I saw on the news this morning that Anthony Bourdain took his own life. After that, I read that someone named Kate Spade did the same thing. I never met Anthony or Kate, but I knew someone like them once.
We had a bench by our pond. A pine-log bench. It sat near the edge of the water. Daddy called it his Thinking Bench. This afternoon, after twenty-five years, I sat in that bench. I remember the day he built it—using only a sharp axe and cuss words.
It’s funny, how I can remember things like benches, but not what I had for supper last night.
Salmon, I had the salmon. No, it was chicken.
Anyway, weeds grew around his bench. He trimmed the grass using a jack knife sometimes. I don’t know why he did that. Cody, his Lab, would sit beside him when he used the bench.
One December morning, when the weather was unusually cold, I found him there. He’d been sitting all night. He wasn’t moving. Eyes open. There was a thin layer of frost on his back and shoulders. His red hair stiff from the cold.
Mama ran outside with a blanket. He didn’t want it.
“You coulda froze to death,” she said. “You need serious help, John.”
“Help doing what?” he’d say with vinegar in his voice.
Because Daddy didn’t trust shrinks. After all, who could trust a medical man who had baby soft hands and wore silk underpants? How could a man like that help a body?
Besides, nobody from my father’s world seemed to KNOW what professional help was, exactly. At least not back then. Fewer understood words like “depression.” Back then, those were just modern ideas invented by folks who ate snails at dinner parties and talked about things like cubism, yoga, and frozen yogurt.
Daddy was the kind who made log benches. The kind who liked to sit. The kind who didn’t need help.
Toward the end of his life, you could find him sitting in his workshop, shirtless. Lights off. No music. Staring. Or sitting on the hood of his truck, parked on fifty acres. Leaning against his windshield. Or sitting in the corner of the barn, on the floor, knees pulled to his chest. Eyes pink and wet.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?” I’d ask.
He’d wipe his face. “I don’t know, dammit.”
“Will he be okay?” I’d ask Mama.
“I don’t know,” she’d say, giving honest answers—she was through pretending at this point. “But your father needs help.”
The day of his funeral, people with forced grins lined up to shake my hand, saying things like, “Your daddy was sick, that’s all, just sick…”
I heard that a million and three times. So many times that it nearly offended me. These people hardly knew the man, but they were so sure of their words. And it offended me even more that they were right.
He was sick. He quit his life with his hunting rifle. Only someone sick could do that. Only someone sick could make the sorts of mistakes he made on purpose.
Anyway, I’m not sad—and I don’t mean to make you sad. In fact, I’m happy today. Happier than I’ve been in years.
Today, I just saw the place where his Thinking Bench still sits. It remains, after all these years. And it makes me happy.
You deserve to be happy, too. In fact, that’s why I’m writing this while only a few miles away from where he took himself out of this world. You deserve so much happiness it’s obscene. And I mean you.
So I don’t know whether you cry when nobody’s watching. I don’t know if you get so sad you can’t do anything but sit. Or if you have a young son who thinks your log benches are the best things since sliced tomatoes.
If you do, I want to tell you something: this world needs you. Your son needs you. Your daughter. Your friends. I need you. In fact, I’ve needed you all my life.
Don’t do it.