Getting Happy... when you wish you were dead

Day 71 – Sunday, 20 Jan

Dan and Karen Peterson were volunteers at one of the PADS locations. I didn't know it when we first started talking, but their son had committed suicide. So they had a particular interest on my view of things, and what I was doing with the book.

They must have liked what I was saying well enough because I was invited to attend the memorial for their son – Gary Stump. It felt strange to be in so much pain myself, and still be giving solace to people who are essentially strangers.

I had a lot of conversations with PADS volunteers about suicide. I remember one conversation in particular where a male volunteer told me he didn't understand how people could think about suicide.

"If I were getting that kind of discouragement and abuse, I would have just gone somewhere else."

"Right. So at seven, eight, nine years of age, where do you go? How do you even get past believing your parents, the people filling your head with this stuff your whole life, are right? How do you tell a child to walk away from his parents? And where is he supposed to go, anyway?"

I also told him about asking to go live with Aunt Geri.

The summer after I had called home to share my success with Mom, I didn't get shipped off to Aunt Bessie's or the Sager's. My parents started sending me to live Grandma Charters for half the summer, and Aunt Geri the other half. It was during the second summer at Aunt Geri's, when I was eight, that I asked to live with her.

"Aunt Geri, can I come live with you?"

"Why would you want that, Conrad?" Aunt Geri always used people's names. She didn't use honey, dear or other pet names for people. She paid attention to people, and used their names.

"I like it here. And besides, Mom and Dad don't want me around, so they won't care if I'm gone."

Little did I know that this was not quite true.

"You'll have to ask your mother. If she says yes, then it's okay with me."

Grandma lived about two hours away from us, and Aunt Geri was almost six hours away. Mom would drive me to Grandma's then Aunt Geri would pick me up from Grandma's. Mom came out to Aunt Geri's at the end of the summer to bring me home for school. I always thought I was a bit strange for not having developed the same childhood friendships that other people have, but I guess it's kind of hard when you're away so much.

You might be surprised at how blunt a child can be. Then again, kids do say the darndest things. Oddly, in addition to making me a practiced liar, living with parents who casually bent the truth also gave me a lack of consideration for how other people felt. When my mother arrived at the end of the summer, I was a little afraid to ask but I eventually approached the subject directly.

"Aunt Geri, did you ask her?"

"Did I ask her what?" We were in the kitchen, and my mother was in the dining room. She was easily visible through the door, but far enough away to not hear a quiet conversation.

"Did you ask Mom if I can come live with you?"

"No. it's not for me to ask."

I just looked at her, and silently wished for a different answer.

"Conrad, if you want to live here, you have to ask your mother. I'm happy to have you live here, and I'll talk to her after you ask, but it's up to you to go ask her first."

Aunt Geri and Grandma Charters were both no-nonsense people who spoke directly. They also had a lot of love and patience to share. There were lots of occasions when both of them had hard words for me, but there wasn't a single time when I didn't feel loved by them.

I worked up the courage to ask my mother about living at Aunt Geri's.

"Mom, can I come live with Aunt Geri?"

"Why would you want to do that?"

"Well, she doesn't have any kids, and I like being here, so that's good. And besides, you and Dad obviously don't want me around, and Aunt Geri says she'd be happy to have me live here."

In the end, the answer was no. The reason given was that Uncle Harold (Aunt Geri's husband) said no. What no one ever knew was that I had asked Uncle Harold first. He had said yes, but that it was really up to Aunt Geri.

The PADS volunteer didn't have any more answers after I finished the story. He still didn't understand how anyone could think about suicide, and that's a good thing. If every person felt the same way, it would mean that no one would ever think about suicide.

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