Tom Rothman introducing the films with the back-stories. Last week it was "Edward Scissorhands" is a metaphor or an analogy for the awkwardness most adolescence feel, unable to understand or control their changing emotions and afraid of ruining everything they touch. I do a lot of crying in this rant, and that comment again started the water-works again, wondering if that's what my friend felt.

Over the next few years - sometimes with the help of my dad and other times with out - I tried to cram as much living as I could into my days and nights, doing things that others could only wish they could do. I remember watching this Black And White movie in The Brattle Theater in Harvard Square thinking about how I got there, and then pushed the notion out of my mind that I was there because of my friends death.

There were times that I felt good, and then felt guilty knowing my friend never got to experience something like that. For reasons those reasons and others can't explain now, I never thought about taking my own life through reckless behavior again. Having a wife that I deeply love and two sons that I adore might have something to do with that.

The media's current obsession with a recent event has brought all these emotions back to the surface, and making this an opportunity to use my experience to help someone out.

Heath Ledger was an actor that was in more then a few good films, but his life's been reduced down to one memorable performance in a single controversial film. His death 2 weeks ago (as of this writing) has struck some of his fans pretty hard. Or so they say on some of the forums like "IMDb" writing about how a virtual stranger will "Always be in their hearts" or "Will never forget such a beautiful person."

While I'm sure there are some fans who are genuinely saddened by this untimely death, but what are the chances that there are some folks who are posting about their grief just to have something to feel strongly about? What are the chances that this death has ruined the lives of all of those people who make that claim?

I find that unlikely, since actually knowing someone who died of unknown causes or reasons is one of the worst experiences that any of those fans can imagine, and the death of a favorite actor is just sad. What his fans are feeling can't hardly compare to the sense of loss his former girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, Michelle Williams, is feeling. They can't imagine the pain and anguish his family and friends are feeling.

Because you "Identify" with an actor and the characters he plays doesn't mean that you're "soul mates" and he'll be watching out for you beyond the grave. It's a sad commentary on the state of society and how lonely people are despite being on forums surrounded with people that share similar interests, and how much emphasis we put on the happenings of the social elite.

Simple question here: How many OTHER people of the same age died in The United States that night?

The State Of New York?

The Island of Manhattan?

How many teenagers and young adults took their own lives this month alone? How many frustrated and alienated young artists or film lovers have died by their own hand?

Who knows?

The question that we need to ask is this: How many threads on IMDB are dedicated to THEM? Zero.

Heath Ledger was just another human being who was good at his job. He happened to be in film and made some really good films that people enjoyed. That's it, end of story.

Why, do we need to dwell on something as trivial is this? It's trivial when you stop and think about how many young kids die for no good reasons and nobody cares. And yes, the death of Heath Ledger is trivial in the grand schemes of things.

Because you might have enjoyed his films, you didn't know him. You might have related to his characters and identified with them, but he didn't know you. I guarantee everyone here that there's someone REAL in your life that deserves and desperately needs your attention, a kind smile and a helping hand. Don't dwell on this pap too long.

Send your well-wishes and prayers to his widow and child, and reconnect with the people who need you.

How can we turn this around for good?

There's been a lot of activity going on behind the scenes here on The Fedora Chronicles since I started this rant. I was unable to finish it because of the strong emotions was exploring and bringing back to the surface.

I also set this rant aside to deal with an issue that seemed unrelated at the time; how the words of people can effect others and can either break or lift their spirits. There's also the concept that elitism that exists in some of the portals in the Retroverse do more harm and no good when some feel left out and excluded in a class structure that's determined by favoritism and not merit.

It then occurred to me that this issue might be related for some kids who are trying to break through and feel that their contributions are welcome. When someone feels excluded and unwanted from their peers and people they look up to in a realm they feel emotionally involved with, they tend to do things with their powerful hurt feelings such as lashing out or doing harm to themselves.

Recently there was some harsh and cruel words directed towards me by someone who I defended many times on a different web site forum. When someone attacked this character, I was always the first to ask "what's his side of the story?" Often, I was the only person to do so.

I was the subject of harsh words from someone I stuck my neck out and defended. The work I do and my character was personally insulted, called out and then I wasn't able to defend my self or apologize after the thread locked. I'm not sure what hurt most, the fact that someone who I respect for his knowledge on a particular subject

I admit to some wrong-doing on my end, though - because that was out of a reaction to something I said about how we shouldn't reward a particular film-maker for using the likeness of a particular action heroes to help companies sell junk-food to young people.

While I should have apologized for HOW I said what I really meant, I should have also have made it clear that my concern for young people should go beyond just what they're putting into their stomachs. I should also be concerned about what they put into their minds.

How do we prevent the tragedies that occur when the frustrated and young talented people take their own lives? I don't know the answer because too often these folks that we care about are gone just before we realize they needed help and it's too late to do anything.

Twenty Years of Letting Go... April 22nd,

I set this rant aside for a while trying to come up with a conclusion that would be fitting this rant. Part of me thought that posting it like it was and allow the incompleteness be an expression of this issue, symbolic of lives cut short because of loneliness, depression, frustration and accidents that sometimes happen during misspent youth.

But I want to find an answer, I want to offer some advice or help to those who feel as if they have nobody to reach out to.

In a few short weeks, the graduating class of 1988 will be celebrating 20 years after graduation and will be having a reunion. I received an e-mail about this from one of my classmates, which surprised me because even after 20 years some of my exploits must still be remembered. Come on, how could anyone for get me, (even in a bad way?) The person who I knew as a girl and is now a woman must be very forgiving or very forgetful.

I don't know if I could go, though. To be honest, one of the people who I really want to see there can't be there, the impossibility of it weighs down this crisp spring-time evening as I try to conclude this piece and move on. I'm afraid of going because being afraid of being a downer. I'm afraid of asking the simple question I'm fearing.

I'm also preoccupied with myself and what I'm doing, but this time trying to find meaning in life as my youth concludes and I start to move into another chapter that begins at the age of 40. How can I help others? How can I do more for those on this site and the forum? Offer a hand and reach out to those who I don't know who need it with out making a spectacle at the same time. Maybe the greatest question that needs to be asked is not "why did this happen," but rather "who is in need and how can we help?" As the world continues to become crueler and bitterer then before, for me there has been some healing over the wound I thought could never heal.

I've learned to reach out and outgrow the need to put myself first all the time. Accepting others is the first step in allowing others to except you and excepting yourself. I've learned that life isn't about me, it's about those in it and how "Let Me Help" can mean more sometimes then "I Love You."

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In conclusion - let me ask: How can I help?

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