TW: Death by Suicide, Self harm, Drugs, Grief
In this piece “Black Goo in the Falling Man: A Reflection on Bereavement,” the author tries to make sense of the suicides of his friends who struggled with life and addictions.
Sometimes I wish I had become addicted to drugs in 2015. At least something substantial would have come out of it: either a solid explanation for all my rotten bullshit in the years to come – a justification for being a sedentary waste, messing up for no apparent reason or, if nothing else, then, death by overdose. I’ve been too painfully dumb in exercising any self-control. But this is only my fantastical thinking. I have always had a will too weak to do something risky. I could not even take to rolling a joint. Hypothetically, even if I did start (without concocting a reason to be annoyed by it like weed’s smell or whatever residue cocaine leaves in your nasal cavity) I would have been the antithesis of the cool Kurt Cobain. At least he wrote a few honest words, I would have only fooled people and myself. But maybe that would have been fine, because then people could have said “Ah, so he was hooked to drugs. That explains why he was such an awful person, that’s why he killed himself. That is what was off about him.”
On the surface, suicides make sense, even if they are under influence. What does not make sense is the people who died by suicide and the kind of lives they led. So, the post-mortem becomes an important tool for the living to connect the dots. People play detective and look for the singular reason for what happened. Like standard DILR questions in CAT, they ask, “Explain why you think so-and-so killed himself. Hint: he did such-and-such, and said so-and-so.” And yet, for all the people I’ve known who killed themselves, nobody really knows why they did something like that. I mean, sure, depression, disorder, the dance of life, but come on. I have spoken to a lot of people, and have, in my usual way, ranted and philosophised about what could drive a person to do something like that. But if I stay up after a certain hour at night, even I cannot tell.
I still struggle, even though every year since I turned 14, the deaths of my friends announced themselves to me. I am 25 now, and there has not been a single year where I was not told of someone I once knew who killed themselves.
When I was in the 8th grade, I had a really great time. I consider that year to be the best year of my life, until February, 2011. I never had friends like I did when I was in 8th grade. I never really felt as high as I did in 2010. Things were balanced. I was not too awful, and had not embarrassed myself much. I was doing good in studies too. I had friends from junior classes and senior classes as well. One senior was K. He used to cycle around 6 kms daily to school. Of course, in retrospect, we tend to aggrandise, and I am human too. But he was really cool. Whenever I spoke to him, he seemed cool. Above average at studies, good at cricket – my favourite kind of person. He could start and hold a conversation with almost everyone, even my asshole friends in class. In Bhopal, I would hear of several cool guys but they would all turn out to be pretentious disappointments whenever I confronted them in reality. But K, he was genuine. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I ever passed K in the school corridor without him waving at me or asking me about how awful my Sanskrit class had been. At one point, to initiate a conversation with a girl, I had started writing fiction. He got to know about this and teased me relentlessly, but I didn’t say anything in retort. I did not want to offend him, as it was all in good humour. I asked him about his half yearly exams, and he seemed disappointed with scoring a 56 on 60 (or something like that). I laughed, so did he.
Two days later, in February 2011, K plunged head-first into a well in Gopalganj. There was an article in the Dainik Bhaskar about it.
I did not know about his death until I reached school, when one of my friends asked me if I had heard about K. I had had limited interactions with him. Say, 9 or 10 times in 2 years. We were not close, but I considered him a good friend. I had never thought, until that point, that something like this could happen in real life. I had seen it in the movies, people dying or killing themselves. But that was the first time I experienced the harsh realities of life at such close quarters. I did not have the emotional maturity to react and process the news. It felt like a story, not real life. We were all silent and given a break for the day. When I went back home, a friend, Suman, asked why I had returned so early. I tried saying something but I think I just cried instead, and then went silent for a few hours. I don’t know what argument K must have played in his head before jumping.
A month or two later, my English teacher told us that K had written in his school diary “Sorry, mummy & papa, that I was such a fucking disappointment,” before emptying his pockets of the Rajshree Gutkha he used to chew on. He must have been 15. A 15 year old boy who decided he was a disappointment.
People try to explain things with logic, but there is this invisible weight that we carry, alone. Some decide that they are too spent to carry that load anymore.
I can say that they are not alone, but if they were not, they would not have paid such heed to their own mind. They probably thought of themselves as alone. Trauma is a word used too often and things used too often tend to lose their meaning, like love. What I’ve often heard about people taking control of how to end their lives is: “Such a selfish thing to do, they didn’t think about their parents.” Did they want to leave behind pain? Were they right about themselves? Nobody can make sense of the mess. Nobody will ever know what they decided their last thoughts to be.
When I returned from Bombay in 2018, I was so alone that I would have talked to a cow if it asked me about my day. But you are not supposed to show it. I had messed up but I pretended to be okay, trying to bounce back as soon as possible. I texted an older cousin, who I had not been in touch with for 4 years, to see if he was free to grab a meal with me. We went out for a tafri. A few days later, he introduced me to one of his friends, a really thin guy who had just cracked the IES. He was 23, a year older than me. So fucking great, I thought. Another talent. I have never been socially adept or articulate, and the insecurities stemming from one failure after another – academic, social, and career, among other things, had given me the inability to treat people as people. I could not bring myself to talk to him. But then this guy decided that it was not too good to stay quiet, so he started asking me questions. That’s my Achilles Heel: Don’t ask me questions and don’t listen to me talk, or I’ll start liking you as a person. I got dewy eyes from this over-achiever who had, in my judgement, accomplished a great feat at a young age, and wanted to talk to me, a loser with no friends. Above all, he was not a jerk about it. I decided I wanted to be friends with this guy and open up. But the last person I had opened up to had thought I was falling for her, and hence had ceased all contact with me. As I said, I was never socially articulate. So I decided I would first try to get my desperation in control and then make good friends with this awesome, cool man. Unfortunately, he left for his training soon, and I got busy swimming and writing a story about cows.
Less than a month later, my cousin told me that our friend, C, had hung himself from a fan in his dorm, for some reason. I pretended to be okay at the moment and was curious about what had happened and why – the bullshit questions.
My cousin told me that C had texted him on Thursday about feeling a certain way. They had talked for hours that night and my cousin checked up on him every day since. Even on the next Monday, the evening that C decided to end things. When my cousin went to help C’s parents with the body at the training academy, he told me that none of his colleagues had come to see them off.
I had not spoken to C about his childhood or his life enough to know much about him. Through the uncomfortable conversations I had about him later on, I got to know that we had lived similar childhoods: governmental quarters, working class family, importance of education – run of the mill. I had spent a lot of time in a governmental housing society in Sagar. My family had lived across Suman’s apartment, my friend at Sagar, for about 5 years, since I was kid. We had naturally become great friends. Unless they’re far too big, divides are not enough to stop friendships blooming between children. We would regularly exchange video game sets and movie CDs, and spend time at each other’s place. Over the years, as we started getting more and more invested into our own little worlds, we eventually drifted apart.
By the time I left Sagar at the age of 15, in 2012, Suman, who was in 12th grade then, had started smoking weed. I was going to join an IIT JEE coaching in Bhopal, and he was going for a Bachelor's in Arts at Symbiosis. Two months before I returned to Bhopal from Bombay in 2018, my mother called to tell me that Suman had killed himself.
In the evening, I called a childhood friend who had stayed behind in Sagar. She told me it was not surprising; Suman and his twin had become addicted over the years and were in deep trouble with some loan sharks. I kind of knew about the drugs, and it was not hard to see this coming. His twin posted a few nice things about him on facebook, just like C’s family had after his death.
In most of those posts, people seemed to be reading from a script. “You were so happy and cheerful. Never saw this coming. I couldn’t imagine this happening. What happened?” You could tell that they could not make sense of it though in private, they would make remarks like “what he did was selfish, and he did not care about his parents.”
Come on, everyone cares. Parents care. Friends care. Those people that left cared about their friends and parents too. I’m yet to find a single person who doesn’t want good for others around them. But maybe they could not find a way to themselves, and it was too tiring of an effort anymore. I cannot connect the Suman who killed himself to his 7th grade self, and I doubt if he had wanted to take the same decision then. People outrightly label the act “cowardly or stupid.” It was stupid to jump from the window of the World Trade Center on 9/11, but the falling man did it anyway. It was a decision between letting one thing kill him after robbing him of his dignity, or not giving it the satisfaction at all.
It cannot be cowardly either:these things take a toll. Something bad happens to someone in a moment, and they have to fight it every day to not feel like a loser. Done every day, over time, it becomes easy to lose sight of what is humanly possible in overpowering the worst of them. They try to fight against it. Something like a black goo takes hold in their head, only coming to the fore when you they are alone and their eyes are closed.
And it’s not friendly. If the enemy’s army invaded a capital, is there any hope for victory? I guess if they do not internalise the violence they feel, they start yelling at others. It it is a fight and it is too tiring of a fight to fight alone. Their pain must be unimaginable and so is the pain of people left behind. But honestly, does ending it make sense? I don’t know anymore.
Not that I was going to try, but at one point, suicide was my conversational answer to things. Pragmatically speaking, life is nothing but an involuntary labouring prison. Some might not like it, so it is only fair that they want an out. I have found myself failing at the game countless times. I thought I was beginning to get better at it, you know, like science. But sometimes I unknowingly fall back, and start losing again. Some days it is easy, most days it is not. So maybe I am not getting better at science and happiness.
However, happiness is like a tree. You plant the appropriate seed according to your soil and water it with discipline. The tree takes time to flourish. Then again, I have had innumerable privileges, enabling me to come up with such fluorescent metaphors on an issue so grim. I have had people with kind hearts who have listened to me with the most beautiful eyes wide open, some who talked to me about Batman for hours on end, some who asked me who my Robin was. That is all that mattered to me. It was never me who saved myself, it was other people who cared for me until I could find my way back to myself. When I tell them how much they mean to me, how much their presence in the absence of any hope means to me, some squirm, some run, and others compliment me on my spirit. But it is not me; it is them. It took one person in 2017, three in 2018, two in 2019, three in 2020, and my parents all my life to get my act back together – and that, when I have had the privilege of dropping out of two colleges, ruining my life and starting over from scratch.
I know that some people are not that lucky. They either forget that there are people who care for them, or they are simply alone. So, they leave, and the detectives make this out to be a stereotypical pattern- “Something happened, something bad - lost their way - drugs - end.” Maybe this makes it easy to make sense of things in the post-mortem.
They know their problems will not go away if they get addicted to cocaine. In fact, they will will only worsen. But the addictions help them to not think about right or wrong anymore, because thinking doesn’t even matter, it holds no power. It’s easier to just give in to the black goo. That ways they don’t have to reverse the damage that they think they have caused. The hurt and the ruin that they think they have caused stays.
Does that make sense?
Abhimanyu is a reluctant Math and Computer Science graduate from Bhopal who likes to read and write.