A dark shroud of miserableness | AspenTimes.com

A dark shroud of miserableness

Tony Vagneur

After reading a column about the happenings at Owl Farm in Woody Creek, and in the way that weird thoughts happen, I was struck by how intrigued my deceased parents would be at seeing the name “Woody Creek” mentioned in the national media. Years ago, while living out there, my dad ran an ad in the Wall Street Journal for some forgotten reason, and the editors suggested he use the phrase “close to Denver” to describe our address because they didn’t think readers would have any idea where Aspen was, let alone Woody Creek.The hard part for me, I suppose, is seeing the conjunction of two intertwining things, an event and a location, in print almost incessantly: suicide and Woody Creek. It brings the pain up from a place too deep to stop the flow and then the familiarity of it all rolls around and around in my psyche.I suspect that those who had never heard of Thompson will read almost as much about his death as those who either knew or had heard of him, or maybe had read a book or two he’d penned. The draw is, I think, the enigma attached to the taking of one’s own life.When I was 9, a great-uncle of mine killed himself with a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun, a gun that sits in my closet today. When I was about 10, I’d position that gun as I thought it must be angled to accomplish a thing so scary, and discovered there is more than one way to carry out such an act. My great-uncle’s wife had died a year or so earlier, about the time he’d sold his ranch up on McClain Flats, and it all kind of made sense that he’d do such a thing. Us kids milled around his house while our dads (and granddads) cataloged the furnishings and divvied up the possessions. After that, we thought we knew about suicide and put it off as something strange to think about later in life when we weren’t so busy.It’s one thing for a distant great-uncle to do himself in, but when the deed gets a little closer to home, it is a life-changing event for those who remain. I will never forget the ashen look on my uncle Victor’s face when, years later, he came quietly, almost shyly, to my house to deliver a gut-wrenching blow, the effects of which can never be entirely dispelled. Perhaps to most people, the depression that can precede suicide is an unknown. For many of the others, there is a darkness lurking about, sometimes in plain sight, most of the time locked away, but never completely barred from our minds. Most days, the dark waters swirl, luxuriantly, under our mind’s eye, and reflect warm sunshine back at us. We don’t fear such darkness, even though we know it. But sometimes, at some point or another in our lives, the black void can swirl up uncharacteristically, as though waking us from sleep, intruding into our consciousness and bathing our minds in its blackness. If we’re fortunate, we beat the beast back. A chance remark, the certain flash in someone’s eye, lays open a soul for an instant and you tell them that you fly the same valleys or dance in the same forests and they know of what you speak. A bond, whose strength ebbs and flows with the intensity of the darkness, is formed on some unconscious level that, characteristically, only death can break. To these people, and as foreign and incredulous as it may seem to those who don’t tinker with the idea, suicide is one of life’s options. It may be the ultimate issue of control, a choice allowing people on the downside edge to believe they can regain control of a life that appears to have lost its compass. But we can’t really know. As my uncle sat, uncomfortably, on a narrow bench in the house and related how my brother had taken his own life, my heart pounded in a throat parched with dread and the tears stopped just behind my eyes as a dark shroud of miserableness ensconced my being. This column is dedicated to my brother, Steve, who died in February 1977. Send mail to ajv@sopris.net


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