Tales of the Idiot

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Spook Stories: Swimming with Toasters

It’s Halloween time and I started thinking about ghost stories, but not the kind that involve disgruntled specters of crazed killers, or evil leprechauns, that take over crack neighborhoods and eventually wind up in space. Rather the stories that truly haunt us. The bits of our past that serve to help define our future.Everyone has a story like that; the key stories retold at gatherings wide and small, all but guaranteed to be part of the amusing anecdote roundup that follows us through all the major middle class life events: birthdays, weddings, the big promotion, the retirement party and of course the funeral. Not to mention all the requisite family events in-between; the time that my mother mistook a packet of tea for exotic seasonings and used it to make “spicy scrambled eggs”. Ah, the hilarity of the stomach cramps that followed for the next several hours. There is they day aunt Jo finally made it as a contestant on the Price is Right only to be eliminated in the first round for not knowing the price of a box of Malt-O-Meal.

The ones we don’t tell, these are our real spook stories and no one, save the very observant and the occasional reporter from E! tell about us. The private defeats and bitter victories, childhood seems to haunts us in this like no other time. 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 your still the fat kid who sucks at Four Square. Before you get the wrong idea, I didn’t suck at four square, I was however the fat kid, fat spazzy kid 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. A birthday party that I believe was in fact mine, by sitting on the cake box. It doesn’t take much to amuse my family.

But birthday cake sitting doesn’t haunt me. Oh sure it’s 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. The real stories that haunt are those that we don’t tell aloud, Except perhaps in the company of a licensed psychologist or a non-licensed bartender. Stories that haunt us are never about the day we got a free box of cupcakes after finding a pony. They are the stories that are the darkest of our soul. They are the ones that we can’t even necessarily define because their emotional content is too soul crushing.

Forrest Whittaker as idi Amin But if I was to try and define one, it would be the noose day. I was 12, and too call myself not very happy would be like calling Idi Amin mildly inconsiderate. Sure 12 is a young age to pursue such a grave endeavor, and yes there are plenty of reasons to lead to such thoughts, 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 cover story, the pros and cons of each along with a handy how to guide.

Razor blades seemed far to 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 sleeve 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 has a preteen. You don’t have access to many of the materials that come in handy when doing ones self in. For example: our family home was a 50’s 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 ones self 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 ok, getting in trouble for pulling the ceiling down was 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 kneed 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 has 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 Wards 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 cliff hanger, 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 shishkabobed 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 it’s former life has 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 circumstance 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 your reading this but don’t telling anyone, ok…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, 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 one place. …What can I say I was a twelve 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. Has a clubhouse it was lacking, but it was mine and I was fine with that.

Walking up the hill towards it, I felt something. A warmth that I had never truly felt before, a rather unearned, but welcomed sense of well-being. Upon my arrival I was greeted by a stuffed animal version of everyone’s favorite wookie, 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 laid back on the immobile rusty merry go round, it then did something that I can not explain. It moved. chewbacca

Clockwise 3 times, then counter clock wise 3 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 3 times then flying away. I may have been 12 but I recognized this has 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 coincidence? It was a little hard to think has I was running from the site. It seemed to me this was a miracle, or at least has much of one has 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 has an excuse to use a tremendous amount of drugs, me I went watched Gilligan’s Island and hid under a blanket

So that’s my story that haunts, 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 occasional 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 it did, and sometimes that’s really the best you can do.

There are 4 Comments to "Spook Stories: Swimming with Toasters"

  • Christopher says:

    There, now that’s 9 readers.
    You were ahead of the curve. I didn’t try to off myself until sophomore year.

  • Lorika says:

    I believe my attempted attempt was in early high school.
    I was going to go the wrist route – with a scissors.

    Sometimes I wonder if attempted suicide is almost a right of passage for American kids – or middle class American kids or something. Of course, we’ll never really know, because nobody likes to talk about it.

  • Ben says:

    Sociologically: Upper middle-class American angst…a predictable result of prosperity without depth of thought? The vacuum without guidance, a recipe for self-loathing? Fortunately, therapists can often successfully provide guidance on the reasons for self-hatred.

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    A man of many lives-some know Strouth as the filmmaker who behind the documentary "Unconvention: a Mix Tape from St. Paul" about the 2008 RNC, and M-80, some as a writer, or as a producer and musician and then of course their is the whole getting a kidney transplant over Facebook and Twitter thing.
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