So, I had been away at college about two, maybe three hours. There was this girl in the room next door. I was trying on myself, inventing myself anew the same way I tried at the start of every new year. But she didn't know my backstory. So she asks about my parents. Or we start talking about her parents. I don't remember.
But the subject comes up and I announce that my father is dead. I tell her he committed suicide. Perhaps this is normal conversation for you in this time. It was not normal for her. It was not normal for me.
If I remember right, I had strep at the time, and felt terrible. If I remember right, I don't think I intended to shock.
I don't think I intended on that September day to be quite so memorable. I'm not sure why I said it so baldly, except in my family people did not Pass. They did not Pass Over. They did not Pass Away. Sometimes we Lost people. Especially if they were young. It was easy to Lose someone young. You could Lose them to a car accident. You could Lose them to Cancer. Rarely, they just died.
Perhaps its the unseemliness of Losing someone to Suicide that buried us in silence. After the service, in a beautiful whitewashed church where my grandparents both priested and were priested, we were bundled back into our lives. I received a handwritten note of condolence from a boy with beautiful manners. I got an A I didn't deserve for a test I didn't take over a book I didn't read.
No one asked, and I didn't tell them how I felt. No one told and I didn't ask how he died, other than by his own hand.
So in September two years later, 800 miles and a world away from home, I transgressed terribly in the blunt declamation: "My father is dead."
The girl on the porch still tells this story. We are both grandmothers.
So pardon me if the Internet Memes about Robin Williams death irritate me, the suicide hotline numbers and the Suicides are Cowards/No they're not back and forth. Forgive me if I feel more aggrieved than you or more entitled to mourn. I have no real words for how I feel about this Loss, my Loss, his loss, and any larger meaning it might have. The silence has eaten them out of me. I reject the tropes of the day...the Captain, my Captaining.
My father was an unmedicated Manic Depressive before joining the Lithium Chorus was an option. He was a poet, and a soldier and a scholar and a gentleman. He was a drunk, and a failure at marriage, who was asked to leave two jobs that I know of and never finished his dissertation. He had gout and shuffled when he walked, and he left two children behind from his first marriage and four from his second. He was charming and infuriating. I never got to know him as an adult, and can only piece him together from scraps, some of which live in a battered suitcase of his papers I can't even open without crying. I have been angry, and terrified, and felt abandoned, aggrieved, guilty and lonely in the wake of his Loss. Sometimes I have been a muddle of all these things at once, and sometimes empty, filled with a void where feelings should be.
I suppose I envy the online world its easy response, its assignment of meaning, its quick dispatch, the glib and facile words, rolling on my Facebook feed and scrolling off the bottom of the page.
They say Robin Williams died of hanging. My father used his belt, like his brother before him, to hang himself in the bathroom. Perhaps that's why no one told me until I asked my father's first daughter. They might have thought it ran in the family, or was catching.
"It makes me sad," I told my daughter.
"What?" she asked.
"Robin Williams died." I said.
"It makes me sad, too," she said.
Maybe that's enough, to hold off the silence, to register the loss, to share, to let go of a fragment of personal pain in a short communion over a man we did not know, but who gave us both a tiny piece of his incandescent joy. Perhaps it would have been easier a generation ago if I had not let the silence eat into me before letting it loose on the first day of college.
Perhaps you could all stop posting stupid stuff on my Facebook. Never mind. That's my past talking.