Monday, November 29, 2010

Memoir bigamy

I am married to two men. One is alive...

...and one is dead.

I married Dave three years after my first husband Ron’s death. He was pretty brave to do so. At the time I met him, a cursory look at my relationship qualifications might have gone something like this: “Over the course of 15 years she drove her husband to drink, and then when she told him she planned to leave him, he killed himself. Bonus: two disillusioned sons entering adolescence.”

That’s not an ad most men would answer.

But Dave's a special kind of guy. Early on, he told me: “I know Ron’s suicide is something you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.” Considering that’s the exact same term Dave expects to spend with me, I guess he knew what he was signing up for.

Or did he?

It’s no secret: lately I’ve been spending a lot more time with my first husband than I had ever planned to. The memoir requires that I remember what I loved about Ron, and why I wanted to start a family with him. I’m re-immersing myself in some of the most precious times of my life, none of which included Dave.

On any given morning I might have spent hours writing a scene about my life with Ron on the farm, hearing the horses whinny, smelling the manure—only to hear Dave call up to tell me it's an hour past lunch time, do I want soup? Sometimes I fall asleep beside Dave but spend the night with Ron, who visits me in dreams that I share with Dave when I wake up.

A friend of mine, in a comment after a recent post, described my memoir writing as "periodically pulling back the curtain" to share my reflections. I thought that was beautifully put. At times, though, the curtain between my two worlds is as thin as gauze, and the suddenness of such time travel can be discombobulating.

I asked Dave if the time I spend with Ron bothers him. He said that he knows I still have questions, so does he, and he encourages me to keep searching. Dave does love a good mystery. But he also admitted: “I have been jealous a few times. Especially about the dreams. I guess I wish you might dream about me every once in awhile.”

First let me just say how cute I thought that was.

But when he said that, it made me think: I believe Dave is in my life because I did dream of him. Despite all I went through with Ron, the loss of that relationship left me with a vision of marriage that I still hoped to bring into my life. And when Dave arrived, it didn’t take long for me to recognize him.

Truth is, I don’t need to dream about Dave. For the past ten years he has been my rock-solid reality. And when I need to talk with him about something, he’s always there, ready to listen and share his own feelings.

Beyond the first few years of our relationship, I’m not so sure Ron ever listened to me, although he liked to hear me talk. And he rarely shared his feelings with me.

And so, thirteen years beyond his death, I continue to chase him.

Was I even “free” to marry Dave? There are those who think not—including myself. More about that in my next post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The List, reframed

On the 10th anniversary of his suicide I found a list Ron wrote before he died. He had tucked it inside one of my journals. For three years since I've held the mystery of that list in my consciousness. He wrote:
1. Withdraw from family life.
2. Don’t pull my own weight with Kathy and kids.
3. Ran up large CC bills, didn’t share with her.
4. Didn’t communicate with her. Didn’t listen to her, she has been worried and concerned for years.
5. Do fun things not just work.
6. Alcohol—When at home have 2–5 drinks in evening. Don’t seem to drink when not home.
Why did it take me ten years to find this list? Because I have never been the type of person who reads her own journal pages.

Now, while writing my memoir, I must. I read not only to steep myself in the facts of my life at an earlier time, but to fully appreciate the ways my journal pages functioned in my life. Now I can see:
  • the way I partnered with these pages as Ron slowly withdrew from our lives.
  • the way I steeled myself to take on his duties as well as mine in all aspects of our farm and family life.
  • the way I’d work through my fears about our financial jeopardy as the clues slowly emerged.
  • the way I'd air my feelings because for years the pages were the only place I would be heard.
  • the way I’d fantasize about travel or doing something fun outside the demanding routine of our everyday lives.
  • the way my fears about Ron’s decline slowly added up to a conscious concern about alcoholism.

Hmm. Look at those two lists. Remarkably similar, aren’t they.

It occurs to me now that just three weeks before the suicide, when I returned from a weekend away, Ron admitted to having read all my journals. This shocked me. Not because I feared his awareness of their content; I'd been trying to share these thoughts and feelings with him for years. No, it shocked me because in our fifteen years together I only remember him reading one slim volume, while on vacation in North Carolina—Master Electrician—and my journaling at the time had spilled into more than a dozen spiral-bound notebooks.

Unfortunately, his newfound curiosity about me arrived too late.

I remember asking him what he found in those notebooks. He answered: “Hope.”

You may recall from my last post that ten years later, I too found hope in reading Ron’s list, for in awareness lies the seeds of wisdom. I thought the list was a gift from Ron showing that he was aware of the problems in our marriage. Tucked as it was inside the pocket of one of my personal journals, that list felt like an apology. That he wrote it at all made it seem like an action plan.

I'm sharing this story here because it reveals so much about memoir writing. The digging for clues. The surprises.

And the huge potential for erroneous conclusions based on point of view.

My recent re-examination of the facts leads me to a new conclusion, one you may already have come to: Ron wasn't devising an apology he hoped might reach me across time any more than he was he drafting an action plan. He was taking notes. He cribbed that list from my journal entries. Parroting, not understanding.

And within this new awareness lies an important clue as to why I have thrived in a way Ron could not.

It is my nature, not his, to analyze until I identify problems. It is my nature, not his, to seek answers. It is I, not Ron, who believes that the seeds of wisdom take root in awareness. I misunderstood that list for so many years because it is my nature to not only look for gifts from the universe, but to expect them.

I see myself as a small character in a grand, epic story, yet I don’t use that as an excuse to accept my insignificance; on the contrary, I see this as an opportunity to create a ripple effect. I have embraced the opportunity to co-author, with the help of God, the development of my own character.

I am a believer.

I think Ron was, too, but in a much different way, and it was the source of his undoing.

I fear his belief system was so small that when he began to sink it couldn’t possibly continue to hold him up. The commandments he internalized could not save his soul. Written on a yellow slip of paper, they were gleaned from a much more personal bible, and they fed perfectly into the cycle of self-condemnation caused by his alcoholic depression.

By the time his life imploded I fear Ron only believed in one thing.


Heaven help his tortured soul.

[Later that day, after writing this post, I heard a nun say on Oprah, "If we don't believe in anything larger than ourselves, we'll never do anything larger than ourselves." Coincidence?]

Monday, November 22, 2010

The List

October 20, 2007: The 10th anniversary of Ron’s suicide, and because the boys are both off to college, the first anniversary I won’t see either of them. Yet the date seems significant, so I decide to drive up to the cemetery and spend some time alone with Ron.

I take my folding chair from the car, the one I’ve taken to countless soccer games over the years. I'm more thankful than ever to be setting it up, once again, on the sidelines. I try to remember if I bought this chair before or after his death. This is how I divide the timeline of my life now—before, and after—but the division is getting as frayed as the edges of this chair.

I sit down and flip through my 1997 journal, the one I was writing in at the time of his death. I am finally considering writing a memoir, but first I want to steep myself in the details of my life at the time. Some entries make me laugh, some bring instant tears.

I pull out papers stuck into the notebook’s front pocket and leaf through them. Among them are copies of letters the boys wrote to Ron. Tears again, they are so touching—I decide to ask them if I could use them in the memoir. We’d read the originals aloud nine years ago, and burned them right here on his grave.

I find a few printouts: an e-mail I’d sent to my friend Ellen on Valentine’s Day—the date stamp says it was eight months before Ron’s death—in which I admitted the sad truth that I could no longer connect to any romantic feelings for my husband. A “Virtual Flower Bouquet” Ellen sent to cheer me, just five days before Ron’s suicide, that says, “Don’t ever doubt that it’s right to believe in love, in yourself, and in the possibilities.” Another e-mail from Ellen written five days after his suicide, that begins, “I’m sitting here trying to imagine how it will feel for you—returning to your office, where although everything remains the same, somehow everything will undoubtedly feel different."

Everything gains new meaning through the lens of hindsight.

Then I find something that proves that even from beyond the grave Ron has the power to shock me: tucked into that same pocket, among the other papers, is a list. I haven’t seen that handwriting for ten years but I immediately know it to be Ron’s. Not the quick scrawl I’d find on a note left on the counter—“Animals all fed,” I’d eventually decipher—but the quirky mix of cursive and printing he’d use when attempting legibility.

I do not recognize this list. I don’t know how it ended up in my journal. But it feels like a gift.

It reads:
1. Withdraw from family life.
2. Don’t pull my own weight with Kathy and kids.
3. Ran up large CC bills, didn’t share with her.
4. Didn’t communicate with her. Didn’t listen to her, she has been worried and concerned for years.
5. Do fun things not just work.
6. Alcohol—When at home have 2–5 drinks in evening. Don’t seem to drink when not home.
By the end of his life I did not believe Ron self-aware enough to make this kind of list. Yet of one thing I was sure: the last person to touch this piece of paper had been my husband. And as I sit here at his grave I feel he is reaching out to me across the years to tell me he was more aware than I thought.

The list leaves me madly resorting facts and suppositions. Had I found this list before his death I would have seen in it a glimmer of hope: If you can identify problems, you can search for solutions.

I guess this isn’t true of everyone.

More about this mysterious list in my next post.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Boys, Harry Potter & Me

In honor of tomorrow's release of the film that represents the first half of the last book in the Harry Potter series, I thought I'd post this essay, formerly online at Central PA Magazine. It marked the first time I'd written publicly about Ron's suicide. My sister Nancy read it and said, "That sounds like the beginning of a memoir." Thanks, Nance.

It was the summer of 1998, and we'd heard the buzz: Harry Potter was coming. It had been only months since my first husband's suicide, and my boys and I were slogging our way through grief work so thick it choked our vision of the future. Looking out across the next ten years overwhelmed me: Jackson was 10, Marty only 8. But pick up Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone and read it to them? That was something I could do.

In a house now much emptier, reading aloud provided an excuse to sit with my sons pressed against me, one on each side, for the hours it would take to work our way through the book. As a bonus, we'd immerse ourselves in a world of witches and wizards whose conflicts were so different than ours.

We soon found out, of course, that they weren't. After Harry discovers that his awkward differences were really the source of an unrealized power, he studies wizardry so he might vanquish the evil that caused the early loss of his parents. The boys and I desperately needed to know that, with the help of his friends, Harry could overcome this loss and triumph in the end.

With one son looking at the book over each of my elbows—and then eventually, each of my shoulders—my boys grew up alongside Harry and his friends, whose Hogwarts hijinks provided a timeline for our own memories. In the beginning, my mind absorbed by weightier concerns, we strained to finish one chapter at a sitting. By book three, the more intricately plotted Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we could no longer limit ourselves to our daily ration. One school night we undertook a sixty-page sprint to the finish line. Approaching midnight, huddled together beneath the covers in my queen-sized bed, my boys and I prayed for the snow day the weatherman had anticipated. The next morning we awoke bleary-eyed, relieved that our prayer had been answered.

There was the year the boys couldn't switch sides periodically, as was their custom to avoid cricks in their necks, because Marty had broken his arm and had to prop it up on pillows with an ice pack [picture]. There was the year we read while vacationing in northern New York, where thanks to the heat and humidity I kept falling asleep while reading. We ended up taking three chairs down to the beach and setting them in the spring-fed lake. The cool water on my feet helped keep me awake—and when I would start to yawn, I'd simply dip down into the water to splash my face.

By the time we read Order of the Phoenix, I had married again. Dave, an early riser, would end our late night reads by kicking us off the bed so he could sleep. There was the year reading Half-Blood Prince when, due to my own study of fiction writing craft, I couldn't get through the sing-song rhythm of Rowling's adverb-studded dialogue attribution and kept giggling. Marty would elbow me in the ribs and tell me to cut it out, I was ruining the story. We loved the introduction of Dobby, the house elf, who I loved all the more for Jackson's falsetto rendition of his dialogue.

Is it like that with everyone who has read the Harry Potter series as a family? Sometimes I can believe Rowling wrote the series just for us. As with each of the books, the last in the series began its tale just before Harry's July 31 birthday, which Marty (and J.K. Rowling) shares. In the last book, released this summer, Harry had quit school to undertake his ultimate quest; Marty had just finished high school and would soon head off to college. Everything felt right: this summer we would see Harry through to his final chapter, together.

Due to conflicting work schedules, however, the boys and I had limited access to one another. We read a chapter whenever we could steal an hour, reassured we would have a stretch of time together at the lake to finish up before Jackson returned to college. As August reeled past I felt a growing sense of urgency: just as I have always sensed the possibility that stepping on cracks might break my mother's back, I felt a karmic relationship between my boys' fates and that of Harry Potter. Like Mrs. Weasley, I had adopted Harry as one of my own. I needed to see him through his trying adolescence, and I needed my sons to see it, too. And we needed to do so before September first: that symbol of summer's end, the date the Hogwarts Express whisks away its new charge of students, just as mine would be whisked from me. September first was also, by the way, Jackson's twentieth birthday.

We had a lot of reading ahead of us. By the time we left for the lake the book was still much thicker in my right hand than in my left. Then, the blow: Marty, still in the throes of post-graduation hoopla, decided not to come to the lake for the whole week. He would drive separately and join us in a couple of days.

Our time potential withered.

It was silly, my need to do this. Impossible, really; we would have only two days with more than 380 pages to go. But I am no stranger to undertaking projects that become much larger than I first anticipate—say, the decision to read aloud what would end up being, over the series of seven books, 4,100 pages. Or writing sixteen drafts of two novels. Or raising two sons after their father killed himself. Just tell me I can't do it.

With only two days, we mounted our broomsticks and flew across the magical countryside of Rowling's imagination, reaching for closure, that elusive snitch that brings peace. We laughed, we cried, and we headed into final battle with He Who Must Not be Named. We took breaks only when the bodies now pressed beside mine—when had they become men?—caused hot flashes that required my stepping away for a spell.

But that second day, we finished the book in time to cook dinner, take the boat out of the water, and winterize its motor by daylight.

Harry had J.K. Rowling to guide him through a plot line rife with conflict; the boys have had me. After their father's death, I watched Jackson and Marty run the gauntlet of adolescence, a ten-year race that is at once marathon and sprint, and no easier to understand than the game of Quidditch. They are now young adults, and ready to author their own lives.

Of course the name J.K. Rowling will go down in publishing history, but her story of a young boy persevering against all odds has contributed in a quieter way to the salvation of my family. It brought us through a tough time by dangling a promise that is as true for me as it is for my sons: Growing up is hard, but you aren't alone in your fear of it. Make of your life a good story, and share it with those you love. It will be a story full of pain and conflict, yes, but the sharing of it will hold all the magic you could wish for.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Random act of... culture

The theme of this blog is healing through writing, but for my sons and me, a whole lot of healing has gone on through other arts as well.

Ron didn’t have that.

He wasn't able to communicate with me about the kind of pain he was in. If he could, I think my family's story would have gone a different way. The right words could have created a bridge so he wouldn't have felt so profoundly alone. Perhaps addiction ate away at Ron’s bridges. Perhaps his bridges were never properly constructed in the first place.

Those of us left behind will never know, really. We can only look back and hunt for clues. This is what I do know: the arts have an amazing way of creating community, and community helps us understand our innate connection. We are all part of something greater than ourselves.

Let me set the stage, and then I’ll show you how that can work.

October 30, 2010: The grand court at Macy’s in downtown Philadelphia, during one of the daily 45-minute organ recitals. The music is routine but exceptional: this isn’t just any organ.

Set up on the second floor balcony and open to the court, the Wanamaker Organ is the largest operational organ in the world, with 6 manuals (keyboards), some 370 stops, and over 30,000 sounding pipes. Below it, people mull around, shopping. Among them are hundreds of “plants,” many of whom are from the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The rest are vocalists from clubs, colleges, high schools, churches, and professional choirs.

One of them is my son Jackson, who lost his father to suicide at the age of ten but who, in a school essay six years later, would write, “I want the world to be different when I’m gone, better somehow.”

And that’s but one small backstory from among 650 performers (what are their stories?) who will connect with a throng of shoppers—and already more than one million You Tube visitors—through one of the most glorious songs of praise ever composed.

Think of that as you watch this video. You are about to witness a random act of culture!

Haven’t gotten enough? Me neither. In honor of my love for dance, musical theater, and joyous public spectacle, I’ll include this one too. It was filmed last year in Antwerp, Belgium, but the language is timeless and universal.

Thanks for reading, for watching, and for being part of my community.

Note: To protect your privacy, enhanced settings will prevent You Tube from storing personally-identifiable cookie information from the playback of these videos.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Finding Meaning in Tragedy

Ron would not live to see our first-born son, Jackson, reach 9th grade. That's when Jackson came home from school to tell me the news that would change the course of his life.

Weeks earlier Jackson’s junior high choir director had urged him to try out for county choir. Hundreds and hundreds of students from Berks County had auditioned; only one hundred would be chosen. The results were in.

Jackson leaned against the kitchen counter with his hands in his pockets, a posture I’d come to recognize as his casual way of breaking big news.

“Did you make it?” I said.

“Well, keep in mind that this was my first time auditioning. I think I did okay, you know, considering.”


“I’m first chair in Bass II.”

With those words, everything shifted. Jackson's other interests dropped away as music usurped his every waking moment. We signed him up for private voice lessons with Tammy Black. The rest of his high school career was studded with accomplishments including multiple appearances with county through state choirs, performances with every vocal group and orchestra at school, a European tour of six countries with Sound Of America Honor Band and Chorus, and parts in school and regional theater musicals.

Instead of high school gym, which would have interfered with his full load of advance placement and music electives, Jackson got a waiver to sub in aquatic exercise at the YMCA, for which he got up at 6 a.m. three days per week. Instead of a high school graduation party, Ron's little slacker opted to learn a challenging hour of music in several languages so he could perform a solo voice recital for his family and friends, followed by a reception.

In classical vocal performance Jackson found his calling. He is now a 23-year-old graduate of Westminster Choir College and a member of the chorus of the Opera Company of Philadelphia.

One could say he was driven to make the most of every opportunity that came his way.

In earlier posts I shared the way my younger son Marty has expressed feelings about his father’s suicide through his life choices and songwriting. Now, it’s Jackson’s turn.

His words are from a 10th grade English essay. Jane Stahl, Jackson’s teacher at Boyertown Area High School, put together an annual spiral-bound compilation, After the Rain, Rainbows: Surviving to Live, Thriving to Grow, that she would distribute to disadvantaged and abused children as a ray of hope. In her note to the reader she wrote that her students “are better people because they’ve suffered, and they know it.” What an amazing sentiment, and a very meaningful project.

The contributors wrote of displacement, health obstacles, sports challenges, tragic accidents, the death of loved ones, alcoholism. The essays are riveting: in directly addressing that which was difficult and life changing, these students accessed impressive inner wisdom.

Jackson wrote about his father’s self-destruction in the following essay, "Finding Meaning Through Tragedy":
“Son,” she said, “It’s about as bad as it can get. Your daddy’s dead.” Needless to say, I was not prepared for this news. At the time I was only ten years old. My father, an alcoholic, had locked himself in his woodworking shop all day threatening suicide. My brother and I stayed at our neighbor’s house while this was taking place. The police had taken my mom to the fire station for protection. I didn’t seriously consider that he might kill himself; I just thought that tonight it would all be over and tomorrow would be just a normal day. I was wrong.
Over the next few days, I lived at my grandmother’s house. I didn’t go back to school yet. I didn’t feel ready. After that the days turned to months, which turned to years. These years felt almost normal compared to my life before.
Looking back on those times, I realized that I never really showed much emotion, I cried when I found out, but that was all. This lack of feeling made me feel like a horrible person, like I was forgetting about what happened, but that is not the case. He was never really there for me. He worked almost all day long, and nobody ever got to see him. Even when he was home, he was always working on something. He was always very distant. After his death, things were almost the same.
This realization struck me. I don’t want to be remembered that way. I don’t want to be someone who was never there. I want the world to be different when I’m gone, better somehow. I want to be someone people could go to with problems, someone who could help. That’s how I want to live my life. That’s what I want.
Too many people in the world today are content to see life pass them by. They are afraid to make a difference in other people’s lives. I don’t want to be that kind of person. If everyone would just try to help other people instead of satisfying their own selfish interests, then the world will be a much better place.
In my next post: a most amazing performance.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Moments before the standoff

October 20, 1997, 8 a.m. Ron drove up the driveway and when he got out of the car he was obviously drunk. Eight-year-old Marty ran out to the car; I followed. Marty was a linear thinker: if his father drove drunk he might kill himself, therefore he had to get those keys away.

Jackson stood on the porch, frozen in indecision. A more conceptual thinker, he took in the picture before him: Just as it was time to head down to catch the morning school bus, his family life had devolved into a brawl with a drunken father. Two years older than Marty, and already a martial artist trained to avoid the fight at all costs, he wasn’t so sure that adding into the fracas was the best choice.

Ron, Marty and I stood beside the car’s open door with our hands balled around the keys, locked in a war of wills, when Jackson called to me.

“Mom, what should I do?”

“Call 9-1-1,” I said. Inside the car I could see an ice chest, large bottles of whiskey and sweet vermouth, strewn cigarette packs—and leaning against the front seat, a shotgun. I knew what it was for; Ron had already threatened suicide once. “Tell them you need help and that your father is trying to drive drunk. He has a gun.”

Jackson disappeared into the house.

My point here isn't to tell the story of the standoff, what led up to it, or how the boys and I forged ahead once Ron was dead. That's the purpose of my memoir. Here I simply want to set up Jackson's role: it was a ten-year-old boy who turned a domestic dispute into a full-day standoff at our farm. Because Jackson carried out his task perfectly, the help we needed arrived in full, mightily armed force.

The police safely removed us from the property, avoiding what might have been a more grievous disaster—once a man has lost belief in the sanctity of his life, the police would later tell us, he is capable of killing anyone.

Suicide will challenge anyone’s innate optimism. In the early months after the suicide I worried if the boys would ever recover from this. Then, as we slowly regained our equilibrium, I wondered if somehow, with time, Jackson and Marty might make a positive contribution to the world because of this experience. They were both bright kids. Maybe one day one of them might discover a cure for depression, or alcoholism.

Okay, I was projecting—the interest in medicine is my thing. They would each find their own paths.

By the time of the suicide Jackson already showed signs of becoming a performing artist. By the age of four he had memorized all the songs on his Raffi tapes and would sing them while strumming a pink-and-cream plastic guitar—when I threw Ron a surprise party one year Jackson wouldn’t go to bed until he’d performed for Ron’s friends: “Baby Beluga,” “Down By the Bay,” “The More We Get Together.”

While Marty earned his father’s admiration for dutifully contributing to family projects like our 20-hour autumn leaf-raking extravaganza (sound fun, right?), Jackson’s attention would skitter away like a dry leaf and he’d soon head back inside to write an illustrated book about geology or a Star Trek script.

Ron feared Jackson was a slacker, which pained me. Jackson was just a different kind of worker—a self-directed creative—and as such worked harder than most kids his age. We'd signed him up for Tae Kwon Do because by first grade he'd taught himself how to do a cartwheel by watching the Power Rangers on television; by the age of ten he was already a deputy black belt. He began violin in third grade, and constantly drew pictures and read books in his spare time.

Ron would not live to see the day in ninth grade when Jackson came home from school and told me the news that would change the course of his life.

More about that, and some writing from Jackson, in the next post.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Healing Through Songwriting

I am not the only one in our family who has found healing through writing after Ron’s suicide. In my last post I wrote about how my son Marty got involved in a Straight Edge hardcore band, for which he has been writing lyrics.

In an online interview at the "Where it Ends" blog, Marty, 21, explains why he wrote this song:

“We had just played [a show], and it was in a Polish Club with a downstairs bar. [This girl] was clearly pretty drunk and was talking to a friend of mine. He said something about us being an edge band and she laughed about [that] and said it was dumb. So I wrote a song about why it isn't dumb to me. I've seen drugs and alcohol do a lot of fucked up shit and I don't want that happening to me.”

Know What I Know
by Marty Williams

You think that straight edge is a joke
That’s what you said last we spoke
I hope you heed the words I said
If you don’t, soon you could be dead

If you only knew the things that I knew
If you could only see the things that I’ve seen
You’d know how drug abuse is wrong
And how my edge has become so strong

The boy down the street with everything in the world
Never would have guessed how his life has unfurled
Found by his family dead in his room,
Heroin introducing him to his tomb

A disgruntled neighbor didn’t like what his life had become
Tried to drown it away in a bottle of rum
That didn’t work, he wrote a suicide note
Then put a bullet in his fucking throat

If you only knew the things that I knew you’d be straight edge too,
And you’d understand why I’ll always stay true

Marty didn’t reference his father in this song. He refers to other events in our neighborhood: seven months after Ron’s death his friend's twenty-year-old brother was found dead from a heroin overdose. The sad irony is that his fundamentalist Christian parents had home-schooled him to keep him away from such influences; later, from his journal, the parents learned the boy had first used cocaine in the basement of a friend’s home while his family was playing a wholesome game of volleyball at a picnic outside. Marty also mentions our neighbor, who in a freakish juxtaposition with the anniversary of Ron's death two years and two days later, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the house next door.

So Marty saw messages all around: Pay attention here. Death was no longer a distant concept; it was an imminent danger. He covered the topic of his own father’s self-destruction in an earlier song, whose title bears Ron’s initials.

by Marty Williams

At 8 years old my eyes were opened up wide.
My father said he loved me and I knew that he lied.

The only love he had was for the bottle.
Got home from work and drank alone

Passed out, slept till three
An alcoholic was all he'd ever be

Cut off from the world sinking into depression.
Blew out his brains to escape this world's oppression.

Suicide's not a way out. It's a way to show you're not a man.

I'll never be you
That's why I have this X on my hand

Lyrics copyright 2009-2010 by Marty Williams. Used with permission.