As the weather turns a bit dark and brooding, I have a tendency to let my thoughts turn inward, a habit my daughter warns me time and time again just leads me to the wide and misfortunate paths of melancholy, and, like most fathers, I rarely heed her warnings.
I'm not sure why it happens. I suppose the weather reminds me a bit of home, as the cloudy skies are pretty common in South Carolina, where it seems like it rained as often as it didn't when I was a child. I remember plenty of Saturday afternoons spent in the garage — mostly in my father's workshop, building whatever contraption came to mind — staring out at the puddles and streams running along the dirt roads near our country home, just waiting for the sun to come back out.
As my thoughts turn inward, it's tough to ward off some of the more traumatic events of the past year. Probably the most pressing was the loss of my longtime roommate, Dave Murphy, who passed away in my hometown of Sumter, S.C., at the age of 47 in May.
Dave — or “Crazy Dave,” as most of us knew him over the years — was a special guy. He spoke his mind in a way that, in all honesty, scared the living mess out of most people. That filter located directly between the brain and the mouth that stops us sometimes and whispers in our ear, “Hey, dummy, you better not say that,” simply didn't exist for Dave.
Come to think of it, that same filter really didn't exist for most of us in out tight-knit, little group. Hey, when you really think about it, who needs it anyway, right?
Dave was my roommate for a few years, and, needless to say, all of those times weren't roses. I got yelled at when a friend of a friend, I believe his name was O'Shea — yeah, you buddy, you're getting called out nearly 20 years later — spit his chewing tobacco in the bath tub ... and then there's the famous New Years Eve debacle where we all found out too much sugar and alcohol in my blood stream equals a visit from the Sumter Police Department's finest.
However, there were times when Dave was the only thing that held me together. When I was living more than 1,000 miles from my family on a holiday, I can remember him ditching his own family to just hang out with me and our friends. Dave was, without a doubt, a guy you could count on in a pinch. No matter how messed up the situation was, you knew he would be there for you.
Unfortunately, time marches on. I left South Carolina and came to Big Spring to be closer to my parents, leaving Dave and the rest of my friends — they were more like family than my actual family, outside of my parents, sister and daughter have ever been — behind.
I lost touch with Dave, although I did get to see him for a few minutes when I took my daughter to Sumter a few years ago to see where I grew up. Hayley met him, just for a minute. I suppose I always thought there was time. Unfortunately, life is filled with details we're simply unaware of.
The story, as I've been informed, is fairly straight forward. At some point in the past couple of years, Dave began experiencing migraine headaches, the debilitating kind that make you just want to curl up in a ball and dismiss the world until it's gone. The doctors looked and looked, but, as they often do, they couldn't find the source of the problem, so they were left to try to simply treat the symptoms.
Many of my friends blame the combination of drugs — oxycodone and Lunesta — which, after countless hours of research on my part, have been known to cause suicidal thoughts and actions on the parts of patients. I'd like to blame the drugs, as well. I'd like to blame the doctors, too. I'd like to point to their incompetency, their inability to figure out what was wrong with Dave, who was living each and every day — every minute — in excruciating pain.
I want to, but I can't.
Dave faced his pain and made a decision, a decision that would break the hearts of his friends and leave many of us with more questions than answers for many, many years to come. He decided to take his own life.
Each of us ask ourselves the obvious questions. Should we have seen it coming? Even if we had, is there anything we could have done to stop it?
For more, the questions seem a bit darker. I left my friend — most of my friends, for that matter — behind to try to make a better life. If I had stayed, what would have been different? Would I have caught the warning signs? Could I have done anything to stop my friend's death?
It's these questions that sit quietly in the back of my mind, much like passengers sitting in the back of a bus, just waiting for those quiet moments when they know the driver is looking in the rearview mirror so they can wave, a quick reminder, nothing more, nothing less.
Most of us have gone our separate ways over the years, and everyone is doing the best they can to deal with Dave's death. Each of us tries to honor his memory by concentrating on the good times, like the time we all piled in Dave's Cavalier and drove all the way to Georgia to buy a lottery ticket because someone had a silly dream.
However, it's hard not to let the reality of what has happened not creep into the picture. It's hard not to let that shadow fall over our faces, over our eyes and blind us from the good times and the beauty we are left with.
Regardless of what your religious views are — especially regarding suicide, so you can keep those little tidbits to yourself — I suppose it all comes down to just one, simple matter of fact.
I miss my friend.
Note: I generally don't add notes to my columns ... I figure if it needs to be said in the column, then it should be said in the column. However, there was one thing I did want to add to this particular column, but I didn't feel like it had a place above.
If you or someone you love — or even care about, for that matter — is having thoughts of suicide, do not hesitate to seek help. That may mean encouraging them to get help, and it may mean you going out and getting help for them, possibly against their own wishes. Either way, the only wrong thing you can do in this situation is to sit on your hands and do nothing. As someone who has faced the aftermath of a suicide attempt — both successful and otherwise — it is not something you want on your conscience.
It's always better to err on the side of safety, so don't be afraid to ask the people in your life how they are doing. Their answers will most often be exactly what you expect. However, just once in a blue moon, you may have the chance to lend a hand to someone who really needs one.
Contact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org