I know you usually write about good things, but I am pretty down and I don’t know what to do, I think about ending it all sometimes, but don’t know what to do about it. I have a wife and two young sons and dogs, and she [wife] really wants me to go to the doctor, but I hate doctors.
Please don’t get weird and preach at me, I get enough of that, I just don’t know what to do about this and had to tell somebody.
I am terrified of doctors, too. I hate waiting rooms, needles, elevator music, blood-pressure cuffs, outdated issues of “Better Homes and Gardens,” the smell of rubbing alcohol, and god-awful fluorescent lighting.
When I was a boy, I disliked our family dentist so much that I would fake terminal diseases just to avoid him. My dentist was an old man who looked like Harry Caray and his breath smelled like a reclaimed water facility.
He smoked Winstons while he worked, and listened to Glenn Miller cassette tapes. To this day, I can’t hear the Glenn Miller Orchestra without developing a nicotine buzz.
One day, the old doc looked into my mouth, he was humming along with “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” breathing smoke directly into my face, and he told me that he was going to install a permanent retainer on my bottom teeth.
I got so scared that I almost Chattanooga-Choo-Chooed in my shorts.
He glued a piece of wire to my teeth with an industrial adhesive often used on commercial runways. When I left his office, I felt like somebody had constructed a Steinway inside my mouth.
But the wire didn’t last. It came loose after only a month. When the wire dislodged, it left behind huge globs of hardened glue on the backside of my teeth.
Now, I should have told the doctor about this, but because I am deathly afraid of all medical personnel, I never told anyone.
So for thirty years I had chunks of military-grade cement on my teeth.
Last year, I finally visited a dentist. The doc looked at my mouth and almost fainted.
“Hey,” he said. “There’s glue on your teeth!”
“How long’s it been there?”
“I don’t know, eight, maybe nine presidential administrations.”
“Well, let’s get to work,” he said, firing up a gasoline-powered angle grinder. “Do you like Glenn Miller?”
The funny thing is, the reason I hate going to doctors is because my father hated doctors even worse than I do.
The first thing you ought to know about my father is that he suffered from mental illness, which is a word I don’t often use. That word sounds like a doctor-ish word. It has stereotypes associated with it.
Folks hear “mental illness” and immediately think of homeless men, or serial killers played by Anthony Perkins. And this is unfair.
These sorts of generalizations aren’t fair to people with loved ones suffering from mental illness, or to those who actually suffer.
So for the purpose of this column, I’m not going to use that word. I will refer to my father’s particular form of illness as “sadness.”
My father was afflicted by severe sadness. Sometimes, I would find him curled on the floor, crying for no apparent reason.
Sometimes, when you spoke to him, you weren’t sure if you were having a conversation with him, or the sadness. He would sit alone for an entire day, staring at nothing until he fell asleep.
Some kinds of sadness can be just as crippling as multiple sclerosis.
People tried to get my father help, but he ignored them. The idea of going to a shrink repulsed him. He was a man who wouldn’t even take aspirin.
He was a man who often told people, “I’d rather be dead than let a damn doctor look at my head.”
And one day, he got his wish.
Make no mistake, it was the sadness that killed him. All he did was pull the trigger.
And on one ordinary afternoon, he left this world, destroying my life, and lots of other lives, too. And it has taken a lifetime to rebuild what he tore down.
Suicide is not victimless. Suicide is one domino falling and knocking down miles of other dominoes that stand behind it.
My father didn’t think about that, I guess. Maybe his sadness became too dense. Maybe it had multiplied like cancer until he lost his grip.
Either way, in the end it was the sadness that won. And my father killed one of the prettiest things God ever made.
Friend, I am no advice giver. In fact, I have no idea what I’m talking about. I wouldn’t blame you for ignoring this crummy letter. After all, who am I to tell you anything? Nobody, that’s who. I’m just a guy with glue on his teeth.
But before I go, I’d like to leave you with words I wish I could have said to my father before all hell broke loose and we lost him:
Think of all the dominoes behind you.
Please, Daddy. Go to the doctor.