As I scrolled through the message on my phone, knew its nub before I got to it: “We thought you should know. Mark committed suicide on the weekend”.
We dated over the summer just gone. I met him in October but as early as November I questioned my involvement with him. From the start I knew something was wrong: He filled every space with chatter, repeating himself over and over and over, but used silence as a weapon; he dressed with a quirky style but continually drew attention to it; he told me things that didn’t make sense. I struggled with the idea of work he told me he did. I tried to finish it but he would persuade me to stay put.
On a walk one day he told me had had a failed attempt at suicide. He had taken a massive dose of prescription drugs. He told me it was “a moment of madness” and that he would never do it again.
When I told him my choice of sleeping pill on long ‘plane trips was Valium, and that my doctor would only give me four per trip, he handed me a whole swathe. “Here, take this, I’ve got plenty”.
He told me how he supported his ex-wife through her battle – their battle – with cancer and how he would cuddle her on their couch when the battle got tough. Then they separated.
He told me about the beautiful garden she created.
He said one day that sometimes he was sad about the work he had done in the business they had together, killing, processing, packing and delivering countless quail to feed a growing market of hungry gourmands.
Alcohol made him aggressive and angry and he drank too much, often alone. He played devil’s advocate.
I realised he had been cast adrift. His cheery surface was underpinned with a malevolence and sadness.
I stayed put out of confusion, curiosity and compassion until January.
We met and had an ordinary dinner at an overpriced Southbank restaurant and he looked sadly at me and told me, “I think we are boyfriend and girlfriend”. He paid the bill, taking the fifty dollars I offered him as my share of it. I knew then that I had to end it.
I ended it the following weekend. We were at my beach house. “I just can’t do it anymore”, I told him. He argued with me, “It’s OK, you are just busy. You don’t really mean it”. His voice turned from his voice, into his “angry father” voice and he paced and packed and spat out a stream of ugly words at me. I sat quietly while he gathered his things knowing intuitively not to enter into it. I stood up, kissed him good-bye and he left. I didn’t see him again until I read the text message on my ‘phone.
He was in the room, so overwhelmingly big, that I had to leave the house. Everywhere I look now I see him. He is fussing over a pan of poaching eggs, he is training my dogs to gently take a titbit from him, he is sitting opposite me a quizzical sad look on his face.
For weeks after I ended it I emailed and messaged him to tell me what to do with the things he left in my shed. His bike, a blow up mattress borrowed for the weekend at the beachhouse, a parking permit for Southbank and a box of DVDs. He maintained his silence. After a month I donated his bike to Leisure link, an organisation that helps young people with acquired brain injury by taking them out on bike rides and walks. I sent him a message saying I had donated it in his name and that the organisation wanted me to pass on its thanks.
He replied with a text message: “That pleases me greatly :)”.
I feel culpable. I know I am not. I know there was nothing I could have done. Yet I feel a compelling sadness. I can’t help thinking about the moments before his final moment of madness how utterly alone he must have felt.