Different

Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness, of captivity, would, without this comfort, be insupportable.

~ Samuel Johnson

One of my favorite novels is Andre Dubus III’s House of Sand and Fog. It is an unsettling portrait of the clash between exuberant expectations and catastrophic outcomes. Where what one initially determines to be a boon instead opens doors behind which ultimately lurk unending conflict and soul-shattering despondency. Toward the end of the novel, as the story tumbles toward its denouement, lies one beautifully written yet startling sentence . . .

And once again, while Bahman and my wife and children wait in the Mercedes, its trunk full of luggage for a weekend at the Caspian Sea, I am inside our empty home for something I had forgotten, my briefcase or perhaps a favorite pair of shoes, a last-minute call to Mehrabad, all these things that must occur before we can take our safar together, our long happy journey, these last-moment details that can be trusted only to a father and husband, my hands over Nadi’s nose and mouth and eyes, this discipline to stand firmly in the face of her struggling, her gasping and twisting and kicking.

In those 107 words resides a timeline bookended by feelings of hope for the future . . . in one case alive and attended to, in the other cast aside, shrouded in a fog of despair and madness.

Without the dramatization and details, the story of Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani could easily be that of Karthik Rajaram, a 45-year-old financial manager living in an upscale neighborhood near Porter Ranch, California. Faced with financial troubles deemed insurmountable, he bought a gun, drafted two suicide notes, and then in early October of last year murdered his wife, mother-in-law, and three sons before turning the gun on himself. He left behind a Suburban, a Lexus SUV, and the morning paper.

Paint the same portrait with a slightly more dramatic brush, in hues tainted by scandal, and you get the story of Ervin Lupoe, a Wilmington, California radiology technician and father of five who killed his entire family on the evening of January 16, 2009. He left behind a grieving sister unable to reconcile memories of her loving brother with images of a killer.

Add some bitterly cold Midwestern air, a considerably more peaceful façade with nary a hint of incriminating detail, and a backdrop of domestic upheaval, and you get the story of 51-year-old Mark Meeks of Whitehall, Ohio, a service advisor for a Honda dealership, who, after killing his wife and two children, sent an email with the subject line “Life” to his father-in-law and then took the time to shovel the snow from the driveway in front of his modest, ranch-style home before going back inside and killing himself. He left behind baffled relatives with a slew of questions, no real answers, and wounded hearts.

Experts call is familicide, and say it is extremely rare. In an NPR interview, Dr. Louis Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, says familicide, or family mass murder, occurs when a “despondent male figure,” a “rigid . . . depressed” man, gets a fixed idea in his mind that the only way to protect one’s family from an impending disaster is to remove them from the scene. “They kill the victims in order to protect them,” he says, and they are riddled with ambivalence, often admitting before the incident to homicidal feelings, a sign that “they want to be stopped from doing it.” Dr. Schlesinger agrees that financial or domestic upheaval can prod men toward unhealthy fixations and may ultimately trigger desperate actions, and he urges health care professionals to be on the lookout for signs of depression, to not take lightly any homicidal notions in depressed patients, and to be diligent in probing those in their care who show even a hint of an aggressive tendency.

The sad truth is that many men who experience depression will not realize it or seek treatment even if they suspect it. Instead of recognizing the signs of depressive behavior, we guys brush it off as a blue period that will pass.

Or we become stuck.

The extremes of life have a way of tricking us guys. We dwell on moments of joy and peace and contrast them with present debilitating circumstances. We trace the path that led from one to the other and question every decision. Every misstep. We realize that we are to blame, and that our families are the victims of our wrongdoing.

As a result, some men do unimaginable things.

This path, from what once was, or what might have been, to what now is, is a familiar one to me. I’ve skipped merrily along amidst the open and sunny meadows only to later find myself wallowing in the ruts of doubt and second guessing, with no welcoming hand to help me stand up and brush myself clean. Even worse, and perhaps more telling; I have fashioned my own pitfalls and then cursed myself for stumbling.

And yet I’ve never known the extremes others have. I’ve never been wealthy. Never travelled to exotic places. Never tromped through Disney Land. And I’ve never had anyone threaten to take my children away. Never felt the sting of betrayal at the hands of a spouse. To the more affluent or adventurous observer, my pendulum probably appears quite stationary. Too safe. Boring.

Perhaps so. But just maybe that’s what makes me different from men Karthik Rajaram, Ervin Lupoe, and Mark Meeks. Not better than them. Just different. And perhaps that’s why I can weather this road and not become fixated on doing something as desperate and final as murdering my family.

Or myself. I contemplated the possibility once. I came upon a moment in time that seemed too extreme to handle. The thought dawned brightly and burned its way through a haze of tears. For about ten seconds, I felt the world would be a better place without me, that my wife and children would be better off if I were wrapped around a tree. Yet I kept driving. Kept steering when the road demanded it and I arrived home safely. I spoke of it with my wife and we held each other. I made promises. The kind one intends to keep . . .

What’s gotten me all worked up about this stuff?

Tonight at 10:00pm, I will join the ranks of the unemployed. Laid off again. An extreme of the shitty kind. I saw it coming a couple of weeks ago; such is the nature of the field in which I am employed and the times in which we live. But things being as they are upon this road, I’d rather it happen now than later. We will make it through. It won’t be easy. My pendulum will surely sway a bit too close for comfort to the downside of life. But I’ll be clinging to my family. Holding them close and doing what needs to be done to see that pendulum begin its descend back to the middle. And perhaps the momentum will set it on a course toward better times.

Whatever comes, we will be here. Alive. Looking for hope in the smallest of things . . .

[photo credit]

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30 thoughts on “Different

  1. Buy a La-Z-Boy and curl up with one of the ten or so books I am in the midst of for this semester’s classes . . .

    With a tax return coming soon, I’ll avoid some of the immediate financial stress many are under. But it won’t last long . . .

  2. The thin line that seperates us from the darker sides of ourselves is always a wonder. I have never been so far as to consider doing away with myself, but I have thought, in the abstract, what life would be like for others, without me, or for me, without others. I have always wondered what the dividing line is between abstract contemplation and action.

    Sorry to hear about your job. I know that you mentioned it was coming, but it still sucks when it arrives. Good luck.

  3. Like Flutter, I literally whispered, “Oh, shit.” I’m sorry.

    I’ve experienced those ten seconds – once. I understand.

    Please know, that I will be sincerely thinking, wishing, and praying good things for you and your family. I hope this chapter is short. Our minds are powerful and your’s is particularly strong. Just keep it on the right track. Know what I mean, jelly-bean? Hang in there, and again, I’m sorry.

  4. I have written and deleted this comment 40 times. I want to say it could be worse dammit, that this is an opportunity awful thing. …..

    My husband recently noticed that because I tend to look on the bright side of all things, I lack empathy during times of crisis. While I AM sorry and think it IS an awful thing, I can’t hold myself from telling you that I really, really believe we are so much more than the sum of our jobs/work. I know men, especially, identify with their jobs, but you are such a cool dude and I love reading your stuff, maybe you can find a silver lining (after you head to the unemployment office, of course).

    Sending this with wishes for great things to come!!!

  5. Brian, I’m really sorry that this has happened, but I’m so glad you’re different from the rest of those patriarchs who decide to take out the entire family with a shotgun or some such instrument. What a scary prospect!

    I’ll add you to the growing list of friends and family who are out of work right now, my little prayer list. I try to scrape up a little enthusiasm for my job every morning, happy that I have one – no matter what happens that day. At least they pay me for the nonsense.

    I wish you and your family well in these trying times…D

  6. Aw man! I’m hating this for you. I’m really glad you’re not the kind of person who would act so desperately and finally when the shit hits the fan, because things will change, and money can’t touch what you are and what you have with your family. I know you know this – you just wrote a kick-ass post about it – but I’m here saying, “Be strong Brian. I believe in you.”

  7. your attitude of hope, and not shutting people out.

    you write very well about the experience, a lot of people can relate to what you are writing now and it can be of hope to them as well.

  8. That sucks. This is such a stressful and scary time for everyone. I adore House of Sand and Fog…you just want to shake him and his wife. All that money spent on appearances. It makes me crazy to think about it. So many decisions made in an instant that last a lifetime.

    Here’s hoping that the layoff is brief.

  9. ok my attitude was no “oh shit” moment. I just thought… I’d kick your ass if you did anything like that. I still need my big brother.

  10. Oh I’m so sorry! I can’t imagine the stress. Clint has come close to being cut a few times, so I do know the anxious feeling. You will get through it. We always find a way.

  11. Damn fine writing, friend. Brilliant. You need an agent. I could see this in a magazine like Men’s Health.

    Bummer about the job. I wish I could bring you the fixings for a BBQ and a case of beer.

  12. Man, that just sucks!

    You didn’t ask for advice so I won’t offer. I’ve got none worth giving anyway. I’ll just say you will remain in my thoughts and to please feel free to ask should you need anything. This too shall pass…

  13. Oh, Brian – you are a remarkable man with great heart and a fine mind, as this post shows. None of us will ecape unscathed in this economic, social and environmental climate. I feel for you and your family at this time. It will require all your personal inventory of capacities to come throught this period, as individuals and as a closely knit group. And because you are at the helm, this outcome will happen for you. Sending you a warm hug, for whatever it’s worth. G

  14. This is brilliant writing. You have absolutely captured what I believe to be a universal human experience- the way the pendulum swings from hope to despair and back, and how for some, because of genetics, or life experiences, or support systems, or poor timing and/or impulse control, when the pendulum is at its lowest point, are unable to cope with the doubt that it will arc upwards again, and take terrible, irrevocable, tragic actions, with outcomes impacting their loved ones as well as the world at large.

    I’m very glad that you have faith in your difference from the aforementioned fellows. Does your impending time off mean that we might have the opportunity to enjoy more insightful posts such as this?

  15. I hadn’t made it to your blog yet today when I saw that D over at Poetic License had linked over to you for this topic. I yelled “Fucking-A! He lost his job?” and clicked over. And had to explain to Hubbie who you are and how I know you before I could finish the post. I am sorry, man. I know it doesn’t help. But we are.

  16. Thank you all for your kind words. I do so appreciate your thoughts . . . and offers of beer and barbecue. With the temps reaching near 50 today, I may just drag out the grill and burn some sausages!

    My wife is quite the networker at the school where she volunteers many hours each week, and through a couple contacts I have a few leads for work. I will begin pursuing them next week. This time off will also give me a chance to get some stuff done for school that has been simmering on the back burner. I have several essays yet to write for an ethics class I had to take an incomplete in after getting sick last spring, and this semester I am taking three classes, each requiring lots of reading and writing and thinking. So, in a strange way, I’m grateful for the chance to get caught up a bit. I also have a short story brewing that would be fun to put to paper. So there’s all that . . .

    Some personal responses to your comments . . .

    Alan,

    Yeah, the fine line between thought and action is a fascinating yet mysterious topic to explore. Off the cuff, I tend to chalk it up to imagination. Some people are just better equipped to think through the possible consequences of their actions, weigh them, and then choose whether to act or not. Others just react and let the chips fall. Depending on the magnitude of the act, either response can lead to disaster. In the case of the three men I mentioned, there may have been an element of mental illness at work; they considered their circumstances and then chose to act in the most heinous of ways, ways which to them seemed perfectly rational. I can’t really say much more from an ethical or philosophical standpoint, but, interestingly enough, one of the questions for an essay for class I’m in the midst of researching an answer for regards the topic of suicide from Kant’s perspective. Maybe I’ll have a better handle on this slippery topic then . . .

    Tasses,

    I have never considered myself to be one who is defined by my job. I have held so many interesting jobs over the years, but none of them get to the heart of who I am. Rather, I like to think I am at least partially defined by “how” I am, wherever I may be working at the time. I am caring, compassionate, clear-headed in most cases, and treat people with respect. Regardless of how crappy or exhilarating the work, I am still me, living out my personality and interacting with others. What you see is what you get . . .

    To the rest of you, know that your comments mean a lot to me, and I again want to thank you for the props.

  17. Oh, I am so sorry to hear that you are going through this now. I hope that you all manage to weather through this storm. I am also looking for work and it is uncomfortable, but, once the shock is gone, I hope you’ll feel better.

  18. Hi Brian, first time visitor here. I, also, have driven along that lonely motorway and looked at the bridge supports. I don’t think I was looking for suicide, just for some timeout where someone could pick up the pieces for a while. Unlike you I didn’t have a supportive spouse to talk to but I did get help. When I read this piece by you my first thought is this guy has something important to say and others should hear it. Please do try and find an outlet for your writing. This might be your next career move, freelance writing. Take care. Margaret

  19. Oh man, I’m sorry. This fucking economic mess and the endless bickering that’s going on in D.C. while real people are losing their jobs and struggling to feed theire families. It makes me so angry.

    This was a great post and I know what you mean about feeling stuck. I think one of the reasons I’ve moved around so long is in response to that feeling – I don’t want to get ‘stuck’. It’s a ubiquitous feeling for a lot of men, I think. It’s a shame that some men don’t know how to deal with it.

    Wishing you the best of luck. Hoping that you don’t get stuck.

  20. Sorry that you’re going through this, Brian. I am sure that you will land on your feet.

    You said something in your post…not better than those guys who take out their whole families, just different. I’m sorry but I have to say it…anyone who doesn’t resort to that is better than someone who does. I am sick to death of reading about the guys who kill their entire family. My heartfelt feeling is this…kill yourself if you absolutely must. But don’t think that your family is better off dead as well. I know families who’ve survived the suicide of the husband/father. It’s a horrible thing to inflict on them, but they survive it. The live on. They don’t shrivel up and die just because one member decided it was all too much. The live on, they get over it, and they are even happy again. So when you (not you, Brian…you know what I mean) think about killing your whole family as well as yourself, please just stick to yourself. It’s only you who thinks they’d be better off dead, and that’s delusional.

    I’m heartily sick of men taking their whole families lives. It’s happened way too often lately.

  21. I can relate, just posted on this very topic. I think it’s really hard being a man some days. It’s hard being a woman too but we have more options and there is still the onus and built in expectation that men take care of things. Its all weatherable but it certainly doesn’t make things easier.

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