I was reading about Anne Sexton today. She's the subject of Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street", based on her poem "45 Mercy Street". She committed suicide by, as the link says, downing a glass of vodka, going into the garage, closing all the doors, staring the car, and dying by carbon monoxide inhalation.
The first time I came into contact with suicide, I must have been about 12 years old. Lucky, perhaps, for it to be that late. Back then, I used to be a scout - all of my primary school friends had been cubs, but I was the only one that transitioned to Scouts (or at least the only one who stuck with it). Welcome to the big leagues, here's your swimming proficiency badge and your woggle.
I don't really know who Kenny was. He came to Scout meetings occasionally. A friend of one of the leaders, I suppose. It was the '80s; we called him Uncle Kenny. He helped out with some activities, but mostly just hung around and chatted.
Looking back, that last paragraph rings the odd alarm bell or two. Maybe it shouldn't. Maybe it's all as it appeared at the time. I don't know. It's hard to cast myself back to that 12 year-old me, limited in horizons in some ways, athletic but un-coordinated, already deeply uncertain about himself. I know that I didn't really think anything bad about it at the time.
One day, the scout leader announced in a sad voice that Uncle Kenny had killed himself by running a pipe from his car exhaust through the car window. I didn't know you could do that. I remember not really being sad, but not really understanding, either. Previous experiences with death had been before I was six, and mostly old relatives just not being around any more. Great-Grandmother. Grandmother before that, before I really knew her, just an old lady, somehow tinged with sadness. It would be six years after Kenny's death that I lost someone whose existence was woven into mine. I didn't know it would become a theme.
Like most voyages through memory, this ends in dissatisfaction. Who was Uncle Kenny? Did he leave any trace in this world? The piece of land where the scout hut stood is still there, though the scout hut has clearly been rebuilt - ours was narrow and damp and google shows me a smart modern building. The scout troop still exists, but meets elsewhere, closer to the churches it's associated with.
Maybe this is all prompted by the time of year, maybe it's turning 40, maybe I have always had a streak of melancholy within me. I listen to sad songs and watch the boats pass on the Thames, the frothing wake spreading, fading, reflecting, faint and then gone. The river flows on.