I remember hearing about Gavin’s death.
It had been years since I had shared a school classroom with him, or even the same neighbourhood. My mother came home from visiting an old friend in the north Dublin suburbs where we had used to live. She came into my bedroom, the knock on the door announcing her arrival and more. I knew from that soft rapping that there were gentle words to follow. She told me where she had been and why, then moved the conversation on towards the true topic.She had ran into a woman who was asking after me. Gavin’s mam, saying how she always remembered me as being the same age as her Gavin, and that we had been good friends. I didn’t disagree with her. My mam is a great talker but when the words are heavy with emotion they can sometimes stumble, so I felt it best not to interrupt. She looked at me with those eyes of hers, brimming with love and concern, and told me that Gavin had taken his own life.
The silence that followed was charged by her worry and fear, but I remember how the shock had struck me dumb. I knew that I needed to give some indication or acknowledgement. I knew that my Mother’s emotions would be in turmoil over concern for me and that the sooner I could emote and show her I was ok the better it would be for her. To my memory, I think I said something dumb like ‘wow, that's terrible.’ My mother sat on the edge of the bed, obviously looking for something more from me and it wasn't hard to figure out what that something was.
“It’s ok mam. I would never consider doing something like that.”
She told me that she was glad to hear that, loved me very much and that she was there for me if I needed to talk. I gave a nod of understanding and she left my to my room.
Gavin had been the handsome popular kid in class. The slim build, athletic good looking lad who got on with everyone and who always started school late each year because of family foreign holidays. I saw my first red banana, and tasted my first mango because he brought them back from his travels. Ireland in the 80’s wasn’t a very affluent country having been hit by a pretty serious recession. The income for the seven people in my family, two parents and five children, came from my fathers army pension, medical discharge benefits, and my mother’s shifts as an early morning cleaner in a bank and evenings packing shelves in a local store. We existed just above the poverty line by virtue of my dedicated and diligent parents. So of course Gavin’s life seemed so much better than mine back then. He was nineteen when he chose death by suicide. Nineteen. Barely even considered an adult in the eyes of the state. My parents had managed to move us from that rough neighbourhood when I was fourteen. I guess five years is a long time in any life, and would have accounted for almost a quarter of Gavin’s by the time he chose to end it.
It was a rough neighbourhood. I spent a lot of my early childhood years fighting off bullies and being beaten up for the efforts time and again. That’s what happens when you are the heavy kid with unruly hair and big glasses. When you’re the quiet kid who likes to read and doesn’t like sports. When you’re the kid who doesn’t like to fight and shows emotion when hurt. I learned not to show emotion. I taught myself to hold it all in so they wouldn’t get a rise out of me. They wouldn’t have any satisfactions from me showing how the pain that they caused hurt and upset me. It seemed that the only valid emotion was anger. That’s what earned a boy respect in the school yard. Losing control and lashing out in anger. Making sure that others knew to fear you. I would never let myself loose control. I learned to take the pain. I didn’t fear their anger. I feared my own anger. I couldn’t afford to let the emotion rule me so I suppressed it all.
I couldn’t help wonder if Gavin had been the same. Suppressing his emotions? Not letting people see that he was feeling, or what those feelings may have been doing to him. What might have his life been like if there was no stigma about males having emotion? About feeling sadness and expressing yourself in a way that would garner you support instead of ridicule? Why is it that society expects stern indomitable males who do not display any perceived weaknesses? Why is it that males are taught to belittle degrade and undermine each other at almost every turn? If it’s survival of the fittest, why is the perception of the ‘fittest’ male one who is devoid of the softer, gentler aspects of human nature? Why is the ‘fittest’ male one who aggressive, domineering, and competitive? Why do we insist on accepting these traits as some ‘superior male paradigm’ when they can cause so much harm, not just to other people, but to these males themselves? It’s no wonder that Ireland has a culture of alcohol abuse. It’s no surprise that so many young males choose death by suicide, or ‘road traffic collision’ when they are not given the emotional intelligence to process their feelings in a safely supported way.
I told my mam that I would never consider suicide, but I have. I have had dark times and tough times. Painful times and harmful times. I have raged in private and punched walls. I have scratched at my skin til it bled, just so I could feel the physical pain, because that I knew I could overcome by sheer force of will. I have thought of death by suicide, but knew I would never do it.
I can’t claim to have an answer for anyone. All I can do is tell you why it is this way for me. I acknowledge my ‘dark times’ but I have also had joyful times. Loving tender caring times. I have danced and sang. I have laughed and cried. I have been amazed by the beauty of a sunset. The crash of ocean waves. The soft stillness of a forest’s heart.
I have loved many people in my life, romantically, platonically or casually and though each of these brought some challenge, they also brought so many enriching experiences. I wouldn't be who I am if not for sharing my journey with others.
I have learned a lot about myself through pain, but have learned more through love and caring. I will always wonder about Gavin, Shane, Michael, and all of the others who I shared some of my first years with. Those who chose to end their stories rather that see them through. What if they had more love and acceptance? What if there was less breaking each other down and more building each other up? What if expressing emotion was not seen as ‘weakness’ and instead seen as the roots of true strength and fulfilment?
What would we be then?
We all have thoughts and perspectives and opinions. Its simply part of the human condition as a socialized species. So In the interest of insight, this is where I will share my perspective and opinions.