The truth is that I can remember almost the exact moment when I finally gave up the sadness that had consumed my life. It would be hard to say that I was “suicidal”, but more accurate to say that I thought about suicide all the time. Every single day. I am pretty sure that any true human that had gone through what I had gone through, who had committed my offenses, would naturally feel the same way. Had I not had the support of so many good, loving, and forgiving people I am absolutely certain that I would not have survived this. I woke up every day wishing that I hadn’t, wishing that death would consume me in my sleep one night, wishing to be freed. I remember weeping to a friend just in utter despair, “I cannot be this person. There is not enough of me. I just don’t think I can be this person,” tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the terrible loss. Six people were no longer alive and I could try as hard as I might, but in the end it would still always be my fault. How could I wake up to this every day? For the rest of my life? And this was like a mantra to me, a wheel in my mind that kept turning incessantly.
Somehow or another I did keep waking up. Books became my Refuge, well, books, and writing. I did both of those things, wrote and read like a man on fire. I don’t know what I was trying to get out of them. The books gave me a place to go, hours and hours of lying on a hard prison bunk just devouring entire novels. I read everything.
I think the writing was a different thing. I was trying to make sense out of things. Writing gave me a place where no matter what happened in prison I could be safe. Cut me and I will write about it. Be cruel and I will write more. Rape me, stab me, beat me…I will write it down.
The rest of my life outside of those two things though were just an inescapable sadness. I would walk the prison hallways with a book in my hand, no reason to look up. There’s nothing in prison to look up for, the only thing to run into are walls.
The mail stopped coming after about a year. That was a lonely time. I wasn’t dead. Worse. I was forgotten. Based on a friend’s recommendation I started sending off for junk-mail from magazines. Travel catalogs mostly. That way I could hear my name called out during mail call, and I could lie on my bunk, smoke cigarettes and peruse the pictures of places that existed out there…somewhere…somewhere that forest, that ocean, that castle, was real. And I felt hope in their beauty. I would pace my cell endlessly and think of the crashing of waves still going on…somewhere.
I cried so much and for so long that my eyes hurt. My eyes always seemed to hurt from crying.
One day though it just stopped. I had this beautiful realization that my sorrow was self-consuming. It was something that I had indulged in long enough and it was time to stop.
It really did seem that easy, like I had just had enough. And just like that I stopped. Not altogether, but for the most part it went away. I realized that somehow I had made this accident, this tragedy, all about me, and in doing so I was dishonoring the lives, the loves, that had been lost. I reasoned that I did not have much to offer back for the hurt that was caused. I could stay sober. That was one vow I could keep, but more importantly, I could be happy. I WOULD be happy! I owed this much. Had the accident happened in a different way and my life had been the one that was lost this is what I would want for the person who was responsible. I would want them to live their life in a way that was authentic and engaged, to revel in its beauty.
I would want them to SHINE!
And shine on I do! My life is magic.
It has to be nothing less than magic, a glimmering gem on an ocean of stars.
It can’t be anything less because at the end of the day THAT’S what I owe. That is my greatest amend, to live my life in a beautiful blaze of Star Shine!
Tonight at the end of my day I’ll do the most menial task. I’ll drag the trashcans down to the end of the driveway, and when I do, as I often do, I’ll look up at the night sky, which was something that had been lost to me during my incarceration, and I’ll listen to the wind blowing across the surrounding fields. I’ll take a giant breath of the cleanest air and I will whisper a quiet thank-you.
I’m sorry for what happened. I will always think that this, my sobriety, my splendid, exquisite life has cost too much. I can never be worthy enough. But I can be grateful, eternally grateful.
I am sorry.
- Robert Veeder