I discovered MTV the week after I tried to kill myself
Artwork by Chris Strouth
Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.
My creative life has featured a strong thread of discovering music. The first time I saw MTV, I was overcome with all the happiness and joy expected with an introduction to Martha Quinn. Today though, I want to tell you a story about the week before I saw MTV. Everyone has a story. You know, the key stories retold at gatherings wide and small, all but guaranteed to be part of the amusing anecdote roundup that follows us through birthdays, weddings, the big promotion, the retirement party, and of course the funeral. In a lot of ways this story covers all of those categories.
Childhood stories always seem to ring the most true in part because it's our secret origin where we build our first stories and develop our sense of self. These are also the stories we live the longest with, and consequently spend the longest living down. Thirty years after leaving the playground and inside you're still the fat kid who sucks at Four Square -- back when it was just a game with a rubber ball and not an inane social media/stalking app.
Before you get the wrong idea, I didn't suck at Four Square. I was, however, the fat kid. The fat spazzy kid who listened to big band music, if I wish to be precise. Fat spazzy weird kid, if I wish to be truly accurate. To my family though, I am the kid that sat in the birthday cake. No matter what accomplishments I achieve in my life, to the eyes of my family I will never not be the kid who sat on a birthday cake. The details of the story have long since been lost to the sands of time; the only part of the story that matters is that at some point I ruined a birthday party. It was a birthday party that was in fact mine, and I sat on the cake box. It doesn't take much to amuse my family.
But birthday cake sitting isn't all that big a deal. Oh sure, its vague retellings at family gatherings is an annoyance, but haunting, no. Haunting is really for ghost stories, and polite society doesn't believe in ghosts except around a campfire, or in church.
This is the kind of story we don't tell, because it's not polite and no one, save the very observant and the occasional reporter from E!, tells about us. It's one of those stories that hangs around, even if we wanted to forget it we can't; it's Bruce Banner getting in front of the Gamma bomb, it's "you're moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air." It falls under the category of those that we don't tell aloud, except perhaps in the company of a licensed psychologist or a non-licensed bartender.
It's about the noose day. I was 12, and to call myself not very happy would be like calling Hitler mildly inconsiderate. Sure, 12 is a young age to pursue such a grave endeavor, especially without being able to blame it on backwards masking. There were plenty of reasons to lead to such thoughts, not one of them valid, but this is a story about a battle, not the war. Suffice it to say that on a relatively sunny Thursday afternoon I decided to end my life. Conveniently, Time magazine had made suicide a story, the pros and cons of each along with a handy how-to guide.
Martha Quinn, why didn't I find you a week sooner?
Razor blades seemed far too messy, and, well, painful, and while I wanted to die, it seemed like that would really hurt. Plus if I changed my mind, the scarring would make short sleeved shirts impossible. Poison seemed too complicated, plus I wanted to be lucid, not to mention the fact that locating enough of any particular substance outside of Sudafed would be difficult, and quite frankly who wants to decongest to death? It seemed hanging was easiest and relatively pain free, especially when compared to jumping off a cliff.
Killing yourself is not easy. I am not even speaking about the moral/ethical side of it. Merely the mechanics are troublesome, especially if you try to kill yourself as a preteen. You don't have access to many of the materials that come in handy when doing oneself in. For example: our family home was a '50s era rambler, a fine house, but it did lead to a problem: low ceilings and nothing really to hang by. They make it seem so easy in the movies, easily accessible light fixtures sturdy enough to hold a swinging corpse-to-be. But all of our lights were round, and seemed likely to come out of the ceiling. Not very useful for doing oneself in, especially since if I failed -- since Time magazine had told me that the likelihood was high -- I just didn't want to take the chance. Death was okay, getting in trouble for pulling the ceiling down definitely was not.
After an exhaustive search of the house I came to the conclusion that a doorknob would work. After all, it didn't need to support all my weight -- I did mention that I was a fat kid -- it just needed to hold the rope that would slowly choke me to death. The height at which this happened was irrelevant. Another problem: Where would I get a rope? A kid buying a rope would surely be seen as a sign of a kid up to no good. Was there a buying age for rope? The easiest option seemed to be something in hand, so I tied the sash to my Montgomery Ward blue velour bath robe that my grandmother had given me the year previous into a noose, the other end to the doorknob and slowly I choked, inches above the matted beige Berber carpeting.
This isn't a cliffhanger. Obviously something happened; since I am still here, the question is what? Was it "knowing all the wonderful things I would miss if ...." Could it be "knowing that I would surely tick off one of the Gods and thusly spend an eternity has a shish-kabob-ed soul in the Bar-B-Que pits of the inferno?" Was it "a profound desire to live once I saw death l staring me in the eye" I wish ... it was the far less deep realization that this was a stupid ass way to die. Inches above life, with a low-end department store bathrobe belt around my neck, and the last image I see being dated beige Berber. So I loosened the noose, and let it go back to its former life as a sash, and the doorknob back to being ... well, a doorknob.
It seems as if you can't talk about suicide without talking about God. Which, given the circumstances, seems a rather odd time for it. After all, if you had faith at that particular moment you probably wouldn't be wanting to kill yourself. If you have faith, that means you have to believe it is going to get better. Suicide is strictly a vote of no confidence. The thing about an attempted suicide is that if you don't tell anyone, it doesn't really exist, and I had no intention of ever telling anyone. Granted, you're reading this, but don't tell anyone, okay ... cool.
If death wasn't the answer, what was? I walked outside to an all but abandoned park near the abandoned school. It was a neighborhood with abandonment issues. The playground had been left rotting after the first generation of suburban settlers' kids had grown, and the neighborhood had made recent attempts to refurbish it by adding some more "modern" jungle gym technology. Of course the real reason for its lack of use was that there were only a handful of kids living in the neighborhood. But still they tried. The lure of modern fancy plastic and wood construction, that sat unused, next to the well-worn, well-rusted amusements of old. The highlight of which was a large merry-go-round that was rusted into place. I was a 12-year-old with a sense of irony. Some kids had forts, or hiding places in their houses. Me, I had this rusted merry-go-round.
Walking up the hill toward it, I felt something. A warmth that I had never truly felt before -- a rather unearned but welcome sense of well-being. Upon my arrival I was greeted by a stuffed animal version of everyone's favorite Wookiee, Chewbacca, hanging by his neck off of a lug nut on the new playground. That was an irony I didn't enjoy, so I removed him to the more respectable position of sitting in a toddler swing. I lay back on the immobile rusty merry-go-round, then it did something that I can not explain. It moved.
It turned clockwise three times, then counterclockwise three times. All with a shadow cast on one side of it like some sort of schoolyard yin-yang. Going back and forth between the dark and the light. As if this wasn't weird enough, then came the crows. Circling overhead three times then flying away. I may have been 12 but I recognized this as a moment -- a moment that scared the crap out of me.
It is impossible to put into words the moment of this sort of symbolism. Had I just pissed off God? I knew my priest would have thought so. Was this just happenstance and a set of coincidences? It was a little hard to think, as I was running from the site. It seemed to me this was a miracle, or at least as much of one as I was going to get. Maybe they happen all the time, and we just don't notice. Some would have used a day like this to start a religion, others as an excuse to use a tremendous amount of drugs. Me, I went and watched Gilligan's Island and hid under a blanket.
That Friday we got cable, and the minute I saw Adam Ant telling me to "Stand and Deliver" my life was forever changed. It's the story that can give hope in moments of quiet desperation. It's a story that gives courage in the dark. It is a story that occasionally makes me feel like a whack job, thinking this all must have been some sort of figment of my imagination. But I know the truth: I don't know what happened, all I know is that something did, and sometimes that's really the best you can do.
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