It was 5:15 in the morning on Saturday, June 13th. The phone rang. It’s never good when the phone rings at that time of the morning. Especially the home phone that no one ever calls. My heart jumped on the first ring, as my husband groggily reached over to his left to pick up the handset on the nightstand.
“Yes,” he said, when asked a question I couldn’t hear from the caller on the other end. Followed by a “What??” as he sat straight up in bed. My heart was now racing in full gear. My mom. My dad. His mom. His dad. The first four people I thought of when I saw his face turn white and his forehead bury in his palm.
He burst out of bed and went into his office.
“When did this happen?” he asked. (PAUSE) “Thursday night?!? But it’s Saturday morning.” (PAUSE) “How did you get my number?” (PAUSE) “He what?” (PAUSE) OH MY GOD.
“What, Teddy? What?!” I asked him as he brushed me away, concentrating on what the person on the other end of the phone was telling him.
He got out a pen and started to write down some information.
- Pep Boys.
- Late Thursday Evening/Friday Morning
- Left Note On Barrel
- Police Will Call
He wrote down a name and number, said goodbye, and hung up the phone. With tears in his eyes, he turned to me and said, “Kevin killed himself.” (Name changed to protect anonymity)
“Oh my God,” I said, as I started pounding my fists on the floor. “Why? Why” Why? WHY?!?”
Kevin was one of Teddy’s closest friends. He was the longtime assistant to a well-known musician who Teddy played with for years. Three days earlier, Teddy was at Kevin’s house, getting housesitting instructions as Kevin was about to leave for a month-long tour to Russia. This wasn’t unusual – whenever he left town, and Teddy wasn’t playing with this particular artist, Teddy would take care of the house, garbage, start the car, check on things – just overall keep an eye on things in Kevin’s absence. Kevin gave Teddy a box this time around, with individual Fed Ex envelopes in the box along with car keys, and two bags of garbage. Neither of us questioned it. Again, this particular scenario had taken place many times over the years, so no one suspected anything unusual.
Through tears, while on the floor in Teddy’s office, I glanced over at the box. I saw a name on the first envelope and immediately started thumbing through all of them. Everyone’s names were there: Eric, Kerry, Cali, Mary – the whole group was accounted for. There were two with our names on them. I grabbed both envelopes and tore them open. Inside were letters to each of us, a suicide note and instructions on what to do post death.
At the scene of the suicide – which was a dumpster area behind a Pep Boys down the street from his house – he had left two notes on two barrels giving Teddy’s name as the contact person once his body was found. It was the coroner who called that morning. He had been at the morgue for almost two days before anyone notified us of his death. We were the first to find out and were the ones responsible for calling his employer, friends and, ultimately, his mother.
His method of choice was lodging a shotgun under his chin, with a pillow to muffle the sound, blowing the entire front part of his head off, faceless, splattering the surrounding dumpster cage where he laid. Always fastidious in life, he brought a tarp along with him, lining the area to make it easier – no doubt – for the people to clean up after him. Always courteous.
The minutes and days and hours that followed were some of the toughest I’ve ever spent in my life. Going into his house for the first time, knowing that when he walked out the front door and down the street with a rifle in his hand, he knew he would never be back through that door again. I couldn’t go through the door.
We made the calls, we all questioned, “Why?” When the note spelled the reasons out clearly. It’s a very personal note, so I won’t repeat his words here, but what I will say is that – despite what some say about suicide being a “selfish” act – it’s far from it. It’s a final straw. The end of the line. The place where no hope meets opportunity and one finally gains enough courage – yes I said courage – to stop the demons who are constantly bickering in their head. Kevin was very clear in his notes. He knew that this is what he wanted to do for months. And he planned it for months. From wills to paying his final bills to filling and labeling boxes for people – he had crossed every T.
This wasn’t the first suicide I experienced up close and personal. I was also the first person in my family to find out about my cousin Billy’s death in college. We both attended the same school – he was 2 years my junior. My former roommate, Michele, lived in an apartment next door to his. One morning, Michele called me to tell me that there were a lot of police cars and ambulances at Billy’s apartment. And a car that looked like a hearse. I immediately called over to his apartment and his roommate picked up the phone.
“Where’s Billy?” I asked, a part of me already knowing that Billy wouldn’t be coming to the phone.
“He’s not here,” said his roommate.
“Mark, this is LIsa. Tell me what’s happening over there. Tell me now!”
“Billy’s dead. He’s gone.”
“He put a plastic bag over his head. We found him on the floor in his bedroom.”
As a 19-year-old, I was not fully capable of processing this information, let alone dealing with the responsibility of knowing it. This would mean that I would have to call my parents who, in turn, would have to call my aunt and uncle to tell them that their son was dead. I wasn’t thinking that the police would call them – I felt a responsibility to be the one to pass on the news. So I did.
And after a couple of days, once the shock wore off, the guilt set in. Billy had been coming over for the past week unannounced. Which was very unusual for him, and – as a girl just about to enter her senior year of college – would occasionally put a damper on my socializing plans. I never questioned his visits, I just thought that maybe he was bored. Little did I know that he was most likely reaching out to me and I was the one who was too selfish to hear it. He wasn’t the selfish one in this story.
It wasn’t until later in life – much later – when I matured, that I realized there was nothing I could have done to save Billy. As there was nothing I could do to save Kevin. As there was, most likely, nothing the family of Robin Williams could do to save him, either. Much like with addiction, people need to be willing to save themselves before anyone else can step in.
In the wake of the Robin Williams tragedy, let’s take a step back. Let’s not judge the man for his final actions. Instead, extend your heart to his soul in empathy knowing that he was beyond repair. If a man of his means, his intellect with his sense of humor couldn’t bear the burden of life anymore, you have to know that it was an all-encompassing hopelessness that we most likely will never understand.
Hug a friend today, listen to their words when they’re asking for an ear and tell them they’re loved.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams.
National Suicide Prevention number