This is a little late, but: I wanted to write something about Mark, and about Mark’s illness, which is also my illness.
When my ex-brother-in-law Mark Patterson climbed into the tub of the filthy apartment in which he lived alone and shot himself in the head, he’d made preparations. He clearly knew that the Social Security payouts to his children upon his death, and the benefits he’d earned working for the City (also my employer), would be substantial. They would arrive on time, they would be a dependable source of income for the family he’d had, but had let go; they’d be better than he’d been for them. He even shot himself in such manner as to leave no mess.
I am beyond positive that he thought this way. I am this positive because there are but a handful of people in my life I’ve understood as well as I understood Mark.
Mark suffered from a bone-deep depression. (He might also, in an earlier era, have been found to exist somewhere along the Autism spectrum.) Mark’s agile, penetrating intellect was always in shadow, the weight of darkness counterbalancing, then defeating, the good and light. Mark had a hard time believing in himself. Mark had a hard time believing that he was worth the effort. Mark had a hard time understanding that he had people that loved him, indeed, Mark had come, I’m sure, to a point at the end where he knew–not felt, but knew–that he was truly, finally alone.
Mark was not truly alone. Mark had a family. Mark never made friends easily but he had those as well. Mark had three beautiful children. Mark had a wife that was willing to work through the darkness.
Mark’s illness led him to make choices that undermined it. When he surprised me in a Denver bar by introducing me to the woman with whom he’d been cheating on my sister–and was in turn shocked by my virulent reaction–I’m not sure if he knew that what he was doing could empty his vessel. I’m not sure if Mark ever knew what he had. I’m not sure that he ever expected anyone to hurt the way we did, react the way we did. I think his inability to understand our pain was rooted, at least partly, in his inability to understand why anyone cared.
We’d lived with each other, long ago. When my mom kicked me out of the house I moved to San Francisco to stay with my sister Marcy and him. Mark was only five years older than me. We were peers. We liked the same comics, music. We were both punk rock kids with issues we’d never fully apprehended, and while I wasn’t possessed of his intellect–or hampered by his inability to pass as normal in polite society–we became fast friends nearly immediately.
Back then, Mark didn’t know how to be a person. He could take in and synthesize difficult material–philosophy, religion, technology–so quickly you’d think he didn’t have a brain, but a chip; he had to be reminded to eat. He’d sit in front of his computer for hours slowly devouring a pack of cold hot dogs. He worked at a call center, a job he could kept because there was enough downtime to allow him to read. My sister undertook the patient work of helping him become an adult, and through their years together–first in San Francisco, later in Bloomington and Chicago, and then finally in Denver–he became a man, a father. He seemed to understand his own strengths, at last, and welcomed, again at last, the tests the world gave him.
But I don’t suppose that he ever did. You may lose sight of Black Shuck but he never loses sight of you.
My own depression is a family legacy. My dad had it, and while I won’t speak for my siblings, I know they understand it too well. It is manifest in me in a poison inner whisper that, no matter what, it’s not going to work, it’s not going to get better, it isn’t good enough. That I’m not good enough. Not worth it, not for anyone else, and certainly not for myself. Things will be going well, you’ll be atop your cloud, but the party’s going to end some time. It always does. When it does, it will be you, just you, all alone but for Black Shuck.
I’m married to a woman I love more than anything. I have a family that means the world to me. I have good friends, longtime friends, friends I hope to have forever. But my whole life there has always been a part of me that is alone, a tiny me in a dark room with a blackened mirror. The most important work I do every day is fighting to stay out of that room.
Mark fought, too. I know he did. Even knowing how it ended, I know he did. He never would have gotten as far as he had otherwise. But when it started to fray, man, the whole fucking thing came undone.
I had not spoken to Mark since 2012, when the cops came and got him out of the basement room he’d barricaded himself in, armed to the teeth and threatening suicide. I’d learn about his general state from my sister, and the stories of his increasing inability–the divorce, the jobs he’d lose, checking himself into mental health facilities for weeks and months at a time–would just piss me off, because I felt like he was being a goddamn baby, not taking care of his responsibilities, not fucking pulling his pants up and providing for his children and doing the hard work of making a life out of the path he’d chosen. That’s how my dad dealt with his depression, he beat it into submission, or seemed to. It’s what I try to do with mine, because, well, I don’t know another way. I was furious at Mark because he couldn’t do it.
When my sister Carrie and her husband cleaned out Mark’s apartment they’d discovered, amidst the mouse droppings and empty shell casings, that the lights had all burned out. My little niece had told Carrie before. It was always so dark, she’d said, and in a family that loves metaphor and relies upon it perhaps too much in our understanding of the world, we hadn’t really known that she meant exactly that: Mark was literally living in darkness.
There were boxes of bulbs lying unopened within arms’ reach. I know he fought. But I also know that you don’t always win.